Weekly Warfare – 5 – How to Fight Forever

Ed. This week Iskender discusses how to live forever, or at least the best approximation you can get.

 

Once, I knew a gentleman in Falcon Cree named Monsieur Jacques Abaran. Monsieur Abaran was the fifteenth White Scarf in the Academie d’Espee. He was not a garrulous man. Rather, he possessed a quiet, humble dignity. He wasn’t studied in the manuals. He did not even possess an outstanding technique for offense. Monsieur Jacques Abaran shined in two ways – 1. His defensive technique was impeccable and 2. He could, quite literally, fight continuously for an hour or more. 

For you see, Monsieur Abaran in the modern world had completed multiple marathons. He could run for hours. His cardiac capacity was boundless. He used this to win swordfights – he’d simply outlast his opponent. He would parry until his opponent could barely stand – then he would merely walk up to them and stick them in the chest. Problem solved.

Cardiac capacity, for the purposes of this article, is made up of two parts. Aerobic capacity and anaerobic capacity. We will discuss aerobic capacity.

Aerobic capacity can be characterized at how long you can fight at an elevated heart & respiratory rate. This can also be termed as ‘wind’. Factors like this come into play during large melee events such as the major wars, as well as individual combats such as regenerative melees (res battles) and limited front/low mortality engagements, bridge battles. If, after five minutes of fighting, you are gasping for air and experiencing discomfort that causes you to retire from the fighting line or call a break in practice, then you need to work on your wind. As I write this on July 25th, 2014, many of you are leaving for Pennsic – presumably you will have just returned from Pennsic, and perhaps realize that aerobic conditioning may prove to be of some  benefit.

The downside to putting in effort towards developing your cardiac capacity is that it is unsexy, unmotivating, and time-consuming. Until your body acclimates to the activity that you’ve chosen, it will take an amount of determination to push through the adjustment period. This is a widely understated phenomenon among many fitness professionals. To put it plainly, no coach or trainer will verbalize the understanding that in the beginning, running* sucks. They, and I, want you to push through the initial period of suckage until you get to the part where you start to feel like a gazelle. And trust me, if you stick with it, you will get to that point.

There are a number of methods that you can use to elevate your cardiac capacity; running, cycling, swimming, jumping rope, using an elliptical trainer, dancing… there are a variety of activities which you can undertake; the key is to choosing one that you will be motivated to undertake. Many of them have low equipment thresholds, making them easy to access. Whichever one you choose, it’s important to approach it in a structured way. This will help you mark your progress, keep you motivated and challenged.

Just starting out 

“I can’t run*.”

Of course you can’t! Nobody can! Running as a sport is like anything else – it’s a learned skill. Running because the apocalypse has come and zombies are chasing you down the street is much different from running because it will improve your fitness – although I urge you to remember Rule #1.

But no matter how fat, out of shape, clumsy, or even lacking in legs you are, you have it within you to improve your cardiac capacity.  Dame Margaret Cameron of the Barony of Caer Mear suffered a stroke when in her mid-50’s. Since that time, she has completed several 5k races and one 10k. Additionally, the oldest triathlete in the world is a gentleman named Mr. Arthur Gilbert of Portsmouth, Hampshire, in England. At the age of 90, he completed his 41st triathlon in approximately 2 1/2 hours. The author of the online blog The Athena Diaries began her journey weighing over 200 lbs at 5’6″, and now runs for 100 kilometers at a stretch. And Mr. Scott Rigsby, of Atlanta, GA, in 2007 became the first double amputee to complete the Ironman Triathlon. So don’t tell me you can’t. Nobody can at first – we all learn to.

Proper equipment

It’s widely understood among experienced combatants in the Society, in any discipline, that new fighters will spend some time fighting their armor & weaponry rather than their opponents. This is because armour is ill fitting, you don’t know how to wear it, there is a flood of new sensations to process – this process is no different when undertaking a new cardiac discipline. Careful attention must be paid to the equipment you’re using, in order to maximize the effort you’re putting in as  well as to prevent injury. If you choose to take up running, go to a running store and get fitted properly for shoes that will match your gait. If you choose to take up cycling, go to a cycling store and make sure that your bicycle is in good running order and is appropriately adjusted to your stature. If you choose to take up swimming, make sure you have the right swimwear, and that it’s not too tight or too loose. You get the idea. With the possible exception of cycling, any type of cardiac activity you choose to take up is not going to cost you a fortune in equipment. And having equipment that doesn’t match your gait, body, or activity may not harm you at first, but can easily lead to injury on down the road.

Pain

In previous articles, I discussed being knowledgeable enough about your body to know the difference between pain and injury. That difference is going to become critical when undertaking a cardiac activity. As your body adjusts to the new regime you are putting it through, you’re going to experience some discomfort. This is natural. Be careful to note what can be characterized as soreness from adjusting to a new activity and the sensory input that accompanies injury. If you are merely experiencing pain, treat the symptoms and push through. If you are experiencing injury, STOP and see a medical professional immediately.

Structure

It is unwise, within your first week of picking up a Society weapon, to attempt to authorize & enter a tournament. No good will come of it, and it will probably be painful either to your body or ego. Possibly both. The same is true for training aerobic capacity – if you just put on a pair of athletic shoes and take off running up the street, or you hop on your bicycle and find the nearest big hill, no good will come of it. Gradually acclimating your body to greater and greater effort will go a long way in ensuring that you can increase your cardiac capacity in a smart way. The best structure, in my mind, is Cool Running’s Couch to 5k running program, which is widely available in a number of formats.

http://www.coolrunning.com/engine/2/2_3/181.shtml

Examining this program, we see that it takes approximately nine weeks to complete, working out for approximately twenty to thirty minutes per session, three times a week. I encourage you to put in a rest day between each workout – knocking out three days right in a row when you’re starting out will not be fun. The keys to completing those workouts, amazingly enough, is simply following those instructions. When it’s time to walk, walk; briskly. When it’s time to run, run; and do not, under any circumstances, stop running. This is where grit & determination matter – not just once, but over and over again. Learning to discipline your body also requires you to discipline your spirit; that is how heroes are formed. Don’t ever stop or skip a workout, even if you choose to repeat a workout. There is nothing wrong with repeating a workout or even an entire set of workouts.

This program can also be translated to any aerobic activity you want to take up. Take out the word ‘walk’ and put in ‘pace yourself slowly’. Take out the work ‘jog’ and put in the words ‘fast pace’. By doing that, you can translate Couch-to-5K to any aerobic activity; jumping rope, swimming, cycling, racewalking, prancercise, whatever you like.

The Finish Line
 
Most reputable training plans out there, including Couch-to-5k, have a completion point. There comes a point in your training when you cross the finish line. However, the finish line is a lie. You don’t finish. The finish line is truly a gate that you move through; it is an achievement, and should be celebrated! But aerobic capacity degenerates over time – if you don’t use it, you lose it. If you are a habit-based person, then you must remember to continue. But if you’re a goal-setter like me, then you already need to be thinking about leveling-up. Don’t stop.

Been doing cardio a while, but want to get better 

There are two theories on improving your aerobic capacity. One theory is called LSD – Long Slow Distance. Simply put, find an easy pace you can maintain, and work to increase the amount of time you maintain that pace. A good rule of thumb is to increase the time you put into aerobic conditioning by 10% per week. For some people, this will work. The drawback to this method is that the amount of time you will need to spend working on your cardio may increase beyond the point where it becomes adjunctive to improving your fighting, and becomes an activity itself. It’s not hard to work yourself into doing cardio for literally hours a day. If your goal is to complete a marathon, a 25km swim, or a cycling century, then this is necessary and admirable. However, that is not the goal of this article. If you become excited enough to pursue these activities on their own, I do advise you to seek out training plans that are geared specifically to those activities.

My preferred method of improving aerobic capacity as an adjunct to fighting involves utilizing the structure reflected in this chart –

cardio-chart (1)

I personally went from running a 5k in 35 minutes to under 25 minutes in one summer using this method.

If you read this chart carefully, you will see that the bar on the left looks remarkably like the subjective effort scale I talked about in earlier articles on weightlifting. Bearing in mind the key word, ‘subjective’. There are, of course, some objective markers which you can use to keep yourself honest. Your intensity level of ’10’ is an all-out effort, but make an important distinction. 10 is not only how hard you can go, but how hard you can maintain  for the time period required. If you are working so hard that you can only maintain that level of work for 30 seconds instead of a minute, you’re overdoing it. Back it off a little. Continuing to train your aerobic capacity is an endeavor that requires you to constantly challenge yourself, and adjust your workouts in order to meet those challenges.

This chart, like other workout regimes, should be a guide. However, it isn’t one that should be followed religiously. You should mix it up. If you are executing an aerobic session at least three times a week like you should, this should be at least one of them – if you are doing an activity that provides relatively low strain on your joints, such as cycling, trail running, or swimming, feel free to increase the number of times you perform that workout. However, if you are banging on your joints a bit with something like jumping rope or road running, then you should mix it up with some other structure for your workout.

If you have done cardio for a while, then you have a sense of how long you can maintain a certain level of aerobic activity. This can be termed your ‘base pace’, however you choose to measure it according to the activity. Within the time constraints of a normal everyday working joe or jane, increasing the amount of effort you can do within your workout can be a good measure of the increase in your aerobic capacity. In other words, if you plan a 30 minute workout where you ride your bicycle at approximately 12 mph, and can do that repeatedly, that’s your base pace. If, after doing the workout listed in the chart above for a few months, you can ride at 14mph for the same amount of time, that can be reasonably considered an increase in your aerobic activity – when it’s time to put that practice into performance, most people find that an increase in the level of effort within a certain time frame can translate into being able to maintain a lower level of effort across an expanded time frame.

To put it simply, if you can go from 12mph to 14mph in 30 minutes on a bicycle over the course of a summer, then going to a daylong melee event is going to be less taxing than it was.  So it’s important to periodically measure your base pace. Just get out there and see how much effort you can put in, during a given amount of time. This does require a level of self-honesty, if you are performing these workouts alone. Push yourself.

Similarly, occasionally seeing how long you can maintain a certain level of effort (i.e., the LSD I posted above) is also a good way to test or train your aerobic capacity. LSD takes time, but a mix of LSD, body-for-life cardio training, and testing your base pace can be a good mix of options to keep you engaged and challenged to increase your aerobic capacity.

Conclusion
 
Developing your aerobic capacity is the single hardest element to improve in your bodily fitness, because there is no immediate payoff. It will take weeks or months of solitary work to see improvement, and the initial improvement may not be commensurate to the amount of effort you put in. But stick with it, because the payoff will surprise you. It will surprise you when the person you’re fighting at practice calls for a break in combat and you’re  barely winded. It will surprise you when one day you realize that you don’t feel like a shambling zombie, but like a gazelle. It will surprise you when you complete a two-hour resurrection battle, pack out the entire camp, and have everything in the laundry by 3pm on Sunday after the event. It will surprise you when putting on your suit of armour isn’t nearly the work it used to be.

Fighting is work, and don’t let anyone tell you different. It might be fun work, it might be rewarding work, but it’s still work. It’s still effort that you have to put in. I have always been a fan of working smarter, rather than harder. The effort to work smarter will require mental determination; grit. And the capacity to become more than you are now, no matter where you start from, is something that lies latent within everyone. Including you.

 

 

* = or cycling or swimming or zumba or rowing or whatever.

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