There are any number of schools of thought on what style of fitness you need for this sport, pretty much every fighter will have their own regime that they swear by, and obviously they are going to differ depending on your body type and expected role; if you are 5ft nothing and 50kg soaking wet you are never going to be a serious tank, so stamina and speed will suit you better, likewise if you are 6'5” and 100kg sheer hitting power might be what you need. We will get into discussing modern regimes at a later date but for now it might be worth looking at what medieval sources suggested in terms of training to fight in armour. This isn't meant to be a training plan, more just a quick examination of the kind of things medieval people considered important for being combat ready.
We'll look at 2 main sources on historical combat fitness, the record of Boucicaut's training regime and that of fighters preparing for a judicial duel, based on Hans Talhoffer.
Jean le Maingre, also called Boucicaut, (1366-1421) was a very famous French knight, Marshal of France renowned for his millitary skill as well as for his rigorous physical training. If you wanted to emulate Boucicaut you would be expected to, among other things, be able to vault onto a horse, jog long distances, do acrobatics and climb the inside of a ladder leaning against a wall:
And now he began to test himself by jumping onto a courser in full armour. At other times he would run or hike for a long way on foot, to train himself not to get out of breath and to endure long efforts. At other times he would strike with an axe or hammer for a long time to be able to hold out well in armour, and so his arms and hands would endure striking for a long time, and train himself to nimbly lift his arms. By these means he trained himself so well that at that time you couldn't find another gentleman in equal physical condition. He would do a somersault armed in all his armour except his bascinet, and dance armed in a mail shirt...
When he was at his lodgings he would never ceased to test himself with the other squires at throwing the lance or other tests of war.
Froissart, Jean, Jean Alexandre C. Buchon, and Jean Froissart. Vol. 3 1812. Les chroniques de Sire Jean Froissart... / [Et du] Livre des faits du bon Messire Jean le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut. Paris: Soc. du Panthéon litt. Tr. Will McLean 2014
While it must be pointed out that Boucicaut's training was exemplary rather than typical, we can see from this video it is possible to do as he suggests, or at least come very close to it.
The 15th c fencing master Hans Talhoffer recommended similar exercises, although not quite as hardcore as those of Boucicaut, for someone preparing for a judicial duel. This regime was an intensive course, taking full advantage of the 6 weeks a person had to prepare for their trial by combat. Talhoffer highlights general fitness, flexibility, coordination, strength and balance, on top of the fighters ability to actually use his weapons. You can see this in the below video from Blossfechter, a German medieval sword and martial arts club.
Many of the same principles of medieval fitness are reiterated here once more; strength, balance, sparing, and wrestling.
Translating these regimes into a modern fitness program gives us a great starting point. Aside from the many hours you are expected to spar and drill techniques with your weapon of choice, you should:
- Train your endurance through running, this will improve your cardio and breathing. “Long Distances” are discussed but this is more likely to have been in the region of 5km rather than a marathon distance.
- Improve you strength through repetitive strenuous acts such as holding up or throwing heavy rocks or swinging heavy axes or hammers. Kettle bells can be a substitute in this but building the explosive power needed to launch a good-sized rock will be beneficial. As for swinging a hammer; you can't beat slamming a sledgehammer down into a tyre.
- Finesse your coordination and balance by working on your footwork, or even dancing. Putting on music and moving around in your fighting stance, whether in or out of armour is a great way to improve, it also makes for a great cardio workout so you get a bonus benefit in there.