It’s one of the oldest equestrian sports in the world and, according to new research, it produces elite athletes with fitness levels comparable to those of professional footballers, champion tennis players and Formula One drivers combined.
So what exactly is it about racing towards an opponent on a horse galloping at up to 30mph while wearing heavy armour and brandishing a 3.6m (12ft) wooden lance that makes jousters so fit? “It’s an all-round sport exercising every muscle in the body,” explains 49-year-old professional jouster Dominic Sewell. “That’s possibly missing from modern-day sports, which tend to be very specific. It’s great to look back centuries and realise jousters were such amazing sportspeople.”
A University of Bath study commissioned by English Heritage, which launched a campaign for jousting to be recognised as an Olympic sport last summer, put 33-year-old professional jouster Roy Murray – whom Sewell has been training for the past two years – through tests used when training Olympic athletes. The tests found Murray’s body fat is 7.7%, leaner than most professional footballers, whose fat ranges from 8% to 10%. He also recorded five bench presses of 67kg (148lb), displaying twice the upper-body strength required to get into the police force, and cardiovascular fitness levels that put him in the same category as top tennis players.
Sewell, who has been jousting since 2000 and wears “a specific Italian copy of a jousting harness weighing 35kg”, isn’t remotely surprised by the results. “The effect that wearing armour has on the body makes you intrinsically strong,” he tells me. “You are literally working out with weights the whole time you’re wearing it.” He tells me that just getting on a horse while wearing armour roughly twice the weight of a soldier’s pack requires peak fitness levels. “When I first put on my armour 20 years ago, I was completely taken aback. It restricts breathing, movement, vision, and increases heat levels. It burns a huge amount of calories very quickly.”
What is his training regime like? “As it comes into jousting season, I start to wear armour two or three times a week for an hour and a half each time,” says Sewell, who also trains horses for historical events. Horsemanship is also essential: “I ride five times a day,” he adds. “Training a horse in dressage, medieval combat and making sure the animal is disciplined, calm and collected all goes towards making a competitive jouster.”
Finally, the stability required to ride straight during a joust while carrying a lance, absorbing the impact of a blow, and operating with a 4mm field of vision means Murray’s core stability tested better than some professional swimmers, while his alignment and balance were comparable to those of professional acrobats. “It’s not a costume that you put on at the weekends,” Sewell concludes. “It becomes part of you. You become the machine that drives the armour.”
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