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Train Like an Olympic Fencer

Olympic fencers Tim Morehouse and Race Imboden detail the combination of cardio, strength, and technical training that goes into competing in their sport.

Meet the Pros

“I think it takes an exceptional, incredible fitness level to fence at the level that we do it at,” says Tim Morehouse, an Olympic silver medalist attending his third Games this summer. “Especially what I do, sabre, is very anaerobic so I think it’s a lot like being a sprinter. We’re at a complete stop and then we have to ramp it up to full speed as quickly as we can.”

For Morehouse, a 33-year-old fencing veteran, it takes between four and seven hours of training per day, five days a week to remain in peak condition for competition. 19-year-old foilist Race Imboden, a young phenom who will contend for one of the top spots in London, puts in seven and a half hours of fencing and workouts per day, six days a week, plus one-on-one technical lessons, watching video of potential opponents and meditation. 

Imboden compares fencing at the highest level to boxing and tennis. 

“Boxing, because it’s one-on-one, physical,” he says. “You know, there’s very few sports where you’re actually hitting your opponents with something. So, it’s that kind of mentality. I mean, you’re not slugging the guy and knocking him out, but it’s still a physical game. You’re also using a lot of little movements and little signs just to try to trick your opponent and make them make a mistake so you can capitalize on it.”

Aside from practicing the sport itself, Imboden improves his fencing skills through four hours of cardio and suicides three times a week, and four more hours of lifting, kettlebells and core strength three other days out of the week, while making sure not to lift too much since quickness is so important. Leg strength is also an integral part of life as a fencer, according to him. 

“A lot of fencing is based on footwork and legs,” he says. “So if you look at any fencer, they’re gonna have massive legs. My thighs are massive. You know, basically we’re in a squatted position all day.”

Interestingly enough, that doesn’t mean he does a lot of squats. A lot of the leg strength he develops comes from fencing itself, sprints, certain other aspects of his workouts and yoga, for which he is a very strong proponent. 

The 2012 Olympic Games

This summer, Imboden, Morehouse and other US fencers will be looking to take down the old Olympic powerhouses in fencing, which has historically been in Italy, Hungary and especially France. Top fencers get better support from the government and from public interest in the sport in such places, but in the end, it doesn’t make much of a difference in competition—“just another chip on my shoulder,” according to Imboden. The US Fencing team is also looking to work off of a strong showing in Beijing, when they took six fencing medals, including Morehouse’s silver. Only Italy ousted the Americans in medal count in 2008 with seven. 

Check out Tim Morehouse and Race Imboden's workout schedules >>

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