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Fencing isn't as easy as it looks - and it doesn't look easy. So when you start, you might find that a few simple exercises make it way easier to concentrate on your classes and improve your technique.

When you begin fencing, you'll need all your attention to focus on improving your basic skills. A regular training regime that focuses on improving strength will help, but the best place to do that is the gym. If you haven't got time or you want something you can do at home easily, try these five exercises.

The Fencing Problem: Lunge 

Your lunge is the foundation of your attacks in fencing; it's how you move into range to strike and score points. But it's an athletically demanding movement that requires a mix of power, stability and mobility. That's the reason it's used: lunges get the best from your body, but having better leg strength and core strength will help. Hip girdle strength, stability and mobility is the "secret sauce" to a great lunge but it's often left to develop in tandem with legs in exercises like squats and weighted lunges, without really getting any love of its own. Since you're training at home you can fix that with the yoga Warrior position.

The Fix: Yoga Warrior Pose

Contrary to what Gwyneth Paltrow would have us all believe, yoga doesn't fix everything. But the warrior position is perfect for improving your lunge. Stand with your front foot facing directly forward, your rear foot at 45° to it (not 270°!) and your rear leg straight but not locked out. Bend your front knee until your thigh is nearly parallel with the ground. Turn your hips so that they're both facing forwards. If your left leg is forward, hold your left arm out straight in front of you at shoulder height, palm down. Hold your right arm out behind you so that your arms, shoulders and chest form a straight line, with palms facing down. 

Familiar? It should be. It's a stylized fencing lunge, called Virabhadrasana in Sanskrit and representative of a battle between Hindu gods. (It may be based on the fencer's lunge; it's only about 70 years old.) 

The Details

It's much easier to do this posture if you let your feet and legs relax and allow your lower back to dorsiflex. But easy's not what we're after. Instead, extend your low back by dropping your pelvis and rotating it slightly forward so your tailbone moves forward and down. Raise your sternum and elongate your neck, and focus on pelvic alignment and femoral external rotation: you want an open, strong stance with the weight in the outer edge of your rear foot and evenly distributed over the ball, small toe and heel of the front foot. Most people find that when they externally rotate their femur, the ball of their foot comes off the floor. Work on keeping the femur rotated and the ball down: the work you do now will save you from impact, torsion and overextension lunge injuries in competitions and training down the line. And unlike weighted lunges or squats Warrior helps strengthen and activate the muscles along the side of your body that help you recover faster from lunges by pulling you back into guard.

The Fencing Problem: Agility 

Fencing is a highly agile sport. You need fast, confident foot placement and weight movement. Being light-footed can win you the match against an opponent with faster hands and leaden feet, so time spent working on agility will pay off. The more agile you are, too, the better you'll recover from slips and trips. So it's about your defensive game and injury resistance too.

The Fix: Ladder Runs

Ladder runs are simple. You lay out a ladder on the floor and run along it, and the limited places to stand restrict where you can put your feet and force you to become more agile. It's a favorite of American football players, soccer players, tennis players, boxers and, yes, fencers. You don't need a rope ladder — though they're easy to get and take up little space. You can make one out of hardware store rope, but they tend to get curly quickly. The best choice is artist's masking tape. You can stick it to the floor, it stands out, and it comes away easily leaving no marks. Mark out a ladder on the floor and you're away!

The Details

You can simply run through ladders, and there are thousands of great instructional videos on the internet showing you how to get the most form ladder runs. But you can make your ladder agility work sports specific too. 

Try doing repetitive footwork drills using your ladder. For instance: Guard>Advance>Lunge>Forward Recover>Advance>Lunge, and repeat til you run out of ladder. Ladders can also be a good place to work on tempo.

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