The benefits of cross-training for fencing have been discussed time and again by fencers around the world. The old philosophy that “fencing is the best training for fencing” is an outdated one in my opinion. I have heard some parents who thought there was no need to supplement their beginner fencer’s training with additional activities, as they should focus solely on practicing their fencing technique instead. But here, I would disagree. Fencing is a very unbalanced sport for the body, and it is important to provide that balance through additional training. If your young fencer has the time outside of their fencing and academic schedule to devote to it, cross-training will go a long way towards increasing their overall performance as an athlete.
As with any sport, there are specific activities that are more beneficial to cross-train in that help to develop the right muscle groups and skill sets that fencers need.
The conditioning most fencers will find in their own clubs is usually insufficient as a whole. Regardless of how advanced your child is, most of the class time will be spent training for fencing and only a limited amount of conditioning. Additionally, any in-club conditioning will still be targeted towards fencing in order to develop the specific skills needed. It’s possible your child will need to focus on a different area of improvement, such as flexibility or strength. This is where outside cross-training becomes critical to their success.
Before beginning any cross-training program for your fencer, make sure to consult their coach. The coach will know best what they need to work on and what will help them improve their game. There are plenty of activities your child can do in their spare time or that you can do together as a family. Moreover, while some alternative training methods require significant additional effort, many can be done with relative ease in the comfort of your own home!
Swimming provides excellent cross-training for almost any sport. It’s basically zero–impact, gives the knees a break (which take a beating while fencing), and works out almost every muscle in the body if you’re doing it properly. It’s a great cardio workout that provides more effective muscle toning than almost any sport you can do on land. It also requires a heavy concentration on breathing, which will aid your child’s focus while fencing. Not to mention, the whole family can join in the fun.
One word of caution though – check with your fencing coach that swimming does not affect your child prior to important competitions. While swimming is a great sport to do in between seasons, it might not be the most appropriate sport to do in the middle of the competitive season. This is especially true for more senior fencers, as muscles become more elastic and lose the explosiveness that is so critical for fencing. Again, for Y10/12 fencers this might not be an issue, but check with your coach to be sure.
There is a lot of debate as to whether or not weight training is ideal for fencers. While being as strong as you can be is certainly a benefit, some coaches believe that overdevelopment of upper body muscles can lead to limited flexibility and maneuvering. However, a carefully planned program in conjunction with your fencer’s training will be beneficial over time. Just make sure to discuss your child’s program with their coach and a trainer first to ensure they’re getting what they need. A fencer in high school may need a highly developed strength-training program, but your 10 year-old fencer may not.
Despite the widely held opinion that running is great cross-training for any sport, that statement doesn’t always hold true for fencing. Running is extremely hard on the ankles, lower back, and knees: areas that are already stressed from a busy fencing schedule. While running is a great exercise and can increase your endurance, it should only be part of your fencer’s at-home training. This statement could of course be different for a child that is fencing only two hours a week as their knees are not quite so abused. Regardless, I would recommend swimming over running for endurance training. Talk to your child’s coach to be sure you know how much (or how little) they should be running.
One of the less frequently discussed options for cross-training is yoga. While you may not be sending your ten year-old to a yoga class down the street, it can easily be practiced at home by the whole family. Many moms in our club do yoga, and some even head down to the studio after they drop their kids off for practice. Yoga moms (or dads) can be excellent role models and supervisors at home for their kids.
From my own family experience, kids love doing sports together as a family. Yoga increases flexibility, relaxes muscle tension, and can provide a presence of mind, body, and concentration that is beneficial for fencers. While it does not offer an intense cardio workout it can provide prevention from injury, improved breathing, and increased muscle strength and tone. In our club, good flexibility is emphasized by the coaches in every single class. We are strong believers that proper stretching is key for peak performance and injury prevention.
Cross-Training for Fencing: Create a Plan
Every fencer’s training schedule is going to be different, and only their coach can tell you what they should be doing. Whether they need to focus on weights, push-ups, jumping rope, or doing footwork exercises at home, the coach is the final authority on where their concentration should lie. Sit down with your fencer and their coach, come up with the ideal training plan for their needs, and make sure they stick to it. Creating a structured plan is the best way to get your fencer into a habit of self-training.
In addition to your child’s training schedule outside of the club, there are plenty of fun ways to stay active as a family. You can go on hikes over the weekend, take long bike rides, or even play a game of tag in the yard! A rigorous training schedule is exhausting even for top-tier athletes, so remember that your child deserves a break once in a while.