March 22, 2021

Taekwondo is mainly researched within the WTF governing body as it is the body in the Olympics. Matches are typically 3 x 2min rounds with 1 min separating each round. But this doesn’t tell us what we need to know regarding conditioning for taekwondo.

Taekwondo has large contributions from the aerobic and alactic energy systems which is due to the 1:7 high-intensity effort to pause ratio of competition. Further, the most elite taekwondo athletes are able to perform high-intensity techniques with greater speed and power.

Before diving into the specifics of conditioning for taekwondo, we must understand the demands of the sport and what differentiates the elite from the non-elite.

Physiological Profile of Elite vs. Non-Elite Taekwondo Athletes

A study took 13 female taekwondo athletes from the Croatian National Team and were divided into two groups [1]. Group A (elite) were athletes that had won one or more medals at the European or World Championships, or at the Olympics in the past five years.

Group B (non-elite) had not won a senior medal at any of these competitions. The elite group were able to reach higher speeds during a maximum fitness running test, and had a higher anaerobic threshold at lower heart rates compared to the non-elite group.

Maximum aerobic ability was not statistically different between the groups. However, there was a trend for the elite group to display greater aerobic power.

When profiling the anaerobic capacity of elite Taiwanese Taekwondo athletes, the two Olympic medalists that were part of the squad showed higher peak and mean power relative to bodyweight and a lower rate of fatigue compared to other squad members [2].

Another study split 64 elite Polish Taekwondo athletes into two groups [3]. The elite group had won medals at the Polish National Championships while the non-elite group had not. They found that the elite group displayed greater peak power than the non-elite.

Finally, 5 elite Italian Internaitonal Medalists (Europeans, Worlds, & Olympics) were compared to top 3 Nationally ranked Italian Taekwondo black belts [4].

They found blood lactate and rate of perceived exertion to be higher in the National level athletes compared to the International Medalists after a Taekwondo specific circuit indicating the ability of elite level Taekwondo athletes to tolerate heavy training.

5 Keys To Unlocking Devastating KO Power In Your Hands!

A study of 4 Australian Taekwondo athletes 9 weeks before 2008 Olympic games showed an average estimated VO2max of 53 ml.min-1kg-1 during a running test which is a very similar aerobic profile to other martial arts such as Muay Thai, MMA, and Wrestling [5].

However, estimated VO2max tests can greatly underestimate true aerobic capability by 16% [6]. This seems to ring true when we look at direct measures of VO2max using the treadmill test in International level Taekwondo athletes.

15 elite Italian Taekwondo athletes had an average VO2max of 63 ml.min-1kg-1 which is on par with some elite level boxers and getting close to elite level endurance athletes [7] . Similar results were found in elite Puerto Rican Taekwondo athletes with VO2max values of 59 ml.min-1kg-1 [8].

If we compare these VO2max values with recreational taekwondo athletes, we see values ranging from 41-44 ml.min-1kg-1 indicating Taekwondo also requires a well-developed aerobic energy system [9][10].

It seems the ability to generate high levels of anaerobic power and the ability to sustain intense work is what differentiates elite and non-elite taekwondo athletes. A well-developed aerobic energy system is also synonymous with elite level taekwondo athletes which likely enhances recovery between intense bouts of activity.

Physiological Demands Of Taekwondo

Physiological Demands Taekwondo

10 male taekwondo black belts who were currently active in National and International competition were put through their paces in a simulated match under WTF rules for 3 x 2min rounds [11]. They measured heart rate, blood lactate, and VO2 during the match.

The authors found the aerobic energy system was the predominant energy system contributing 66% of the total energy of combat. The anaerobic alactic contributed 30% while the anaerobic lactic energy system contributed 4%.

The first round showed the greatest contribution from the anaerobic lactic energy system which decreased each round as the aerobic contribution became greater.

While simulated competition often doesn’t replicate real competition, the effort to pause ratio and number of technical actions were identical to previous research in World Championships and Olympic Games.

Interestingly, Croatian National female taekwondo athletes who had won medals at European or World Championships were monitored during their National Championships [12]. Heart rate was recorded throughout the matches and blood lactate after each round.

They observed very different energy system contributions suggesting the anaerobic lactic energy system was the primary energy source. This was estimated from the very high average heart rates that occurred each round and the high blood lactate levels (11.7 mmol.L-1) after the fight.

Interestingly, in British National taekwondo athletes competing in an International competition, close to maximum heart rates suggested large demands placed on the aerobic energy system [14].

When looking at the data of these two papers, the stark differences in results in my opinion potentially come down to the aerobic capabilities. The average VO2max for this group of Croatian females was 50 ml.min-1kg-1 whereas black belt athletes in the previous study would reach 53 ml.min-1kg-1 as an average for the third round.

Further, the effort to pause ratio was not presented in the Croatian female fights where a more active fight could have led to higher heart rates and more blood lactate accumulation.

A study in the Brazilian National Competition had similar findings with the first study where the alactic energy system predominantly supplied the high-intensity activity while the aerobic energy system contributed greatly to restore energy during pauses in the match [13].

Overall, it seems Taekwondo matches present very high cardiovascular strain that stresses all three energy systems to some degree. However, my interpretation of the research suggests that having a highly developed aerobic energy system allows the taekwondo athlete to throw high-intensity techniques without having to dip into anaerobic lactic energy reserves to such as great degree.

This seems to especially ring true with the activity profile of Taekwondo.

Activity Profile Of Taekwondo

A 2011 study analysed both World Champion and Olympic Games events to determine the activity profile of elite level taekwondo [15]. They found an effort to pause ratio of 1:7 which is the same as what was simulated in the black belt taekwondo athletes and Brazilian National competition [11][13].

This translates to approximately 1-5 seconds of high-intensity activity with 7-35 seconds of skipping or pausing [16].

What Differentiates Winners And Losers In Taekwondo

Interestingly, this effort to pause ratio seems to stay consistent regardless of winning or losing at the World Championship and Olympic Games level [15]. However, medalists at the Olympic Games spent more time skipping than non-medalists.

This has also been observed in the Brazilian National Competition where no heart rate or blood lactate variable distinguished between winners and losers but winners spent on average double the amount of time in phases between high-intensity movements [13].

It seems that the highest-level competitors are able to perform their techniques at much higher intensity than non-winners.

This has been backed up by research in Polish International medalists displaying greater speed than non-medalists [3].

Conditioning For Taekwondo

Based on the effort to pause ratio, the physiological demands of a match, and the physical profiles of elite level taekwondo athletes, a training schedule emphasizing the aerobic and alactic energy systems would make sense.

Alactic Power

Alactic power is generally developed with strength and power training in the gym. Various jumps, throws, and hops for sets of 2-6 with full recovery between sets.

This can also be developed throwing various powerful kicking combinations for 7-10 seconds with full recovery between sets which will range between 2-5 minutes but this cannot replace the strength and power in the gym. An example would be:

Week

Exercise

Set/Rep

Rest

Week 1

Bag Work

5 x 7 sec

2-3 min

Week 2

OR

7 x 7 sec

2-3 min

Week 3

Jumps/Throws

9 x 7 sec

2-3 min

Week 4

Cell

11 x 7 sec

2-3 min

Alactic Capacity

This is where your most specific taekwondo training will occur. Alactic capacity intervals sit right in the range of the 1:7 effort to pause ratio. Here we can develop the ability to sustain high-intensity efforts.

It’s important that you perform this type of conditioning (and almost all of your conditioning) as close to taekwondo as possible.

Recent research compared a repeated sprint training protocol (10 x 35m sprints with 10 sec rest) to a repeated high-intensity kicking technique protocol (10 x 6 sec Bandal-tchagui with 10 sec rest) [17].

Both groups similarly improved physical markers such as aerobic ability and power. 

However, the kicking group performed a greater number of techniques with the non-dominant leg during the 10 second specific kicking test compared to the sprint group and posted a lower blood lactate value after a 1-minute kicking test.

Conditioning is more than just general physiology. You must be conditioned to perform the movements of your sport for it to have the best transfer. Here is an example of how you could use this using the guidelines of 10-12 x 10-15 seconds with 20-90 seconds rest.

Week

Exercise

Set/Rep

Rest

Week 1

Bag or Pad Work

10 x 10 sec

70 sec

Week 2

Cell

12 x 10 sec

70 sec

Week 3

Cell

2 x (10 x 10 sec)

70 sec between reps, 6-8 min between sets

Week 4

Cell

2 x (12 x 10 sec)

70 sec between reps, 6-8 min between sets

Aerobic Capacity

This is how to build a gas tank that can enhance your ability to recover after your high-intensity efforts. The better your aerobic capacity, the faster your recovery will be and the less likely you are to gas out as you won’t need to dip into your anaerobic lactic energy reserves.

Your heart rate should be between 120-150 BPM and closer to 130-150 BPM when performing standing exercise. The Polar heart rate monitor is what I use and highly recommend as the most accurate and cost-effective heart rate monitor on the market.

If you are training a lot of taekwondo, these sessions are best tacked on to the end of your technical training. 20-30 minutes a few times a week adds up. If you are not training as often, you can bump these session durations up to 90 minutes.

Ideally, these are done through shadowboxing/taekwondo techniques to provide extra skill work on top of the conditioning effect. If your taekwondo training load is already very high (e.g. twice a day most days), then performing general off-feet modalities is a good substitute such as biking or swimming.

Maintain a steady state effort for the allotted time and depending on your training load, increase the duration of the sessions each week.

Cardiac Power Intervals

Because taekwondo competitive rounds occur at such high heart rates, we need to develop the endurance ability of the heart at these high heart rates.

Again, performing taekwondo specific techniques on the bag or pads are a good option to blend skill and conditioning work together. The idea is to keep your heart rate as high as possible for 1-2 minutes with a 2–5-minute rest between efforts.

If you have the Polar heart rate monitor, then you can start the next effort when your heart rate is between 120-130 BPM. If you go really hard (as you should) during these intervals, in my experience you will need the full 5 minutes to recover.

Here is an example 4 week cycle:

Week

Exercise

Set/Rep

Rest

Week 1

Bag or Pad Work

4 x 60 sec

2-5 min OR 120-130 BPM

Week 2

OR

6 x 60 sec

2-5 min OR 120-130 BPM

Week 3

Off Feet Cardio

8 x 60 sec

2-5 min OR 120-130 BPM

Week 4

Cell

10 x 60 sec

2-5 min OR 120-130 BPM

Anaerobic Lactic Capacity

These should be used sparingly and closer to competition with the rest of the time addressing aerobic and alactic development. Anaerobic lactic capacity is the icing on the cake regarding your conditioning development.

Each interval should be near maximal effort, but not maximal as you want to be able to maintain the intensity throughout the session. Again, these should be performed using taekwondo techniques on the bag or pads.

Here is an example 4 week progression:

Week

Exercise

Set/Rep

Rest

Week 1

Bag or Pad Work

2x (2 x 90 sec/120 sec)

6-8 min active recovery

Week 2

OR

2x (3 x 90 sec/120 sec)

6-8 min active recovery

Week 3

Off Feet Cardio

3x (2 x 90 sec/120 sec)

6-8 min active recovery

Week 4

Cell

3x (3 x 90 sec/120 sec)

6-8 min active recovery

References

1. Marković, G., Mišigoj-Duraković, M., & Trninić, S. (2005). Fitness profile of elite Croatian female taekwondo athletes. Collegium antropologicum, 29(1), 93-99.

2. Lin, W. L., Yen, K. T., Lu, C. Y. D., Huang, Y. H., & Chang, C. K. (2006). Anaerobic capacity of elite Taiwanese Taekwondo athletes. Science & sports, 21(5), 291-293.

3. Sadowski1ACD, J., Gierczuk1BD, D., Miller2BE, J., & Cieśliński1CD, I. Success factors in elite WTF taekwondo competitors.

4. Casolino, E., Cortis, C., Lupo, C., Chiodo, S., Minganti, C., & Capranica, L. (2012). Physiological versus psychological evaluation in taekwondo elite athletes. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 7(4), 322-331.

5. Ball, N., Nolan, E., & Wheeler, K. (2011). Anthropometrical, physiological, and tracked power profiles of elite taekwondo athletes 9 weeks before the Olympic competition phase. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25(10), 2752-2763.

6. Cetin, C., Karatosun, H., Baydar, M. L., & Cosarcan, K. (2005). A regression equation to predict true maximal oxygen consumption of taekwondo athletes using a field test. Saudi medical journal, 26(5), 848-850.

7. Chiodo, S., Tessitore, A., Cortis, C., Lupo, C., Ammendolia, A., Iona, T., & Capranica, L. (2011). Effects of official Taekwondo competitions on all-out performances of elite athletes. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25(2), 334-339.

8. Rivera, M. A., Rivera-Brown, A. M., & Frontera, W. R. (1998). Health related physical fitness characteristics of elite Puerto Rican athletes. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 12(3), 199-203.

9. Thompson, W. R., & Vinueza, C. (1991). Physiologic profile of tae kwon do black belts. Research in Sports Medicine: An International Journal, 3(1), 49-53.

10. Noorul, H. R., Pieter, W., & Erie, Z. Z. (2008). Physical fitness of recreational adolescent taekwondo athletes. Brazilian Journal of Biomotricity, 2(4), 230-240.

11. Campos, F. A. D., Bertuzzi, R., Dourado, A. C., Santos, V. G. F., & Franchini, E. (2012). Energy demands in taekwondo athletes during combat simulation. European journal of applied physiology, 112(4), 1221-1228.

12. Markovic, G., Vucetic, V., & Cardinale, M. (2008). Heart rate and lactate responses to taekwondo fight in elite women performers. Biology of Sport, 25(2), 135.

13. Matsushigue, K. A., Hartmann, K., & Franchini, E. (2009). Taekwondo: Physiological responses and match analysis. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 23(4), 1112-1117.

14. Bridge, C. A., Jones, M. A., & Drust, B. (2009). Physiological responses and perceived exertion during international taekwondo competition. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 4(4), 485-493.

15. Santos, V. G., Franchini, E., & Lima-Silva, A. E. (2011). Relationship between attack and skipping in taekwondo contests. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25(6), 1743-1751.

16. Bridge, C. A., da Silva Santos, J. F., Chaabene, H., Pieter, W., & Franchini, E. (2014). Physical and physiological profiles of taekwondo athletes. Sports Medicine, 44(6), 713-733.

17. Ouergui, I., Messaoudi, H., Chtourou, H., Wagner, M. O., Bouassida, A., Bouhlel, E., ... & Engel, F. A. (2020). Repeated Sprint Training vs. Repeated High-Intensity Technique Training in Adolescent Taekwondo Athletes—A Randomized Controlled Trial. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(12), 4506.

...

About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.


Tags


You may also like

Conditioning For Kickboxing: The Ultimate Conditioning Breakdown
A History Of Muay Thai Attire: Armbands & Headbands
7 Pro Tips For Muay Thai Shin Conditioning
How To Kick Higher For Muay Thai & Kickboxing (With Exercises)
Taekwondo Exercises For Beginners
Do Boxers Lift Weights & Should They?