Physical Characteristics of Elite Judo Athletes

I’ve been getting a lot of questions recently about physical “standards” for judo athletes so I’m writing this article as a very simple, very easy to understand resource for coaches, parents and athletes to give some objective numbers to aim for in your training.


The Tests

We test flexibility, upper and lower body push & pull strength, explosive hip power, upper body muscular endurance, aerobic capacity and anaerobic capacity as these physical qualities underpin our judo specific skills.  There are lots more we could test and previously have tested but with our current training philosophy and resources this fulfills pretty much every requirement we need.  Additionally we also frequently “invent” measures specific for an elite athlete based on their requirements, such as explosive upper body tests or explosive repeated efforts tests, but this is not covered in this article.


Before we get into our tests, just a little background on why we test from High-Performance Training For Sports From David Joyce & Dan Lewindon.  If you haven’t got this book put it on your Christmas list from Santa!

  • To provide objective information on the effect of the training programmes;
  • Assessing the impact of a specific intervention strategy;
  • Assisting with the process of making informed decisions regarding programme manipulation;
  • Maximising athlete and coach understanding about the needs of the sport;
  • Effectively using data from new technologies; and
  • Adding to the growing body of athlete preparation research.

Sit & Reach

  1. In bare feet, big toes on right and left legs touching one and other, as well as heels together.  Feet flat against the measuring box.
  2. Legs straight, not hyperextended.
  3. Slowly reach forwards as far as possible, pushing a ruler forwards across the measuring box.  When the athletes gets to their end of range the tester counts down 5seconds and records where the athletes fingers are.  Rest 60seconds and repeat 3x recording the best score.

Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Chin Up

  1. This is an Olympic, high bar back squat, below parallel.
  2. This is a Clean Grip (overhand) Deadlift.  I coach and cue to to keep a neutral spine, however when going maximal this usually deviates slightly.  When they start rounding we stop the test as we’re trying to measure hip extension strength.
  3. Bench Press.  In the bottom position the forearms are perpendicular to the floor, this is how we gauge hand width, no illegally wide hands beyond the rings are allowed.  The tester can give a lift off, however the lifter must lower the bar, touch the chest, and push to full elbow lock-out on their own.  Also we don’t use any powerlifting arches to shorten the range.
  4. Chin Ups.  Palms facing you/underhand grip.  The athlete must hang for a full 3seconds, in full shoulder flexion with straight arms prior to pulling.  The athlete must pull, so that their chin is horizontally and vertically above the bar i.e. the can rest their chin on top of the bar.  The then must lower to fully extended arms and shoulder flexion prior to dropping off.  No kipping allowed.

Broad Jump

  1. Use a measuring tape laid out along the floor, with tape marking the starting line.
  2. Toes behind the starting line, using arms to assist swing, jump for maximum distance.
  3. The athlete must stick the landing, not slide or take extra steps and they are not allowed to put their hands down to help landing.
  4. The distance is the furthest back point of their heel.


Push Ups

  1. Step a metronome to 35 beats per minute.
  2. Tennis ball set directly below the chest.  Hands must be stacked directly below shoulders, neutral spine, feet together.
  3. The athlete must lower chest to tennis ball, nose to floor, touching at the same time before pushing to full arm-lockout and shoulder protraction i.e. a perfect looking push up.
  4. The athlete touches the ball/nose to floor on 1 beep, and then is at full lock-out at the second beep.
  5. If the athlete deviates from their posture they get 1 warning, if they cannot correct this or they do but make this error again the test is over.
  6. Score is the number of full push ups completed
  7. Just for record, our best is 70 for a man and 51 for a women! Both athletes were injured for several months, phenomenal scores with great form.

2000m Row on Concept II


30sec Row on Concept II


We complete these “tests”, or as I call them monitoring, every month.  Due to competition/training schedule and injury/illness athletes will likely miss a few tests each year.  We use the results from these tests, along side our deterministic model Judo-Specific Strength Assessments to individualise training prescription where required.


The tests that we use have been selected first and foremost because they test the physical capacities which underpin specific judo skills – the trademarks.

Secondly, the tests selected are valid and repeatable; in that they test what we are seeking to test and that from month to month if there is a change we can be confident this is due to a change in physical capacity as opposed to the fact we just performed the test differently.

Third, most judoka have access to the equipment required for the tests so that we can gain a large body of data to inform our training.

Fourth, the tests substitute as sessions for the athletes therefore they are not invasive or disruptive to training which helps coach buy-in.

Finally, and this is really important, judo is such a highly technical and tactical sport it is extremely difficult to find any physical test (in my experience) which “predict” or separate elite from super-elite due to the each individual’s super-strengths and their desired fight strategy.  For our highest performers we tend to make up a test specific to their demands at the time and repeat it over a block to see change; we also use the performance analysis data to help inform us i.e. attack density per minute.  Therefore the tests presented help shape the culture we (coaches and S&C) desired and help shape the mentality we seek to develop in our athletes.  Additionally, we also complete physical screening/profiling 1-2x per year with the objective of injury reduction which Jason our physiotherapy leads on.

Some important notes before I start getting hate mail:

  • These are test for SENIOR judoka and not cadet judoka.  Due to the work of great coaches and parents down the pathway, TASS and the home country institutes we are beginning implementing this testing earlier in the pathway i.e. aged 17-18 due to the great physical competency of those coming through.
  • The bodyweight in the top left corner is based off 4-6% above competition fighting weight; this is where most of the Junior & Senior elite players are sitting.  Some slightly more and some slightly less.
  • Limb length plays a massive part in most of the tests, just as it does actual sports performance.  For example long arms will likely mean you can lift less load bench press and chin ups, due to greater range of movement, however long arms are likely beneficial in the 2000m row and 30sec Peak Power due to greater acceleration range during the pull.  Limb length also plays a big part in sit & reach and in the push up test, so the changes in scores appear to not be linear between lighter and heavier weight categories.
  • The benchmarks are take from fully-fit training elite GB judo athletes, both Paralympic and Olympic.  By this I mean that the scores are from athletes who are not in a rehab phase as these scores usually skew the benchmarks.  For example, our -81kg male has been out with a knee injury and put about 25kg on his bench press in 6months.  One of our 63kg women was out with an injury for 9months and hammered upper body conditioning hitting 51 on the push up test.  So tests like this are removed as they are not representative of what actively competing athlete’s physical characteristics look like when competing.
  • Be careful how to phrase “benchmarks”.  Since working in judo I have continually changed the top level 10 benchmark on all tests, mainly because of the great work development coaches are doing with smarter and harder training down the pathway.  These are not “standards” but rather targets to be obliterated, I hope this article will go out of date and need updated very quickly!
  • The earliest data is from October 2008 and most recent is September 2016, included are Junior & Senior European, World, Olympic, and Senior Paralympic medalists, as well as some international elite athletes so it’s pretty accurate.  With that being said the most successful senior athletes are rarely the 10, but almost always in the 8 and above zone for all benchmarks.
  • If I have made a typo please get in touch so I can correct


















There you have it, accurate data from actual Elite performers.  If you’re stronger or fitter that’s great, find a way to express it on the tatami.  If you’re not quite up to scratch, keep training hard, keep training smart and remember things take time.  Previously, many athletes had higher strength scores, however none of these ever medaled at the elite level (Europeans, Worlds, Olympics or Paralympics) so I have calibrated the data from actual high performers.  Remember, recreational athletes who train judo 2-4 times per week and strength/fitness train 3-4 days per week may have higher scores, however when looking at full-time athletes who typically have 7-12 judo session per week this data is very accurate.  Typically, just for interest more than anything, GB athletes are very strong in the weight room compared to other nations.  Thanks to social media (such as instagram) most athletes put PB’s online, and also having seen them train and speak to them they are usually very impressed with the GB physicality.  This, in my opinion, is most likely due to better lifting technique compared to others nations as many of our best athletes have qualified S&C coaches whereas often foreign athletes are coached by their judo coach for all areas of performance.

A final note for coaches, parents and athletes.  If I want to get a big squat I will likely squat several days per week, if I want a big bench press I will likely do the same.  Practicing these movements everyday will very quickly increase coordination, rhythm and timing of these lifts and the number of plates on the bar will increase quickly.  HOWEVER, the rate of skill increase will likely be greater than my rate of strength increase if I choose this strategy i.e. I will be squatting and benching big numbers but my strength will be extremely specific to these two lifts.  Instead the strategy I choose for Judo athletes, who need to be strong in almost all positions, would be to select a range of different exercises of the same theme.  For example if we want stronger legs we will use front squats, single leg squat, single leg press and so on; if we want stronger pushing strength we will use overhead presses, dips, weighted push ups and sometimes bench press and its variations.  The big positive of this methods is that the athletes get stronger in many more positions and it is likely more transferrable to this sport; the negative side of this is that if you have a big ego you’ll likely never have the biggest squat or bench press in the weight room…but you can push 1.5x bodyweight twenty different ways, in all three planes, rather than in just one exercise, in one plane.  So please, with your developing athletes be a generalist, yes master the exercises but don’t hammer the same ones everyday as it will cheat the tests.  For more training info please read Strength & Power Exercises for Fighters and Designing Metabolic Conditioning Programmes – Part 3




Physical Characteristics of Elite Judo Athletes

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