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Fencing Training Goals and Periodization
The fencing season in most US Fencing Divisions presents significant training period issues for competitive fencers. Fencing is now a year-round sport, with competitions every month, and in some cases there are opportunities for fencers to fence at a meet within driving distance every weekend. In this environment, planning a periodic training program requires close agreement between the individual fencer’s goals, the desire to win, and the overall structure of a club or hall training program.
Classic periodization creates four levels of training cycles:
- Super macrocycles – multi-year cycles to prepare for events that occur less often than a year; the Olympic quadrennium is an example.
- Macrocycles – one training cycle covering a year (in some cases two macrocycles may be appropriate).
- Mesocycles – a number of training cycles, as many as 6, within a macrocycle.
- Microcycles – the weekly training cycle.
The structure of training cycles is logically linked to the key competitive events in a fencing year. What those key competitive events are depends on the fencer’s level and goals. For an elite athlete working to make a national team, each of the events in the selection process is a key event. In this athlete program the typical Division A2 event is insignificant, and is only valuable insofar as it serves as a training event. The actual events vary by weapon and age group, but include North American Cup circuit events, Summer Nationals, and select World Cup and Grand Prix events. For an advanced foil fencer this is a minimum of seven events that award points for the national points list, leading up to the World Championships, the event where the fencer should have the strongest performance. For the very top handful of elite fencers, this is a single macrocycle, with individual mesocycles for each targeted event.
For most fencers, however, qualifying for the Junior Olympics or Summer Nationals is a difficult task, much less succeeding in the event. For a cadet fencer this could be two macrocycles with the Junior Olympics as one and the Summer National Competition as the second. But each of these macrocycles requires performance in a qualifying event that is maximal for the average fencer, driving at least two mesocycles. The challenge is to identify, from the wide range of tournaments available, events within the macro cycle which will be important preparations for the qualifiers and national events, and which can serve as targets in mesocycles.
This is further complicated by the need to achieve the appropriate classification to qualify for the desired event. For example, I coached a Canadian fencer living in the US whose goal was to be able to fence in a Division 1 event. She won her C classification in a Division 3 event, but did so too late to be able to enter a tournament cup Division 1 (C is the minimum classification for entry) before she returns to Canada.
What does this mean for the coach using periodized training? First, the coach and the fencer must have well understood and mutually agreed goals, and those goals must be long-term strategic goals, supported by seasonal goals. The aims inform the overall design of the training programme.
Second, the coach and fencer must select events that logically contribute to the achievement of the objectives of the training program. Not every tournament is worth a big effort. Some tournaments should be skipped altogether or treated as training events only for the fencer to use to work on specific problems (given that it can be difficult for some athletes to understand that medals or classifications are not the goal).
And thirdly, sufficient time must be allowed between key tournaments for the training process to work. If a fencer trains 5 days a week and fences a weekend competition, it is possible to run a complete microcycle between competitions, including time for rest and recovery. However, if a fencer only trains one or two days a week, it is very difficult to vary the length, intensity and composition of training sessions to achieve any significant progress. This is true even if one of the many other models of periodization is chosen: combined, simultaneous, skill/strength, or multi-speed.
All this means that the coach and the fencer must understand their goals and work together to find the best method of training that meets the competitive goals within the reality of the club environment, the time available, and the fencer’s ability to train. Interval training is a complex method of training with a proven track record of improving athlete performance. It is also a method that requires both the coach and the athlete to understand and be committed to its application.
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