Fitness testing for Judo athletes.
As a Judo athlete you need to be fit, that is obvious right?
What is not so obvious is how fit do you need to be, what sort of fitness you need, and how you measure it.
If you are a member of a national programme, then you may have access to this sort of testing, but the average Judo athlete looking to make it often does not. So in this post we’ll look at fitness in Judo and how you can start testing yourself without all the fancy equipment.
What is Judo fit?
If you have been doing Judo a while, you’ll know there is a difference between being “fit” and being “Judo Fit” or “Mat Fit” as some call it. You can run all the miles you like, or push and many weights as you like, and you will still get into a training session at the Dojo and be exhausted. And that is an important lesson to learn. Fitness is related to application. What matters is Judo fitness, not how far/fast you can run or how strong you are.
The reason for this is that the physiological demands of Judo are unique and rather complex. Unlike say a marathon runner, or their opposite the sprinter, Judo is not pure endurance or pure sprint. The demands of our sport are difficult for the body to cater for and as such your fitness testing will be complex too. A Judo fight is too long to be pure anaerobic effort, but too intense to be aerobic purely. We also have the issue of recovery and pacing to contend with. A fight could be a few seconds or upwards of 10 minutes, A fight is also broken into sections of action, interspersed with Matte breaks and gripping and other activities. So returning to running, it is not a simple activity of sprint or run long, it’s bursts of effort over time. With recovery required within and after matches.
So being fit for this is hard to get right and especially for those without access to experts in our sport and without access to sport scientists working within out sport.
What to measure?
There are some standard fitness tests in use today. Both across the general population, within sport and within Judo too.
Which one(s) to use is a tricky question to answer and will always be affected by your personal situation and requirements. Here we shall discuss some general fitness tests and also one Judo specific one.
We could talk about some of the more scientific fitness testing approaches, like VO2 max testing, lactic acid measurement etc. But these are tests beyond the scope of this article and beyond the access of a majority of Judo athletes. They are also impractical to apply yourself in your home or Dojo environment generally.
Aerobic, Anaerobic testing and recovery.
Your Aerobic fitness, Anaerobic fitness and your ability to recover are what you need to be able to measure. Judo is a mix of sprint and slow (aerobic and anaerobic) so you will want to know what levels of both you have the capacity for. Recovery is closely related to your capacity but given the importance recovering in Matte and between fights has in our sport, it is worth considering testing/monitoring specifically.
Breaking it down to bare bones (and this is far from the scientific perspective ok), your aerobic capacity is your ability to work in the heat of a fight. How long/hard can you fight in an intense burst? How long is it before you need to slow down and get your breath back? Aerobic is when you have your breath back, you’ll be puffing, but you are at a level where you can operate comfortably for a whole fight or night if need be. recovery it follows from this example is how long does it take you to get your breath back after a burst of activity, how long till you feel you could fight again at 100% after a fight?
For a Judo athlete with very few resources, your fitness testing could be as simple as timing how long you can fight at 100% effort, how long it takes to get your breath back and how long after a fight you feel ready to fight at 100% again. All you need is a clock or watch!
Popular Fitness tests
There are several popular tests you can do with very little or no equipment or assistance.
You might want to consider the multistage fitness test (Bleep test) or the 2.5km run test. Maybe step test and some strength tests like a pushup test for example. Maybe a sprint test, an ergo test or a recovery test?
Whatever tests you choose, the important thing is to try and understand what they are are showing and also how this applies to your Judo.
In terms of Judo specific tests, the one you probably want to look at is the SJFT created by Stanislaw Sterkowicz in Poland. This test is is the most popular and well researched fitness test for Judo athletes. You can visit my Judocoach.com website for normative data, excel spreadsheets and detailed instructions on how to conduct the test at http://www.judocoach.com/judo.html
The SJFT is pretty easy to conduct and only needs a mat area and a couple of other athletes to throw about really. That said, if you start trying to do that test you will discover that conducting testing needs more equipment and people than you might need. The SJFT is best done using a good stopwatch operated by a fourth person and a heart rate monitor.
Many of the other tests also need other hardware, the bleep test needs a CD (or MP3) and something to measure 20m of course.
Proper VO2 max testing or lactate testing needs a scientist and equipment, and there is no guarantee that they’ll give you useful results. The SJFT I can recommend as we know it has been used in a Judo context and you can measure yourself against other Judo athletes.
In the text above I basically said that scientific testing is probably too difficult to accomplish realistically for the Judo athlete outside of a national programme. Especially if you are just starting out or a journeyman hoping to make that step up to getting onto a squad, you may want to create your own testing regime. You can use generic tests to give you a broad perspective of your fitness, which won’t be as accurate or applicable perhaps, but will give you an objectve measure of where you are and something to measure against.
Below are a few you might want to try doing:
The Beep test:
The Beep test or multi-stage fitness test has been used since 1982 and is relatively easy to do yourself. It is also rather popular, so the results you get you should be able to compare against others in and out of your sport. It is used for example by the Royal Navy for all Navy personnel. The things you will need are an audio track for the beeps (you can download an MP3 one from the excellent Put me in Coach! blog). Then measure out 20m.
Now the work begins… you run the 20m you’ve marked out in tempo with the beeps, running back and forth along the 20m.
Every minute, the tempo increases and the beeps come closer together. Jjust keep getting from one end to the other before the beep (and how many runs you’ve done). Once you can no longer reach the 20m line before the beep you are done, stop and work out where you are at.
This test measures your aerobic endurance but research has shown correlalations with things as diverse as body fat percentage. What is or is nota good level is dependant on who is being tested, but some example levels to use as targets are as follows: Women want to hit at least 7-8, men 9-10; of course as a Judo athlete you’ll want to aim higher and you can test yourself several times a year and aim to improve each time.
The 500m Rowing Ergo
If you can get access to a rowing machine (ergo), the 500m test can give you a good snapshot of your anaerobic power and is easy to do, even on your own. Just get on there and row 500m as fast and hard as you can from start to finish, and see how long you took. Again, how you know a good score from a bad one depends on who is being tested. I have seen male rowers in the 1:50 range, but your time is reliant on your body. So I would say test yourself a few times a year and see how you go. Then worry about what others are getting.
This test I like, in part because for some reason I have always liked rowing as cross training for Judo. The pulling action for me is more sport specific to Judo than say riding a bike or running. So a fitness test like this I think has merit.
The simple Push up test.
This is a test of your upper body strength endurance and again is simple to do; ideally with a partner who will do the counting and ensure your form is correct. The test itself is simple, just do as many press-ups as you physically can without stopping, simplez!
A good test result would be in the region of 40-50, obviously the more, the better.
Phosphate Recovery Test
This test is another sprinting test but this time is designed to give an indication of how you recover from anaerobic work. You do seven sprints, each lasting seven seconds, with 23 seconds recovery between each. The normal procedure involves cones being laid out along a 60m straight line course. 10 at each end, 2m apart, so you end up with a 20m gap between sets of cones.
Whomever is helping you calls go (hajime!) and you sprint as fast as you can till at 7 seconds they shout stop (matte). They record the last cone you ran past and you jog/walk to the end of the course, turn around and your next sprint starts 23 seconds after the matte. You then sprint as before, just in the opposite direction, again the last cone you pass is counted. jog to the end and turn around ready for the next sprint.
As you fatigue, you’ll pass fewer cones, this drop off distance between sprints is what matters. Obviously the less the drop-off the more fully your body is recovering from the exertion. Again, as with all these tests, you will want to start off by measuring yourself against your past results rather than against other people.
These four simple tests will give you an objective view of your fitness level. The Judo specific SJFT test is probably the most important one to do as you approach a level where comparing yourself to others matters. The others are not as specific and the normative data of results may not be entirely relevant as it is unlikely the tests were done of Judoka. for example the 1:50 time I used as an example for the rowing machine is a rowers time, you need to think that their technique and anatomical makeup might help them more than yours. Similarly the sprinting tests may be skewed by the fact runners were used to collect the data. The SJFT obviously has been tested on Judo athletes, so that variable is less important.
The other factors to consider are your age, your gender and your level. Don’t expect to beat a adult male push up test score if you are a young female athlete.
Most importantly, and I am repeating here, is to compare yourself to yourself. Look at your results over time and use this to decide if you are getting fitter. Then perhaps get some people you train with of similar level to do the tests with you and compare yourself with people you know. Last and least, compare yourself to normative data and higher level athletes.
The other important factor to consider is the learning effect. When you first start doing these tests you will see big jumps in results as you become familiar with the testing protocols. You’ll know what it feels like to complete a bleep test or a sprint, and be better able to pace yourself or endure the effort. You’ll be more familiar with how to be efficient in the tests and that will lead to better scores. Later, this will flatten out and you might think your fitness progress is slowing down, where in fact your fitness is improving at the same or better rate, but the learning effect makes it look like it is slowing. You also need to be prepared for the fact that fitness gains generally get harder and harder to gain after a certain point, you will plateau at a certain point and this may mean you have reached your optimal fitness or that you need to change your training.
I hope this is helpful to you. Fitness testing for a Judo athlete is something you will encounter eventually and if you have already been doing your own testing programme, you are a step ahead of the pack. It also gives you more data on your training and the more information you have the more informed your decisions will be. for example, if you aced the strength tests, but the endurance tests were not great, you can change your training to improve your endurance. You can also change the way you fight to match your strengths. If you have massive anaerobic capacity, then you may be able to fight harder for longer than your opponents, alternatively if your endurance or recovery ability is great, then maybe lots of consistent (but lower intensity) effort will win out against the opponents, death by a thousand cuts; so to speak.
As you progress, please email me any questions ( email@example.com ) or let me know what tests you are doing or how your experience of testing has been. You will of course reach a point where your area and or national coaches start testing your fitness, or even your Olympic training centre, I hope when this happens they use tests that by then you are familiar with.
To close, please watch this video of some EJU Level coaches performing the SJFT fitness test. The SJFT has been part of the EJU qualification since the course started in 2005. You can find out more about the EJU coaching qualification system at www.judospace.com where registrations for the level 3 course are open now (Disclosure: I am a director of JudSpace, who are the delivery partner for the EJU level 3 course).