Fencing Training Goals and Periodization

The fencing season in most US Fencing Divisions poses significant problems in the periodization of training for competitive fencers. Fencing is now a year-round sport, with competitions in all months, and in some cases opportunities for fencers to fence in a meet within driving distance every weekend. In this environment, planning a periodized training program requires close agreement between the goals of the individual fencer, the desire to win, and the overall structure of a club or salle training program.

Classic periodization creates four levels of training cycles:

  1. Super macrocycles – multi-year cycles to prepare for events that happen less frequently than a year; the Olympic quadrennium is an example.
  2. Macrocycles – a single training cycle that covers a year (in some cases two macrocycles may be appropriate).
  3. Mesocycles – a number of training cycles, as many as 6, within a macrocycle.
  4. Microcycles – the weekly training cycle.

The structure of training cycles is logically tied to the key competitive events in a fencing year. What those key competitive events are depends on the level and goals of the fencer. 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’s program the typical Division A2 event is inconsequential, and is only valuable to the degree that it serves as training event. The real events vary with weapon and age group, but include North American Cup circuit events, Summer Nationals, and selected World Cup and Grand Prix events. For a senior foil fencer this is a minimum of seven events that award points for the national points list, culminating in the World Championships, the event in which the fencer should have the strongest performance. For the handful of very best elite fencers, this is a single macrocycle, with individual mesocycles for each targeted event.

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For most fencers, however, just qualifying for the Junior Olympics or the Summer Nationals is a difficult task, much less succeeding in the event. For a cadet fencer this might be two macrocycles with the Junior Olympics as one and the Summer Nationals as the second. But these macrocycles each require 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 available tournaments, events within the macrocycle that will serve as important preparations for both the qualifiers and the national events, and that 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 resident in the United States whose goal was to be able to fence in a Division 1 event. She earned her C classification in a Division 3 event, but did so too late to be able to enter a Division 1 cup circuit tournament (a C being the minimum classification for entry) before she returned to Canada.

What does this mean for the coach who uses periodized training? First, the coach and the fencer must have well understood and mutually agreed upon goals, and those goals must be long-term, strategic goals, supported by seasonal goals. The goals drive the overall design of the training program.

Second, the coach and fencer must pick events that logically contribute to meeting the objectives of the training program. Not every tournament deserves a maximal effort. Some tournaments should be skipped altogether or treated only as training events for the fencer to use to work on specific problems (given that understanding that medals or classifications are not the objective may be difficult for some athletes).

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And third, enough 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 trains only 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 alternate models of periodization is selected: conjugate, concurrent, skill/strength, or multi-pace.

All of this means that both the coach and the fencer must understand their goals and work together to find the best approach to training that meets the competitive goals within the reality of the club environment, the available time, and the fencer’s ability to train. Periodized training is a complex approach to training with a proven record of improving athlete performance. It is also a method that demands that both the coach and the athlete understand and be committed to its application.