My judo research

As a judoka with a background in sport science, strength and conditioning, and coaching, I have always been interested in approaches to training and coaching in judo. Working in higher education has allowed me develop this interest, and to research and write about aspects of judo training and coaching. In this post I will briefly introduce the judo research I have undertaken to date, and how I am applying some of the skills learnt to research in other settings.

Strength and conditioning for judo was the initial focus of my judo research. I was teaching on strength and conditioning modules and completing my MSc dissertation on variable resistance training, when a colleague offered me the opportunity to contribute to a chapter about strength and conditioning for combat sports. The chapter, in Advances in Strength and Conditioning Research, covers strength and conditioning programme design for three Olympic combat sports (boxing, judo, and taekwondo), and I was responsible for researching and writing the judo section. Following the book chapter we focused on strength and conditioning for judo, and published two articles in the Journal of Sports Therapy discussing the needs analysis of judo and judo-specific strength and conditioning methods.

Following these publications, my research interests began to move away from strength and conditioning, and towards aspects concerning coaching and skill acquisition in judo. Via a couple of false starts, this led to undertaking a PhD investigating the visual search strategies of judo coaches (i.e., where they look) when observing judo contests. Where individuals look can provide some indication of their attention when undertaking a task, and is established by measuring eye movements using eye-tracking equipment. Whilst recording eye movements in situ (i.e., where the task typically takes place) is often seen as the ideal, this is not always feasible, and this was the case with my research. Therefore, I recorded the coaches’ eye movements whilst they observed video footage of contests obtained (with permission) from an International Judo Federation Grand Prix tournament (see image below).

In 2016 I presented initial findings from my visual search strategy research at the European College of Sport Science Congress in Vienna, and in 2018 a paper with further findings was published. This paper identified that elite judo coaches possibly adopt an alternative visual search strategy to sub-elite judo coaches when observing contests, and suggested some potential avenues for further research based upon these findings.

Following submission of my PhD thesis over 18 months ago, and a successful viva voce examination of the thesis, I am continuing my research into judo coaches’ visual search strategies. Alongside this, I am now applying the eye tracking skills learnt during my PhD research to other areas including the visual search behaviour of young cyclists, and the affects of low vision on the completion of everyday tasks (e.g., hazard avoidance when walking).

In future posts I hope to expand upon my judo research and its implications, and to discuss other research in judo. I also hope to discuss eye tracking research in settings other than sport.

The judo warm-up

The warm-up, that period of time where judokas (judo athletes) engage in a variety of activities in some attempt to prepare themselves for the upcoming judo training session or contest. During the 12 years that I have been training and competing in judo I have (usually) done as I am told when being led through the warm-up by a coach or senior judoka. Yet, as somebody who has taught sport and exercise science for a number of years, I often think about these warm-ups, how they fit with what I understand a warm-up to be, and how I would grade them if they were presented to me by a student. This post briefly discusses my experience of the judo warm-up, and identifies some approaches to expanding the purpose of the warm-up. Such approaches may be of interest to judokas and coaches, and could be applied to training taking place under the current restrictions, and to judo sessions once we are allowed back on the tatami!

For me, at the simplest level, the purpose of the warm-up is to raise body temperature in advance of a training session or contest. However, a warm-up can be used to do more than increase body temperature. The warm-up provides an opportunity to prepare judokas physically and psychologically for the training session or contest, and for judokas to engage in activities that may help reduce the risk of injury.

In my experience, the judo warm-up at different clubs often contains similar elements, and progresses in a similar manner. The warm-up typically starts with jogging around the mat, followed by some gymnastic-type movements (handstands, cartwheels, somersaults etc.), before moving on to judo-specific activities such as uchi-komi (entering or turning in to throw your partner but without completing the throw). However, I have experienced some warm-ups that varied from this format. These variations ranged from standing still and stretching, to playing a near full-contact hybrid dodgeball/rugby game, and included intensities so low that body temperature was barely raised, and intensities so high that you started the main session fatigued. 

As a judoka the typical judo warm-up format (jogging, gymnastic-type movements, uchi-komi) generally works for me. This format broadly matches the three phase RAMP warm-up guidelines proposed by Professor Ian Jeffreys of the University of South Wales in a 2007 article titled Warm up revisited – the ramp method of optimising performance preparation. RAMP stands for raise, activate, mobilise, and potentiate, with the three phases being: (i) raise body temperature, heart rate etc. using low intensity activities, (ii) activate and mobilise muscles and joints to be used in the training session or contest, and (iii) potentiate (specific activities at increasing intensities to improve performance during training or competition). The RAMP method provides a good basis for planning and structuring the warm-up, and I have used it in my own training, when coaching others, and when teaching students about approaches to the warm-up.

Comparing the typical judo warm-up format to the three phases of RAMP shows how the two broadly match. Jogging around the mat serves the purpose of beginning to raise body temperature, heart rate, etc., and gymnastic-type activities such as somersaults can contribute to activating and mobilising the muscles and joints to be used during the training session or contest. The use of judo specific activities such as uchi-komi then provides the opportunity for potentiation before commencing the main part of the training session, or engaging in a contest. Whether this match between the typical judo warm-up and the phases of RAMP is intended or not by those leading the warm-up, the typical judo warm-up does appear to serve the purpose of preparing judokas for subsequent training or competition. Yet, it is possible that the warm-up could be further developed to help reduce judokas’ risk of injury.    

British Judo currently provides videos of a range of prehabilitation exercises via their YouTube channel. Prehabilitation exercises help to prepare athletes to withstand the physical stressors of training and competition, and therefore can contribute to reducing the risk of injury. Several sport governing bodies have also developed programmes to help reduce the risk of injury in their sport (e.g., FIFA 11+; World Rugby Activate), and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) funded Get Set app provides exercises to help reduce the risk of injury based upon sport and body part. Whilst there is some evidence to support such programmes, there is still discussion in the academic literature regarding their effectiveness. Nonetheless, even if injury risk is not reduced, exercises from these programmes are unlikely to cause harm (providing appropriate instruction is followed correctly), and may result in improvements in physical abilities.  

In judo, exercises to reduce the risk of injury can be included in the typical judo warm-up format. In addition to the gymnastic-type activities often used, exercises such as those suggested for judo by the Get Set app (e.g., Nordic hamstrings, Y-exercise, push-up +, lunge and squat variations) can be incorporated in the warm-up once body temperature has initially been raised. The inclusion of such exercises in the judo warm-up is time efficient, as many judokas are not full-time athletes, and therefore may not have time to engage in supplementary training (e.g., resistance training) to reduce injury risk and improve physical abilities.

In summary, the typical judo warm-up appears to broadly follow the RAMP method. Using the RAMP method as a basis for planning and structuring judo warm-ups, and incorporating exercises to help reduce the risk of injury, may help judokas get the most out of the warm-up and prepare them for the demands of the main session.