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Thread: Body types for high level athletes: which would be best for fencing?

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    Body types for high level athletes: which would be best for fencing?

    I've kinda got to thinking about the ideal body type for a fencer. Everyone says that foilists and epeeists should generally be tall (I get that part), skinny (maybe epeeist with a bit more muscle mass than foilists but not much) and generally very light. I don't really know how big the best sabreists are but I'm guessing they're probably around 6 feet and maybe carrying a bit more muscle mass than the other 2.

    So for let's say foil you've got this mental image of a guy who's like 6'2 and 180 pounds or so. Why is this? Everyone says weight and muscle mass will make you slow but look at nearly any other sport. For starters, look at sprinters: http://www.nccu.edu/campus/athletics/jstfpr03.jpg

    This guy is fast as hell, with a lot of extra weight. Yet fencers seem to be more like marathon runners, who carry almost no weight and don't have great top speed: http://marathonrun.greatnow.com/runner.jpg

    Ok, well not that frail looking, but I couldn't really find a better picture.

    So I mean when I think about the nature of fencing, it seems like you'd want to be built like a sprinter, but what about direction change? There is no changing of direction in either of these sports, so what impact does that have on the ideal body type?

    Also, is there a point where muscle mass decreases fine motor skills? This is one thing I would really like to know.

    Anyways what are your thoughts on this guys?

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    This is no one ideal body type for any weapon. Take a look at the best fencers in every weapon. There's a variety.
    Sure there are often tall epee fencers, but there certainly have been very successful shorter ones. And the very best epee fencers in the world needn't be the tallest. Kolobkov, while no midget, is not the tallest guy in the sport, and has obviously beaten many people taller than he is.

    Unlike simple sports like running, weight-lifting, etc., fencing utilizes an enormous range of skills and abilities. Various qualities of speed, reaction, endurance, coordination, tactics, etc., are needed when fencing, and there is no "perfect balance" of any of these things. One fencer may be a little short, but does very well because he is quick, has good technique, etc. Another fencer may not be very fast or may not have great reaction speed, but he can be successful because he is very clever and closely observes his opponent to create excellent tactics utilizing premeditated actions.

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    Senior Member RITFencing's Avatar
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    I think that a lot of fast twitch muscle with long limbs and little fat would be good. Basically a high potential force to weight ratio. Of course, look at Seth Kelsey; he's got a lot of muscle, broad shoulders and just a little bit of a gut and he still does quite well on the WC circuit.
    "If I were ever to challenge you to a duel, your best bet would be battle axes in a very dark basement." Misquoted from The Prisoner

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    I'd say the ideal body type is quite similar to basketball. Tall, slender, long arms, explosive legs. Now, fencing doesn't get its pick of body types (since of course if you could be the world's best fencer or one of the world's top 200 basketball players, you'd probably choose basketball for obvious financial reasons), and certainly there are many other factors to success, but all other things being equal, that body type seems to give the most advantage.

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    Member tikimon852's Avatar
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    i really do believe that there is a perfect body type for epee. I think that they should be tall and slender and they should have very strong leg muscles and strong triceps so they will be quick and be strong for parries
    why lunge when you can just flick...?

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    Senior Member MyrddinsPrecint's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dramamine
    So for let's say foil you've got this mental image of a guy who's like 6'2 and 180 pounds or so. Why is this? Everyone says weight and muscle mass will make you slow but look at nearly any other sport. For starters, look at sprinters: http://www.nccu.edu/campus/athletics/jstfpr03.jpg

    it's not about how fast you can get from the en garde line to your opponent's end of the strip. having the option of that speed is nice, but it's the fast twitch speed that fails when you're muscle bound, and that's what people are talking about--- the ability to change directions quickly, pick the right time and do it.....


    but, yeah. there are some body types that are better in one weapon than another, but you can compensate for most things, somehow......

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    Quote Originally Posted by MyrddinsPrecint
    it's not about how fast you can get from the en garde line to your opponent's end of the strip. having the option of that speed is nice, but it's the fast twitch speed that fails when you're muscle bound, and that's what people are talking about--- the ability to change directions quickly, pick the right time and do it.....


    but, yeah. there are some body types that are better in one weapon than another, but you can compensate for most things, somehow......
    What do you mean by "it's the fast twitch speed that fails when you're muscle bound"? I mean someone with more developed fast twitch muscles through strength training and plyometrics/sprinting is (IE: a sprinter, who someone might say is "muscle bound" if they didn't know better) is going to be a lot faster than someone like a marathon runner, who uses their slow twitch fibers and as we have been discovering in recent years actually decreases their speed and the number of fast twitch fibers they have (which is why boxers and MMA fighters are doing more HIIT style cardio, less time but more intensity and short rest periods).

    Changing direction is basically just an example of a simple plyometric movement (load-spring) which would make you think guys like olympic weightlifters (who have INSANE vertical jumps) and sprinters would be very good at it. I just wonder if the extra body mass makes a difference.

    I'm sure the answer is it doesn't really matter as long as you do lots of footwork and bladework and take lessons and get good at fencing but I'm mostly just curious.

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    Senior Member D+F+P=Hadouken!'s Avatar
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    Forget body type. There are succesfull fencers in all 3 weapons of several different shapes and sizes. The most important thing is that the fencer is resistant to injuries, and has a relatively high proportion of type IIA and IIB muscle fibers.

    On another note, being tall and lean with a good strength/muscle mass ratio seems to be the predominant body type of elite epeeists.
    "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. And from this side only! The flight of a half-man, half-bird. Dinosaurs nuzzling their young in pastures where strip malls should be. Cookies on dowels. All those moment, lost in time. Gone, like eggs off a hooker's stomach. Time to die" -Phil Ken Sebben

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    Senior Member MyrddinsPrecint's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dramamine
    What do you mean by "it's the fast twitch speed that fails when you're muscle bound"? I mean someone with more developed fast twitch muscles through strength training and plyometrics/sprinting is (IE: a sprinter, who someone might say is "muscle bound" if they didn't know better) is going to be a lot faster than someone like a marathon runner, who uses their slow twitch fibers and as we have been discovering in recent years actually decreases their speed and the number of fast twitch fibers they have (which is why boxers and MMA fighters are doing more HIIT style cardio, less time but more intensity and short rest periods).

    Changing direction is basically just an example of a simple plyometric movement (load-spring) which would make you think guys like olympic weightlifters (who have INSANE vertical jumps) and sprinters would be very good at it. I just wonder if the extra body mass makes a difference.

    I'm sure the answer is it doesn't really matter as long as you do lots of footwork and bladework and take lessons and get good at fencing but I'm mostly just curious.

    .... we agree? i think??

    people with lots of plyometric strength, no matter what they LOOK like, are the people who tend to succeed in fencing.

    because of the amount of fencing i do, i'm not really balanced anymore. and if i'm fencing a lot, it's even easier to see how much i'm not balanced. my fencing coach, on the other hand, is one of those people who will never even put on more visible muscle, even if he's stronger. ---- i put on muscle even if i'm mostly working plyometrically, and he will not put on muscle even if he's mostly trying to build muscle.

    perhaps body types have more to do with how them fencing manifests on their body, and less to do with how successful they are? but then again, eventually wouldn't it have to affect how well they did???

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    Quote Originally Posted by MyrddinsPrecint
    .... we agree? i think??

    people with lots of plyometric strength, no matter what they LOOK like, are the people who tend to succeed in fencing.

    because of the amount of fencing i do, i'm not really balanced anymore. and if i'm fencing a lot, it's even easier to see how much i'm not balanced. my fencing coach, on the other hand, is one of those people who will never even put on more visible muscle, even if he's stronger. ---- i put on muscle even if i'm mostly working plyometrically, and he will not put on muscle even if he's mostly trying to build muscle.

    perhaps body types have more to do with how them fencing manifests on their body, and less to do with how successful they are? but then again, eventually wouldn't it have to affect how well they did???
    lol, fencing wreaked hell on my body, that's one of the reasons I started working out in the first place... the right side of my body was so much more developed than my left... it was pretty goofy

    anyways interesting points guys, from this I can conclude that if you want to crosstrain for fencing you should probably:

    A: do plyometrics
    B: run sprints
    C: get a big squat relative to your bodyweight (I've never met anyone who could squat 2x their bodyweight who didn't have an impressive vertical/run fast)

    what you look like is probably unimportant, especially because maximal strength is not really that related to muscle mass.

    thanks for the input everyone

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    SJB
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    Personally, I think body type doesn't matter.

    But, how you utilitze your body type in combination with your technique (which your coach should be qualified enough to tailor depending upon your body type) does.

    Not to mention how you use your opponent's body type to your advantage .

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    Senior Member Teme's Avatar
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    Just for the sheer fun of it I did some stats from the male fencers qualifying among the best 16 in Athens.

    Average height, weight and BMI (min and max in parenthesis):
    Foil 5'11 (5'6 - 6'4), 167 lb (139 - 198), 23.3 (20.8 - 26.5)
    Saber 6' (5'9 - 6'3), 172 lb (132 - 207), 23.1 (18.6 -26.6)
    Epee 6'1 (5'9 - 6'5), 177 lb (143 - 220), 23.2 (20.7 - 27.7)

    While the averages tend to imply some slight trends, the variations clearly overlap pretty much completely (especially so should we discard them two clearly starved (BMI < 20) sabreurs as anomalies). We could say that of Olympic male top fencers the foilists tend to be shorter, younger (23 versus 27 in epee/saber) and a tad plumpier than others, but otherwise there's practically no difference.

    On the topic of slow/fast muscle fibers, I gather it's worth mentioning that the "slowness" of the slow twitching fiber is relative -- it can twitch about 20-30 times within average human reaction time. They're fast enough for fencing, I'd say. Moreover, their energy metabolism is much more benevolent (which is why body doesn't want to use the fast ones until it has to!), they can fired one at a time (unlike the binary way the fast bundles work) and they can keep on going until the cows come home. Fencing is not 9.8 seconds of absolutely maximum power output, it's about 1-4 seconds of controlled maximum power output repeated hundreds of times at irregular intervals within span of a few hours.
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    Quote Originally Posted by SJB
    Personally, I think body type doesn't matter.

    But, how you utilitze your body type in combination with your technique (which your coach should be qualified enough to tailor depending upon your body type) does.

    Not to mention how you use your opponent's body type to your advantage .
    Am sure that body type helps, but agree with sjb: fencing is about exploiting your attributes (physical and otherwise) and the weaknesses of your opponents...

    Quite a lot of WF are taller than average, but look at Vezzali - for a little shorty, she doesn't do too badly
    Smarter than the Average Bear!!!

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    Senior Member Mr Epee's Avatar
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    Jason is spot on here, and Teme has provided some interesting information.

    I agree that there is not a requisite body type for successful fencing, however being aware of bodytypes can give you a significant advantage in your bout approach planning.

    For example: You are paired against a guy who is about 6'2" (188cm), has fairly long legs, narrow waist, and wide shoulders. Even if you've never fenced the guy, you can use this information to get a pretty good idea of what you can expect.

    In that particular case, I would expect nice long fairly simple attacks, from an opponent that may have difficulty maintaining solid composure while changing directions. etc...

    There have been numerous studies in this subject that are not fencing specific. You might try a search for somatotype or somatotyping.
    Quote Originally Posted by definition
    Somatotyping is a way of classifying athletes or performers by their BODY TYPES. Individuals of one particular body type or somatotype are sometimes more suited to a particular game or even a particular position in a game than others. It is important to stress that HEIGHT is NOTHING to do with working out somatotypes.
    Take your time. Read carefully.

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