Physical Training For HEMA

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When you talk about physical training for HEMA, I can see some people start to roll their eyes. After all, HEMA isn’t real life, right? I mean, it’s not like people are going to jump you with longswords and rondel daggers any time soon.

But HEMA has its roots in manuals of sword fighting that was used by the aristocracy, the knightly class and above. While longsword and spear may not be applicable today, the physical training of the knights of long ago, the typical HEMA practitioner, and the modern Barbarian aren’t all that different.

After all, it’s all about being ready for a combat sport.

One of the downsides of HEMA as a physical fitness activity is that there’s only so much physical fitness involved.

To be sure, the more you fight, the more conditioning you can get, but conditioning only gets you so far from what I can tell. You also need the power to deal effective blows and to push your way through an opponent’s guard.

Back in the day, dedicated strength training wasn’t really a thing, particularly for the knightly class that took part in sword training. However, the process of becoming a knight provided a lot of strength and conditioning training in the form of work. Think “farmboy strong” to some degree.

By the time they took up the sword as a vocation formally, they’d had years of training and years of building up strong, powerful muscles. Granted, they didn’t keep up that degree of work, but keeping their fighting edge probably kept up the strength just fine.

Today, though, HEMA practitioners don’t do any of that.

Sure, some work manual labor jobs where they’re lifting things all day, every day which is probably a good approximation of that kind of training. A key difference, however, is when people take on these activities. They’re not doing it as kids.

Still, that’s a small matter.

Most HEMA practitioners work regular jobs. While some are working with their hands in various ways, others are working office jobs or are standing up all day.

They’re not getting that level of training.

Instead, they show up for so many days per week, sword in hand, and a number of them apparently believe HEMA is all the training they need for physical health.

I’m sorry, but while I’m a neophyte HEMA practitioner, that’s wrong.

For general health purposes alone, I’m unconvinced that HEMA alone is sufficient work. While it may provide the minimum amount of conditioning someone needs, it doesn’t do much for increasing bone density or musculature which you get from resistance training.

While some might argue that swinging a sword is resistance, they’re missing the idea of progressive overload. With a sword, there generally isn’t any.

That means to be at your best, you probably need more than just HEMA.

So what do you do?

As mentioned before, HEMA is a combat sport. When done in a period style, it involves things like grappling with your opponent. It involves throwing them on the ground. You grab their arms and pull them, all kinds of things. There’s a definite sense of struggle in the fight rather than just swinging a sword. You have to battle, even in friendly sparring sessions.

Your training needs to reflect that.

As I said, HEMA is a combat sport. Rather than light strength training or general conditioning training, a HEMA fighter’s training needs more. More of everything.

It should probably more closely mimic a wrestler or MMA fighter’s training as opposed to an Olympic-style sport fencer’s. Nothing against sport fencing, mind you, it’s just a different game.

So training for HEMA needs to be focused on the fight. It needs to build mental toughness, stamina, and power. It should have things like kettlebells, barbells, and high-intensity interval training. Things that make you want to puke your guts up, but you turn around and do it all over again.

Hell, even CrossFit would be beneficial for HEMA with its varied focus.

The important thing here, though, seems to be that HEMA isn’t enough on its own, and if you want to be good at it, you need to take it seriously.

At the end of the day, though, what does that change? If you focus on HEMA or you focus on real-world conflict with HEMA for fun, what changes?


And honestly, that’s a damn good thing in my book.


Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.

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