A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Novel Exercises and Solo Drills for Historical European Martial Arts

Solo Drills, Tools, and Exercises to get your body better prepared and able to have fun and be successful when swinging swords around.

This first video is just a short piece of advice on how to practice effectively which can help with any endeavor you’re starting.

Solo HEMA Drills and Exercises:

Easy to follow drills and this channel has exceedingly good production values.

If this doesn’t get your newbie muscles burning quickly you’re either in great shape or doing it wrong!

This drill gives you something extra to do by forcing you to change directions while swinging your sword. Footwork is my greatest weakness I think so try this or variations of this out.

Sean Franklin does a good job of explaining cutting drills.

Matt Easton has quite a few different solo drills on his site. I like this one and the ones he made when his right hand was injured.

This flow exercise that Devon does has some direction changes and good practice for attacks from the Italian Longsword perspective and looking at your footwork.

Matt Galas is so smooth in his transitions it is a beautiful thing to watch even if you know nothing about historical fencing or HEMA.

Cutting drill useful for Sabre and Singlestick.

Sidesword exercises in the Bolognese/Dardi tradition can also translate well with the early period rapier.

This is an update a few years later from Federico’s Youtube about exercises to do during Italy’s Quarantine that I thought was excellent.

Novel Gear Exercises:

Medicine Balls can build up your explosive “punch-like” force you need for martial arts. There are many types and weights to choose from. The link above goes to my medicine ball which is a middling size and weight and great value for the price.

NSD Power AutoStart Spinner is the “Featured image” for this post. This is an exercising tool utilized heavily by golfers who want to build dense and dexterous forearm muscles just like we do. It is fun and easy to use. It is also used by people to help with carpal tunnel and tendinitis. Below is a “Powerball” model review from a hockey player but the basic concepts apply.

I recommend that you purchase a Kettlebell that is all one piece without any welding or anything that might hide any welding marks to avoid a poorly made model that might break while moving explosively if using a high weight model. You can use a low weight kettlebell that isn’t as high quality if mostly using slow or static movements or exercises.

The Gripmaster Hand Exerciser is useful for building an individual finger, hand, and wrist strength and is another thing you can do maybe at work or while reading. There are many different variations and brands to choose from and I’ve had about a dozen types now and they will break pretty easily with consistent use. Most have a set level of resistance but a few have a resistance that is variable which is useful if you are using this to recover from a hand injury and building back up your strength.

Agility Ladders help with building up your lower legs and possibly might help you become more cognizant of your footwork.

Resistance bars are great for recovery and are designed to help with tennis elbow which can plague a swordsman as well. The brand I linked to rates the resistance by color so be careful picking one that is appropriate for you. They also are very good at improving grip strength. There are a lot of different exercises out there that use these flexbars for different issues so be sure to look up different exercises or invent your own just don’t break your wrist. I made extensive use of my theraband bar during my elbow injury.

Battle Ropes are a lot of fun and help out with building both your arms and your core.

Balance Pads are very good for improving your balance and building your lower leg strength and tone. This indirectly will help your footwork.

Gravity Fitness Stretch Strap is good for helping increase your flexibility and range of motion. If you’re going to be practicing lunges a lot this might be useful for you.

Resistance bands I use every day at work for both my legs and my arms. If you’re going to be sitting in front of a computer you can at least get a bit of exercise.

Forearm Exerciser is great for building strength while binge-watching your favorite show.

Captains of Crush Grippers I have five of these grippers going from various difficulties Trainer to a #2.5 which is what I was working on before I hurt my elbow so now I usually max out on the #1.5 to avoid putting too much stress and limit my reps. Give yourself breaks with this as you can push yourself too far very easily and stop immediately for at least three or four days the moment you feel any pain.

A simple pony spring clip is great for building pinch strength which helps a lot with fencing and weightlifting and can be purchased for under five bucks at your local hardware store.

Broccoli bands or the Iron Mind bands or something similar even just three or four normal rubber bands is great for working your finger extensors and to prevent hand injuries.

I like to use my buckler and rotate it back and forth and it is something you can do while watching a movie on your couch without worrying about breaking anything like this gentleman does in the below video with the stick.

Suggestions from Facebook:

Shanee Nishry’s website showcases her exercise regime of about 30 minutes a day of Meÿer Square / Cutting Diagram Longsword drills. Check it out.

Susan Kirk mentioned that Indian Clubs can really help with both strengthening arms and shoulders as well as helping flexibility of wrists, elbows, and shoulders. It is great for both balancing out muscles on the left and right sides as well as improving coordination.

Indian Clubs at Purpleheart Armoury.

Incline Steel Club is on sale and it is nice for doing exercises when inside though I find I use my kettlebells far more.

The nice thing about some sort of short club is that you’re less likely to break any light fixtures when stuck inside!


And it isn’t HEMA but this set of exercises based on Bruce Lee’s Ab workout are good for building your core which is very important when hitting with control and intention.

In Conclusion:

This Sword Carolina video below is actually what got me started on the idea for making this blog post. I hope you enjoyed it and maybe got some ideas on keeping in shape from it.

Here is a playlist that I occasionally remember to update when I find HEMA related exercises that will probably end up being more up to date with new ideas than the once every couple of years between updates here on my blog. This includes many of the videos above in one place.

My other essays:

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Websites to Buy Swords and Equipment

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Tournaments

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Historical European Martial Arts

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: One Year Anniversary Update Post on Historical European Martial Arts

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Novel Exercises and Solo Drills for Historical European Martial Arts

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: My HEMA Loadout and Wishlist

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Cat’s Nine Lives Halloween Tournament