How you warm up and get ready for a competition is individual, but figuring out how to maximize your fencing routine for far flung competitions isn’t necessarily easy. It’s always good for fencers to have some kind of structure to any kind of training, whether it’s at the club or at a far away competition.
Maybe your far flung competition routine isn’t something you’ve put too much effort into yet, so you need to figure out your baseline. Maybe you’ve got a routine that you’re comfortable with, but you want to take it to the next level ahead of a big competition. Either way, the following tips are going to be a big help for you.
Make a fencing warm up plan
Instead of flying by the seat of your pants, sit down and make a warm up plan. There are two great ways you can do this.
- Fencing journal
- Notes on your phone
We’ve written a lot about fencing journals in the past, and they are a great way to get better insight into your fencing and to greatly improve your mastery of the sport. Not just in regards to the warm up, but in all kinds of ways. If you haven’t got a fencing journal or if starting one is a little too much for you right now, then a note on your phone works well. The important thing here is to write things down, because it will give you a lot of insight that you can’t get any other way.
What you need to focus on are four parts of the warm up plan.
- How long
- What to do
- Where to do it
That’s it. Answer those three things, and your warm up will be great! You’ll feel better about having a solid plan, and importantly you’ll be able to recreate it and improve it every time you use your plan. Don’t fly by the seat of your pants in a big competition! Any competition that you’re in, but especially those that you travel to, is important for you to have a handle on what you’re doing. Just as important as making sure you pack your fencing equipment!
It is important to always warm up, always. Every single time you should be warming up for a competition, and you should never, ever skip one. Use the time before your first bout to warm up rather than warming up during your pools. While it might sound like a simple way to save time, I can say with certainty that this is not how the top athletes in the world, regardless of their sport, compete. Every professional athlete will tell you that they warm up prior to big competitions. It’s a no brainer! This is not the time to multitask. During the pools you need to be focusing on learning your opponents for the DE rounds, not on loosening your muscles and getting your blood flowing.
How long to warm up?
This is a major question for fencers. How much should you warm up before a competition? Especially if you’re away from home?
The first answer is that you’re preparing for a competition from the time you leave home until the time you start to fence. When you’re going to a major competition, all of that lead up time is warm up time if you think about it. You might add in family time or sightseeing, but leading up to a fencer getting onto the strip, everything is going to affect that performance.
If you’re unsure, start with an hour of dedicated warm up time at the venue before you start fencing. Get to the venue early, and ensure that you have a set aside space to practice your movements and get your head in the game. Remember that a warm up is as much about focusing your mind as it is about getting your body ready for the competition. Give time for your brain space too! You want all of your attention to be on your fencing.
This is a good time to talk about the time difference for fencers who are going to a big competition that’s far from home. When West Coast fencers go to the East Coast and have to be at an event at 8am, that’s going to feel like 5am to them. So if you need to be at the venue at 7am, eat at 6:30am, and be up at 6:00am. That makes it three in the morning on West Coast time when you have to wake up! That’s biologically difficult to handle for anyone, whether they are an athlete or not. The first thought is that maybe you can “steal” a half hour or more if you skip breakfast or don’t warm up as well. This is a terrible idea in my opinion. In the short term, it’s going to feel good.
My personal life hack is that when I get on a plane for my destination, just as soon as I’ve boarded and I’m sitting down, I change my wrist watch to the time at my destination. I immediately start to think about my activities based on that time zone so that I’m not stuck with thinking “Oh, it’s only 3am back home, no wonder I’m not hungry.” That doesn’t matter! Eat anyway, sleep anyway. Get onto your new time zone as quickly as you can.
No matter in what timezone you are you need to budget this time for your warming up. Plus any additional time you need for registration/equipment check. If you can do equipment check a day before – definitely go for it. It will minimize the hassle in the morning.
Figure out that warm up time, and plan for it!
What to do in your fencing warm up
Think about the warm up as really everything you do leading up to the competition the day of.
Here are some high points that you don’t want to miss in your fencing warm up at far flung competitions.
- Quiet time
- Physical warm up
Include your breakfast and your shower in your warm up routine, to emphasize the importance of both. A shower is going to wake you up and refresh you, like pressing your reset button for the day to get your mind in the right place. Hydration is critical because when you dehydrated you get brain fog – it’s science! Yes, your brain actually shrinks a little when you’re dehydrated. It’s of course a big concern when you’re competing because you need your brain to be sharp and on point. Start off your fencing day with a glass of water right when you wake up, then another with breakfast. Get it in early, and then you’ll not have to worry about sudden restroom breaks later on.
Quiet time cannot be overemphasized. For some people this might not really be quiet quiet time, maybe you have a killer playlist that you listen to with your headphones while you’re at competition. This is a great idea, because you can train yourself with music. It’s effective. It might be a ten minute walk through the venue or outside to calm your nerves. Some fencers swear by traditional forms of meditation. Whatever it is, put your focus time into your warm up routine.
Your physical warm up is going to be of course what you do that’s most unique to you. Far flung competitions are not a time to mess around with your warm up stretches or exercises. If you bout generally for three rounds with your coach or teammates before a local competition, keep it to three now. If you don’t ever do heavy stretching before you compete in your local or regional competitions, don’t start with crazy stretches now (no matter what that cool article you read on the plane says!). Don’t change your physical routine at the last minute, go with what you know.
Don’t forget that if you have a late start, you can always get in a short round of cardio exercise. Look in your hotel for a fitness center and hop on a stationary bike or elliptical for ten or fifteen minutes. Getting your blood flowing well before competition as part of a broader warm up is a great strategy. It’s also good for time adjustment. If you arrive a day early, get some cardio in the day before to help you sleep better the night before competition.
While everyone adjusts differently and has a different routine, these are five basic parts of your fencing warm up that are universal.
Where to warm up at far flung fencing competitions
The last thing to address is where to warm up at far off fencing competitions. This can be a difficult thing because you are in such unfamiliar territory.
It’s so important to just make yourself at home wherever you are at a far off competition. This is really true for younger fencers, who tend to be more uncomfortable with big travel. Find a spot in the competition hall and make it your own. It might be a few chairs or a corner of the floor that’s out of the way. Familiarize yourself with what’s around you and where things are by getting to the competition in plenty of time. The worst thing is to be running late! More time is just more when it comes to these kinds of competitions. You’ll want to know where the restrooms are, where you can score some snacks or extra water, and of course where all of the registration and weapons repairs are. The more comfortable you are with a venue, the easier things will be on the nerves of the competitor.
Also, think of your hotel as an extension of your warm up area. It’s your home away from home. Get into the mindset that competition starts from the time you leave to go to it. Not because you should feel more pressure, but because you get to feel more control that way. Oftentimes athletes go off to far flung competitions and they have this inbetween time that can be confusing, you’re not at the venue yet but you’re not home either. What is that time? Before you check in on the day and see your opponents? It’s your warm up! When you think of it this way, then it takes some weight off because now it’s defined.
What you watch on tv the night before will affect your sleep. What you eat when you get off the plane will affect your energy levels on competition day the next day. Pamper yourself, take focus time, and extend that warm up mentality through until you step onto the strip. You’re warming up at dinner and in your hotel. Even in the car ride to the venue. Use all of these places to help you focus towards your goals during competition.
Cool down after a far flung fencing competition
Unless you’ve decided this is your last far flung competition, you’re going to be doing this all again sometime. With that in mind, be sure to do a proper physical and mental cool down after it’s all over, no matter the outcome.
A cool down at a far flung competition has to include notes for next time. What worked and what didn’t? What were your impressions? What were your frustrations? What were your favorite things? Take ten minutes and write it all down while it’s fresh. Remember at the beginning of this blog when I said that you’d need insight to develop your warm up style? This is how you gain it. Truly, it takes no time but it’s one of the most beautiful gifts you can give your fencing self.
Take the same caution and care with what happens after the fencing competition as with what happens before. Soak in a hot epsom salt bath, it the hot tub at the hotel for those sore muscles, enjoy a big cone of ice cream, have a huge dinner to celebrate the achievement of even being there to begin with.
Competing at far away fencing competitions is something to treasure, it’s something that we can all enjoy and look back on with fond memories. Your warm up (and cool down) regime is going to be part of that experience. Make the most of it, and make the most of you! Good luck to all of you as you travel and chase your fencing dreams.