FIGHTING FITNESS: Adapting to the Demands of Championship Judo

By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development

There is fit and there is “fighting fit. In other words, there are individuals who are fit for their chosen sport or activity and then there are those who are fit for fighting. Judo falls into the latter category.

A runner, for example, is assumed to have strong legs and good endurance, but even within the running world, there are sprinters who have tremendously powerful legs and minimal need for endurance, while marathoners have lean body mass and phenomenal cardio-vascular development. At the other end of the spectrum we find anaerobic athletes, such as power-lifters, with massive explosive strength but minimal cardio or running abilities.

The fighter, however, is a unique type of athlete in that he or she must have the correct balance of strength, endurance, resistance to injury, and mental toughness. In addition, unlike other athletes who may use a limited number of muscles of muscle groups, the fighter is using virtually every muscle and muscle group simultaneously, while having to have flexibility, lightning reflexes, and the endurance to go the distance.


To develop this type and level of fitness requires a well designed reality-based training program. This means that the training must be driven by the real world needs of the competition. In physiology and kinesiology studies this is often termed Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID). In plain English this means that the coach must train the athlete so as to adapt the athlete’s body to the demands imposed upon it in championship judo.

This requires that the athlete’s training program be divided into a number of modules to include endurance/cardio training and strength/resistance training. This is in addition to essential technical, tactical, and mental development.  Fortunately, in judo, we have one exercise that works all of these simultaneously – randori. When correctly structured and managed, multiple sets of randori, with opponents of various experience and strength, are without doubt the single best tool that the coach and athlete have for judo training.

So why do we need to supplement judo training with road work, stairs, weights, cross-training, and plyometric exercises? The short answer is that our bodies simply cannot handle too much hard randori training. Time on the treadmill or lap swimming does not breakdown the body like judo training. Swimming, in fact, is a great low impact way to rehabilitate injuries or just exercise tired muscles, while plyometrics are great for developing explosive leg power.


Injuries are a perennial problem in judo training that haunts every competitor. As a result, the coach and athlete must structure the training to avoid or at least limit injuries. This is where newaza randori and standing randori with weaker opponents become useful. Training with weaker opponents allows the athlete to work on technique and timing while limiting the probability of injury.

But the fundamental principle of sports training remains the same – progressive over-load and recovery. After the appropriate recovery period, load, over-load, and then recover again. Whether it is endurance or strength training this principle applies. In judo we are able to do this by alternating hard randori training days with technical and tactical training days. We are also able to begin the season with four or five 3-minute randori(s), working up to championship levels of eight 5-minute randori sessions. This serves to develop both strength and endurance, while nage-komi sessions and randori with weaker opponents are used to hone technical ability.

Finally, to quote Thomas Jefferson, “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” Or, to paraphrase, to achieve more you must be willing to do a little more each day, each week, each month, each year, and each quadrennial. But, at the same time, never underestimate the value of rest, good nutrition, and recovery periods.


About Mark V

Dedicated shooter, seeker, traveler, teacher, trainer, educator
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