Medieval Workout Methods – Revisiting The English Knights

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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.

knightWhen 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.

knight2Even 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.

Got any other ideas? Leave them below in the comment field and we might add them into the workouts we’ve been experimenting with and share the results with you.


34 Comments Add yours

  1. Johann
    August 11, 2009
    6:20 pm

    Good one Mike. When I was living in London I used to work out with this monster of a guy (who worked as a bouncer) and used to call himself the white cave man with his blessed genetics. He probably could have been a descendant of King Henry VIII th. If you go into the Tower of London you see some of the armor the king himself wore. For a man well over 6 foot 2 inches, he was a big or monster of a boy and would have needed to be pretty strong to carry so much iron on his person. Having a closer look at the armor in the castle also reveals how strong those men would have had to be to lift those massive swords, spears and clubs and then run up and down narrow stairways.

    The length and breadth of castles like Hampton Court Palace are expansive and it would have taken some strength to walk the distances in heavy armor.

    On a different era, the Scots too must have been a fiery force to deal with. There’s got to be some reason why Emperor Hadrian during the Roman empires thought it wise to build a wall separating Scotland from England !


    Spencer Reply:

    Actually, although Hadrian was keeping out the Celts and the German Barbarians invading Britain, the Scots had some very advanced fighting techniques. I remember reading that Scottish soldier had actually developed techniques with sword and shield to combat British riflemen. So yes, Scotts were beastly fighters


    Kevin Reply:

    im not sure i understand why people assume swords and plate armour weighed so much? from what i have gathered via research, swords weigh between 2 lbs and 5 lbs, and a full suit of plate may have weighed 65-70 lbs.


  2. leanhybr
    August 11, 2009
    6:36 pm

    @ Johann – Wow, that’s cool. I remember visiting some castles in Sweden and thinking the same thing. They might not have been as tall but they were strong! Imagine being 6’2 back than and having to crouch around in some of the tunnels and entrances with all that armor and weapons in hand! – Mike


  3. Kirt
    August 11, 2009
    8:45 pm

    after reading your hybrid muscle report I went on to order a 20kg weight vest, it came today and i can’t wait to train with it on! reading your report I also have the intention of wearing the vest for hours a day. My theory is with the extra weight (at this moment in time I weigh 70kg) the vest will bring it up to a total weight of 90kg, my theory is that with this extra weight with the same muscle mass will be a constant stimulus to my muscles (until they adapt of course) AND just wearing the vest during my daily activities and gym sessions will burn extra calories.

    I think that people who are maintaining their weight with their current diet can burn fat without changing their diet – all they’ll need to do is wear a vest throughout the day and when they’re exercising….

    What’s your take on that Elliott? Would that help in the endeavour for hybrid muscle?


  4. leanhybr
    August 11, 2009
    9:51 pm

    @ Kirt — Although I believe that diet plays a HUGE role in fat loss… I am also a big fan of “Energy Flux” which dictates that with an increase in energy expenditure (hybrid training) and a simultanious increase in energy intake (eating) your body’s fat burning capacity increases as the “flux” of intake and expenditure creates “friction” or heat.

    PLUS — I just love eating ;)


  5. Jeff
    August 12, 2009
    7:58 am

    I love history and the history of warriors even more but do we actually know how they trained? what system if any did they use? did they lift weights of any kind and how did they progress?


    RAAD Reply:

    they trained all day long and dedicated their lifes to kill people, it’s not a joke. After one battle their bodies would have passed through alot of stress producing a super-body. also they rested alot.
    Have you ever been in any fighting-like sport? somthing like brazilian jiu jitsu, box, kickboxing or else.. after a championship match, you often feel your body as if it has trained for 5 hours long. It’s because the stress produced in the match, imagine the same but fighting for your real life lol.


  6. Will
    August 12, 2009
    11:27 am

    As a conditioning & skills coach for professional rugby playes, I LOVE the concept guys- it is EXACTLY what players in our sport are needing to do. Oh & just a heads up on the Military history bit- the English won @ Agincourt because of their bowmen (the English longbow DEVASTATED the French army) & territorial advantage (its not clear whether they CHOSE the site of battle or just happened to be there when it all kicked off!)


  7. Cyndee
    August 12, 2009
    11:56 am

    Love tire flips, sandbag toss, tire drag, and Mallot strikes (take a haevy post driver and strike the tire from the left and then the right) similar to using the axe on an tree –make sure you use both sides!!


  8. Johann
    August 12, 2009
    12:43 pm

    Have you heard of the Scottish games? They go back a long time to clan culture. Apparently, very little has changed since. Its interesting to see what stuff these guys used to do.


  9. leanhybr
    August 13, 2009
    1:05 pm

    @ Johann — If you are referring to the Highland Games, then yes! What an incredible Strength Sport. Game like that were designed back when men were men… now we’ve got soft BS games like “Frisbee Golf” and Co-Ed Kickball.


  10. Johann
    August 13, 2009
    1:47 pm

    Well……trust you and mike to put the balls back on men……


  11. nicole foor
    August 18, 2009
    2:00 am

    really enjoyed this think it is great. cant wait for more


  12. bill getz
    August 18, 2009
    11:06 pm

    im interseted. im in my second week of overload training and i believe that im a muscle type2 im not sure ive been lifting for a year i can go heavy for 7-8 sets but my cardio stinks (800 jumping jacks or a jogging a mile)at best. im a information junkie so show me what you got.



  13. Simon
    August 25, 2009
    2:53 am

    I’ve seen Rick Gray’s program, it’s good but this is different. The overload program is more bodybuilding where it looks like on this site bodybuilding is just part of it, but you want your muscles to be strong not just look strong.


    Don Reply:

    I think this is how we should have been training all along, I know my strength was close to type three before two dislocated shoulders and a car accident.


  14. carmine
    August 29, 2009
    11:14 pm

    mike, this is more of a question than suggestion. how effective is flipping a truck tire?


    leanhybr Reply:

    It’s a glorious exercise! If you have the space to do this exercise I think it’s great. You’ll work your hips, legs, back, biceps, grip. It’s one of my favorites it’s just hard for people that live in cities or don’t have space to store the tires.

    We got one from a local tire shop in my town. The guy that gave them to me was the owner and told me never to pay for the big tires (the ones used for flipping) that if they are sitting in his lot it would cost him to have them disposed of. You are actually saving them money. I would drive to the local tire shops and see if they have any ones that look like they hace been sitting for a while and then ask the manager.



  15. carmine
    August 30, 2009
    8:07 pm

    I totally forgot to ask, how many reps and sets would you recommend given the following.


  16. carmine
    August 30, 2009
    8:11 pm

    Could I cut arms day and do the flips or should I continue?
    I ask due to fear of over training


  17. leanhybr
    August 30, 2009
    10:37 pm

    Throw them in on Tuesday. If you do them Friday you arms may still be sore from Thursdays workout and might effect your flipping.

    If you want more fat burning and cardio use a lighter tire for more flips and longer distance. If you want to work strength and power user a heavier tire, for less reps and a shorter distance. Experiment and tell us what you discover.


    carmine Reply:

    Absoloutely man. i do need serious help with something though. i go to college and i dont live on campus. i have a 30 minute drive from home to school
    everyday, and i am at school from 8 am to 4pm everday, so as you can imagine my diet is pretty much shot as the food sold in the canteen is pretty much the same as KFC with rice. could you offer any literature at all on how to deal with this? would i have to invest in designer whey protein powder?


    leanhybr Reply:

    You need to bring a small cooler with you to school with your own food. You don’t need Designer protein, unless you want it for convenience. We’ll be covering some nutrition keys in an interview later this week. Stay tuned and for now start packing a cooler to bring with you to school. – Mike


  18. dr
    September 4, 2009
    5:19 pm

    awesome points. some of the guys at the gym actually started going to the boot camp class at the gym and wearing a weighted vest to crank up the difficulty. just another idea.


  19. Graham
    September 15, 2009
    12:29 pm

    I agree that the training the English knights went through was awesome but remember two things-
    1. The French knights practiced the same training.
    2. They lost because of the superior fire power of the longbow.
    In addition Henry V “cheated” by not taking prisoners. He could not afford to be burdened and ordered them to be killed before moving on home.


  20. Acai Force Max
    October 1, 2009
    10:04 pm

    thanks !! very helpful post!


  21. Joel Mackey
    November 2, 2009
    8:13 pm

    Working in the oilfield, one bit of work that really gave me a pump in my biceps, shoulders, forearmes and upper chest was using a sledge hammer to drive stakes and tighten pipe wings. I started with a 6 Lb, with the handle cut down to about 2-2.5 feet long, but after a few months moved up to 8 lb.

    The locations were hard packed and some had naturally occuring rock under them, so trying to drive a stake thru the hard pack and rock was extremely rigorous. the intense burn would be in your hands and forearms, and the cardio from swinging that hammer was pretty amazing.

    kind of dangerous though, as you get tired, your aim would suffer and the hammer would glance off the target and hit your shin, so you had to stay in control and postion yourself properly at all times.


  22. Nelson
    November 3, 2009
    7:23 pm

    So thats how Navy Seals work. Cardio and Strenght at tha same time. Got you.


  23. nivian
    November 12, 2009
    1:54 am

    thanks for the training tips hope to use it to improve my running


  24. Roy
    February 3, 2010
    8:59 pm

    The knights of that era trained daily swinging swords, maces, halbreds, and quaterstaffs for hours. You could tell a knght even if he was dressed down by his V shaped torso and thick hands and wrists. Much like war club swinging with indian war clubs today.
    On a historical note, they figure in the first minute of battle at Angincourt the English put roughly 72,000 arrows in the air, this by about 5,000 archers. That had to be a sight to behold.


  25. Raad
    April 14, 2010
    9:07 pm

    Another training that will give your strength a super boost, is training with “chain and mace weapon”. Obviously is not a good idea to use the actual weapon (cause if you slip your head will be off) but you can use something more soft like a punching ball full of a mix of sand with jean-like fibers tide to a small chain. Swing that thing for 3 minutes over your head or as you like and all your body will be crying lol. Also you can perform “dances” with it like if trance music was on and you were using glow-sticks. The fact that you are using that kind of movements will boost your strength to new levels that you haven’t felt before. Since the muscles that you are using there you haven’t used them for in like.. ever. All the movements that we use for training are up, down, lift, pull, push, but not this circular, multi-muscle using movements.

    Give it a try! they have worked for me ALOT! since i use this type of training along with the hybrid i can perform the human flag. :) cheers!


  26. Spencer
    October 11, 2010
    3:48 am

    Well, This may be going a little far, but if you’re into it, get a wooden or heavy plastic sword (Cold Steel has some great ones) and either a punching bag or a large wooden pole about 6 feet tall and 4 inches in diameter, and do what is called “Practicing at the Pell.” the pole (or punching bag) is the the Pell–It’s what medeival knights, Renaissance swordsmen, Gladiators, and even 19th century Russian and German soldiers used to practice fighting with when not in battle. Basically, you are supposed to pretend that the pell is an imaginary opponnent and fight it as if you were going to kill that opponent. this is a great resource for it. Supposedly this is how warriors became skilled at weaponry, and built their muscle


  27. Pointer Men's Basketball
    October 30, 2010
    4:39 am

    Maybe you should edit the blog subject title Medieval Workout Methods – Revisiting The English Knights | Lean Hybrid Muscle Building to more generic for your webpage you write. I enjoyed the blog post even sononetheless.


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