Competitive judo can be described as a combative high-intensity sport in which the athlete attempts to throw the opponent onto his/her back or to control him/her during groundwork combat (17). Many actions during combat are highly explosive and require strength and coordination to overcome the adversary through rapid execution of technical maneuvers (8). The judo movement structure is very demanding for most muscle groups (19,45), so contractile forces play an important role in executing judo throwing techniques (27). Thereby, the extensor and flexor strength of thigh and shoulder muscles could discriminate between successful and less successful athletes in judo competition.
Judo has high physical demands and requires the athlete to be in an optimal physical fitness (44). Most matches last approximately 3–4 minutes, with 20- to 30-second intermittent bursts of high-intensity activity; requiring developed aerobic and anaerobic endurance. Because of these judo combat characteristics, elite judokas have high-level muscular strength depending on weight class, and they score very well on pull-up, push-up, and sit-up endurance tests (14).
Several studies have pointed out the importance of some anthropometrical parameters (as lower-body fat and higher fat-free mass) to improve the judo performance (19,31). Franchini et al. (14) reported that world-class male judokas have a percent body fat lower than 10%, and it tends to decrease in those competitors who are better ranked. Thus, it has been recommended that coaches should consider their judokas' body composition during the training process (28).
Judo is a weight-classified sport with 7 categories, from 60 kg to plus 100 kg in males, with anticipated differences for anthropometric and performance characteristics among categories. Although previous studies aimed at determining the anthropometric and fitness profiles of elite judokas by performance level (15–17,28,31), most of them did not focus on distinguishing fitness determinants of success differing between weight categories.
Specific gender differences in the anthropometric and fitness profiles are well known, and scientific data are analyzed according to gender, unfortunately this does not occur so often with the weight differences. In this sense, it has been reported that the application of judo techniques differs by judo weight categories (1), and some research highlight significant differences in the physical fitness and body composition of elite judo athletes among the 7 weight categories (41,18). Therefore, judo athletes present diverse characteristics in function of the weight category in which they compete, and category-specific adjustments should be made during the training process.
Moreover, most of the research analyzes the characteristics of middleweight judokas, and there is a lack of scientific knowledge about the physiological profile in half-heavyweight competitors. According to the information presented on the European Judo Union (EJU) and national federation Web sites, we can estimate that approximately 1,500 judokas compete at the half-heavyweight category in Europe alone.
For all that, the aim of this study was to compare the fitness and anthropometric profiles of elite and subelite European half-heavyweight male judokas. We hypothesized that elite judokas have superior physical fitness, so they would perform better in most physical tests than subelite judokas. This can elucidate which performance outcomes are able to discriminate judo success at the elite level and consequently help coaches in making personalized suggestions during the training process. Hence, this study is interesting for the strength and conditioning of male judokas from half-heavyweight category who are approximately 1,500 national and international competitors in Europe.
Experimental Approach to the Problem
This descriptive cross-sectional study examined half-heavyweight male judokas from Europe. Fitness and anthropometric profiles were determined and compared among 2 judoka groups: elite and subelite (international vs. national medalists, respectively). The testing was performed during 4 days at the Faculty of Sport and Physical Education of Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina). All athletes have already participated in the following tests, and therefore did not require special introduction and familiarization. On the first day, in the morning, the athletes underwent anthropometric and body composition assessments, as well as isokinetic strength testing (peak torques). In the afternoon, the Tokui Waza test was performed on a judo mat. The maximal oxygen uptake (V[Combining Dot Above]O2max) was determined in the morning of the second day, followed by the Max Power test in the afternoon. On the third day in the morning, the handgrip strength, medicine ball throw, and high and long jumps were tested in a sport facility of the Faculty. During the third day in the afternoon and the fourth day, the rest of fitness tests (pull-ups, bench press, squat, and deadlift) were performed in a weight room of the Faculty. Morning sessions started at 9:00 AM and afternoon sessions started at 6:00 PM. Ad libitum intake of water was allowed during testing sessions. Dietary modifications were not required. All above-mentioned tests have been proved suitable to get judo fitness profile in the literature (see Ref. 14 for a review), except for the Tokui Waza test, which was added to this fitness battery to have a judo-specific assessment.
A total of 10 European male judokas from −100-kg category participated in the study. In the elite group, composed by 5 athletes (25.60 ± 3.64 years, 100.70 ± 0.83 kg, 185.80 ± 1.92 cm), all competitors won at least 1 medal in the European Judo Championship or in the World or European Judo Cup during the previous 2 years. One competitor directly qualified into the Olympic Games, 3 and 1, respectively, ranked in the EJU's top 10 and 20 for seniors. The subelite group, composed by other 5 judokas (25.80 ± 4.08 years, 100.30 ± 0.97 kg, 188.90 ± 3.43 cm), won at least 1 medal but only in national competitions (Serbia or Bosnia and Herzegovina). All subjects gave written informed consent after they were given an explanation of the purpose and procedures of the experiment. This study was approved by the Ethics Committee of the University of Novi Sad and was conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki. The judo athletes were in the fifth cycle of the first training phase. This training phase ended with the European Judo Championship and included 8 microcycles: 2 general, 2 specific, 2 situational, 1 competitive, and 1 regenerative micro cycle. Total number of training days in the first training phase was 61.
The following anthropometric measures were taken from all participants: body mass (Model 3306 ABV; Avery Ltd., Crosswell, United Kingdom), body height (Holtain Ltd., London, United Kingdom), skinfold thickness (Harpenden; Baty International, West Sussex, United Kingdom) at 4 sites (biceps, triceps, subscapular, and suprailiac), and limb circumferences (Gulick anthropometric tape; Creative Health Products, Plymouth, MA, USA) at 5 sites (forearm, upper arm, thigh, waist, and chest). The body fat percentage was estimated through manual bioimpedance (MaltronBioScan 920-2, Edinburgh, United Kingdom).
Maximum handgrip strength for both hands was measured with a portable Takei handgrip dynamometer (Takei Scientific Instruments CO., Tokyo, Japan). The athletes were standing comfortably with the shoulder adducted. The dynamometer, which had been previously adjusted to the size of participants' hands, was held with the arm parallel to the body without squeezing the arm against the body. The position of the hand remained constant in a downward direction, the palm did not flex on the wrist joint. The subjects were required to exert a maximum voluntary contraction on the dynamometer for 5 seconds. All subjects performed 3 trials, and the best performance was used for further analysis.
Isokinetic Knee Strength
The thigh muscle strength was measured using an isokinetic dynamometer (Biodex Corp., Shirley, NY, USA) according to standard protocols (22,33). The machine was calibrated before every test, and the range of motion (ROM) was set at 90°. All subjects performed a 10-minute general warm-up, followed by a specific warm-up consisting of 3–4 repetitions at the testing speed (60°·s−1) for quadriceps (Q) (knee extensor) and hamstrings (H) (knee flexor) muscles to prepare the subjects for testing. Two minutes after the warm-up, the athletes performed 5 repetitions of maximum voluntary contractions of leg muscles for 3–4 seconds. The peak torque values were recorded for right and left knee extensors, respectively, and right and left knee flexors, respectively, by the same experienced examiner.
Isokinetic Shoulder Strength
Concentric and eccentric strength measurements for left and right arms were performed on the Biodex isokinetic dynamometer at 60°·s−1 (Biodex Corp.). The subjects warmed up using an upper-body ergometer for approximately 5 minutes. During testing, all subjects were positioned in the supine position with straps placed across the chest and hips. The tested arm was positioned with the shoulder abducted to 90° and the elbow flexed to 90°. The strength was tested through a ROM of 150°, between 60° of internal rotation and 90° of external rotation, for both the internal (I) and external (E) rotation tests. The athletes performed 3 submaximal trials to familiarize with the testing procedure and the dynamometer. Both concentric and eccentric testing consisted of 5 maximal reciprocal repetitions for 3–4 seconds, and standardized instructions were given to push as hard and fast as possible. The concentric muscle torques were measured first, followed by the eccentric torques assessments.
Dynamic Strength Tests
The 1 repetition maximum (RM) test for bench press and squat was performed using free weights (24). The judo athletes warmed up with a light resistance and then achieved a 1RM effort within 3–5 attempts. No bouncing was permitted, as it would have artificially boosted strength results. The bench press testing was performed in the standard supine position: the subject lowered Olympic weightlifting bar to midchest and then pressed the weight until his arms were fully extended. The squat exercise required the player to rest an Olympic weightlifting bar across the trapezius at a self-chosen location. The squat was performed to the parallel position, achieved when the greater trochanter of the femur was lowered to the same level as the knee. The subject then lifted the weight until his knees were extended. Previous studies have demonstrated good test-retest reliabilities for these strength measures (25,26). The 1RM deadlift was tested by following the protocol and exercise execution guidelines described by Baechle et al. (3).
In addition to the 1RM tests, bench press and deep squat exercises were performed with free weights equal to weight of judokas until exhaustion with the same equipment. The number of pull-ups until exhaustion was reported as an indicator of upper-body strength.
The high jump and long jump were chosen as a measure of leg power. For both jumping tests, the judokas attempt their maximum jump distance; they performed 3 repetitions and the best result was noted for analysis. To evaluate a measure of the upper-body power, the subjects participated in the standing medicine ball throw. They were instructed to hold the 5-kg medicine ball with both hands, quickly bring the ball up to touch their chest at about nipple level and execute an explosive chest-type pass, pushing the ball forward and upward at an angle approximately 30° above horizontal. The same instructions and demonstrations were given to all subjects before testing.
The maximal oxygen uptake was estimated in all participants. The ventilatory and metabolic indices were measured at rest for 1 minute and then for another minute on a treadmill at a speed of 3 km·h−1; then, starting at 7 km·h−1, the workloads incremented progressively at a rate of 0.5 km·h−1 every 30 seconds until exhaustion (CPET, COSMED, Torino, Italy). The inclination was equal to 2% throughout the trial. The test was considered completed when the oxygen uptake reached plateau and the respiratory and ventilator quotients reached reference values, and the perceived state of each participant being monitored throughout the test. The expiratory airflow was measured by gas turbine with a mask; oxygen and CO2 were determined in expired air, the latter by infrared gauge. Before each test, the volume was calibrated by 5 inspiratory and expiratory strokes at different flows with a 3-L syringe; the gas analyzer was calibrated with 2 gas mixtures of known oxygen and CO2 concentrations (20.9% O2, 0.03% CO2 and 16.0% O2, 5.0% CO2, respectively).
To evaluate the anaerobic power, a maximal power test was used for estimating the alactate component. The Max Power test was performed with a subject pedaling at maximal speed (the highest possible) on a bicycle ergometer (Technogym HC600, Rome, Italy) for a period of 8 seconds. The results of the test are given as an average value of the Watts in the 8-second period.
Specific Judo Performance
The judokas also were submitted to a specific judo performance test, the 30-second Tokui Waza test. Two judokas (uke) were positioned at 4-m distance from 1 another, and the test executor (tori) was 2 m from ukes. During 30 seconds, tori throws opponents using his “favorite” or “best” technique, as many times as possible (Figure 1). Performance is determined by the total number of throws completed by the judo athlete.
All values are expressed as mean ± SEM. The distribution of normality was analyzed by the Shapiro-Wilk test. The differences between elite and subelite judokas in the anthropometric and fitness variables were compared by the Student's t-test for independent samples, using SPSS version 20.0 for Windows (SPSS, Chicago, IL, USA). The statistical significance was set at p ≤ 0.05 and the confidence intervals at 95%.
Anthropometric measures are presented in Table 1. Anthropometric characteristics of elite and subelite half-heavyweight judokas were similar, with statistically significant differences founded for forearm and upper arm circumferences.
Peak muscle torques are presented in Table 2. Elite judokas from −100-kg category recorded higher peak torque values of knee and shoulder muscles compared with subelite judokas, but statistically significant differences were found only for the external shoulder rotation (left and right) and knee extensors (left leg). There were no significant differences for Hcon/Qcon in both right and left legs (elite: R = 56.50 ± 13.88%, L = 53.21 ± 9.39%; subelite: R = 58.74 ± 6.40%, L = 57.37 ± 8.11%) or for right/left muscle torques (elite: Q = 6.69 ± 8.86%, H = 8.41 ± 6.20%; subelite: Q = 3.95 ± 1.49%, H = 6.96 ± 3.52%).
When comparing Icon/Econ rotation tests for right and left shoulder muscles between elite (R = 72.27 ± 9.60%; L = 78.31 ± 16.78%) and subelite (R = 62.28 ± 8.98%; L = 62.87 ± 8.98%) half-heavyweight judokas, no significant differences were detected. Furthermore, we did not find statistically significant differences when absolute muscle torques in right/left shoulder muscles for E and I rotation tests were computed and expressed as percentages of the greatest (right/left) value.
Results of the handgrip strength, dynamic strength tests, muscle power, muscular endurance, aerobic and anaerobic profiles, and Tokui Waza tests are presented in Table 3 with several statistically significant differences between international and national judo medalists in the half-heavyweight category.
In our study, the body composition of both judoka groups was very similar; however, circumferences of forearms and upper arms were significantly higher in elite judokas than in subelite. These differences by performance are in accordance with previous studies in judokas from others categories (17), and higher limb circumferences are related to a higher muscle mass. Therefore, the body composition is also related to judo success in the half-heavyweight category for males. However, we did not find differences between groups in the body fat percentage as most of the research described in others categories (11,17,19,31). Thus, the body fat seems not be so relevant for success when judokas compete in heavyweight categories.
Only few studies compared body build of elite and nonelite judo competitors (17,19,31). According to the research of Radovanovic et al. (39), elite Serbian judokas have 8.9% of body fat. This finding is in line with the results presented by Franchini et al. (14), in which it was reported that the body fat percentage of elite judokas is in the range from 4% to 9%, with the exception of super heavy categories. Our results confirmed that elite and subelite judokas from the category up to 100 kg (half-heavyweight) have a slightly higher amount of fat (16%) than those previously presented.
The results in our study showed that elite judokas produced higher peak torque values for thigh and shoulder muscles than subelite judokas, with statistically significant differences in external shoulder rotation (left and right) and knee extensors (left) torques. Accordingly, it has been reported that shoulder external and internal rotator muscles are stronger in judo athletes compared with nonathletes (38,40). In addition, our group of elite judokas (including the European champion) seems to produce higher torque values than other judokas from previous research (8,21,23,38,40). There are many studies to date suggesting that left-right asymmetry in the strength of the extremities can lead to injury (7,30,36). Drid et al. (9,12) proposed that isokinetic testing could provide valuable information regarding the strength of specific muscle groups and muscular imbalances. Furthermore, in another research conducted on judo athletes and wrestlers, the implementation of new training elements and work modalities was recommended to improve performance and prevent injuries because of lateral asymmetry (10). For all that, the peak torques estimation is a useful tool in male judokas from the half-heavyweight category, it seems to discriminate by performance, and it can detect asymmetries that should be accompanied by a training treatment.
Handgrip strength values were similar between elite and subelite judokas in our study and in others (19). Franchini et al. (16) reported similar results with 1 maximum value; however, the number of repetitions during a dynamic grip strength endurance test was higher in elite than in nonelite judokas. It has been suggested that optimal handgrip strength during the judo match is an important requisite for athletes (4,41), and its evaluation by a dynamic test seems a useful tool. Handgrip strength values reported in this study were higher than others obtained previously (19,45), but probably it is because of the differences between weight judo categories where the higher weight, the higher strength (41).
In this study, elite competitors had higher dynamic strength than subelite in bench press 1RM and deadlift; however, squat 1RM was similar in both half-heavyweight judokas. Fagerlund and Häkkinen (13) reported differences between recreational and international level judokas in the maximum absolute and relative power of back squat; however, differences for the bench press were not detected. In addition, Franchini et al. (17) compared 2 groups of judokas with a more similar level (first team vs. backup team replacements), and no differences in 1RM values for bench press and squat were found. Our values for the bench press test in the category up to 100 kg are in line with the research of Sbriccoli et al. (42), whereas we obtained significantly higher results than the ones reported in several other studies (13,17,45). In addition, elite judokas showed significantly better results in deadlift test than subelite ones, and these results are significantly higher than previously reported by Sbriccoli et al. (42).
Our results showed greater muscular endurance in elite than in subelite judokas because international judo medalists carried out significantly more number of pull-ups, repetitions in bench press, and squat tests (frequency until exhaustion with body weight resistance) compared with the national medalists. Thus, the above tests seem to be useful in monitoring the training process, and they are able to discriminate judo success in the half-heavyweight category.
Elite half-heavyweight judokas showed a superior aerobic and anaerobic capacity than subelite athletes, with significant differences in V[Combining Dot Above]O2max and the Max Power test. Furthermore, elite judokas had a better specific judo performance because they were more cost-effective using their special (favorite) technique in the 30-second Tokui Waza test. Some evidence exists that judokas who usually make points in decisive moments of the bout have higher values of V[Combining Dot Above]O2max. In addition, these athletes are able to faster the resynthesis of creatine phosphate in the gastrocnemius muscle compared with other athletes that take points earlier in the bout, and they also perform better in the Wingate test for lower body (21). Moreover, faster recovery after high-intensity intermittent workload is also associated with the aerobic fitness (14,20,35).
According to previous studies, it seems that most judokas have V[Combining Dot Above]O2max values between 50 and 60 ml·kg−1·min−1 (2,5,6,32,34,37,43). Our study showed that elite judo category up to 100 kg had significantly higher values in relative and absolute values of maximum oxygen consumption. It is particularly interesting that the European Championship gold medalist demonstrated exceptionally high V[Combining Dot Above]O2max value (63 ml·kg−1·min−1), which is in line with the findings of Kim et al. (29).
We can conclude that European half-heavyweight male judokas who are international medalists have a superior fitness profile compared with the national medalists. The results presented in this study could be of interest for judo coaches with athletes competing in the −100-kg category because some tests that discriminate by judo success in this specific weight category are described. In this sense, coaches can evaluate peak torques of thigh and shoulder muscles, the Max Power test, and the V[Combining Dot Above]O2max inter alia. In addition, some tests that only require usual equipment in sport clubs have shown to be of interest, such as pull-ups, bench press, deadlift, deep squat, or the 30-second Tokui Waza test. Additionally, the anthropometric profile should be evaluated because our data showed that elite judokas have higher arm circumferences than subelite judokas, probably because of higher muscle mass of arms. The above tests have been related to success in judo competition for this specific male weight category so they seem useful for monitoring training programs. Therefore, physical fitness and anthropometric assessments in male judokas are useful for discriminating between international and national medalists in the half-heavyweight category. Moreover, our results can be used as a reference for coaches and athletes.
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