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 had a draft post that was originally called my “fall workout plan,” and then called my “late fall workout plan,” but that I never posted because while I was sick I couldn’t work out at all, beyond walking the dog. I will post it. Perhaps not until it makes more sense to post a “winter workout plan.”

25 lb dumbbell and 45 lb kettlebell in front of some weight plates.

In the meantime though, I am, finally, back to doing workouts, and thought I might talk about what I’m doing, because my workout plan is to do workouts very similar to what I’ve been doing over the past week or so.

  • Two weeks ago, Sunday November 11th was a HEMA practice session.
  • Monday I did some kettlebell swings with my adjustable kettlebell adjusted to 40 lb. The previous week I’d done 10 x 10 swings emom (every minute on the minute), so I went ahead and did 10 x 11 swings emom. I’ll continue bumping that up until I hit 10 x 20, and then I’ll go up in weight and drop the reps back down to 10. (There’s a 45 lb kettlebell in the fitness room, and I own a 53 lb kettlebell, so I have a couple of options.)
  • Tuesday I did a 1-handed club workout with my Adex adjustable club at 10 lbs, doing 9 x 5 L / 5 R outside circles, shield cast, and inside circle. That was pretty easy, so I did one more set with the club adjusted to 12.5 lbs. That worked okay, so I decided I could use that as my working weight for a while.
  • Wednesday and Thursday were rest days.
  • Friday I went back to 1-handed club swinging, doing 5 x 5 L / 5 R with the new, higher, weight of 12.5 lbs.
  • Saturday was a rest day.
  • Sunday was another HEMA practice session,
  • Monday and Tuesday were rest days.
  • Wednesday I did kettlebell clean and press, with the kettlebell adjusted to 20 lbs, doing 6 x 4L / 4R in a reverse ladder. (That is, I did 4 clean & press with the left hand, then 4 with the right hand, the 3 left and 3 right, then 2 left and 2 right, then 1 left and 1 right. Then I put the weight down and rested a couple of minutes. That was 1 set. I did 6 sets.) After that I bumped the weight up to 25 lbs and did one more set, which went okay. I think I can carry on with 25 lbs going forward.
  • Thursday I did 10 x 12 kettlebell swings emom with the 40 lb kettlebell. Then I did some 1-handed club swinging, doing 5 x 5 L / 5 R. I’d have expected that I’d have done 6 sets, but 5 is what I wrote down in my notebook.
  • Friday was a rest day
  • Today, Saturday November 25th, I went to the fitness room and did a (mostly) bodyweight circuit. I did 3 rounds of 5 exercises, each for 30 seconds, then with 15 seconds to rest and move to the next exercise. I did jump rope, negative pull ups, goblet squats ( with 20 lb and 25 lb dumbbells), push ups, and hollowbody holds. That’s pretty close to what I was doing during the pandemic, except the fitness room was closed, so instead of dumbells for the goblet squats, I had to just do more reps without weights.

During the pandemic I followed something of a training plan—a mostly bodyweight exercise plan with minimal equipment beyond a pair of gymnastic rings, based largely on Anthony Arvanitakis’s Bodyweight Muscle books and YouTube channel.

Post-pandemic (once my local fitness room reopened, and exercise equipment became available again), more activities became possible. As they did, I added some in. With extra stuff to fit in, I let the program go. Instead I began exercising more intuitively—simply trying to fit in my strength training and my running as best I could. Each day I’d decide what to do influenced by how I felt, and what I’d done (or hadn’t done) the previous day or two, trying to cover all the bases, while allowing adequate time for recovery.

It has worked pretty well, but not as well as I was doing with an actual program. However, I don’t want to go back to the bodyweight rings program, because I feel like I’m getting real benefits out of the kettlebell and heavy club activities. So, I’m working on roughing up a training program that includes all the stuff I want to do.

Goals

It probably doesn’t make any sense to talk about the activities I do without thinking about the goals I’m trying to achieve.

Of course, I want to feel fit and healthy.

In the spirit of Peter Attia’s Centenarian Decathlon, I want to not only be capable of all the activities of daily living, but have enough reserve capacity now that I’ll still be able to do those things when I’m eighty, ninety, or (as I like to joke, except I’m totally serious) eleventy-one.

Among those things are the obvious—be able to hike a few miles on a rugged trail, climb a steep hill or several flights of stairs, carry a heavy bag of groceries home, put a suitcase in the overhead compartment, get down on the floor and back up again, etc. Besides those, I also want to be able to do well at longsword, which requires the ability to stand and walk in a low lunge, hold the sword with my arms at full extension (both forward and over my head), etc.

Fitness Activities

I figure the first step is just to document the activities that I think will support these goals, so that I know what I want to fit into the week. Here’s my first pass at a list. (Note that I already do an extensive warm-up every day, because it makes me move and feel better all day, whether I do a workout or not. I also walk my dog, and she rather insists on at least 6 miles a day.)

HEMA practice

My group has 2-hour meetings three times a week. They’re mostly skills training, so not too intense, although now that I’m approved for sparring the intensity has gone up.

Running

I want to go for two runs per week. One is a “long” run, in the 6–10 mile range (although I may want to work up to half-marathon length). The other is a “fast” run, which might include sprints, hill sprints, or just a hard run in the 3–4 mile range.

Kettlebell swings

This is primarily to work the muscles of my posterior chain, which needs a regular workout to keep me functioning well. In particular, I learned the hard way what happens if I don’t work my glutes. Currently I’m doing a heavy/light cycle, where I alternate between swinging an 18 kg (40 lb) kettlebell and a 24 kg (53 lb) kettlebell.

For the light kettlebell I’ve worked up to 10×19 swings emom. For the heavy kettlebell I’ve worked up to 10×12 swings emom. I try to add one swing per set every week.

Somewhere around sets of 25, I’d no longer get any break at the end of a minute. I don’t yet know if that’ll mean I’ll be able to do 250 straight swings.

Heavy club swinging

This is one of my newer additions, and I have already seen it do great things for rotational strength, plus grip, arm, shoulder, and core strength. As the weight has gone up, it has started hitting the legs as well.

I do three exercises (outside circle, shield cast, inside circle) in sets of 5 left and 5 right, and I work up from 5 sets on each side, adding one set every workout or two, until I get to 10 or 12 sets on each side, and then go up in weight. I’m up 8 sets with a 13.75 pound club. Soon I’ll go up to 15 lbs.

Kettlebell clean and press

This one seems especially useful for longsword, where you often need to hold the sword over your head, with your arms near full extension.

I do these as a reverse ladder, starting with 4 reps on the left and 4 reps on the right, then 3, then 2, then 1 rep on each side. Then I take a short break and repeat for some number of sets. Each workout (or every other workout) I add one set.

I just did 7 sets. I’ll work up to 10 or 12, then either increase the weight or else start the reverse ladder at 5 reps left and right, and go back to workouts of 4 or 5 sets.

Gymnastic rings circuit

Versions of this were my main workout all through the pandemic, when fitness rooms were closed and kettlebells impossible to come by. These were push/pull/legs workouts preceded by a starter and then ended with a core exercise. I had at least a couple variations of each exercise, so the starter was often jumping rope, but sometimes some sort of quadruped movement, push generally alternated between dips and some version of a push up, pull alternated between pull ups and inverted rows, legs was often air squats, but sometimes hindu squats or lunges or wall sits, and core was often hollowbody hold, but sometimes planks or reverse planks or V-ups.

I’d set the number of reps of each exercise at what I thought I could carry through for 3 rounds, and the 3rd round I’d aim to push to technical failure.

Toward a schedule

Putting all these things into a weekly schedule has proven to be difficult.

Me standing in zornhut

One issue is that my HEMA practice sessions occur at specific times, so there’s a certain lack of flexibility in the schedule there.

Besides that, there’s simply more stuff I want to do than fits easily into a week.

One solution to that would be to abandon the idea that “weekly” is the right structure. I could fit things into, let’s say, a 9-day cycle—but there are enough inconveniences with that, that every time I’ve considered it before, I’ve ended up sticking with weekly.

I’m pretty close to having a first cut at a weekly schedule ready to post. Look for it here in a day or two. (Update: It took much more than a day or two, but you can now see my Personal exercise program for winter 2023-2024.)

This week I attended my first and second HEMA classes, and had great fun. I am even (almost) in good enough shape to work out for two hours, although I’m certainly feeling it this morning.

The first class was half devoted to longsword fencing at a conceptual level, looking at key concepts from Joachim Meyer’s The Art of Combat (which serves as the basic text for the local HEMA group), with the second half devoted to stance and footwork.

The concepts section had to do with the “five words” of Meyer: Vor (= before), Nach (= after), Sterk (= strong), Schwach (= weak), and Indes (= during, or maybe between). Quite a bit of time was spent talking about these concepts, which nevertheless remained subtle and (at least to me) rather unclear.

The stance was kind of interesting, purely because of the modest difference between a longsword stance and santi stance.

In Tai Chi, santi stance is described as a spiral: Your back foot is turned out about 45 degrees, your front foot is turned in (that is, the same direction as your back foot) just slightly. Your hips are turned less, kind of between your feet. Your torso turned less. Your shoulders are turned still less, your head is turned only slightly. Perhaps only your forward eye is pointed directly at your “partner” (i.e opponent).

Meyer’s longsword stance is different: Your back foot is still turned out 45 degrees (or up to 90 degrees). But your front foot is pointed straight forward, as are your hips and shoulders.

Once we’d we practiced the stance (getting our front knee directly over our front ankle, making sure our back knee was modestly bent), we went on to footwork, learning the passing step and the gathering step. Passing step is just stepping forward, except of course, that changes which is the front foot (pointed forward) and which is the back foot (turned out). The gathering step is like an advance in fencing: you back foot steps up to about even with your front foot, and then your front foot moves forward to reestablish a proper stance. And, of course, you don’t need to be committed: You can move your back foot up, and then if circumstances warrant, simply put it back where it had been.

The second class began with a pretty extensive warmup. We did some mobility, and then some stretching, and then some practice stepping, which both got us practice and got our heart rates up a bit. Then—one part I had trouble with—a bunch of lunges: regular lunges, backward lunges, jumping lunges. (Click my “lunge” tag to read a bit more about my difficulties with lunges.) We also sprinted just a little, I assume primarily to get our heart rates up.

Then we learned one new step: Triangle step. In triangle step you bring your back foot behind the front foot, taking you off-line from an attack from the front.

We practiced something they called “dancing,” which is a variation on the introductory practice of push hands: you and a partner touch your hands together (finger tips, or fist) and then one leads, stepping forward or back, while the other attempts to remain stuck, by stepping back or forward, so as to remain at the same distance—while, of course, using proper Meyer longsword footwork.

After that we picked up swords for the first time!

We learned the four principal guards, and then four cuts. They all had names, but unfortunately the acoustics weren’t good enough for me to hear most of them. But there are extensive web resources (including translations of Meyer’s book), so I have the technology to track them down and learn them before Tuesday.

We practiced the guards and cuts quite a bit, which (after all the stepping practice) left me pretty tired, and rather achy this morning. Happily, I’m not suffering from any over-use injuries, just feeling like I got in a good workout. (The one exception is my toes, which were slightly strained from the lunges. Hopefully they’ll be all better very shortly. Henceforth I’ll remember to do some toe stretches before each the HEMA class.)

The steel club swinging I’ve been practicing for months now stood me in good stead: my hands, wrists, arms, and shoulders are strong enough and stable enough, which I don’t think they would have been otherwise.

Classes take place in the Stock Pavilion, an old University of Illinois building (constructed over 100 years ago) originally built to support the Ag school’s mission as a place for students to learn about things like cattle judging. It’s a large space with a dirt (wood chip) floor and concrete bleachers, which suits pretty well for sword-fighting practice.

Interior of the stock pavilion as the class was breaking up
Interior of the stock pavilion as the class was breaking up

Next thing to do: buy protective gear (mask and gloves). I’ll also want to get a copy of The Art of Combat, which I understand has a new translation coming out next month, so maybe I’ll wait for that.

Is it okay for someone who looks like me to seek or follow any sort of indigenous practice? Probably not? When a descendant of colonizers makes use of any indigenous practice it’s very likely to be an act of cultural appropriation. It doesn’t have to be, but to a first approximation, it probably is.

Even so, I find much that I like in various indigenous movement practices, which makes me want to find a way through this ethical thicket. And, I have come up with a couple of ideas.

First of all, my people have our own practices. Genetically I’m descended from people of Northwestern Europe—Scots, Irish, English, and Dutch that I know of. Just going by appearance, I conjecture that Celtic genes dominate.

There’s been an effort to recreate Celtic spiritual practices. I don’t know of any similar effort related to movement practices, but that’s probably just my ignorance. A single on-line search brought me to this page on Celtic martial arts which has a bunch of links to ancient sources, and to sources that are merely old, such as the fencing manuals I’ve become familiar with due to my interest in historical European martial arts. Finding that much so easily makes me imagine there’s probably more out there.

Culturally I’m descended from the broad line of Western culture going back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who had very strong movement practices. Interestingly, our movement culture was largely crushed by Christianity just like cultures all over the planet. (The Catholic church believed that any effort to improve the body inevitably distracted from what they viewed as the much more important effort to improve the soul. There’s a nice discussion of this in Daniel Kunitz’s book Lift, which I wrote about here.)

There is a vast body of work on ancient Greek movement culture—ancient sources, translations, compilations, analysis, etc. In his book Natural Born Heroes, Christopher McDougall discusses various aspects at some length. I wrote about that book here.

What started me down this path was discovering Well For Culture, which bills itself as an “Indigenous Wellness Initiative.” Poking around their website I found all sorts of messages that resonate with me. And yet, as I described at the top, I hesitate to simply appropriate their cultural knowledge for my own use.

Which brings me to my second idea, which is that perhaps it’s okay to examine those portions of their cultural knowledge that they choose to make public, and use that knowledge as a lens though which to examine my own cultural traditions. Where there is overlap, I can consider emphasizing those aspects in my own movement practice. Where there is divergence, I can consider whether the differences spring from different histories, different environments, different purposes, or some other source, and let that consideration inform my own practice.

I continue to struggle just a bit with this. Are these indigenous practices being made public with the goal of helping everyone? Or are they being made public—in English, on the internet—because in the modern world other ways of reaching their own people are so limited?

In some cases I’m pretty confident that my use of indigenous knowledge is intended and supported. For example, the tai chi that I have learned and practice used to be held very closely within individual Chinese families, but has for some time been taught much more widely, with the evident goal of sharing those practices with everyone.

As another example, I’ve started exercising with steel clubs, in the tradition of Hindu (and Persian) club-swinging training. Doing this for exercise is a clear case of cultural appropriation: the British colonizers of India brought the practice back to England in the 19th century. Perhaps—hopefully—the cultural appropriation aspect is somewhat mitigated by the fact that clubs (as weapons) were used by every human culture, going back 10,000 years that we know of.

Me with my 15 lb steel club.

I’ve looked quickly to see if there’s any evidence for the use of clubs as a training tool, aside from its use as a weapon, and found that E. Ferdinand Lemaike in 1889, in his book Indian Clubs and How to Use Them, had this to say:

The Greeks and the Romans made great use of them, and gave them a prominent place among their various gymnastic exercises….

Not definitive—he cites no source for his statement—but it at least suggests that people in England thought they were following indigenous practices of their own culture.

He goes on to say:

That the club is the most ancient weapon nobody can deny; it is also the most natural and handy that could be found, and consequently the first used by man, for we find that Cain slew Abel with a club. The ordinary weapon of the athletic god Hercules was a club; and though he also used the bow and arrow, he is always represented with his club.

Although in this post I’m focusing on movement practice in particular, I should mention that Well For Culture emphasizes a more broad-based set of practices intended to produce wellness, including diet, song, ceremony, and much more. That fact makes me all the more inclined to look to my own cultural traditions for analogous practices and teachings.