My New HEMA Training Plan

man carrying barbell at the gym

As promised yesterday, I kind of have a basic outline for my new HEMA training plan. What I have here are various phases. There’s no set period of time on how long a phase actually is. It takes as long as it needs to take and possibly even longer because, like most people looking at their training, I’m an idiot sometimes.

Remember, this is gearing an individual up for longsword fighting with an eye toward also performing grappling-style combat as well. That said, there are worse ways someone can get in shape than to follow something similar to this.

However, if you’re training for a completely different sport, don’t be surprised if this approach doesn’t work for you at all. Hell, this is something of an experiment anyway, so don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work for you if you compete in longsword.

So, without further ado…

Phase One: build Work capacity

I’ve let myself get way too out of shape. That means I need to get myself back into shape, obviously.

The problem is, I’m now at a point in my life where Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness can become a real problem, particularly in my legs. I don’t sweat a little bit of soreness, but when walking is problematic, that’s very not good.

That means you either have to suck it up and deal with it or build up to it somewhat slowly.

Frankly, I’ve already been doing that, using air squats multiple times a day and adding just a bit of work each day. I’m basically using the “grease the groove” method to minimize soreness.

It doesn’t eliminate it completely–my glutes at this moment know better–but it does help. As squats are probably the worst offender, that’s where I started focusing my efforts.

I didn’t end there, though. I also started with pushups using a similar approach. Again, I’d let myself go to the point where nothing was there, but am slowing pushing myself back up.

At one point, I was doing 100 pushups a day as part of my workout, and we’re going to see about getting back to that point.

However, calisthenics aren’t the totality of Phase One.

See, if you’re out of shape and need conditioning, it’s probably stupid to try and do something that would make crossfitters puke on day one. You’ll probably never survive it.

So, instead, I’m building up my conditioning a bit at a time through use of battle ropes (review coming), kettlebell movements, and so on.

It’s not much, but it’s a start.

Phase Two: Learning New Movements

While still working on the work capacity from Phase One, the next phase involves learning some new movement patterns. In particular, some kinds of walks that will help mobility–at the moment, I’m focused on the bear crawl, for example–as well as provide some strength benefits.

This would also be the time to try  master kettlebell movements I’ve been lacking proficiency on. While I learned the snatch fairly well, there are still a lot of movements I need to work on, this is a good time to learn them.

However, it’s vital that this comes after the training for building work capacity. It can be easy to ignore the training because learning new skills more interesting, more engaging. It’s easy to overdo it on learning the skills and then not have anything left for the workout, either mentally or physically.

The thing is, once I’ve learned the movement, you start incorporating it into what I’m already doing so as to not lose the skill just when you’ve acquired it.

That leads us into…

Phase Three: Conditioning Focus

I’m not going to say strength is unimportant at this point because that would be a lie. However, most people who learn to use a longsword come from one of two places.

The first is more of a fencing focus. These are people who fight in modern HEMA tournaments. These tend to score based on touches and don’t require full-powered blows. More to the point, though, full-power blows aren’t the way things are done. I know of one person who gets in trouble for his powerful strikes.

For these folks–I tend to refer to them as fencers–may need to develop some power, but they need conditioning more than anything else.

The other approach is more power focused. These are full-powered blows that have to be delivered with enough umph to count. I’ll refer to these people as fighters.

Now, it would seem that fighters need to be a lot stronger, and that may be true. However, much of a fighter’s power comes not from how much they can bench, but from their kinesthetics. In other words, it comes from body mechanics, not pure force.

As a result, strength isn’t the most vital component for folks with a longsword.

Yet, anyway.

As a result, the focus needs to be on conditioning first and foremost, but it needs to be handled in a way that also lays the groundwork for the next phase.

What the plan is here is to take all those new movements and put them together as parts of a circuit.

See, strength and conditioning coach Dan John likes to say “the warmup is the workout.”

For a long time, I didn’t really grok what that meant. I mean, if the warmup is the workout, then do you just quit after it’s done? Only, I realized that’s not quite true.

I may be getting this wrong, but for John, the warmup is the time to develop general physical preparedness, or GPP. You can build up a baseline of both strength and conditioning there, then use the rest of the workout to build whatever else you need, be it technical skills or absolute strength.

Here’s an example of one of a warmup that Dan John has used, apparently.

Warm up
• Waiter Walks/Suitcase Walks/Heartbeat Walk
• Light Goblet Squats / Hip Flexor Stretch “Make Space”
• Plank (Superman and One Leg Variations)
• Windmill Movements (Get Up Series)
• Bootstrapper Squats “Spread the Load”
• Pushup Position Planks (Superman and One Leg Variations)
• Bootstrapper Squats “Pry Loose”
• Horizontal Shrugs “Relax into Stretch”
• Maxercist Rows “Strength is a Skill”
• Parked One Arm Rows
• Alligator Push Ups Tic-tock-tic-tock…
• RDL Stretch/Timed Pushups/ RDL Stretch/Timed Pushup
• Heartbeat Squats
• Half Turkish Get ups using the elbow as a lever
• Dead Bugs: Resurrected Dead Bugs, Floor Wipers, and Deadbugs with a Heart Beat..16 each

Now, I’m not about to say that I’m going to do that as a warmup myself. I’m not interested in copying the man.

Plus, I’m not even sure what some of those exercises even are.

However, John also argues there are five basic human movements.

  • Push
  • Pull
  • Squat
  • Hinge
  • Loaded Carry

There’s also a six group which is, well, everything else. Mostly, it seems to be ground-based stuff that includes rotational movements among some other things.

Yet that warmup included each of those movements, including the sixth.

My warmup must do the same. It must also be challenging without being ridiculous. Something like this needs to become a go-to, not just before training, but also before class.

Of course, if I did nothing but the warmup, that would probably be a pretty good day, but that’s not enough. I also need to start building strength as well.

What, you thought strength training taking a backseat meant that there wouldn’t be any? Nope.

However, “strength training” will primarily be calisthenics.

See, calisthenics is supposed to be easier for the body to recover from. That makes sense. Our bodies are designed to move our bodies around, which means it should be able to recover from a bad day of moving our bodies around because you may have a few dozen bad days in a row.

So, I’ll be doing a lot more pushups, pullups, bodyweight squats, sit-ups/crunches/knee raises, etc. and so on for a while. In the meantime, though, I’ll be getting stronger.

These might be finished off with some sled pulls, because, well, I like sled pulls and they’re pretty good for both leg strength and conditioning. We’ll have to see about those, though.

Phase Four: Strength Focus

When it’s time, I’ll be shifting over to more of a strength focus, and that means barbell lifts. In particular, the Big Four of bench press, squat, deadlift, and overhead press.

It’ll probably also include some accessory work, like pullovers (mostly because they’re a favorite of mine), curls, triceps work, and so on.

However, all of this will come after the warmup, which will provide a fair bit of GPP. However, I won’t be adding to that, for the most part. See, if your body has adapted to something, it doesn’t need to really recover from it. By holding my conditioning here, I should maintain that conditioning, but it also shouldn’t provide any issues with my strength training.

By this point, I’ll be doing big barbell lifts, but also some dumbbell training as well. While I don’t know that I’ll be able to buy the fixed dumbbells I prefer, I do still have my adjustable dumbbells and enough plates to make at least one dumbbell pretty damn challenging. That might be enough to accomplish some interesting things.

That’s not the only example I’ve heard or read about one-armed movements accomplishing some good things. I’ve also heard many reports about people injured in one arm and unable to lift with it at all who used one-armed lifts to prevent atrophy of the other limb. That suggests there’s more to atrophy than simply lack of use.

I’m going to be honest, but this particular phase is a little fuzzy. I could just do my GPP training, then jump onto a Starting Strength protocol, which wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world, but I’m not sure I want to go down that road. Not because it’s bad or anything, but because I’m not sure it’s right for me.

Luckily, it’ll be a while before any of this matters and I enjoy the research, so I’ll know where I go from here before I get to this point.

Important Principles For Me To Remember

I’m writing this post as much for me as for anyone else. I mean, I don’t expect a damn soul to actually follow this besides me. However, there are a few principles I think I need to lay out for myself as well.

Constantly reevaluate

It’s easy for me to do something and be so convinced it will work that I ignore any evidence to the contrary. I need to be open to the idea that something isn’t working. When that happens, I need to be open to it being the result of any aspect of my training. That includes food and sleep as well.

Stay the course

All that said, I also need to give things a legitimate chance to work. In the past, my ADHD has made it so I’d jump from one training program to another to another. I need to give things a legitimate chance to work before deciding it’s a failure and it’s time to do something else.

Also, no distracted by “shiny objects,” namely new and interesting-looking kinds of training.

Keep my diet dialed in

I’m on a calorie-restricted diet. After all, I want to lose the weight I put back on and maybe lose a bit more. However, I can’t allow those calories to get too low. If I do, I won’t have sufficient fuel to actually train like I need to.

And I’m bad about having my calories too low if I’m not careful.

Remember what this is about

It’s easy to get locked up in the training and forget what this is about. HEMA training plans aren’t about anything else. If anything I’m doing detracts from that, then it’s time to step back and do that whole reevaluate thing again.

This plan isn’t locked In Stone

Again, going with the reevaluate thing but in a different direction, I shouldn’t be afraid to take a step back and recognize that I need to switch into another phase of this for whatever reason. For example, if I’m in Phase Four only to realize my GPP isn’t good enough, then there’s no harm in holding there with strength and focusing on that GPP for a while until it’s built up where it needs to be.

And with that, we have my new training plan, more or less.

Yes, it’s lacking in specifics, but that’s because I’m lacking in some specifics. I’m in Phase One right now, after all, so there are times.

HEMA training looks a lot like other training...unless you know better.

What will happen is that every basic movement will be trained and trained hard, probably in a couple of different ways. I’ll also likely vary things up regularly to avoid boredom and, potentially, running afoul of the Law of Accommodation.

What matters, though, are the movement patterns. After all, does it really matter if you’re doing overhead press with a barbell or a dumbbell in the grand scheme of things? Either way, you’re training to get stronger and besides, you’ll likely be doing a bit of both along the way.

We’ll see how it goes, but I’ve rambled on enough at this point.

Author: Tom

Tom is a writer from Southwest Georgia. His "day job" is writing for sites like By Spear and Axe, Townhall, and PJ Media. In addition to writing, he enjoys physical training, martial arts, action movies, and food.

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