Judo vs. Conditioning.

In this article I want to talk about conditioning training and Judo training and give some thoughts on both and how the relate to one another and to you as a Judo athlete.

The Purpose of Conditioning training.

About to jerkLets put this out there right now, all your conditioning training as a Judo athlete MUST be designed to improve your Judo performance. If your time spent running, or in the gym, is not helping with a specific Judo goal, then stop it right now. If this is a programme that has been precribed to you by someone else, now is the time to talk to them about what exactly the conditioning is designed to achieve and how it relates to your Judo and your Judo performance.

In basic terms, I consider there to be three types of objectives that your conditioning training should be designed to achieve.

  • Injury Prevention
  • Injury recovery
  • Sport Specific development

Injury Recovery & Prevention

The first two you could do worse than to consider the most important. If you are physically weak in an area, then you run the risk of injury in that area. For example, knee injuries are pretty common in Judo. Much is unavoidable, but a conditioning programme designed to ensure that the quadriceps and hamstring muscles are balanced may help lessen the injuries. The same may be appropriate for your shoulders, especially for a Seoi Nage player. Some exercises designed to strengthen the shoulder stabilizers may save you an injury and ensure you are able to train on, and also that you don’t end up off the mat or with a serious (career threatening) injury.

Equally, if you have already been injured, conditioning training may be prescribed post injury to aid recover and to ensure that the affected area does not become injured again later. We see this often with ankle injuries. An athlete returning from such an injury may be seen balancing on wobble boards or doing one legged squats to build the area back up both in terms of muscles but also in terms of connective tissues and neurological function.

So, if we consider this an important aspect of conditioning training then it would make sense to visit an experienced sports physiotherapist and ask them to assess your physical condition and identify any areas that are of concern. Then you can seek advice from them and from a strength and conditioning coach to develop a conditioning programme that develops your body in the right way to avoid/recover from injury.

This will require that the physio and the strength and conditioning coach are experienced in sport and preferably in Judo.

Sport Specific (Judo) Development

There is little/no point in doing conditioning training if it is not designed to improve your performance in Judo. For example, following a marathon running programme will probably have detrimental effects on a Judo athlete’s performance on the mat. This is because it will develop your body in ways designed to propel a human body for long distances; not allow a human body to fight against another body and throw someone to the floor. The energy systems and muscular development will be different to what you require.

This is not to say that running is a bad exercise for a Judo athlete, far from it. A running programme designed for Judo will help you considerably. It also depends on what stage in your preparation you are; and where you need to develop. I for example have a naturally low lung capacity, so running was often a good choice for me as I was disadvantaged compared to my opponents as I could not inhale and exhale as much air as they could naturally. So running training improved my cardio vascular efficiency and allowed me to equal the stakes.

Your conditioning training needs to be designed with Judo in mind and specific techniques and fighting styles in mind. This takes an experienced and skilled strength and conditioning coach and one that has preferably worked in Judo. They (and you) need to understand that the physical requirements of a lightweight Judo athlete and a Heavyweight Judo athlete are very different. Also even within a weight class, each athlete will have different requirements depending on the way they fight, their grip pattern, their opponents and their throws and ne waza.

A simple example might be a player who does a very low Ippon Seoi Nage throw. In this hypothetical example the player is finding that they are able to enter the throw but not execute the throw. By watching video footage of their competitions and training with their Judo coach, physio and strength and conditioning coach they might identify that the player has a weak “core” and is unable to maintain good posture. Between them they might design a conditioning programme designed to improve this area and this would give the player a better throw.

Alternatively, they might identify that the players left ankle is buckling under load, and design a programme to try and improve the proprioception in that area. It also could be an upper body weakness preventing the athlete from executing the kake component of the throw properly, a weights programme might help here.

A simpler example might be that an athlete is finding themselves losing fights near the end of the match as their “fitness goes”. This might be addressed with a running programme to improve cardio vascular systems genrally. Then once general aerobic fitness was improved, some Judo specific drill training might be employed to ensure they are still fighting strong at 4:55 into the fight.

Generic programmes vs. Athlete Specific programmes.

If you are an elite athlete already, then I would hope that you are working with skilled experts with Judo specific knowledge, who are designing conditioning programmes that are unique to you.

Sadly for a vast majority of Judo athletes this is not the case. Which raises the issue of generic programmes versus expert Judo athlete specific programmes. Generic programmes are not evil, they serve a purpose and if you do no conditioning work, you should consider starting off with a generic full body conditioning programme. One form the local gym will do to start with.

In fact, I would prefer you to go to the local gym for your programme than to borrow a programme from “the guy down the dojo”. The reason being that the gym instructor will be qualified to prescribe prgrammes, and will also be careful to not give you exercises that might injure you. The guy in the dojo (unless of course they are a strength and conditioning professional and are qualified to do so), is more than likely going to give you something beyond your physical capabilities and sadly often based on old knowledge. Or it may be based on watching high level Judo athletes prepare and again is likely to be physically too challenging and could easily do more harm than good.

If you have not done much strength and conditioning training, then a generic programme will start the anatomical adaption process. You will also start to develop the technique to do exercises properly.  I’d say for a complete newbie, 4-6 months spent in a generic gym doing a simple full body programme is a good start. Once you have this base training under your belt, then it is time to go and get that expert conditioning coaching.

If you are based in the UK (specifically Norwich, Norfolk) I can heartily recommend contacting Elite Strength and Conditioning USA based players might consider contacting Dr. Rhadi Ferguson. Of course, the first person to speak to is your Judo coach or coaches. They probably know people or if your level is right, put you in contact with your national teams conditioning experts.



Image from

Jon Tunnell on Flickr

Comments (1)

Patricia WarrenJuly 7th, 2011 at 9:52 am

In hard randori or shiai make the fights five minutes and the winner is not he who scores first ippon; Irrespective of how many ippons etc are scored the fight goes a full five minutes and winner is the one with most points. This indicates to the coach the fitness level of the judokas as well as their individual technical skills.

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