Ancient Fitness



I am always humbled when I look into ancient military training manuals. Take in point of the Roman Legionnaire.

The main thing a member of the Roman Army needed was fitness. Soldiers were expected to march about 36km (24 miles) in 5 hours. They also had to be fit to be able to fight well and For this, we are told by Vegetius (Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, commonly referred to simply as Vegetius, was a writer of Epitoma rei militaris (also referred to as De Re Militari)), during the summer months the soldiers were to be marched twenty Roman miles (18.4 miles/29.6 km), which had to be completed in five hours.A further part of basic military training was also physical exercise. Vegetius mentions running, long and high jump and carrying heavy packs. During the summer swimming was also a part of training. If their camp was near the sea, a lake or river, every recruit was made to swim. (You can read the whole thing here

In Practice

Next in line, after the training for marching and fitness, came the training of handling weapons. For this they primarily used wickerwork shields and wooden swords. Both the shields and the swords were made to standards which made them twice as heavy as the original weapons. Evidently it was thought, that if a soldier could fight with these heavy dummy weapons, he would be twice as effective with the proper ones (Makes sense. It follows what we know about muscular adaptation to imposed demands). The dummy weapons were at first employed against heavy wooden stakes, about six foot high, rather than against fellow soldiers. Against these wooden stakes the soldier trained the various moves, strikes and counter-strikes with the sword.
Only once the recruits was deemed able enough in fighting against the stakes, were they assigned in pairs to train in individual combat and cope with any injuries.

Unthinkable by today’s standard. I tried to run with a weighted vest of 60 lbs and that was really hard on the knees.

On the life they led, was indeed hard and not uncommon to be that fit. Still, it is an eye opener considering we feel a sort of superiority because of our technology. I have a half-baked plan to try and walk/run 24.4 miles while carrying 70 lbs with a body bar of 5 lbs (to mimic a javelin). I normally walk around 5-12 km a day! But the key here is to finish better than 5 hours. The challenge is on!


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