Did medieval knights work out?

I mean they didn’t do any heavy physical work during peace time, they had peasants for that. They mostly drank and feasted yet during war somehow they were capable of wearing heavy armor, swords, and shields and seemingly of fighting effectively, so…?

They practiced swordplay frequently even in peacetime . Sparring is very good exercise , swing a heavy sword around for more than a few minutes and your arms will grow very tired unless you are used to it. Doing it in armor is even better exercise .

Did they do pushups? No. But daily practice at arms was standard and expected of all knights, in addition to teaching his squire. That adds up to a lot of calories burned during the course of a week.

“Mostly drank and feasted?” Horse-pucky!

Knights as most people think of them didn’t really exist. A Knight is a minor nobleman and was alloted plots of land or even small towns by their lords. The REASON for this, besides adding more management to the serifs and peasants as well as some protection, is the same reason we have for it today: Someone who is constantly preparing for war doesn’t have time to tend a field or have the money for the extravagant expenses of war on his own. His land and the towns would pay for his armament as well as any men-at-arms he required (the actual soldiers).

Knights were required to be fit and ready for battle at any time and even though they didn’t have to do the backbreaking labor of their people, they certainly didn’t have it easy by a long shot. I could get into the entire hierarchy of lordship but think of knights as battlefield commanders of small platoons who were sometimes required to fight themselves (But far less than the actual grunts)

Even those who had servants would have engaged in much more physical activity than most people in the developed world do today: walking, climbing stairs, riding, hunting. In medieval times, it was difficult not to be reasonably fit. As has been said, they also frequently would have engaged in practice at arms. They certainly didn’t spend most of their time drinking and feasting.

Knights were tough and able. They dined well, feasting on ham and jam and SPAM[sup]®[/sup]. When they weren’t on quests, they stayed in shape by dancing at every opportunity.


Try sparring sometime. I think you’d be amazed how much work fighting is. Even unarmed sparring will wear you out quickly, and if you try it wearing armor and swinging around a big sword, it’ll really take a toll.

Second, we know that knights were in pretty good shape because they were ridiculously effective warriors. They were leagues better than the peasants who, as you note, really did do hard labor every day of their lives. They were also much better than even the best armed and trained Muslim warriors, or even the purpose-trained Byzantine attempts at creating their own corps of knights. That’s not entirely a function of their physical conditioning, of course, but Muslim and Byzantine writers wouldn’t have been in such awe of the knights if the knights were fat, sloppy drunks.

Can you give some cites? I’m curious to know more.

I see a request for a cite already, but I’d like to see examples of pre-Victorian glorification of knights myself. My understanding is that all the glam comes from Malory, Scott et al. and very little of it predates reasonably modern times in England and France.

Here is an interesting article on the subject:


In peacetime they would also become involved in mock battles called tourneys - not the Hollywood style tournament.

The melee event in particular was as close to battle as possible. The stakes and prizes were sometimes very high indeed, a successful tourney player could wind up a very very wealth and respected person

I think you’re underestimating just how much hard work was involved in day-to-day living back then.

-If you wanted to be somewhere, you walked/rode. You rode in a cart if you were very old or very young, sick/dying, or a woman. A knight was on a horse, or he wasn’t a knight.

-Any entertainment was physical. You hunted, played games and sports, or rode visiting. Sitting on your ass indoors meant being bored out of your skull, unless there was a party on. And even then, there was dancing.

-Every single damn thing had to be done by hand. Yeah, you had people to do the grunt-work, but you had to walk over to them to tell them what to do, ride all over your estate to keep order, and if you forgot something, you had to walk/ride all the way back to get it. People forget how much running-around was involved before long-distance communication was possible.

That’s why being fat and lazy was looked down on. It really wasn’t a life-style you just fell into. If you were fat and lazy, you were so by choice, and it took some doing.

A bit of clarification: the armo(u)r referred to was almost certainly not the full suit we associate with knights. Up until the mid-to-late 13th century armor usually consisted of a hauberk (chain mail) with a helmet and gloves, and perhaps fittings for the shoulders, elbows and knees.

Consider: as part of the knighting ceremony, a 12th-13th century knight was expected to mount his horse (in armor) without using the stirrups. Contrast that with a 15th century knight who frequently had to be winched into the saddle. (I’ve read that one of the reasons that the French did so poorly at Agincourt was that many of the French knights spent the night in the saddle so that their armor wouldn’t get muddy. As may have been expected, their horses weren’t exactly at their best the next day.)

I thought being fat was well looked-upon. Like, say, this dude: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-JI38nxT7gbc/UaQJnpBOiFI/AAAAAAAABGo/sBAcPCnmtoY/s320/Henry%2BVIII.jpg
For the same reason that being pale was well looked-upon; It likely meant you were rich enough that you didn’t have to be physically active.

That dude was only fat once he got older and sedentary - in his youth he was an athlete and sportsman of some note, and an accomplished dancer. Later in life he was well looked-upon because he was King of England and it didn’t do to disrespect him, especially when he was ill and bad-tempered. He quite likely started to run fat because he was still eating like a track and field star but no longer training like one.

I thought that was a myth.


You’re right. He’s wrong.

I only ever saw a wood cut showing squires training to become knights. One was doing a handstand from a chair while others were wrestling. So if you have a rigorous-enough training to become a knight, current ones were likely pressured to stay in shape.

Lazy may have been looked down on, but we have a number of records of obese knights out there. Lots of rich food + lots and lots of calorie-dense booze could make for some prodigious guts even among experienced soldiers. So for example hard fighting William the Conqueror was notoriously obese, as was his eldest surviving son Robert Curthose ( who was rather lazy mentally, but an equally committed soldier ) and favorite son William Rufus seems to have sported a nice little paunch. Even indefatigable campaigner Richard I ( Lionheart ) seems to have been a big guy - one account of the surgery on his fatal wound describes the rolls of fat around his shoulder/neck region being an issue when they were trying to get out that final crossbow bolt.

This didn’t necessarily imply weak, quite the contrary. The strongest guy I ever knew was immensely obese. But they probably didn’t sport the best blood pressure ;).

I think there’s a difference between “knight” as a social class, and “knight” as armored lance cavalry, which is what the Muslims feared and Byzantines sought to emulate. Not all of the former were the latter, and not all of the latter were the former.