– Clinton Rodell, Cadet Men’s Epee Junior Olympic Champion 2012 Photo: David Ruskin
Everyone knows that the harder you train, the better you become right? Well, in fencing it’s not always that simple.
In sports like running and swimming, you keep getting better by pushing your limits in practice. No matter what level you are at, this principle remains constant. The amount you improve is a function of the amount of work you put in. In fencing, after the first few years, the two aren’t necessarily as correlated.
The effort and grueling physical demands you put on yourself don’t mean as much if you don’t train right. What makes it even trickier is that frequently it’s not 100% clear as to what “right” really is for your fencing at a given time. You can do 5000 lunges every day, you can do hours of grueling footwork, but if you are not focusing on these improvements within the context of a larger, overall plan, you end up spinning your wheels, devoting hours of work but reaping less and less real improvement per hour spent training.
I heard a coach say one time that, “It’s easy to make and athlete. It’s hard to make a fencer.”
Take the lunging example for instance. After 5000 lunges, you will undoubtedly get stronger lunging muscles (after allowing yourself to recover of course). But you won’t have spent any of that time focusing on when to pull out that lunge and while the power and speed of that lunge is important, it’s not nearly as important as knowing exactly when to unleash it. You may have even been training yourself to resort to that lunge when you are tired.
Ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing in practice. Ask yourself how practicing whatever it is the way that you are directly builds into your overall fencing game.
Instead of pushing as hard as possible to do the same movements faster and with more repetitions, try to practice those movements smoother, or even differently. Try to get a feel for how you might actually implement those movements in a bout. Focus on smoothness or being able to respond in a specific tempo. Ask yourself if you really are ever going to be mindlessly running up and down the strip at full speed when you fence or if you would be better served focusing on ways to change speeds smoothly and manage the distance more efficiently.
I’m sure many of you are familiar with the adage, “Work smarter, not harder.” Due to the insane number of mental and physical variables in fencing, this is especially true at the intermediate and advanced levels more than in other sports.
Of course, you need hard work if you are going to get yourself to the next level. It’s just important that you have a plan for how exactly you are going to practice to drive the specific improvements you want.
Work with your coach so that you have a clear set of objectives for each practice session and you will get much more out of it.
Let’s put it this way: If you want to improve, you have to train both smarter and harder.