Fatigue is a beast that all athletes have battled at one time or another. It can be an even worse enemy than your most talented opponent. Beyond just physical exhaustion, fatigue can also affect you mentally. When you can’t focus or make quick decisions, it impacts your game as much (if not more) than being winded or achy. Fencers are particularly susceptible to symptoms of fatigue and I’ll tell you why. After that we’ll talk about how to combat the fencing fatigue!
First of all, fencers wear masks during competition. Because the mask is enclosed, carbon dioxide continually builds up. The higher the level of CO2 in the air you breathe, the more fatigued you will feel. Fencing gear also prohibits your body from being able to fully relax. It is heavy, inconvenient, and often too hot. Once you start to sweat, it can get wet, which only makes things worse.
Also, competitions can make for long days. Often, a competition is a daylong event without much downtime or even a place to relax. In some cases you may fence in three local events in the same day, such as with Y14, Cadets, Juniors, and Seniors. National or international competitions can last upwards of six to nine hours! If that isn’t stressful enough, it can also be hard to eat enough throughout the day when you’re on the go.
Not to mention, competition facilities are often not built for fencing. In these locations, such as convention centers, cement floors rob your legs of the rest and treatment they are used to in your club. Spending a whole day on unforgiving floors can be extremely tiring, even if you aren’t competing!
So that’s the challenge you’re up against with fencing fatigue, but you can arm yourself with knowledge and preparation to give you an advantage. Let’s talk about specific steps you can take to fight the inevitable.
- Be well rested. There is absolutely no substitution for a proper night’s sleep.
- Eat well. In terms of competition day nutrition, load up on complex carbohydrates the night before a competition and eat small, balanced meals throughout competition day. Never consume a large meal right before a match as this can lead to sluggishness on the strip. Plan ahead for longer competition days and have your food packed and ready to go.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. You need to constantly replenish the water your body loses as you compete. Sports drinks are helpful, but they don’t completely replace your need for water.
- Take mask breaks. In order to battle the build-up of carbon dioxide in your mask, take it off when you can after the touch on your way to the beginning line. This will allow you to take additional breaths, and get a few more seconds rest.
- Put mind over matter. If your muscles feel like lead and you see yourself slipping, one of the best things you can do is change your visualization. In the middle of a bout, you can’t do much to fight fatigue other than change your mindset. Refocus yourself and envision an energized you to get you through the bout.
- Let your body breathe. When you do have a few minutes for adjustments, such as in between pool bouts, open your lame and jacket. Give your body a break from the heat and moisture, and air out your clothing underneath. Keep a towel handy to remove excess sweat. Better to use a towel than your sleeve! While it’s tempting to simply raise your arm and wipe away the sweat, a wet sleeve will likely annoy you as the day goes on.
- Put on a fresh shirt. You will sweat on competition day, so change your shirt as often as you can. I advise changing it after pool play and after direct elimination, before heading home. If you have a long time to wait until DEs or a new event, take your fencing equipment off. Ventilate it. At the very least remove your underarm protector and jacket, but don’t forget to put on a warm-up jacket while you air it out.
- Change your socks. Especially when faced with a long day, consider taking off your shoes and changing your socks. Putting on fresh shirts and fresh socks will rejuvenate you and help snap you out of a haggard state. Fresh clothes create a fresh attitude!
- Pop a squat. In order to properly rest your body in between matches, make sure you have a chair to sit in. Don’t assume the facility will have ample places for you to rest. Bring your own portable chair and anything else that will help you refocus and recuperate.
- Take a breather outdoors. Lastly, and one of the simplest things you can do to fight fencing fatigue, is to go outside. Take off your gear, throw on a warm-up jacket, and get some fresh air.
I hope this offers some helpful ways to fight fencing fatigue throughout the day. Fatigue can be a beast, but expect it, prepare for it, and make good choices and you might just create an advantage over your opponents!