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A home workout to build basic strength and conditioning for HEMA
Who is this for?
This basic workout framework is for someone who hasn’t ever set foot in a gym and/or hasn’t exercised in awhile, toward the goal of building up some basic strength and conditioning for HEMA.
One of the biggest mistakes that I’ve seen people make is to try to do too much at once, and either end up injured, burned out, or so sore that it impacts their ability to do their best for their HEMA practice and/or daily life.
5 Exercises, Every Day, Minimal Equipment
The premise of this framework is “greasing the groove,” a phrase coined by Pavel Tsatsouline, who is known as “the modern king of kettlebells.”
Greasing the groove describes what you are doing when you consistently practice a specific strength skill. By doing the movement consistently over time and not training to failure, we are able to do those same exercises every single day. By doing this, we are training our nervous system to learn to use our muscles to their fullest capacity and patterning the muscle memory for these movement patterns down the road for future training.
The workout consists of 5 exercises and requires minimal equipment (pull-up bar, jump rope, yoga mat, yoga blocks). 5 Below stores are a great place to get cheap fitness equipment.
Those 5 exercises are some variation of push-up, pull-up, squat, core exercise, and a conditioning exercise like the jump rope.
In order to get started, we’ll want to see how many push-ups, pull-ups, and squats you can do, and how many reps you can get at jump rope (or for time). This is our baseline. If you can’t do push-ups, pull-ups, or squats in their “standard” variation, look at each exercises’ section below for alternatives.
After you’ve done this, you are done for that day.
Rest a day or two, and then you are ready to get started.
For a period of 30-60 days, you’ll start with your baseline, and each day, start with your baseline, and then just do 1 more rep at each exercise, even if you have to take a break in order to get it. As you progress, you’ll find that you naturally end up doing multiple sets and need to take a rest, but strive to get as many reps in as possible on your first set.
If you can’t do very many reps at first, you’ll start out building strength, and then over time as the reps get higher, you’ll begin building strength endurance.
Go down to the ground and put your hands slightly wider than shoulder width. For your feet, position them, however, is comfortable for you, be it together, shoulder width, or anything in between. The wider you go, the more stable you’ll be. Clench your butt and flex your abs to engage your core. This should bring your body into a straight line from head to heels. Look slightly ahead and *not* straight down. Now, just “push-up”.
You may be thinking “knee push-ups”. No, please don’t do this! Knee push-ups aren’t going to move you toward regular push-ups as quickly as other options. Instead, elevate the front of your body. For example, start with a wall push-up (which should be the easiest), and you can progress downward to the floor using things like yoga blocks or anything around the house or gym. The smith machine is great for this if you have gym access.
There are plenty of push-up variations, such as elbows in (touching your sides), diamonds (hands together making a diamond), decline (feet raised), and one-armed.
Think of squatting as sitting down rather than lowering yourself down. Put your hands up in the air (or out in front you), spread your legs apart by thinking about as if you are trying to push the floor apart in opposite directions, and sit down. Lower yourself until your thighs are parallel (or below) to the ground and then come back up. Ensure that the center of your knees is aiming toward your pinky toes.
An easier version can be done by holding onto a door knob or the back of a chair.
There are plenty of harder squat variations, such as split squats, one legged squat, pistol squats (weighted pistol squats are a little easier up to a point as the weight is a counter balance), etc. Pick one that you can do at least 5 reps with.
Grab onto the pull-up bar with your palms facing away from you, and from a head hang, squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull yourself up.
Chin-ups might be easier, but there are even easier options like getting into the pull-up position and lowering yourself slowly or using a chair for assistance, or even using a table (see image).
There are two primary ways to progress with pull-ups. 1.) changing grip width (narrower is more emphasis on biceps, wider is more emphasis on your lats which are the muscles on the sides of your back). 2.) adding weight (weighted vest, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc). Pick one that you can do at least 5 reps with.
The deadbug is a core strengthening exercise. When doing it, you look like a bug stuck on it’s back. I’ve included it rather than “classic” options like sit-ups and crunches that require flexing of your core, as the deadbug and it’s variations are for training the abdominals to resist extension to protect your lower back.
The deadbug also teaches you to isolate movement at the hip/shoulders while keeping your spine stable.
Here’s an example of good form:
Keeping your abs tight, and ensure that you aren’t arching your lower back.
Keep arms out in front of you and pointed to the ceiling, just move your legs. This variation is shown in this form video:
The deadbug with extension + reach using weights. Keep the weight light to start, like 2lb weights!
A few things to keep in mind when starting to jump rope:
- The right type of jump rope: a slower beaded rope: https://www.amazon.com/BuyJumpRopes-Segmented-Jump-Rope-purple/dp/B00IU0L7YU/
- The right size rope. When you step on the middle of it, the end of the handles should come up to your armpits. Just like your longsword, right? :trollface:
- The right type of surface. The wrong surface is going to be tough on your knees. Go with a yoga mat.
If you aren’t sure how to correctly jump rope, this is a great tutorial:
Skip without the rope! Or even better, go with jumping jacks.
Get a faster jump rope (a speed rope) and start to do variations like jog steps, etc.
After you’ve done this for 30-60 days, you can look at doing it again with a harder variation from the one that you’ve used last time.
Beyond that, in order to get progressively stronger, I’d highly recommend moving to training with weights.
I have some suggestions about how to fit all of this in with your HEMA training in the article “Get HEMA Strong”. And if you need any help with figuring this stuff out, join the HEMA Strong Facebook group and I’d be happy to help.
I and a few others are posting our current workouts there to give you some ideas. I’ll be writing about my routine in a future post.
And if you don’t want to join or a gym, or buy weights to have a sweet basement dungeon gym like me? Well, you can still get plenty strong. Here’s a great reference for that: http://www.startbodyweight.com/p/start-bodyweight-basic-routine.html
If you give this a shot for 30-60 days, let me know what you think!
Image Courtesy of Space Manor.