Recently I talked with the mom of one of our fencers about her son’s progress in his fencing skills. In particular we discussed his need to complement his fencing training sessions and conditioning at the club with at-home exercises. Good athletes know that you can’t focus solely on the skill of the sport; you must also condition your body to be physically ready to allow you to compete at your best. Most clubs incorporate some conditioning into fencing training, but the best athletes know that self-training is part of the game.

This mom let me know that, as is typical of many teenagers, her son was having difficulty staying on a regular schedule with at-home exercises. Parents know that it’s hard enough to get our kids to do their homework, let alone add another responsibility to the hectic week of a teenager. Of course, having the self-discipline to keep up with personal training is difficult for everybody, not only teenagers—even for world-class athletes! It’s one thing to exercise when your coach is watching and a completely different thing to motivate yourself when you’re on your own.

The truth is that most student-athletes DO have time to condition with at-home exercises—it’s just a matter of getting into a routine and sticking with it. I suggested to the mom that she work with her son to create a structure for his at-home training to help keep him motivated.

First, I suggested that we “make it official” by creating a training log and setting the following rules:

  1. Set a period of time, likely either a week or a month, as your training “cycle.” It probably makes the most sense to start with a week at first and then go down to a month over time.
  2. Set weekly/monthly targets in advance for every set of exercises.
  3. Measure baseline capabilities. My suggestion was to measure her son’s capabilities on the first day of the official training routine, and then base future targets on a certain level of improvement over this baseline. For example, if on Day #1 he can do 20 push-ups, then his baseline for push-ups is 20 and targets can be set to increase this number over time. Log the maximum for all exercises you are including in the training. For example: 20 push-ups, 1-mile run, 100 jump ropes, etc.
  4. For the first period, set the target to meet this baseline.
  5. For the next period, increase the target by 5-10%. In our example, that would be 22 push-ups, 1.1 mile run, 110 jump ropes, etc. Continue each period.
  6. After each period, the fencer, parent, and coach should all sign the log. This creates accountability such that the fencer knows that both his parents and his coach will be checking his progress and commitment.

To create your specific set of exercises and the durations or reps for each, you should of course consult with your coach or physician. You will want to include break days or easy days and your coach can help you schedule your at-home training while taking into account your club training schedule. It’s always important to balance the right amount of exercise with taking care not to exhaust yourself.

Keep in mind that measuring the baseline targets at the start of the training routine is key to this process. Using this as a starting point ensures that you’re setting reasonable goals and also serves as a motivational tool to track progress week over week.

Creating a journal to log at-home training is a great way to add structure and accountability to these activities. Depending on your child, you can choose to make it more or less official, more or less complicated. You may even want to combine this with your child’s fencing journal! You can get a two-subject notebook and track self-training and fencing improvement in one place.

If you adapt this type of structure for your child, you will find that it’s much easier for them to make a habit of self-training. Put in some work up front and you’ll smooth the road as you move forward. Don’t forget to celebrate successes! If your child keeps all of his self-training commitments for the first month and improves his targets, recognize the accomplishment. Adding positive reinforcement to the structured training will help your child stay on track.