Some of my friends are into history reenactment and historical fencing. Doing this is quite demanding in terms of fitness, so I wanted to help them develop a training plan to follow.

What would be the goals of such a training plan?

  • It has to strengthen stabilizing muscles of all the important joints. People doing this are fighting having really heavy armour. The helm itself can weigh up to 2kg, the mail can weigh up to 12kg. Add the gambeson and plates and you end up with around 20-30kg. To avoid injuries, strengthening the stabilizing muscles is a must. Some swordsmen say that a big focus should be put on scapla and lumbar stability.

  • Anaerobic capacity. Some fights can last longer, especially 5v5 or 21v21, but typical tournament 1v1 fights have rounds lasting 1 minute of really intensive activity. A single handed sword might weigh around 1,2kg, two handed ones even more. The swordsmen must have superb control over their blades at all times - this is also a matter of safety. No not-intended thrusts!

  • Strength. The outcome of a fight is often decided by a knock out. Even tho the swords are blunt and the fighters wear a lot of padding and armour, strong blows make people fall to the ground. Even if the fight wont be won by knockout, strong blows are like to break the parry or wear down the enemy.

  • Time. A training plan must incorporate time for working on technique, without ruining the resting periods. That would probably mean that the technical training should happen on training days. Technical training often includes fencing drills (not necessairly in full armour) and sparrings, both can be quite demanding in their own right.

  • Preferably, minimal use of fitness gear/equipment. Since the technical training should happen on the same days as the fitness one, it would be preferable that the strength training etc could do without a fully equipped gym. Its not crucial, as every swordsman could do the training alone, and group trainings would only cover the technical part.

I was wondering if a typical StartingStrength/5x5 training or similar, followed by HIIT sessions with a sword and a tire hung on a tree (resembling boxingbag workouts) would be the way to go. If that were the case, should the technical training take place before or after the fitness one? Are there any training plans that would better fufill the goals i mentioned earlier? Are there any bodyweight training programs that would do as good, but without the need of a gym/barbells?

Since every swordsman fights both in "bohurts" (many vs many) and 1v1 tournaments, a training plan accounting for both would be welcome. I know that you cant eat a cookie and have a cookie, so if Id have to point out the more important thing, it would be 1v1

here are a few videos to give you an idea of what they are doing:





the last one is a Polish documentary about the Grunwald reenactment held each year in Poland. Ive set the timer to some fighting scenes that ended with a knockout - for those who have shown interest in the comments.

UPDATE Ive been talking with some friends and researching materials provided by the ARMA organisation. It may be very helpful in developing a training plan, and Im discovering new concepts. Cant jump to conclusions, but im starting to think that Starting Strength and similar programs may not be the best way to go...

Anyhow, one of the swordsmen pointed out that speed can be a crucial factor and definitely should be considered. he pointed out that most probably the program should be similar in some ways to existing conditioning programs designed for martial arts, only accomodating for the usage of heavy armour and weapons.

  • Are you talking about one on one fighting, grand melee or both? SCA type is what it looks like from the videos, is that correct?
    – JohnP
    Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 16:16
  • Although, I have never seen an SCA fight decided by "knockout."
    – fire.eagle
    Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 16:29
  • Not exactly SCA, but in some ways similar. Those guys cut out the "creative" part from SCA and use as historical equipment as possible. Their swords are normally forged and hammered, only they are not sharpened. Same goes for the rest of the equipment. Their armour is as thick as historical, made in similar ways. This means its a bit more extreme than SCA. SCA has "NO METAL OR UNAPPROVED RIGID PLASTIC MAY BE USED IN THE STRIKING SURFACE OR SURFACES OF ANY WEAPON." while these guys work steel. SCA is lighter. Most knockouts happen in 5v5 and 21v21 fights, where halberds and similar are in use.
    – K.L.
    Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 16:59
  • 1
    You should mix technical traning with low intensity with applied (i.e. doing the fights) conditioning and strength. Do you really have the time to do starting strength 2-3 times per week? I am not so sure that raw strength from lifting weights directly translates to an efficient strike in a messy situation
    – FredrikD
    Commented Feb 13, 2013 at 12:28
  • 1
    Actually, you may be right to some extent. The SS was just an idea, because I have no experience in martial arts conditioning. Still, im quite sure SOME form of strength training should be incorporated, as I feel that a muscle corset around important joints and the back is very important
    – K.L.
    Commented Feb 14, 2013 at 13:26

2 Answers 2


The answer to "what should a beginner do to physically prepare for X activity" doesn't change very much whether you're training for chainsaw-wielding, tennis, or martial arts: first get strong while doing your chosen activity, then add power and slightly sport-specific tasks, and add conditioning if your sport doesn't do enough to tire you out. If you're already strong or very much in-shape for your chosen sport then the recommendations differ, but most people do well with fairly general training.

First, get strong

People who haven't yet done strength training should generally avoid overly task-specific exercises. Instead, they should get strong generally. As Mark Rippetoe puts it:

Strength is the most general adaptation. It is acquired most effectively through exercises that produce the most force against external resistance, and as such is always best trained with five or six basic exercises. The same exercises that are correct for weak football players and lifters are correct for weak volleyball and baseball players, because the best way to get strong will always be the same. Strength is NOT specific, and cannot effectively be acquired through exercises that mimic sports-specific movements, because these movements lack the potential to produce as much force as general barbell exercises, and therefore lack the capacity to make weak athletes as strong as barbell training.

The first place people look for the purpose of rapid general strength gain is generally Starting Strength (the wiki is as quick-and-dirty as possible; the book is the best and most detailed overview on this topic I've ever seen) or StrongLifts (ebook sign-up), which is most appropriate for non-athletes or people who have been inactive for several years. Either of these would be fine.

However, any simple beginner barbell strength program would also be fine. Per Mark Sisson's overview:

The foundation of your routine should be the big compound lifts: squats, deadlifts, presses (bench and overhead), pull-ups, rows, dips, snatches, power cleans, clean and jerks. These engage multiple muscles while triggering your hormonal response systems.

To that list of fundamentals, the only change I would make in deference to your sport is to add farmer's walks. Dan John argues that they're a fundamental movement, and it may buttress the squats and deadlifts in developing strong posture against heavy load.

Barbells are your best bet for getting strong, with dumbbells a close second. Kettlebells work well for combining strength with conditioning, but they don't provide the really heavy stimulus that makes squats and deadlifts maximally productive. Machines are generally not necessary.

You don't need to do a three-days-a-week top-priority linear progression like Starting Strength and StrongLifts recommend. If you're sparring or working technique several times a week, then two strength workouts a week might be all you can handle. Those sparring workouts are also the best form of conditioning--there's not a tremendous need for HIIT or other forms of conditioning, since you're already getting in-condition by doing your sport.

After strength

Once you're strong, you are ready to focus on power and sport-specific strength. Starting Strength recommends incorporating power work in the form of power cleans quite early in training. More power exercises can be prioritized once you have a baseline of strength. A moderate medium-term set of strength goals could roughly look like a double bodyweight deadlift, squatting bodyweight ten times with ease, a dozen strict pull-ups, a bodyweight power clean, and so on.

Sport-specific work for this activity is beyond my understanding, but might involve rotational work, farmer's walks, more sprints, snatches and jerks for power development, barbell complexes or 20-rep squats for strength-endurance, unilateral work like lunges and pistols, gymnastic feats...it's really up to you to find what is necessary. Generally speaking, combat athletes need all attributes to be well developed, and benefit from being capable across a range of strength movements. Once you're strong, it could help to cycle through variations of basic movements in order to become familiar with a wide range of athletic movements. For example, one could cycle between back squats, front squats, loaded pistol squats, and Bulgarian split squats.

For both speed, conditioning, and power, I'm a fan of sprints and interval running. For power--which also benefits speed--nothing beats the power variants of the Olympic lifts: power cleans, power snatches, jerks.

Athletes in some sports find that after a certain level of skill has been attained, it's hard to challenge their conditioning during skill work. For instance, many Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts find that they need to incorporate conditioning in addition to sparring, whereas white, blue and purple belts get plenty of conditioning just from rolling. If this is the case, perhaps because of a surfeit of technique work instead of sparring, then you have a cornucopia of conditioning options too numerous to list. The method recommended by Glenn Pendlay for mixed martial arts competitors seems like it would apply: cycle through a moderate variety of power-biased conditioning workouts (such as kettlebelling, tire flips, sandbag complexes, Prowler pushes, and sled drags) and occasionally return to benchmark workouts (e.g., "how many 24kg kettlebell clean-and-jerks can I do in ten minutes?") to gauge progress.

  • Great answer! I will have some questions about it, but I gotta think them through and I cant really do that now. Thanks for your input, its appreciated. Still, everyone is welcome to put in some more knowledge on the topic with his own answer :)
    – K.L.
    Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 0:45
  • 1
    Working on it. I'm in the middle of a stage race, time is limited. :p
    – JohnP
    Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 0:46
  • Make sure to post the answer before bounty period ends :)
    – K.L.
    Commented Feb 18, 2013 at 11:44

I am in this sport too, I am a team captain of a german club, from Berlin.

So eveyone is always thinking about what is the best way to train and get better. Since I am studying fitness, I began to ask what sort of training would be the best, I talked to some of my professors and to collegues. I've been reading and thinking about it a lot.

My first conclusions are, in sport, espacially when you look at 1v1 in Poland or Russia, you are using your core. Just have a look at some famous fighters, like the Szatecki brothers from Poland, Ukolov from Russia, Panzerbär from Germany, those guys are using their ability to flex and give more powerful hits from the core of the body.

Therefore it's necessary to traing the lumbar, the latissimus, the stomach at all sides and straight, because those are very important for the movement you need while fighting 1v1.

Also, it's more about how long you can keep up and giving many hits. There are small chances to win by knockout in 1v1 - I just saw it once.

I guess u should train craftcondition. You njeed to train your muscles to last longer in fighting situations.

In 5v5 IO think there are some specific differences, you getting more hits, the fights are heavier and uglier, and you have to finish your opponent very fast, as fast as possible, because the next one isnt far away, even more so in 21v21 or 16v16. Here it's all about hypertrophy and maximum strentgh, all those things you can easily train in a gym, just improve your muscles and usual strength, but it should be a wholebody workout, because thats what bohurt is.

If u want to talk about more about this topic, please feel free to add me on facebook, my name is Jonas Freese.

  • 3
    I understand that English is not your native tongue, however you could at least avoid "netspeak" such as u, ur, pls and spell the words out.
    – JohnP
    Commented Aug 25, 2014 at 21:55
  • I tried to fix some spellinjg issues, please feel free to revert any changes you dont agree with.
    – K.L.
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 6:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.