An image from Meyer's 1570 treatise on sword fighting, showing figures with longswords well extended, standing in deep lunges
Source: Wiktenauer

A couple of aspects of longsword turn out to be hard not from a skill perspective, but from a simple strength and endurance perspective. Look at the guys in this picture. Their arms are fully extended, either forward or upward. That’s just hard to do for minutes at a time. Besides that, they’re in a pretty low lunge position. That’s also hard to do for minutes at a time.

A couple of days ago, I had a chance to ask celebrity trainer Mark Wildman how he’d program for building arm strength and endurance. It turns out he’s a huge longsword geek. Here’s the video, cued up to where he reads my question (should be 41:57). The related stuff goes through 48:50).

My original question was: “I’m doing longsword. One issue is arm strength and endurance. I’m doing kettlebell clean&press and pushups (for holding the sword overhead and extended forward). Any other ideas?”

Here are my notes on Mark’s reply:

Mace & Club

Single-arm heavy club program (a program that isn’t for sale yet, but that is pretty easy to deduce from the videos on Mark Wildman’s youtube channel).

Basis of Strength (2-Handed club program that does exist, although it’s pretty expensive).

Mace 360s. (The mace equivalent of a club shield cast: You bring your hand past your opposite ear, swing the mace behind you, and catch it back in front.)

Cut the Meyer square for time. (I don’t think he said WHAT time would be appropriate. Maybe do a 10-minute emom, where you do the full square, rest until the end of the minute, and then repeat. Or maybe 30 seconds on/30 seconds off.)

Graphic of the Meyer Square, from Wiktenauer https://wiktenauer.com/index.php?curid=43889

He emphasized training both dominant hand and non-dominant hand.

This, by the way, goes against the advice of Liechtenauer, who says:

Fence not from left when you are right.
If with your left is how you fight,
You'll fence much weaker from the right.

I suspect that the difference has to do with your goals. Liechtenauer was speaking to someone who had to win sword fights. Wildman is speaking to someone trying to get fit for a hobby.

Push ups as part of a warm-up. (Since I had mentioned pushups.)

Instead of pushups, do burpies in full HEMA gear. (Oy.)

Don’t do actual sword movements with mace or club. Do those with an actual longsword.

Mace drop swing in Meyer stance (4 versions: contra- and ipso- lateral with each foot forward): Here’s two videos of that:

I’ve ordered a mace so I can try that (and other mace stuff). I haven’t yet pulled the trigger on the (expensive) Basis of Strength program, although I’m tempted. While I ponder that, I’ll start doing mace drop swings while in a lunge, and see if I can get both my extended arm strength and endurance up, while also improving my Meyer fencing stance.

I’ve been training in longsword for almost a full year now—I just looked and saw that my first two classes were in the last week of March last year—and I’d gotten kind of discouraged. I did okay the first few weeks, but then plateaued. For months I felt like I was making no progress at all. Finally, on Thursday, I felt like I had taken a step forward.

Me doing a zwerchhau.
Here’s an image from today—a couple of days after that training class

I’ve come up with training-at-home plans a couple of times in the past year, thinking that I need to work out my Meyer stance (very low lunge, with the front thigh almost parallel to the ground), and of course my cuts. (This pictures shows me doing a zwerchhau, and the cut looks pretty okay, although the stance isn’t nearly low enough.) That is, I’d come up with the plans, but I largely hadn’t followed through. Today, with the encouragement of having done okay on Thursday, I got out with my sword and spent a while working on low stance, Meyer square cuts, and zwerchhaus.

Several members have done a “bear pit” for their birthdays: The birthday boy faces everyone in the group for a pass or three, one after another. The exact details vary, but the idea is to pick some metric (passes or opponents) and do enough to hit your age. I’ll turn 65 in mid-June, and I’d like to be able to carry on the tradition. I think I’m within striking distance on the basic fitness. (I was doing 2-hour runs at the end of last summer, and my last run was 1 hour 14 minute.) But it wouldn’t be much fun to face opponent after opponent and get beat every time, so I’m pleased to finally feel like I’m making some progress.

If you’re local, and you think swords are cool (and who doesn’t?), you might check out our group: Tempered Mettle Historical Fencing.

Heading out for her evening walk last night, the dog saw one of the neighbor dogs that she likes to tussle with, and lunged that way. I didn’t let her get loose, but the leash did twist my pinky, which is now all sore and swollen. (The swelling even spread to my ring finger, so I took my Oura ring off, just in case. But it fits okay on my left hand, so I haven’t had to quit wearing it.)

I’m managing the injury okay with rest and ice (and drinking some collagen), but I fear I’m going to have to miss my HEMA class this evening: My hand isn’t up to swinging a sword.

My right hand, the pinky and ring finger somewhat swollen

Although I haven’t quite achieved my aspirational goal of doing all the workouts I want to do, I have been getting workouts in, and they’ve been going pretty well. Last week I did my club swinging workout twice, my kettlebell clean & press workout, my kettlebell swing workout, and my HEMA practice all once each.

I’ve gotten this week off to a good start by hitting the fitness room and doing a bodyweight circuit (jump rope, negative pull ups, Hindu squats, Hindu push ups, and my 3-way core circuit) for three rounds, plus some incline press and some dead hangs.

The negative pull ups, in particular, were better than I’d expected. Something I’m doing—probably the kettlebell swings, but perhaps also the club swinging—is working the lats and biceps more than is obvious while I’m doing them.

A Field Notes notebook with a top corner chewed off by the dog

I’d gotten my workout log notebook out for writing this post, and failed to put it away, with the (dog induced) result visible above.

Based on the ideas that I talked about in Training for everything, here’s my latest cut at a personal exercise program. (My first cut was derailed by circumstances, and then I adopted a dog which derailed everything except dog walking. Then I got West Nile fever.) See my no-longer-particularly-recent Starting to rough up a new training plan for more information about the specific exercises and how I organize them into sets, reps, and progressions.

I have a set of exercises that I want to do, ideally twice a week each:

  • Kettlebell swings
  • Kettlebell clean & press
  • 1-handed heavy club swinging
  • Bodyweight gymnastic rings circuit
  • Run

That’s five things, so if I did each twice, and gave everything its own day, I’d have to have a 10-day week. That isn’t impossible. In fact, I’ve seriously considered planning my workouts in a longer cycle than weekly in the past, it but is unhandy in various ways. Fortunately, I think I can double-up several of these exercises in a way that will let me fit them into 7-day week.

The 1-handed club swinging isn’t particularly intense cardiovascularly, so I’m thinking I can combine it with the clean & press. The KB swings is intense cardiovascularly, but because it’s very different, I’m thinking I can combine it with the gymnastic rings bodyweight circuit, doing the KB swings as a “finisher” after the rings workout.

My HEMA (sword fighting) practice is three times a week, and I can’t adjust that schedule, except by skipping workouts, so I have to work that in when it actually happens.

A heavy club,  a fencing mask, two pairs of fencing gloves, two translations of Meyer's text of sword fighting, a kettlebell, and a sword

Of course I also want to get one day a week of complete rest. I’d normally make that Sunday, but there’s a HEMA practice session on Sunday so it’ll have to be on Saturday instead.

So here’s a quick stab at a possible weekly plan:

DayMorningMiddayEvening
SundayRings circuit / KB SwingsHEMA
Monday1-H Heavy Club / KB C&P
TuesdaySprintsHEMA
WednesdayRings circuit / KB Swings
Thursday1-H Heavy Club / KB C&PHEMA
FridayLong run
SaturdayRest

I’ve omitted a “warm-up” block, because I already do my morning exercises, my ridiculously long warm-up routine, nearly every day. I’ve also omitted my dog walking, which averages something over 6 miles a day.

I’m pretty happy with this. It has my HEMA practice sessions in at the correct times; it leaves open the time slots where I have Esperanto, and meeting friends for lunch; it has a full rest day.

I don’t show it here, but I’ll definitely do a de-load week every 5 or 6 weeks.

I should be very clear that, at this point, this is entirely aspirational. I’ve been doing each of these workouts individually, but the only combined workouts I’ve tried so far are the heavy club swinging and the clean&press workouts. I’ve also been taking more than one rest day per week. But the progress I want seems to depend on doing something like this workout schedule, so I’m going to give it a try.

I’ll report back regarding my success or failure.

I’ve felt entirely recovered from West Nile fever for going on three weeks now, and I’ve been going back to my HEMA training sessions. But until today I’ve been finding that, once I finished the actual class part of the class, I was all worn out, and didn’t feel up to sparing. But today, I felt like I could spar. So I did.

I didn’t get any video unfortunately, but I did spar with two different people, and managed to get some hits. It was good. I’m not going to beat anyone who’s any good at fencing, but that’s okay at this point. The main thing is that I’m finally, once again, able to train for an hour and a half and then spend half an hour sparing.

Oh, and two related details. One from my Oura ring which give me a score of 100 for my activity today:

Oura ring activity screen showing a score of 100

And from fitbit on my Pixel watch, yesterday I got the Sahara badge, meaning that since I bought my Pixel watch (October 2022) I’ve walked the length of the Sahara desert (2983 miles):

FitBit Sahara badge