How fit was a medieval knight? Fitter than you might expect…

  • What do medieval knights and top athletes have in common? The answer is, more than you might think.

    Most equestrians will have spent time explaining — patiently or otherwise — to non-horsey friends that there is more to riding than just “sitting there while the horse does all the work”.

    Now the University of Bath and English Heritage have backed that up with hard facts, albeit on an extreme level.

    Researchers found that jousters are the “ultimate all-round athletes” and have similar fitness levels to professional footballers and tennis players.

    jousting knight

    Credit: English Heritage

    As part of his pre-season preparation for tournaments at English Heritage castles, jouster Roy Murray was put through his paces at the university.

    He took part in a range of physiological tests, commonly used when training Olympic athletes.

    The 33-year-old was found to have a body fat percentage of 7.72%. This compares to 15-20% for the average man and 8-10% for a professional footballer.

    Tested to exhaustion on a treadmill, his score of 55ml/kg/min in the gold-standard maximal oxygen consumption test put him in the same category as an elite male tennis player.

    Roy proved to have twice the upper-body strength needed to be accepted into the police. His core stability proved better than some professional swimmers and his alignment and balance were “comparable with leading acrobats”.

    “These results are very impressive,” said applied sport scientist Jonathan Robinson, who led the tests.

    “They indicate that jousting requires physical prowess on a par with professional footballers, tennis players and Formula One drivers combined.

    “What is particularly remarkable is the high standards of fitness demonstrated across a wide range of areas.

    “It is clear that jousters must train very hard in various different ways to maintain this fitness in order to compete in such a physically demanding sport.”

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    Thankfully the average rider is not carrying 45kg of armour, nor balancing a 3m lance at the same time as galloping full-tilt towards an opponent.

    However, the results highlight on an extreme scale the demands of equestrian sport on a rider’s body.

    “Historically, boys would have been trained from a very early age; working hard physically all day every day to acquire the strength, fitness and skill required to become a medieval jouster,” explained English Heritage’s jousting expert Dominic Sewell.

    “While modern lifestyles are very different, to joust properly in the 21st century requires the same dedication.

    “The knights that you’ll see at English Heritage jousts are among the best in the country and indeed the world.

    “Achieving that level in such a physically and mentally demanding field is no mean feat, but for the audience it certainly makes for a thrilling and spectacular experience.”

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