Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why do I train?

Why do I train? It's a pretty complicated question, and one that I don't think that I can answer right out. The question "why?" is also closely related to "what?" and "how?"

What is training?

The first thing to think about is what training is, and what it's supposed to accomplish. Mark Rippetoe, the author of Starting Strength, and a barbell coach with decades of experience, distinguishes between exercise and training, the former being done for immediate results, and the latter for results over time. Exercise is done because it feels good, and training is done because you want to get better at something. 

Almost everything I do I do for very short-term goals. I fence because it's fun, and I enjoy the chemical rush of adrenaline and endorphins. For the longest time, I only worked out for the social aspect of moving heavy objects with a fun group of people. But, since discovering Starting Strength in late 2012, I've started trying to think about my activities not just as fun things to do, but as a means to improve myself.

What do I train?

The human body is a highly adaptable machine, and those adaptations are governed by the principle of specificity: The human organism adapts itself to the specific stresses that it is subjected to. If you're going to start training for something, you'll need to think about what characteristics you're looking to improve. Here are a few:
  • Strength - The ability of your muscles to produce the maximum amount of force. This can be improved by increasing the quantity of muscle producing the force, by increasing the efficiency of each muscle's force-producing mechanism, or, most often, both.
  • Range of Motion - The ability of each joint to move functionally to its maximum extent. A lot of the time a restricted range of motion is a direct result of insufficient strength.
  • Recovery/Strength Endurance - How many repetitions can you perform of a strenuous action? How long do you need to rest between sets of repetitions? This is the core of conditioning training.
  • Technique - How well do you mechanically perform an action? Is it efficient, or are you moving in such a way that you're wasting energy?
  • Tactics - Can you identify which actions are the correct actions given the current set of stimuli? Is you defense the correct one, based on the attack you are receiving?
  • Strategy - How do you manoeuver your opponent into a position that's favourable to you? Of the many possible actions that could be considered correct, which one is the best for the current situation?

How do I train?

Each aspect listed above has a different method of training. Operating at the highest possible speed is not the best way to learn a technique, but it is required to fine-tune it. Swordfighting, contrary to what some people think, does not in itself make you stronger.

Likewise, you have to ask yourself how far you want to go with everything. How strong is strong enough? How much range of motion do you need in order to perform your tasks without injury? Does my mandritto fendente really need to be that perfect before I start fighting?

Want to get stronger? I mean, really, stronger? There's no substitute for barbells, especially for lower-body strength. There's a lot of gymnastics stuff out there that'll do wonders for your upper body, though, frequently in ways that just aren't possible with barbells.

How about conditioning? I like kettlebells. None of those goofy, million-variety moves, though. Just good old swings, snatches, cleans and presses, and maybe a turkish get up or twenty.

Technique, tactics, and strategy have the problem of being difficult to assess. Conditioning and strength are easy: how much weight is on the bar? How long did it take you to do 100 snatches? Unfortunately there's no easy assessment for combat performance, since there are so many variables. You can't measure your ability based on how easy it is for you to beat someone else in a fight unless you expect that person to stop training just so they can be a marker for you. Training to fight really requires a coach/instructor with a solid idea of what you should be capable of, who also has enough knowledge and experience to know the best way to get you there. For those instructors, sparring and drilling can be assessment mechanisms, but all the hard work of improving (the training itself) happens in drills.

Why do I train?

I train strength for the simple reason that I know I can be stronger.

I've gotten back into kettlebell training for the simple reason that I signed up for a certification workshop in the new year, and my conditioning isn't up to snuff, so I need to train to pass.

To be honest, right now I'm not training my swordplay at all. I'll fence from time to time because it's fun, and I teach because I like seeing other people get better, but I'm still looking for a reason to get better at swordplay that isn't just "I don't want to suck." I'll let you know if I find one.

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