Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Five Safe Steps for Fencers to Keep Training While Injured

Five Safe Steps for Fencers to Keep Training While Injured

No matter how safe a sport might be, it still involves moving the body in a wide variety of ways, and there will always be injuries. 

In our club, we have been incredibly fortunate to only have (knock on wood!) a few injuries during training or competition. Most of the injuries that we see are from things that happen outside of the club – something during gym class at school, an accident at home, a fall on a bike or a tumble on rollerblades or a skateboard, a skiing injury, etc. Though these didn’t happen during fencing itself, they are still injuries that require modification of fencing training. 

The options for injured fencers

Whether it’s a sprained ankle, a broken wrist, a pulled muscle, or any number of potential injuries, the immediate concern has to be safety and long-term healing. The first priority in any situation is to keep the body safe. Though in the past there was a great deal of pressure on young athletes to push through their injuries and keep on going, things have thankfully progressed now to a point where the long-term health of athletes takes priority over pushing past the breaking point. 

However, that does not mean that we are giving up. 

What do you do? There are three options: 

  1. stop training altogether
  2. do some modified training
  3. keep training as normal. 

Which option you choose to do will depend on the specifics of your injury and the demands of your current situation. If it’s a week before Fencing Summer Nationals, that’s a very different place to be than if you’re hurt at the beginning of the season. 

No matter the situation, time wasted is time wasted. The reasoning is irrelevant. People tend to think that only options one and three are viable, and that is so wrong! We have many more possibilities, and they all center around modified training. Injury downtime can be a great opportunity to enrich your training and expand your abilities in new directions. 

Learning to drive while riding the bus

One personal story comes to mind, which is a great correlation to this problem if we think about it in comparison to fencing. 

Many years ago, I was a young man with a brand new driver’s license. Like all young people, I was excited to get on the road and exert my freedom – I could go anywhere! It was amazing! The sense of freedom and control made it seem to me like I was an adult at last. 

That all changed a few months into my time as a driver when I got into a serious accident. Though I made it out ok physically, the car did not do so well. Back then my parents, who were freshly immigrated to a foreign country, didn’t have the money to fix the extensive damage all at once. The car sat for a good two or three months in a body shop, waiting for payments to come in as they saved up the money to fix it. This wasn’t my first accident, as I was a very green driver who’d been in a couple of others before this big one. (As a parent now, I appreciate what a challenge this was for them!)

All this left me back on public transportation. Being a very young man, I craved a time when I could get back behind the wheel rather than relying on preset schedules and sitting next to all of the people on public transportation. I was grounded without a car.

Rather than mope around in the back of the bus or look longingly out the window on a taxi, I decided to make the most of this time. I sat near the driver on every bus or taxi I rode in. I made it my mission to carefully observe their behavior on the road. When they signaled, when they changed lanes, when they slowed down or sped up. I absorbed everything they did. 

When months had passed and I finally got back behind the wheel, I was surprised to find out that I was a totally different driver. I was smarter and more aware of my surroundings. I understood the flow of traffic and the frustrating quirks of other drivers who don’t always follow the rules of the road. 

The break was so helpful for me because it got me to slow down and analyze what driving should look like, rather than just plunging headlong into traffic. I was a more thoughtful driver.

That time offered me the opportunity to shift my focus and figure out who I wanted to be as a driver. It was a break from something that I desperately wanted to do, but it was a break that allowed me to the space to improve myself. The benefits didn’t just help me for the next few weeks or few months either, they helped me for years and years. 

Learning to fence with a broken leg

My experience in taking public transportation is strikingly similar to something that we saw with one of our fencers. A few years ago, we had a young man in our club who broke his leg riding his bike. Obviously, he had to stop his fencing training for an extended period of time. 

Many times when this kind of injury happens, youth athletes stay away from training altogether. Why come to class if you can’t do anything? This fencer had a sister who was in the same class, so he ended up coming to class with her every time and watching the whole thing. He wasn’t just sitting there playing on his phone or reading a book – he paid close attention to every bout and every exercise.  

Weeks later, when he finally got his cast off and was cleared to return to class, something akin to a miracle happened in his training. Though he wasn’t able to do any fencing at all during the long break while his leg was healing, he was a completely different and totally improved fencer! The change was dramatic. 

This young man only watched and analyzed bouts and drills, clearly running them through in his head and imagining himself in the place of the fencers he was watching. His form was better, his timing was improved, and he was more responsive to his opponent than he was before the break. For him, that long break turned out to be the best thing for his fencing – even better than if he’d continued to train during that same amount of time. 

What most people would have imagined to be a huge setback turned into a hugely positive step forward for this fencer. When you are injured, you can still train! It might not look like the normal kind of training that fencers do, but it can be incredibly valuable. 

Fencing Training While Injured

Now that we know that it’s possible to maximize the time you’ve got when you’re injured, it’s time to look at the steps that fencers need to take when an injury occurs. It’s not an easy thing to navigate, and every situation is different, but there are certain pieces that are almost universal for fencers to keep training when they suffer an injury. 

Step 1 – Consult experts

The first thing, always, is to consult with your doctor about what is and isn’t feasible if you are recovering from something that is serious. They know more than anyone else about what you should definitely stay away from in order to keep from making things worse. 

The second thing is to consult with your fencing coach. They know what specific areas you need to work on and also have a personal understanding of exactly what you’re dealing with. Your fencing coach will be able to help you evaluate your progress along the way, and that’s a big deal because it’s hard to know when you can push to get back to normal.

Step 2 – Don’t stop fencing training!

Fencing is not just a physical sport, it’s also a mental sport. There is SO much that you can do that is not going to jeopardize your recovery, no matter what your injury is. 

Earlier, we went through how much this time can be a boost for fencers who are experiencing downtime. Even if a fencer is totally unable to participate at all physically during the time of an injury, they can analytically improve by continuing to attend classes and observing other fencers. If fencing is physical chess, then there’s a good deal of progress to be made if you’re only able to use your mind. 

If you have an upper-body injury, you might be able to continue working on your footwork. A broken arm or a sprained wrist won’t prevent you from moving your feet up and down the strip. This might happen at home mostly, or you can ask your club for times to come in and work, either in private lessons or by continuing to attend classes. A lower body issue could leave you open to seated blade work or target work. You might not be able to move up and down the strip, but you can absolutely hold your sword out and continue to maneuver your blade. 

Again, analyzing matches, in person or at home, will keep you in the right mindset. One thing is to think about how we adapted fencing training during the pandemic, because we learned how to be flexible and use ways of training that didn’t revolve around being on the strip. 

A great deal of fencing training, with or without an injury, is about how we analyze and think through our matches. Honing your mental acuity is highly valuable and will maximize your downtime. This is the most important point of progress for a fencer who has suffered from an injury.  

Step 3 – Modify through recovery

With any injury, there is a real risk of reinjuring yourself if you come back to full speed soon or push yourself too hard. 

Physical therapy can be a big help in this part of the process. Depending on the injury, you might be working with PT already, and they can very specifically help you know what you can do to modify your training throughout the recovery period. 

You might well be able to work on your core or to increase cross-training that builds cardio. Here we’re talking about low impact possibilities like stationary bikes and swimming – whatever your healthcare providers tell you is safe. Modifications and seeing your recovery as a whole person process that will key back into your fencing will be a major support after an injury. Understanding what steps you can move to and at what pace you can move to them will keep you on the right track. 

A key takeaway here is not to go too fast. There is not a rush to get back on the strip before you’re ready. There is no point at which it’s worth it to risk hurting yourself for fencing training or for fencing competition. There will be another class and another tournament. Take it slow, modify thoughtfully, and continue to see your fencing training as an all encompassing process that is not just about your physical fitness. 

Step 4 – Rely on your teammates and coach

We once had a fencer who broke her foot and couldn’t fence at all – she couldn’t even stand for much of her recovery time. When this happened, she arranged to continue private lessons with her coach. They were able to modify her training regimen with each step through the recovery process, slowly giving her more as she was able to do more. 

When an injury happens, rely on your coach and your teammates. You don’t have to do it all by yourself! It can be isolating to be away from everyone during the recovery period, so you do well to reach out to your fencing teammates as well and let them help you. Sometimes the best medicine is the connections you have with other people, who can fuel your recovery on the mental side of things. 

Talk to fencers who have had similar injuries, or read up on what it’s like online. The fencing section on Reddit is a great resource for this. Other people have most likely been in your exact same situation before, so you can draw strength and insight from their experience to fuel your own journey.  

Step 5 – Get clearance before coming back

Before you come back fully to your fencing training, be sure to get clearance from your doctor. The worst thing you can do is to push yourself too hard too fast and then end up with a secondary injury that will put you right back into recovery mode. 

Competing with an injury

There is no competition that is worth re-injuring yourself. Not a qualifier, not Fencing Summer Nationals. If a doctor advises that you stop fencing, don’t hurt yourself by fencing. 

This does not mean you shouldn’t attend competitions. While you might not want to travel far away to a fencing competition that you’d planned on before the injury, you should absolutely attend local competitions to stay engaged with the competitive rhythm while you’re recovering. The energy and excitement, as well as the camaraderie from cheering on your teammates, will help you in recovery. 

Another thing to consider here is to volunteer in the running of a competition, or to learn to referee during this downtime. Depending on your injury, you might be able to really develop those refereeing skills through this time. Becoming a ref allows you to see fencing from a different perspective, and it’s a valuable one. You’ll become a better fencer by looking at the sport from this angle – without a doubt. 

Of everything you can do while suffering from an injury that keeps you from competing, learning to referee or becoming a better referee is one of the most productive things you can do with the downtime. 

The emotional reality of an injury

The emotional side of an injury can be just as devastating as the physical side. There is a momentum to fencing training, a forward motion that an injury can grind to a halt. It can be, and often is, demoralizing. 

One thing that we don’t want to see is a fencer all away from the sport because of an injury. Especially for a competitive fencer, who is pushing themselves through regional or national competitions, an injury can feel like the derailing of a dream. With very few exceptions, injuries don’t mean the end of the road in fencing. This is only a stop along the way, not the end of the line. 

Even recreational fencers who have a deep love of the sport can find themselves feeling deeply emotional about an injury that takes them out of training for weeks or months. Getting out of the rhythm of training can make it hard to get back in. The Thursday night that was spent in fencing class is now spent watching that new episode of Grey’s Anatomy, and a new habit is formed. It’s not easy to get back into the groove of it, because we can forget too fast all of the good feelings that we got from something. 

Then there’s the fear of it happening again. Questions can start to come up in their minds, especially if the injury happened during fencing. What if I get injured again? What if the next time the injury is worse?  When an injury happens, it can make athletes hesitant to get back into training and competition at the pace that they were at before. 

The best way to keep training with fencing after an injury is to stay engaged as much as you can while the injury is happening. Don’t negate the emotional recovery that has to happen alongside the physical recovery.

Making the most of injury downtime makes it all easier 

When you don’t feel like the time spent recovering from an injury is wasted, then you’re less likely to feel overwhelmed by an injury. Participating in fencing sometimes means pivoting and being flexible when your training can’t go exactly as you’d like it to. 

While this plan for fencing training while injured won’t get you back into competitions any faster, when you come back to competition you’ll be better than ever. It’s all about utilizing that time effectively. 

It’s difficult to underestimate the mental toll that an injury can take on an athlete. Part of blunting the impact that an injury comes from figuring out ways to utilize the downtime constructively. 


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  1. R

    Highly relevant as I injured my knee biking and after what I thought was sufficient healing time, I cross-trained – including stationary biking which aggravated my injury. Hoping that by next-week’s post-Nationals return to practice I’ll be able to train.

  2. Karen

    if you dominant hand/arm is injured consider fencing with your non-dominant hand
    it can be an amazing experience!

    • R

      “if you dominant hand/arm is injured consider fencing with your non-dominant hand it can be an amazing experience!”

      The World Vet Epee Champion uses his surgeon non-dominant hand.

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