Solo Drilling: Part 1

A number of our club members and students have asked about the best way to work on their fencing when they are away from the salle.  While there is no substitute for actually fencing and drilling with an instructor or sparring partner, solo drilling and training can be a valuable part of your training regimen.  It also gives you something to do if you must miss class due to weather or scheduling.

This blog will be a multi-part series about physical and mental work you can do by yourself to help develop your technical proficiency and form.  Done with intensity and minimal downtime, the drills can also provide a good cardio workout.  This first part of the series will suggest a basic solo workout and tips for making the most of solo training time.

The Basic Workout

Before beginning any workout, it helps to do a few things first.  Clear floor space at least a few feet wide and long enough that you can take 3 long steps forward and back with your front arm fully extended (as for a lunge).  Please perform appropriate stretches for legs, arms, and torso for several minutes before starting any strenuous drilling.  Take a moment or two to clear your head of other concerns so you can concentrate on your form.  Make yourself think about each technique you plan to practice.

1. Stretch first!

2. Do an etude (slowly).  Focus on crisp, precise movements.

3. Do ten lunges of various length.  I prefer starting with a short lunge and lengthening gradually until you are near the limit of your lunge for the last few.

4. Advance, retreat.  Repeat for 10 repetitions to start.

5. Advance, advance, retreat, retreat.  Repeat 10 times.

6, Advance, retreat, lunge.  Repeat 10 times.

7, Lunge, recover forward, retreat.  Repeat 10 times.

8. Do ten slow lunges to cool down.

7 Tips to Take Your Workout to the Next Level

This workout is good for a beginning fencer to work on basic form and begin to build endurance for basic footwork and lunges.  As you build your endurance, begin increasing the number of repetitions for each activity gradually.  Future blogs will work more advanced footwork and combinations to challenge you once you have mastered this workout.

A few tips that will help you get the most from this workout (these apply both to this workout and other workouts which will be detailed in subsequent blogs):

1. Visualize an opponent across from you.  Imagine that your movements are either leading or responding to your opponent.

2. Put a dot on the wall across from you on a wall or other flat surface to represent the opponent’s “sweet spot” and one to reflect a low line target as well.   Alternate any attacks between the two targets.

3. Pay close attention to both micro- and macro-movements as these are the key to making each technique more efficient and effective.  While often at the gym for long cardio sessions we can plug in an MP3 player or otherwise tune out, here we want you to be engaged and thinking about what you are doing.

4. On retreat actions, consider building in a parry to occur simultaneously with the footwork.  Vary which parry you use and incorporate high-line and low-line parries.

5. Time yourself doing the workout without stopping to rest but using good form and attentiveness.  Try to improve on your time.

6. Alter your workout area a little bit to make you improve your game.  Do footwork directly next to a wall to keep your hand movements on parries small.  Put a straight line down on the floor and try to keep all footwork aligned with the line without looking down at your feet.

7. Practice using a mirror.  Address the mirror straight on to verify that your stance minimizes your profile.  Address the mirror in profile to check lunge form and smoothness of movement.

As with any workout, it helps to set aside a specific time and day(s) to do this routine.   Creating a consistent schedule helps you keep in training.  A couple of times per week should be sufficient to sharpen your technique without overdoing it.  Alternate this with other cardio or strength training as you see fit.

The more attentive you are to detail the more you will get out of any solo drilling.  It’s all too easy after a few dozen repetitions to allow your movements to get sloppy as you fatigue.  Try very hard to make the last repetition as clean and explosive as your first.


Tim Maurer began fencing in 2007 and is now a lead instructor at Second Intent Fencing, teaching Introduction to Foil, Intermediate Foil, private lessons, and leading SIF’s Longsword of Fiore dei Liberi Study Group. Tim fences all three classical weapons, as well as historical weapons, including smallsword, rapier, dussack, greatstick, longsword, and combat sabre.

"Furthermore, please note that every motion of the sword is a guard to the knowledgeable fencer, and all guards are useful to the experienced man; conversely, no motion is a guard to the ignorant, and no guard is effective for someone who does not know how to use it."
Nicoletto Giganti