Last summer I put together a sequence of footwork conditioning exercises for one of my students. He was really working at his fencing, but wasn't working out much. His footwork needed some help. It seemed like perfecting his footwork form would get easier if he had some more strength in his legs, specifically strength oriented towards the activity.
He used it through the summer and into the new season and saw a major improvement in his footwork. He then progressed from a D to a B during the course of the COVID shortened season. Another one of our fencers worked the routine and went from just starting fencing, to making it into the top 100 on the Cadet National Points List in that same shortened season.
In both their cases, they practiced multiple times a week for several hours. But footwork is your foundation and so improvements in footwork and better conditioning on the legs probably helped a lot. So this was potentially one of several factors to help them with their success.
We've been using it over our summer camps this summer, and into week two we're already seeing footwork improvements from the week one fencers.
The routine is really simple and can be done at home or at your club. You'll need a timer, a jump rope, a weight, and a length of space about as long as a fencing strip.
First step is advancing and retreating.
Advance the length of the strip, then retreat the length of the strip. First set do slowly, stay focused on your form.
Repeat at a medium pace. Focus on your form.
Repeat at a fast pace, focus on your form. This is a little harder at the fast pace but still necessary.
Now go at your maximum pace, stay attentive to form.
Now you'll work backwards. Do another fast set, then a medium set and finish with a slow set.
You're working your way up in speed and then bringing it back down. The first half works on maintaining form the second half on fixing form.
Second step is Sabre Runs
Sprint from one end of the strip to the other, then slowly walk back.
This simulates the explosive burst of going forward in a fencing action, and then the recovery from the action while you return to the line. It mimics the burst-rest interval experience of sabre.
When sprinting push to your limit. Try and push each sprint faster. This is how sprinting works to develop muscle speed. The muscles push to use more power so they adapt to normalize that power.
Third step is Jump Rope.
Set 2 or 3 minutes on the clock depending upon capability. Jump rope as consistently as possible during that time.
You're working on cardio, but also a little bit on hand eye and foot coordination.
The fourth step is Weighted Lunging
Grab a weight. Hold the weight to your chest. Lunge and recover forward the length of the strip and then back.
When you're done repeat on your non-dominant leg.
You can add a second or third set of these depending upon capability.
The fifth and final step are Standing Broad Jumps
Take your weight and hold it to your chest. From a stationary position, standing as if in guard, jump forward explosively using only your back leg.
Repeat this up and back the length of the strip.
Repeat the process with your non-dominant leg.
This is a power exercise, so time is a component.
The best way to do this is to run a stop watch and clock how much time it takes you to do one set on each leg.
Rest for about thirty seconds and then do both legs again. Run the stop watch to see if you improved your time.
Rest for about thirty seconds and repeat again. Run the stop watch to see if you beat both previous times.
If doing this for a group you can set partners to time each other, or you can have fencers count the number of jumps they take and try to beat the number each time.
You're only trying to beat the time or number done by that leg. So all your jumps on your right leg compare to each other but not to your jumps on the left leg, and visa versa.
There is a tendency when doing this to take huge breaks when one is left to their own devices. You have to fight this tendency. One student would stretch this to an hour or an hour and a half when he could. You can finish this in about 25 to 40 minutes.
My best friend is kind of into cross-fit. When he saw a student doing this set he was not a fan because it was all such specific exercises focused on such specific sort of uses of the legs. It is specifically a series of exercises to help develop footwork. It's important to do other conditioning and physical development that is more general as well.
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