Friday, February 7, 2014

Getting Started: Conditioning

Two minutes.

Start with two minutes. At a pace that is fast for you. Not the fastest you can possibly go - that would be a pace you can only do for 15-20 seconds. But reasonably fast.

After that two minutes, walk for two minutes.

Alternate blocks of two minutes fast and two minutes slow for as many blocks as you can. Maybe you start at 2 or 3 blocks. Maybe you start at 5. That's not what matters. What matters is the improvement that you will make as you keep training.

This is interval training. Interval training is the best approach for HEMA.
Interval training is the best approach for getting started with conditioning training if you are unfit, overweight, out of shape or whatever.

What Not to Do

Don't start off trying to run for 30 minutes. Don't let yourself be convinced that brutal endurance runs are "true" conditioning. Long runs are not a good starting point. Long runs are not HEMA specific.

Don't beat yourself up over a slow start.
Don't beat about not being able to run long distances.
Don't feel like running is the only option.

This is why I don't actually recommend Couch-to-5K. It's objective isn't HEMA specific. Though it does start off well by using intervals to get you used to running. In the long term it's a plan for developing Long, Slow Distance (LSD)

What to Do

Intervals give us an energy use pattern similar to actual fighting. They do this by mixing periods of high intensity with period of low intensity - just like a fight.

So a basic program look like this:
  • 3 days a week of 20 to 30 minutes. With no two days in a row.
  • Start with a warm-up. Maybe a fast walk, maybe some dynamic stretching.
  • Finish with a cool-down. A gradually slowed walking pace, some static stretches. Water.
  • In the 10 to 20 minutes that you are "running" alternate between fast and slow - whether you are running, on a bike, swimming etc.
Fast and slow here are defined by your own capabilities. Not any arbitrary outside standard.


We need progression. That's what getting better is all about. There are two basic variable to manipulate for progression: time and speed. Start working on making progress after the first two weeks. The first two weeks are about getting used to the new exercise.

A good indicator is when you can do 20 minutes of intervals you can start playing with the variables.



Increase time. Or decrease it.
Increase time - do intervals of 3-5 minutes instead of 2. That is 3 minutes fast followed by 3 minutes slow. Go at a slower pace for the fast part - you want to be winded at the end of each interval, but able to continue.

If you are going slower, with longer intervals, then you can shorten the slow interval. You can make the slow interval one-half to one-third of the fast interval. But be careful in introducing this - it makes the workout harder. So only start shortening the slow interval when you feel ready.

Decrease time - And run faster. Do intervals of 30 seconds to 1 minute or 90 seconds. Initially these should be alternated with longer slow periods The slow period should be at least double the fast period at this intensity. But as you shorten the fast period and run faster you should have a longer rest interval. At only 30 seconds of fast, you should rest for at least 4 times as long (remembering that rest = walking, not standing around).


Keep the intervals the same: two minutes fast, two minutes slow, but run faster during these periods. This can be a good way to build up to the faster, shorter intervals described above.


You can also increase the duration of your conditioning sessions. But above 20-30 minutes we get a diminishing return. More than 40 minutes for our sport is just inefficient.


Keep the program around 3 times per week. We aren't training for a marathon and you need time for technical training and strength training.

Keep the conditioning sessions to 40 minutes or less. You just don't need more. And the high-intensity sessions can be plenty short, like 10-15 minutes. 

When you've reached the point where you can do longer durations and faster then you can start mixing it up. Have a short-fast day, a long day and a medium day.

Why I Prefer Running for HEMA

HEMA is on your feet.
HEMA is a contact activity.
HEMA is a whole body activity.

Running is also all of these things.

But, you know what? If you don't like running then don't. Just get out there and do something. Something is way better than doing nothing because you don't like running.

Use an Interval Timer and Listen to Music

These are readily available as apps for your phone. You'll simply have beeps at specified intervals that sound over your music.

Music makes people go faster and exercise more productively. If you pick a fast-paced music. I just don't get people who run without headphones.

Now get out there and get started!

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