Sunday, November 30, 2014

Balance Training & Agility

The approaches I commonly see for training 'balance' for HEMA are a problem. The problem is lack of specificity. Single-leg balance and yoga poses are encouraged. Long holds in various stances are recommended. Even things like wobble boards and BOSU's sometime are suggested.

Don't Do This!
(updated when this topic came up on the HEMA Alliance forum)
These all fail to be good choices for a simple reason: they are based on the idea that balance is a singular trait that you can improve. Like your Dexterity score in D&D. The human body just doesn't work that way. Our wires are not set-up that way.

Balance is always task specific. The best programs for preventing falls in the elderly aren't yoga and single-leg standing. They are obstacle courses. Walk and deal with obstacles - 6 inch high hurdles and the like in this situation - and that makes a person less likely to fall while walking.

Avoiding falling is also about power. When you are off-balance it does not take a 30 second sustained low-intensity contraction to right yourself. It takes a brief high-intensity action. And this is another way that strength training benefits HEMA and long-term human health and wellness.

And in HEMA the kinds of situations that lead to falls are when you are almost always when you are moving and moving fast.

So really, balance for HEMA is agility training.

I write this now because of a recent post over at the HEMAists. But I'm not picking on them. There is good stuff there too, just scroll down to see the part I liked. I've encountered similar suggestions in many places.

One guy on the Alliance forum FB page suggested holding a lunge position with arms extended out to the side for 60 seconds. He said I should try it to see how hard it is. But how hard that would be is irrelevant. In fencing I will never hold the end of a lunge that long. And the difference is an order of magnitude. And I'll never hold my arms out to the side that long either.

So the fact that it is hard tells us nothing about whether or not it is relevant to fighting. These are separate characteristics being measured.

How do we train 'balance' for HEMA?

We do it with agility drills. Exercises like ladder (or sword) drills, dots, cones, rings and hurdles. (Nah, I don't get any money from these folks. I just like their products (however their are frequently cheaper options available.))

I'll be talking about agility drills some more in the next few weeks. And I've talked about it a bit before.

Balance v. Stability

Balance and stability don't mean the same thing. This is me being pedantic because I'm professionally a nerd on this topic. But I think the difference is relevant and I'll provide an example in a moment.

In exercise science we use the terms to mean:
  • Balance -  keeping the whole body upright or in position
  • Stability - a characteristic of an individual joint being capable of holding a position
I'm not thrilled with the balance exercises from that HEMAists article. But I do like the stability exercises at the bottom. The exercise is a plank with a punch out, then rotate to a side plank and punch up. This exercise doesn't train balance. It trains maintaining a stable spine while moving around it. It's another way to do dynamic core work. I'm starting my guys on this exercise tomorrow.

I would make one addition about the exercise as described. An easier version is to start with the down arm on the elbow. A lot of people will need to start there.


Think hard about what specificity means before adding in new, neat  exercises.

P.S. I've got a sale going on right now for in-person training.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Holiday Special!

Hey everybody, my semester has finally wound down enough for me to have spare brainpower. I had 19 credits in 8 classes. 17 hours of lecture, 9 hours of lab and 4 hours of clinical. Plus all the reading and studying necessary to absorb that much information. It was intense. But I do truly love my course material.

But onto the matter at hand:

Holiday Special Price for Strength Training

Click on the above link, to start training yourself or get this as a gift for somebody else.
This Groupon deal has two options:
$99 for one month, OR
$249 for three months

This is for small group training at Quietman Sports in Medford, MA. 

Classes are Monday, Wednesday, & Thursday evenings plus Saturday midday. The more people that are interested the more time slots I can offer.