Training with a single-handed sword can present some particular challenges for your wrist, forearm, elbow and shoulder. Newer fencers especially may find that their training time and capacity are limited by fatigue or discomfort. And ongoing or recurring complaints of fatigue or discomfort are ordinary. Below are exercises specifically for addressing this issue to improve training capacity, injury resistance and performance.
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This information is specifically for healthy individuals. If you already have pain or injury in the arm you should first seek evaluation from a physical therapist.
These exercises are best done with some basic equipment.
First is just a simple stick. I recommend 3/4” rattan or hardwood dowel, ideally 39” long. This is a standard length for single-sticks and readily available from my friends at Purpleheart. (No promotional consideration - I like them and their products). But you can also get a hardwood dowel from a home improvement store.
Next is some small dumbbells or hand weights. Most folks can start at 2# tho smaller folks may need to start at 1#. 1 and 2 pounds can usually be done with cans or water bottles instead of buying anything. 1 pound = 16 oz of water or soup = 473 mL.
Higher weights are better achieved with purpose built equipment to ensure it is convenient and safe to use. These weights are usually available for about $2-3 per pound.
For the shoulder exercises - and just because it is useful for a wide variety of exercises - an adjustable dumbbell set is convenient and a good bang for your buck equipment.
This exercise should be done for sets of 10-20, with a focus on speed and not on increasing the number of repetitions. Because this is a speed exercise increasing the weight of stick or switching to your sword or other equipment does not help.
Start this exercise with the same singlestick. When you are ready to progress (see below) a saber is likely to be a reasonable step-up tho heavier sabers are a bigger jump than appropriate. As strength improves a broadsword, arming sword or side sword become appropriate. Yes these are generalizations based on sword categories and I know that there is substantial variation within each category. If you need something in between a singlestick and your sword you can use a longer or thicker stick both of which are readily available at a typical home improvement sword.
Longer term this exercise can be phased out and increasing weight beyond your sword is usually not necessary.
Most folks can start this exercise at 5 pounds and adjust initial repetitions appropriately. Progression may be more awkward depending on what specific weights or adjustability you have available.
Wrist Flexion & Extension
Start at 2 pounds and work your way up based on difficulty. Some folks will progress up to 5 pounds or more quite quickly and others will need to increase more slowly. Longer term you are likely going to be able to use more weight for flexion than extension.
Between this training and your technical training you should be aiming for 4 to 6 days per week with this workout two or three times. The more technical training time the less of this workout you should do.
These workouts should not be done on consecutive days and you should avoid doing this workout shortly before technical training.
Repetitions and Sets
Progress thru the following sequence of number of reps per exercise.
18 - only necessary for large jumps in next weight size up.
Do the number of reps in a workout for one workout. Next workout try to work up to the next target number. If you can hit the target for all sets then go up in reps next workout. If you cannot then stay at that number of reps for the next workout. When you have hit 15 or 18 reps in a workout then go up in weight and drop the number of reps back down to 8 or 10.
For instance: if I have 3 and 5 pound weights for wrist flexion and extension then I will progress from 8 thru 18 reps over some number of weeks before I jump from three pounds to five pounds. As a percentage that is a 67% jump. At 5 pounds I will start at 8 reps again.
If instead I have a 4 pound weight I would increase the weight at 15 reps. I may only need to drop down to 10 reps since the jump from 4 to 5 pounds is only 25%.
Number of repetitions and weight should be tracked individually for each exercise. If you would find an app a useful way to do that then I recommend JeFit. Steady and identical progress in all exercises is not typical.
Each exercise should be done for at least 2 sets. Between sets you should either rest 30 seconds or cycle thru different exercises if you want to use the time more efficiently. If you feel like you could do two or three sets without a break then you should increase the weight instead.
I usually do three sets. More sets will help more with endurance but there are diminishing returns. Having lower (2 sets) and higher (3-4 sets) volume days may also be reasonable depending on the rest of your training schedule.
If you think that you have a limitation in wrist flexibility please watch this video first.
There are clear advantages in a basic and complete strengthening program. I discuss that here. With a complete program then the exercises can simply serve as a spot supplement as needed.
A specific or complete strength and conditioning program will improve training capacity, injury resistance and performance.