Weekly Warfare – 3 – Fighting strength

Ed: In the third part of the series, Iskender discusses weight training.

In my first article, I briefly mentioned strength. Strength can be divided into two categories – how much mass you can move, and how fast you can move it. This article will discuss how you can move more mass. It will be geared towards both armored and unarmored combatants in the Society, who should have differing physical goals in preparing their bodies for fighting – however, there exists a significant overlap in methodologies.

Physical strength is commonly defined as being able to move a given amount of mass. Developing a greater capacity to move mass comes from repeated exposure of your musculature to stress as expressed by resistance. To get more muscle move heavy stuff.

Having more muscle in fighting is important for two reasons. The first reason is that as you gain musculature you become both faster and stronger. You will be able to reach your opponent in less amount of time and be able to hit them harder, if necessary, with less effort on your part. Given two fighters of equally good technique the faster and stronger opponent is more likely to win out.

The second reason is self-protection. Developing a better musculature for fighting will work to support your joints from the stresses that are placed upon them by combat; whether those stresses come internally as you exert yourself in new, unfamiliar ways, or those stresses come externally from the weight of armor or the blows of your opponents.

A significant amount of strength can be gained by exposing your body to resistance 30 minutes per day, every other day. That’s two hours a week. I am personally loathe to make blanket categorical statements. They are so easily exceptionalized and rendered false. However, I can state with no reservation that if you can put in 30 minutes of effort-ful strength training every other day, your fighting will become easier.

 

Sweat more in training, bleed less in war.

There are a number of ways to expose your musculature to stress in order to influence it to grow.

You can go to a gym. Gyms are good for two reasons. It will be hard to screw up strength training if you are in a building full of equipment specifically designed for that purpose and (theoretically) staffed by people who have some clue how to use it. Secondly, from a psychological standpoint, if you have put your money where your mouth is you are more likely to devote time and real effort into improving your strength.

Initially going to a gym may seem an intimidating prospect. There are lots of very knowledgeable, in-shape people in very expensive clothing who are moving very impressive weight around in what seems to be a very ostentatious manner. When you are confronted by this scene remember two things.  First, everybody starts somewhere. I’d be very surprised if there was a regular gym attendee who had first set foot in a gym, and not felt intimidated. Everybody’s nervous their first time. Second, there is a very high probability that every single person who is working on their strength training is there for the exact same reason. None of them want their bodies to stop them from doing the things they want to do. Despite the variety of applications for this method the goal is the same.

Not going to a gym is also an option. There are a number of training methodologies which will improve your strength that will either require homemade materials or the clever combination of physics and body weight to increase your strength. Strongman training, playground workouts, and nerd fitness (that’s really actually a thing) are all excellent avenues for pursuing improvements in strength. These methodologies are generally designed to be eminently accessible to those who won’t or can’t pay gym fees but they require more imagination and willpower to implement. If you are not monetarily invested in your strength training it may require more willpower to get your butt off the couch.

Whichever methodology you choose, it’s advisable to structure your workouts so that you can measure your progress and make adjustments to your program that are needed. Randomly picking heavy things up & putting them down again will improve your strength in a rather haphazard way.

Structure begins with the way you work your body. Strength isn’t built during the part where you’re picking things up & putting them down again – it’s built as your body repairs itself after your strength training sessions. Therefore, working every single muscle group every single day is highly inadvisable. Not only will you retard the growth of your musculature, you have a good chance of injuring yourself.

Rather, work two muscle groups per day, with a day off between strength sessions (ideally, that day in between strength sessions is for your cardio work, but that’s in another article). For each muscle group you work, do two (different) exercises. In order, work chest, shoulders, triceps, legs, back, biceps, abs. If you are doing your strength work in the gym, you may have good results alternating between free weights & strength machines for each muscle group. Whether or not you are working in a gym, one exercise should concentrate on moving resistance away from you, or pushing. The other exercise should concentrate on moving the resistance towards you, or pulling.

For example, on Monday, you would do four exercises – 2 chest (1 push, 1 pull), and 2 shoulder exercises (1 push, 1 pull). Then for Wednesday – four exercises, 2 triceps, 2 leg exercises. Friday it’s back & biceps. And then Sunday it’s abs & pick-a-muscle group; since I have listed an odd number of muscle groups, in an even number of days you’ll have one extra muscle group. That’s the time to pick whichever muscle group you feel is weakest & work on that. Viewed as a chart, your strength training sessions might look like this.

Strength training

Bear in mind, that this is just an example structure. You could, if you liked, work one muscle group per day in rotation, narrowing the amount of time each day you work but doing strength work every single day. You could group three muscle groups into one day, loading up your day but keeping down the number of days you’re concentrating on your workout. As a matter of fact, approximately every two months you should differentiate your strength training sessions. Choose different exercises, try a new training methodology, whatever you like. Two months is the approximate amount of time that your body will acclimate to a routine – changing it up is very important in order to continue to physiologically stimulate growth. As well, routine becomes boring psychologically. This disincentivizes you to work on strength. Whatever you change, be sure to do some type of strength training. Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good – any non-injurious strength training is better than no strength training.

On that chart, you’ll see a very important number, which isn’t weight or reps. It’s your subjective effort level. This level is a way of expressing how much effort you’re putting in. Similar to blow calling, this is a subjective methodology marked by a couple of objective criteria. A ’10’ on this effort level scale is ‘failure to complete’. That is to say, if you have to pick up 100lb weight 12 times, and you cannot physically complete the set, that’s a 10. An effort level of 5 can be marked in some people by the feeling of muscular engagement; “I picked something up and it felt kinda heavy”. When you begin your weightlifting regime, you’ll take a couple weeks to establish your subjective effort level. This normal.

However, as you’re establishing your subjective effort level, there’s a very key difference to remember at the effort level of ’10’. Being physically incapable of lifting something again, and telling yourself you can’t lift something again are two different things. Many people shortchange themselves and think they are incapable of another lift, when in fact they are. Most people are much stronger than they give themselves credit for. This can be displayed when weightlifting with a workout buddy, a trainer, or in front of anyone who’s paying attention. You will lift more weight.

‘The mind is a liar, which will tell you that you’re doing well enough, just because you’re trying.’ – Sir Mordreth of the East Kingdom

 

 

Strength for your Discipline

Armor

The armored disciplines in our Society do well to practice strength throughout the body, with emphasis placed on core & upper body strength. Depending on your methodology of power generation, much of the force that you need in order for your opponent to call a blow ‘good’ is channeled through the core – not just your midsection, but your back as well. And considering the weight of the weapons that must be borne, upper body strength is important. A good machine that mimics the mechanics of upper body strength as employed by armored combatants is the cable fly. As well, it may be beneficial to research strengthening exercises performed by baseball players. One example is shown here:

Unarmored

Unarmored combatants in the Society don’t have to worry as much as the armored combatants, insofar as upper body power or core are concerned. Power generation is not the key – fine muscular control is, along with lower body strength. This means emphasis should be paid by the unarmored combatant to strengthen their entire lower body. Leg presses are an easy way to do this.

Additionally, unarmored combatants would benefit from strengthening the muscles in the hand – we are routinely required to manipulate 5-7 lb levers at high speed in a very precise way. Much of the imprecision that new fighters have with their tip comes from a lack of suitable musculature in the arm and hand.

One way to easily build hand strength is to take your local newspaper, and unfold it completely flat on a table. Rest your hand with your palm flat and your fingers splayed at the center of the newspaper. Using only one hand, crumple the newspaper into a small ball and throw it in the recycling. Repeat thirty times, three times a week. Squeezing a racquetball or tennis ball can also be beneficial. Finally, high-level mountain climbers spend time working on hand strength, and doing research into their techniques may provide suitable directions for improving your hand strength.

Knees

Special attention should be paid to strengthening knee joints for both disciplines. In armor they must bear the weight of additional mass distributed throughout the body. Wearing armor is tough on your knees. For steel combatants the biggest risk is launching yourself at your opponent in an undisciplined way.  Pay attention to your form – not only will it preserve your victory, but by not allowing yourself to lean forward so that the knee goes forward of the toes it will ensure that you have a long fighting career.

As far as exercises go, deep knee lunges, performed carefully, will also strengthen many major muscle groups in the leg without compromising the knee. There are also several yoga sequences which may be beneficial in strengthening the knee. Be diligent in your research for knee-strengthening exercises.

 

Conclusion

There are as many ways to increase your capacity to move mass as there are people to move mass. Given the century of research (so far) which has been specifically targeted towards strength training there is a methodology to suit every body. Different bodies move in different ways and discovering the methodology which both stimulates muscle growth as well as keeping you mentally engaged are keys to increasing your strength. Try anything and everything, discard that which doesn’t work for you, and stay engaged with methodologies that do.

Similarly, you must learn to tell the difference between the satisfying soreness of having fully worked out and the sharp pain of injury. If you are experiencing discomfort because you are working hard, congratulations. You are alive. And in this case, pain is weakness leaving the body. Or taco bell leaving the body. Both are equivalent, to me. The delayed onset muscle soreness of having put in a good strength session can be significantly lessened by bodily immersing yourself in hot water – as hot as you can stand it. Hot showers, hot baths, saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs – all of these are not only beneficial but can relieve muscular soreness.

However, if you even remotely suspect you are injured, stop immediately and seek medical attention. Playing through pain is one thing – playing through an injury is foolish.

Strength is relative. Different people express strength in different ways, and although objective criteria are important in establishing benchmarks, taking joy in any achievement you obtain is key in staying engaged in strengthening your body. Never give up, and never stop. Never be satisfied in where you are, and always seek the higher plane.

Figure 2; Susan Svanevik of Bergen Crossfit performing a barbell pistol squat atop a kettlebell

Figure 2; Susan Svanevik of Bergen Crossfit performing a barbell pistol squat atop a kettlebell

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