Friday, March 5, 2010

A brief word about exercise.

On my Facebook page the other day I noted that I was doing some SCA specific exercises in my workout right now (I missed today’s workout, unfortunately, but I will make up for that by working out tomorrow morning after my 8 am class). Someone asked me to share what my SCA specific exercises are., so I decided to write about it here.

First a few principles of how I approach exercise for SCA fighting. I do not want to build bulk. I do not want to increase my upper body or arm strength, at least not significantly. I do not believe that upper body strength is necessary for success as an SCA fighter. I once had an Atlantian duke tell me that if you can put your thumb and forefinger around your wrist you’ll never be a knight. Since I could do that at the time and was both a knight and a count, I felt that was an erroneous statement. Using the Belatrix snap technique, which is the basis for most SCA fighting styles, all the strength comes from the legs. The hand merely guides the sword into place. Radnor once said that any blow that requires strength to throw it and land it is part of a bogus technique. In the Gendy style and some of the center-mass styles based on boxing, upper body strength is more important. What is important in all the styles, however, is core strength. The reason I work out is to build muscle endurance, flexibility, speed and, most importantly, core strength. That being said, any exercise program you can stick to is going to benefit you and benefit your fighting. Circuit training, for instances, works every major muscle group. If you do high rep, low weight sets, you will be building the kind of long, lean muscles and the kind of endurance that is good for SCA fighting. What I don’t like about circuit training is that it isolates muscle groups. A lot of dukes I know are using Pilates these days because it focuses on the core. The best full body workout you will ever encounter is rock climbing. For the past several years, until recently, I have concentrated on two exercises almost exclusively: bicycling (including spin class, which I love) and yoga. During that time I’ve been on a low carb regimen, I’ve lost more than fifty pounds, and I am back to about 80% if the fighting ability I had fifteen years ago when I won crown.

But here are the exercises I use now. As always, check with a doctor before you begin any exercise program:

• Dumbbells: I do a pretty simple dumbbell combo with relatively light weight (I’ve got ten pound bells at home, but I use fifteen to twenty five pound bells at work). My I do hammer curls with each dumbbell, then press each one over head, then bring each one alternately to the opposite shoulder, then do side raises, then front raises. That is one rep. Repeat that ten times and your arms will want to fall off. That’s one set. I do all of this standing.
• Barbells: I actually prefer barbells to dumbbells. My barbell exercise is even simpler. I do military presses, curls, standing rows and overhead triceps presses, three sets of ten reps each. That is all. The key to this and to the dumbbell exercises is that I do them standing. All of them. The fact that I have to engage my core muscles is much more important than the fact that I am lifting.
• Calisthenics: They say that if you do calisthenics you have to do them every day in order for it to work, and indeed, if you do 200 pushups every day you will be cut. I simply mix them in from time to time. I usually do fifty pushups a day and either 125 or 250 crunches. A good way to do the pushups is a build down. Start with a set of ten, then do a set of nine, and so on until you have done one. This will be 55 pushups, which in a day is not bad.
• Cable work: I love the cable machine. There are a few things that you can do with it that you can’t really do any other way. The three best natural fighters I have ever known were Duke Radnor, his brother Manu, and his friend Wolfshawl. All three of them were from Hawaii. Sagan once suggested that the reason they were all so good was because they surfed and they raced outrigger canoes. There are few better core exercises than rowing outrigger canoes. It is the pulling down while tightening the core as much as pulling back that does it. You can simulate that on a cable machine. Attach a push-down rope to a high pulley. Sit down facing the machine and pull the rope all the way down to your hips, tightening your gut as you do so. Do three sets of ten to twelve, or two sets of twenty. Then kneel looking the other way and pull the cable over head, pushing away from you, alternating with pulling it over each shoulder. Same number of sets. The other great exercise is a one handed push. Start with you feet spread far apart facing away from the machine in a fighting stance. Reach back to grasp the pulley with one hand. Pull it toward you. Turn your hips to drive the shoulder forward, then push the handle out in front of you. All of this to simulate the action of a blow. Mix these exercises in with chest flies, curls, and rows.
• Explosion exercises: Really there are only two of these. The first involves rubber bands, which you can make out a bicycle inner tube by splitting it lengthwise, or buy them at a sports store. Link them to a post so you can put them over your shoulders (wrap one around the post and put the other one through the two closed ends). Face away from the post and Lunge forward, fifty times on each foot. Then fall forward into a push up and push yourself back up with your hands. The second one is simply the clean and jerk. Do no more than five up to the max weight you can do (for me it’s 115 pounds, though I keep trying to do 135).
• Indian Clubs and Kettle Bells: If you do nothing else, use Indian clubs and kettle bells. These are the best combination of strength, core, and flexibility you can do. You can get most of the exercises off of youtube:

There are so many exercises to do with kettlebells and Indian clubs n youtube that you will never run out of things to try. This one is a basic drill that is pretty good:

• Feats of strength: kettlebells and Indian clubs are old school strongman stuff, the type of thing that went out of fashion as isolation and body building came into fashion. Swinging the two handed mace, one handed presses, and especially standing up holding a weight over your head are great ways to test your strength and work out your core. As MMA has become popular all of these exercise that combined upperbody strength, core strength, and flexibility have become more popular. They are all over youtube. I'm not particularly strong, but these are really good things to toughen you up. These maniacs at Gym Jones are probably the most intense. I found them through Gemeni's page.

The main idea of all these things is to build core strength. I like to mix and match these workouts. This week my workouts looked like this: spin class and cable work on Saturday, Indian clubs on Sunday (because fight practice was cancelled), rest on Monday, yoga, half hour running on the treadmill, kettlebells, and crunches on Tuesday, Indian clubs on Wednesday and Thursday, calisthenics on Friday. Rinse and repeat.

1 comment:

Cindy said...

I agree that kettlebells are a fabulous way to increase your strength & conditioning. I use them almost exclusively as a Marine stationed in Afghanistan.

The best place I've found to buy good quality kettlebells at discount prices is Kettlebells USA. They give military discounts and ship to our fighting men and women overseas.

Check them out: