Fencing not only serves as a classical -- and undeniably romantic -- alternative to tired step aerobics and spin classes. It helps hone muscle control, mental focus and physical poise, in addition to providing a hearty cardio workout -- for a 150-pound woman, an hour of fencing melts away a little over 400 calories, according to estimates from HealthStatus. Before you can take these benefits with you, you need to learn balance in the piste, or playing area. While no one trick is an instant fix, improving your balance hinges on practicing proper stance and footwork.
Distribute your body weight evenly across both feet when in the en garde position – avoid the nagging temptation to lean in on your leading foot. Each knee should lie in line with its foot. With an even distribution of weight, your body gains stability and is less prone to waver or wobble.
Keep your neck and back straight at all times. Imagine an invisible string pulling your head gracefully toward the ceiling. Your head, shoulders and hips -- your all-important center of gravity -- should fall in a straight line. Focus your eyes straight ahead as though engaging an imaginary opponent to encourage this posture, which is vital to maintaining balance – an arched or hunched back makes it easy for your body to sway and lean.
Bend your knees, bend your knees and bend your knees. You may have heard this ad nauseum from your instructor, and for good reason. At no time during fencing should your legs turn into rigid fence posts. Bending your knees lowers your body closer to the ground, which promotes core stability and the smooth, flowing motion practiced by the very best fencers.
Maintain the foot spacing you established in your en garde position. Although this space varies per your own comfort and style, it shouldn't be wider than shoulder-width or closer than the width of a single foot. Even as you advance and retreat, keep the space consistent to keep your body nice and stable.
Point your back toe slightly forward to increase your stability. This simple, but oft-neglected, tweak helps you make a quicker advance and retreat while reducing balance-busting knee and ankle fatigue. Keep your front toe pointed forward at all times to balance and strengthen your advance -- think of your toes as an arrow pointing the way toward your opponent.
Practice proper foot strikes. Land each step on the balls of your feet to maintain your balance during rapid movement.
Do more footwork drills than you think you need. At a bare minimum, always review your en garde, advance, retreat, check step and lunge -- focusing on proper form above all -- before you begin fencing. Practice these steps in sets of at least five to 10 each. With proper footwork comes good balance, and as you do more drills, the footwork eventually becomes second nature.
- Improve your posture in day-to-day life and you'll bring that posture into your fencing practice. Keep your back and neck straight as you peck away at the computer. Avoid leaning forward too much when you're crashing on the couch.
- Warm up with 10 to 15 minutes of full-body exercise, such as jogging, jumping rope or -- even better -- fencing drills to encourage a full range of motion. In addition to preventing injury and soreness, the increased muscle control you'll gain from a good warmup helps improve your balance.
- Focus on smooth, controlled motion at all times, keeping your muscles relaxed as you fence. Mentally release your tension before you begin. Breathe regularly and deeply as you practice, focusing entirely on the moment at hand.
- HealthStatus.com: Calories Burned Calculator
- Classical Fencing: The Martial Art of Incurable Romantics; Adam Adrian Crown
- Berkeley University: The Official Cal Fencing Study Guide
- Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images