The science of fencing: implications for performance and injury prevention

Sports Med. 2008;38(6):465-81. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200838060-00003.


In this review we analyse the data from the literature on fencing with the aim of creating a psychobiological and multi-factorial model of fencing performance. Fencing is an open-skilled combat sport that was admitted to the first modern Olympic Games in Athens (1896). It is mainly practised indoors, with three different weapons: the foil, the sabre and the épée, each contested with different rules. A fencing international tournament may last between 9 and 11 hours. Bouts represent only 18% of total competition time, with an effective fight time of between 17 and 48 minutes. The physical demands of fencing competitions are high, involving the aerobic and anaerobic alactic and lactic metabolisms, and are also affected by age, sex, level of training and technical and tactical models utilized in relation to the adversary. The anthropometrical characteristics of fencers show a typical asymmetry of the limbs as a result of the practice of an asymmetrical sport activity. Fencing produces typical functional asymmetries that emphasize the very high level of specific function, strength and control required in this sport. Moreover, the physical demands of fencing are closely linked to the perceptual and psychological ones, and all are subjected to a continuous succession of changes during the bouts based on the behaviour of the opponent. For this reason it is difficult to identify a significant relationship between any one physiological characteristic and performance, and performance is more likely to be influenced by perceptual and neuro-physiological characteristics. Fencers need to anticipate the opponent and to mask their true intentions with a game of feints and counter-feints, which must be supported by an adequate psycho-physical condition to prevent central and peripheral fatigue. Fencing is not particularly dangerous; however, there is a fine line between a fatal lesion and a simple wound from a broken blade. The suggestions for injury prevention fall into three primary areas: (i) actions that can be taken by participants; (ii) improvements in equipment and facilities; and (iii) administration of fencing competitions. As in every other sport, the prevention of accidents must be accomplished at various levels and above all must involve the institutions that are responsible for safety in sports.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Injuries / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Muscle Strength / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Sports / physiology*
  • Sports / psychology