by Matt D’Aquino

Judo is such a dynamic sport that makes it very hard to train for just one certain component. We need a lot of different styles of fitness covering all energy systems. Some opponents are all about speed so the fight is based around aerobic fitness while others are slow and all strength so the fight then spills over into the anaerobic category.

To make it even worse in major competitions you may have to fight up to 5 times in 1 day or more. Jimmy Pedro in 2004 Olympics had 7 fights in 1 day. This requires a lot of physical fitness (especially in the repechage) but more so, recovery after intense exercise is the key.

So what type of Cardio training should judo players do?

Once again judo is so dynamic that it is hard to say. Training in Japan is 2 hours long so you must have a fairly good aerobic fitness, but a competition is very intense with nerves and dehydration so it can sometimes become anaerobic as well. In a competition you may be fighting for 30 seconds then have 8-10 seconds off while walking back to your mark, then back on for 20 seconds on and then 5 off. So the fighting can be very stop start with the work rest ratio being very spasmodic. Therefore I believe the best form of cardio for judo players is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

What is interval training?

Interval training is instead of going for a run at the same pace for 40 minutes you change the intensity every now and then. For eg if you go for a run and you encounter a hill and run up it, your heart rate will increase, then once you reach the top and run on a flat surface your heart rate lowers. This simply put is interval training.

But HIIT is when you run at 100% effort for a certain amount of time (it varies) before you have a rest and then you go again for 100% effort. This is very intense and very hard on your body. HIIT is proven to:

  • Increase in maximum heart rate (resulting in a lower resting heart rate)
  • Increase fitness
  • Increases recovery in between bouts of work
  • Increase in metabolism (after exercise)
  • Increase fat burn (while maintaining muscle mass)
  • Increase cardio output (lung capacity)
  • Delay the onset of Lactic Acid
  • Increase in bone density (especially when doing plyometrics)
  • Increase in muscle tone
  • Increase co-ordination, re action time and awareness.

The easiest place to do interval training is on a machine, bike, rower, treadmill or cross trainer. This is due to the fact that it is a closed environment where you don’t have to look out for traffic and roads etc.

I think the best machine to do it on is the rowing machine for 2 reasons.

  1. The rowing machine is a full body workout, not just your legs like a stationary bike
  2. The rowing machine is all about pulling, using your back muscles and arms, just like pulling someone off balance.

The three categories of interval training

Long intervals: 2-5 minutes targeting the aerobic (ATP) system, good for fitness, not recommended for competition tapering. Rest period can be the same length as work rate due to the fact that’s it’s not as intense as other work intervals.
Medium intervals: 30-120seconds targeting the anaerobic system, great for lactic acid buffering and great for competition tapering. Rest period must be long due to the high intensity when working.
Short intervals: 5-30 seconds targets the Phosphocreatine system (ATP-PC), great for immediate power and strength. Great for explosiveness and should be done 1 week prior to competition.

When I’m training I usually do 1 minute on of exercise and 1 minute off. I wear a Heart rate monitor to monitor how hard I am really working. On the 1 minute of work I try to get my heart rate as high as possible. I usually have it around 94%MHR at the end of the minute and then after the rest it’ll get back down to 78-82% MHR before I go again. I do this for 30-35 minutes on non judo days and 15 minutes on judo days. But you don’t have to do the same as me you can do 2 minutes on 1 minute off or whatever you prefer. The main thing is you are working at 100% effort when you are on.

Do I do this year round even when tapering for competition?

There is nothing wrong with interval training year round. But you have to be smart when you begin tapering for a competition. Basic strength and conditioning principles state that you must do ‘shorter, sharper exercises but longer rest times’ leading up to a competition. The reason you do this is because you want your muscles to be working at a fast, intense pace for a brief period of time and then let them recover before you go again.

Once I start tapering for a competition I jump on the rowing machine. I start by doing 500m sprints, 500m takes me around 1min 35seconds. So I do 1 500m sprint at maximal effort and then rest for 3 minutes before going again. I do 6-10 sets. This type of interval training falls under the Medium interval category. You should be 3 days a week around 2 or 3 weeks before competition.


A quick note you can do all this interval training by sprinting as well. Please be aware that running uphill (although gets your HR through the roof) should not be used when tapering for competition. This is due to the fact that running uphill is a concentric movement (muscle building) and is slow a sluggish and trains your muscles to be slow, something we don’t want leading up to a competition.

If you are going to sprint as part of tapering you must either perform your sprits on a flat surface or even better, by running downhill. I’m not talking about running down a steep cliff but at a decline that lets you safely run faster than you usually do without the risk of falling over. Downhill sprints are an eccentric movement and the theory is that if you are running faster than you normally are you are training your muscles to be explosive and fast. Leading up to the 2000 Olympics Gold medallist Judo player David Douillett only ran downhill as part of his cardio regime. This, along with other studies proves that down hill running increase speed, power and explosiveness above all other forms of running. The only problem with it is because it is eccentric the body takes a while to recover.

Judo exercises

Remember the principle “as competition gets closer, work gets shorter but sharper and rest gets longer.” Many older athletes don’t take this ‘rule of thumb’ onto the judo mat. How many times have you had an event on the next weekend and your coach says, “ok you all have a comp in 2 weeks lets do 2 hours of randori for preparation.” You may have noticed that doing 2 hours of randori is not exactly short and sharp work is it? It is slow and gruelling and goes against the principles of tapering.

What judo exercises should we do then?

Good question, but easy to answer. Anything that’s short and sharp.

  • Grip fighting (45 secs on 90 seconds off)
  • Nage Komi
  • Throw for throw
  • Randori (1 minute intense 2-5 minutes off)
  • Speed uchi komi
  • Power exercises (eg Thomastown ones we do)
  • Crash mat throws

Another aspect of tapering for a competition is that you don’t have to do a full 2 hour session leading up to a judo comp you may only what to do 60 or 90 mins work. It’s your competition so it’s all up to you how much training you are comfortable with.

I hope that that this article has increased your knowledge and understanding of the cardio involved in judo and the proper way to taper for judo competitions. Please keep in mind that this is just what I believe tapering for judo should be done. I am still young and have plenty of years to learn and experiment with different apects of tapering. With this article I just wanted to open your mind to see how other people do it, but in the end do what you feel comfortable with. Because in the end you’re the one competing not me. Talk to your coaches and the older athletes at your dojo and see how they tapered for competition and you may well take on board some of their suggestions.