Medieval Workout Methods

A lot of the stories about the English Knights present them as gallant, chivalrous “gentlemen” who spent a lot of time tooling around on horseback and rescuing beautiful damsels in distress in their spare time. But don’t be fooled by the fairytales though. In reality, the English Knights are actually considered to be one of the world’s ten or so great warrior cultures of all time. They were in fact, an elite fighting force highly skilled in the art of fighting.

They were so skilled in battle that even though they were highly outnumbered by the French in the battle of Agincourt, France (1415), they not only defeated the French but only lost 200 of their own men in the battle compared to more than 8,000 Frenchmen killed. Since these guys were obviously such expert fighters-just like the other warrior cultures we’ve discussed-that means that they must have had a really effective training program. Let’s take a look and see what we can learn from the English.

Like the Spartans, preparation for life as a knight began when boys were very young. Unlike the Spartans though, preparation for knighthood began at age five or six with the boys starting their training regimen using wooden swords. The purpose of these early training sessions would have not only been to develop skills and physical capabilities but to also establish a pattern of discipline. Anyone who trains and expects to see results knows that building mental discipline is equally as important building muscle. Without the discipline required for daily training you won’t see the results you want to see-the English knew that, so they started early.

When fighting, the English Knights typically wore plated armor and fought with weapons such as lances, swords, axes, hammers and maces. And although the English Knights are often shown fighting on horseback, in actual battles they usually fought on foot or in the trenches. You might think that because of the protective armor that the Knights could have been a little more lax in developing their fighting skills but you’d be wrong. Remember that a comparatively small group of Knights killed 8,000 Frenchmen, losing just 200 of their own men. Also, think about how heavy that armor would have been-and then don’t forget about the weapons they carried too.

Although the English Knights might have appeared to be all about chivalry and hanging out with royalty, these guys knew how to fight, and that required some seriously training. By the time the young Knights reached their early teens, they would have started with heavy training that lasted up until they were ready to retire their armor.

So again, like the other warrior cultures we covered, the English Knights would have trained hard with a focus on functionality and developing hybrid super muscle. In looking at their warrior culture and fighting style, it resembles sort of a hybrid that included developing the long-term, highly-focused discipline of the Spartans and the intense, hand-to-hand combat skills of some of the others.

We know that the Knights held tournaments where they played war games with one another to test their skills and keep themselves battle-ready. Television and movies always show them fighting on horseback but remember, that wasn’t reality-they actually would have been engaging in a lot of hand-to-hand combat while fully dressed in their battle armor. They wouldn’t have had any choice but to do it this way-otherwise, they would not have developed the hybrid muscle they needed to have the sustainable strength and power they needed to achieve victory on the battlefield.

And because the Knights often used a variety of very heavy weaponry, they also would have had plenty of mock battles using these as well. Again, they would have been dressed in their full battle armor. Lastly, in order to really build up their endurance, they also would have had to run, climb and do other “cardio” activities while wearing their armor and carrying their heavy weapons. History shows that their efforts paid off-not just for the English Knights, but for history’s other great warrior cultures as well.

Even though these warrior cultures developed independently of one another, they all had one thing in common-whether they or not they were consciously aware of what they were doing, these guys knew how to train to build super hybrid muscle. And even though some of the specifics of their individual training routines varied from one to another, the underlying principles they all subscribed to were the same.

How can we get Medieval in our own training? Personally I’m not against the gym. I love bench pressing, squatting and deadlifting and I’m not going to give that up to perform strictly hybrid cardio workouts by themselves. What I am doing is replacing boring ass traditional cardio (like the stationary bike and the treadmill) with some resistance conditioning so I can burn fat and build muscle at the same time.

Want to add some Medieval kick to your workouts and build some of your own hybrid muscle? How about filling a back pack with some sand, plates or even stones and going for a long hike in the woods?

Or you could get your hands on a weight vest and jump rope at the end of your regular workouts.

Got a tree in your backyard that needs to come down? Instead of using the chainsaw, how about you skip the elliptical machine for the week and get that tree chopped down with a good old fashioned axe. I guarantee you your abs will curse you for it.

Mike Westerdal is the President of Critical Bench, Inc. He earned his BS from Central CT State University and holds certification as a personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise. Westerdal also has experience coaching and playing professional football. His articles are published throughout the Web and in numerous weight lifting magazines. His personal best RAW bench press is 450 lbs. Mike can be contacted at his Web site or by emailing For more information on increasing your bench press read about the Critical Bench Program here.

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