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Sports Med (2014) 44:713–733

DOI 10.1007/s40279-014-0159-9

REVIEW ARTICLE

Physical and Physiological Profiles of Taekwondo Athletes


Craig A. Bridge • Jonatas Ferreira da Silva Santos •
Helmi Chaabène • Willy Pieter • Emerson Franchini

Published online: 19 February 2014


Ó Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Abstract Taekwondo has evolved into a modern-day fitness are necessary to support the metabolic demands of
Olympic combat sport. The physical and physiological fighting and to facilitate recovery between consecutive
demands of modern-day taekwondo competition require matches. Taekwondo athletes demonstrate high peak
athletes to be competent in several aspects of fitness. This anaerobic power characteristics of the lower limbs and this
review critically explores the physical and physiological attribute appears to be conducive to achieving success in
characteristics of taekwondo athletes and presents impli- international competition. The ability to generate and sus-
cations for training and research. International taekwondo tain power output using both concentric and ‘stretch-
athletes possess low levels of body fat and a somatotype shortening cycle’ muscle actions of the lower limbs may be
that characterises a blend of moderate musculoskeletal important to support the technical and tactical actions in
tissue and relative body linearity. While there is some combat. Taekwondo competitors also display moderate to
variation in the maximum oxygen uptake of taekwondo high maximum dynamic strength characteristics of the
athletes, moderate to high levels of cardio-respiratory lower and upper extremities, and moderate endurance
properties of the trunk and hip flexor musculature. The
C. A. Bridge (&) dynamic nature of the technical and tactical actions in the
Sport and Exercise Research Group, Department of Sport and sport demand high flexibility of the lower limbs. More
Physical Activity, Wilson Centre, Edge Hill University, extensive research is required into the physical and phys-
St Helens Road, Ormskirk L39 4QP, UK
iological characteristics of taekwondo athletes to extend
e-mail: bridgec@edgehill.ac.uk
existing knowledge and to permit specialised conditioning
J. Ferreira da Silva Santos  E. Franchini for different populations within the sport.
Martial Arts and Combat Sports Research Group, Sport
Department, School of Physical Education and Sport,
University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
1 Introduction
H. Chaabène
Research Unit, Analysis and Evaluation of Factors Affecting Taekwondo has evolved into a modern-day Olympic
Sport Performance, Higher Institute of Sports and Physical
combat sport. The sport element of taekwondo is practiced
Education, Ksar Said, Tunisia
under various governing bodies, but the World Taekwondo
H. Chaabène Federation (WTF) is officially responsible for implement-
Higher Institute of Sports and Physical Education, ing the rules and regulations in Olympic competition as
Manouba University, Tunis, Tunisia
well as in world championships [1]. In addition to Olympic
W. Pieter competition, WTF events are regularly organised at
Department of Taekwondo, College of Physical Education, regional, national and international levels according to the
Keimyung University, Daegu, Republic of Korea athletes’ age, sex, skill level and weight category. Matches
are typically structured across three 2-min rounds with a
E. Franchini
Faculty of Sports Sciences, University of Montpellier, 1-min interval separating each round [1]. The objective of a
Montpellier, France match is to overcome an opponent by obtaining either a

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714 C. A. Bridge et al.

greater quantity of points for the execution of kicking and context, the information obtained from physical perfor-
punching techniques to permitted scoring areas or by mance tests can be used to identify strengths and weak-
achieving a technical knockout. Under the current WTF nesses in an individual’s physical attributes, to monitor
scoring system, 1 point is awarded for a valid attack on the fitness status over time and to verify the effectiveness of
trunk protector, 2 points for a valid turning kick to the specific training interventions [18, 19]. Such information
trunk protector, 3 points for a valid kick to the head, and 4 may also be useful to identify physical attributes that are
points for a valid turning kick to the head [1]. Valid favourable for competitive success and serve as an indi-
techniques are those that are delivered accurately and cator of the minimum fitness standards required to compete
powerfully to legal scoring areas of the body and accu- at specific levels [5, 8].
rately to permitted regions of the head [1]. Taekwondo The objective of this review is therefore to present and
matches, similar to those in most combat sports, are critically appraise the available data on the physical and
structured according to specific weight divisions. In physiological characteristics of taekwondo athletes. It is
national, regional and international events, senior male hoped that this information will serve as an ergonomic
(\54, \58,\63, \68,\74, \80 kg, up to and including 87 framework to assist coaches and scientists to effectively
and [87 kg) and female (\46, 49,\53, \57, \62,\67 kg, prepare competitors for the physiological demands of tae-
up to and including 73 and [73 kg) competitors fight in kwondo competition. This critical analysis may also help to
eight distinct weight divisions. In the Olympic Games, inform the direction and methodology of future investiga-
males (\58, \68 kg, up to and including 80 and [80 kg) tions, thereby ensuring that the knowledge base that is created
and females (\49, \57 kg, up to and including 67 and is relevant to both scientific and practitioner communities.
[67 kg) compete in four weight divisions. Successful
contestants, irrespective of weight division and competition
level, may be required to compete in several matches 2 Methods
during a single day.
Performance in taekwondo may be determined by a A computer literature search of PubMed, ISI Web of
competitor’s technical, tactical, psychological, physical Knowledge, Google Scholar, SportDiscusÒ and Scopus
and physiological characteristics [2]. Taekwondo training was performed for English-language peer-reviewed articles
is therefore structured to target these specific performance from inception to March 2013 using the following key-
mediators [2, 3]. From a physical conditioning perspective, words: ‘taekwondo’, ‘taekwondo AND performance’,
the goal of taekwondo training is to prepare competitors to ‘taekwondo AND physical fitness’, ‘taekwondo AND
effectively manage both the physical activity and the physiology’, ‘taekwondo AND body composition’, ‘tae-
physiological demands of combat. This approach to con- kwondo AND somatotype’, ‘taekwondo AND aerobic fit-
ditioning requires detailed knowledge of both the physio- ness’, ‘taekwondo AND anaerobic fitness’, ‘taekwondo
logical demands of competition and the physical AND strength’, ‘taekwondo AND flexibility’, ‘taekwondo
capabilities of the competitors [4–7]. In championship AND speed’ and ‘taekwondo AND agility’. The electronic
combats, competitors perform brief periods of fighting search was supplemented by manual inspection of the
activity [attacks] (1–5 s) interposed with longer periods of reference lists of the retrieved articles, where appropriate,
non-fighting activity [pause] at average ratios between 1:2 to locate additional articles that matched the key search
and 1:7 in different taekwondo styles [8–13]. These con- terms and major themes of the review. The themes of the
tests elicit near maximal heart rate (HR) responses ([90 % review were selected to represent the major fitness com-
HRpeak) and high lactate concentrations (7.0–12.2 ponents that are required to support the physical activity
mmol l-1), which infer that high demands are imposed and the physiological demands of combat in the context of
upon both aerobic and anaerobic metabolism during the athlete preparation and performance, including body
bouts [4, 8, 9, 11, 14–16]. composition, somatotype, aerobic and anaerobic power,
The physical activity and physiological requirements of muscular strength, muscular power, flexibility, speed and
taekwondo competition require athletes to be competent in agility. Only those articles examining the above-mentioned
several aspects of fitness, including aerobic and anaerobic fitness characteristics, using established and accepted
power, muscular strength, muscular power, flexibility, methods, in the context of athlete preparation and perfor-
speed and agility [5, 6, 8, 17]. It is therefore important that mance were included. Articles that demonstrated tenuity
coaches and sports scientists collect objective information and/or ambiguity in the fitness tests/methods used to obtain
about their players’ physical performance capabilities to data, and/or those that reported aspects that lacked
substantiate the objectives of training, establish short- and emphasis on, or direct application to, athlete preparation
long-term training programmes, provide objective feed- and performance (e.g. injury prevention, rehabilitation,
back and to motivate athletes during training. In this heath and wellbeing focus) were omitted.

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Physical Characteristics of Taekwondo Athletes 715

Table 1 Body fat percentage of taekwondo athletes (data are presented as mean ± SD)
Athlete characteristics (n) Body mass Body fat (%) Method (prediction equation reference) References
(kg)

Male
US international (14) 70.9 ± 12.0 7.5 ± 1.5 Skinfold measures (Lohman [99], Siri [100]) Pieter and Taaffe
[101]
US international (12) 72.5 ± 12.2  7.5 ± 1.7  Skinfold measures (Lohman [99], Siri [100]) Taaffe and Pieter
[30]
Recreational (14) 73.1 ± 10.1 18.9 ± 5.4 Underwater weighing (Wilmore [102]) Thompson and
Vinueza [103]
Polish national (7) 66.4 ± 4.8 13.2 ± 2 NR Drabik [104]
US junior Olympic camps
Pre-pubertal 45.4 ± 1.8 13.8 ± 0.8 Skinfold measures (Slaughter et al. [105]) Bercades et al. [50]
Post-pubertal 62.2 ± 1.2 11.0 ± 0.4
Korean
International (11) 76.6 ± 9.5 7.3 ± 1.4* Skinfold measures (Ross and Marfell-Jones Olds and Kang [25]
State (90) 70.6 ± 9.9 10.7 ± 3.9 [106])
Taiwanese international (11) 65.4 ± 6.9 13.2 ± 1.0 NR Lin et al. [48]
Czech international (11) 62.3 ± 7.4 8.2 ± 3.1 Skinfold measures (Seliger [107]) Heller et al. [8]
Puerto Rican international (13) 67.1 ± 11.8 9.6 ± 2.7 Skinfold measures (Siri [100]) Rivera et al. [29]
Jordanian athletes Skinfold measures (Lohman [108], Lohman Melhim [110]
Club-level adolescent (19) 52.4 ± 3.6 13.1 ± 4.9 et al. [109])
Recreational
Novice (7) 81.2 ± 15.3 ,à 16.0 ± 5.4 ,à Skinfold measures (Jackson and Pollock [111]) Toskovic et al. [27]
 
Experienced (7) 68.6 ± 6.8 12.7 ± 3.7 
Tunisian international (8) 70.8 ± 6 11.8 ± 3 Skinfold measures (Durnin and Womersley Bouhlel et al. [17]
[112])
Malaysian recreational adolescents 56.4 ± 7.7 19.6 ± 2.6 Regression equation (Deurenberg-Yap et al. Erie and Pieter [114]
(8) [113])
Malaysian junior recreational (30) 47.8 ± 14.4 18.6 ± 4.0  Regression equation (Deurenberg-Yap et al. Erie and Pieter [114]
[113])
German international (31) 70.6 ± 12.2 8.7 ± 1.7 Skinfold measures and bioelectrical impedance Fritzsche and
(Siri [115]) Raschkam [116]
Kelantan team—Malaysian (8) 68.3 ± 20.7 21.4 ± 6.3 Regression equation (Deurenberg-Yap et al. Noorul et al. [65]
[113])
Brazilian state (12) 71.3 ± 9.5 11.7 ± 2.1 Skinfold measures (Faulkner [117]) Sant’Ana et al.
[118]
Taiwanese university team (16) 71.1 ± 10.2 16.6 ± 5 Bioelectrical impedance (NR) Tsai et al. [22]
Spanish international (8) s 78.0 9.5 Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry and Úbeda et al. [119]
bioelectrical impedance (NR)
Israeli national athletes (10) (junior 49 ± 9.9 14.1 ± 2.8  Skinfold measures (Slaughter et al. [105]) Pilz-Burstein et al.
and cadet division) [120]
Italian international (11) 78.6 ± 14.0 10.9 ± 2.0 Skinfold measures (Jackson and Pollock [111]) Chiodo et al. [16]
Turkish
International (24) 71.1 ± 10.7 11.8 ± 1.9** Skinfold measures (Yuhasz [121]) Ghorbanzadeh et al.
Recreational (24) 64.2 ± 7.3 10.5 ± 1.3 [38]
Females
US international (15) 59.3 ± 8.4 12.9 ± 2.5 Skinfold measures (Jackson et al. [122], Siri Pieter and Taaffe
[100]) [101]
US international (8) 61.4 ± 8.6  12.0 ± 1.7  Skinfold measures (Jackson et al. [122], Siri Taaffe and Pieter
[100]) [30]
US junior olympic
Pre-pubertal 47.6 ± 3.1 20.4 ± 1.5 Skinfold measures (Slaughter et al. [105]) Bercades et al. [50]
Post-pubertal 53.2 ± 1.0 19.5 ± 0.5

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716 C. A. Bridge et al.

Table 1 continued
Athlete characteristics (n) Body mass Body fat (%) Method (prediction equation reference) References
(kg)

Taiwanese international (7) 55.6 ± 7.3 19.4 ± 4.3 NR Lin et al. [48]
Czech international (12) 69.9 ± 8.7 15.4 ± 5.1 Skinfold measures (Seliger [107]) Heller et al. [8]
Puerto Rican international (9) 58.6 ± 11.2 18.3 ± 5.6 Skinfold measures (Lohman [123]) Rivera et al. [29]
US athletes
Novice (7) 63.5 ± 3.1  20.3 ± 3.9 ,à Skinfold measures (Jackson and Pollock [111]) Toskovic et al. [27]
   
Experienced (7) 59.4 ± 10.2 16.1 ± 3.8
Croatian international (13) 60.1 ± 9.0 16.5 ± 2.7 Skinfold measures (Durnin and Rahaman Marković et al. [5]
[124])
Iranian international (13) 57.5 ± 13.7 17.3 ± 4.4 NR Rahmani-Nia et al.
[125]
Malaysian recreational adolescents 52.4 ± 5.8 31.1 ± 2.6 Regression equation (Deurenberg-Yap et al. Erie and Pieter [114]
(8) [113])
Malaysian junior developmental 45.5 ± 15.0 29.9 ± 5.2  Regression equation (Deurenberg-Yap et al. Erie and Pieter [114]
team (27) [113])
Kelantan team—Malaysian (9) 59.7 ± 10.0 32.5 ± 3.9 Regression equation (Deurenberg-Yap et al. Noorul et al. [65]
[113])
German international (21) 57.8 ± 5.4 15.8 ± 2.5 Skinfold measures and bioelectrical impedance Fritzsche and
(Siri [115]) Raschkam [116]
Croatian international (7) 59.8 ± 10.5 14.8 ± 1.7 Skinfold measures (Durnin and Rahaman Markovic et al.
[124]) [126]
Taiwanese national sport university 56.7 ± 6.0 23.7 ± 3.1 Bioelectrical impedance (NR) Tsai et al. [22]
(10)
Israeli international (10) (junior and 50 ± 6.8 24 ± 3.2  Skinfold measures (Slaughter et al. [105]) Pilz-Burstein et al.
cadet division) [120]
Italian international (4) 59.8 ± 2.3 16.5 ± 4.9 Skinfold measures (Jackson and Pollock [111]) Chiodo et al. [16]
Turkish
International (16) 60.3 ± 8.3 11.2 ± 1.6** Skinfold measures (Yuhasz [121]) Ghorbanzadeh et al.
Recreational (16) 54.4 ± 4.8 12.3 ± 1.3 [38]
Recreational adolescents (21) Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (NR) Kim et al. [19]
Pre-training 53.0 ± 6.1 31.2 ± 4.1^
Post-training 29.0 ± 4.3
Korean adolescents—different levels 58.6 ± 12.8 15.4 ± 7.4 Bioelectrical impedance (NR) Lee et al. [127]
(23)
 
Statistically significant difference presented within the study (p \ 0.05): * International vs. state; ** International vs. recreational; Sex
difference; à Novice vs. experienced; ^ Pre- vs. post-training
International athletes who compete at international level, National athletes who compete at national level, NR not reported, Recreational non-
competitive and/or club practitioners, s SD not reported, SD standard deviation, State athletes who compete at regional level

3 Body Composition and Somatotype The percentage of body fat reported for this specific
population of competitors ranges between 7–14 % and
3.1 Body Composition 12–19 % for males and females, respectively (Table 1).
Based on the studies presented in Table 1, the mean body
A significant proportion of taekwondo athletes regularly fat percentage is approximately 10 and 15 % for inter-
reduce their body mass to compete in selected weight national male and female athletes, respectively. This
divisions [20–22]. To optimise the power-to-weight ratio range of values, albeit low, is within the limits recom-
in combat, it is desirable for competitors to achieve this mended to maintain health [24]. While it is not possible
body mass change via reductions in fat mass with mini- to provide recommendations about the optimal body fat
mal disruption to musculature [23]. In accord with this percentage required to facilitate performance, the avail-
principle, elite international taekwondo competitors dem- able data suggest that low levels may be a prerequisite for
onstrate a propensity for low levels of body fat (Table 1). international competition.

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Physical Characteristics of Taekwondo Athletes 717

The literature provides evidence of differences in body To date, skinfold measures constitute the most widely
composition between athletes who engage in different used method to estimate the body fat percentage of tae-
levels of competition (Table 1). Olds and Kang [25], for kwondo practitioners (Table 1), which probably reflects the
instance, identified a lower proportion of body fat in accessibility and ease of use of the equipment in the field.
international competitors (7.3 %) than their state-level However, practitioners should be aware of the potential
counterparts (10.7 %; d = 0.93, 95 % confidence interval limitations of using different prediction equations to esti-
[CI] 0.13–1.76). However, this finding has not been mate body fat percentage via this method [32]. Indeed, a
observed consistently in studies that have implemented potential area for future research may be the development
within-study comparisons of different levels of competitors of reliable and valid prediction equations, specifically for
[26]. As the available data in this area are somewhat dated taekwondo athletes, similar to those devised in other sports.
[25, 26], there is need for further research into the body fat This approach may improve the knowledge base that is
characteristics of athletes who compete at different levels generated via this method and thereby the efficacy of the
of competition, especially since recent rule changes could ‘weight making’ practices used in the field.
impact on such characteristics. However, more recent
evidence does provide evidence of disparity in body fat 3.2 Somatotype
between practitioners of varying levels of experience
(Table 1), although the effect was unclear for both males The somatotype of male taekwondo athletes is typically
(d = 0.73, 95 % CI -3.28–3.47) and females (d = 1.09, characterised by a higher proportion of mesomorphy,
95 % CI -1.80–3.91) [27]. Toskovic et al. [27], for indicating a predominance of musculoskeletal tissue
instance, reported significantly lower body fat in experi- (Table 2). This tends to be accompanied by a smaller,
enced male (12.7 %) and female (16 %) taekwondo prac- albeit sometimes evenly distributed, ectomorphy compo-
titioners than in their novice counterparts (males 16.1 %; nent, characterising the relative linearity, and a markedly
females 20.3 %) (Table 1). The variation in body compo- lower endomorphy, reflecting the relative degree of fatness
sition between different levels of competition and experi- (Table 2). Male taekwondo athletes may therefore be pre-
ence may be a function of divergent training volumes [27], dominantly classified as ‘ectomorphic mesomorph’ in
nutritional practices and/or the requirements to ‘make accordance with conventional descriptors [33]. Despite
weight’ for competition [22, 28]. such broad classification, Olds and Kang [25] have repor-
Female taekwondo athletes tend to demonstrate greater ted significantly smaller endomorphy, but similar meso-
body fat than their male counterparts [8, 16, 29, 30]. This morphy and ectomorphy, in international male athletes
trend is also evident among non-competitive male and when compared with their state and recreational level
female practitioners [27], and is consistent with the norma- counterparts (Table 2). This finding seems to coincide with
tive data reported across a range of sports [31]. The body fat the lower body fat exhibited by international compared
range reported for junior male (11–14.1 %) and female with both state and recreational competitors (Table 1) and
(19.5–24 %) competitive taekwondo athletes tends to be may imply a greater power-to-weight ratio in this group of
higher than that reported for their senior counterparts athletes. In contrast to senior male competitors, a sub-
(Table 1). This may reflect a reduced emphasis on/impor- stantial number of junior male athletes display comparable
tance of ‘weight making’ practices in this younger population mesomorphy and ectomorphy, resulting in a more ‘meso-
and/or differences in the training volumes. However, com- morph-ectomorph’ character [34–36]—possibly a function
petitive junior taekwondo athletes do exhibit a lower range of of maturation [37]. The somatotype of senior female ath-
body fat than their recreational counterparts, which is prob- letes is less concordant, but there is evidence of higher
ably a function of disparate training volumes [19]. proportions of both mesomorphy [38] and ectomorphy [30]
The available data provide insight into the body fat of components in international female competitors. However,
taekwondo practitioners, which seems to be mediated by female athletes do typically demonstrate higher endomor-
numerous factors, including competition level, experience, phy than their male counterparts (Table 2). In contrast with
sex and age. The variation in body fat demonstrated by international senior female competitors, junior and recre-
these different taekwondo populations should be ational female athletes appear to display a more ‘central’
acknowledged when developing strategies to ‘make [33] somatotype [35, 36].
weight’ for competition. To the best of our knowledge, The somatotype data presented here may serve as a
there have been no attempts to describe the body fat per- framework for athlete preparation and a valuable com-
centage of taekwondo athletes in relation to different posite of talent identification. The predominant mesomor-
weight categories. As each weight division may warrant phic and ectomorphic character displayed by international
different body composition requirements, further research male and female taekwondo athletes would suggest that a
is clearly needed in this area. blend of moderate musculoskeletal tissue and relative body

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718 C. A. Bridge et al.

Table 2 Somatotype of taekwondo athletes (data are presented as mean ± SD)


Athlete characteristics (n) Endomorphy Mesomorphy Ectomorphy References

Males
Junior athletes (9) 2.0 ± 0.4 4.0 ± 0.8 4.3 ± 0.9 Pieter and Taaffe [34]
US international (12) 1.6 ± 0.6 4.5 ± 1.0  3.6 ± 1.3 Taaffe and Pieter [30]
Korean
International (11) 1.4 ± 0.3*,** 4.1 ± 1.0 3.2 ± 1.0 Olds and Kang [25]
State (90) 2.2 ± 1.0 4.5 ± 1.0 2.7 ± 0.8
Recreational (45) 2.5 ± 1.1 4.9 ± 1.2 2.5 ± 1.1
US junior team (9) 2.2 ± 0.7 4.0 ± 0.8 3.8 ± 0.9 Pieter [35]
US junior Olympic taekwondo athletes
Competition experience \5 y (41) 2.3 ± 0.9  4.3 ± 1.3  3.3 ± 1.4 Pieter [36]
Competition experience [5 y (37) 2.2 ± 0.8  4.1 ± 1.1  3.7 ± 1.3
British athletes club level (10) 4.2 ± 1.1  4.7 ± 1 2.9 ± 1 Chan et al. [128]
German international (31) s 3.0 4.7 3.8 Fritzsche and Raschkam [116]
Cuban international (28) 1.8 ± 0.4 4.4 ± 1.1 3.5 ± 0.9 León et al. [129]
Turkish
International (24) 2.6 ± 0.7** 2.6 ± 1.5** 3.5 ± 1.0 Ghorbanzadeh et al. [38]
Recreational (24) 2.0 ± 0.5 3.6 ± 1.1 3.7 ± 0.9
Females
US international (8) 2.1 ± 0.4 3.2 ± 0.8  4.0 ± 1.0 Taaffe and Pieter [30]
US junior Olympic taekwondo athletes Pieter [36]
Competition experience \5 y (24) 3.3 ± 0.9  3.5 ± 1.0  2.9 ± 1.2
 
Competition experience [5 y (27) 3.1 ± 0.8 3.3 ± 1.2  3.2 ± 1.6
US junior team (9) 2.9 ± 0.7 3.2 ± 1.0 3.4 ± 1.0 Pieter [35]
British athletes club level (10) 6.3 ± 1.5  4.2 ± 1 2±1 Chan et al. [128]
German international (21) s 4.0 4.2 3.5 Fritzsche and Raschkam [116]
Turkish Ghorbanzadeh et al. [38]
International (16) 2.4 ± 0.9** 5.1 ± 1.2** 3.6 ± 1.1
Recreational (16) 3.1 ± 0.7 3.4 ± 1.1 3.1 ± 0.9
 
Statistically significant difference presented within the study (p \ 0.05): * International vs. state; ** International vs. recreational; sex difference
International athletes who compete at international level, National athletes who compete at national level, Recreational non-competitive and/or club
practitioners, s SD not reported, SD standard deviation, State athletes who compete at regional level

linearity with low relative fatness may be desirable for this Taken together, these data support the notion that a com-
sport. Indeed, a number of authors postulate that longer bination of moderate muscular skeletal tissue and relative
lower extremities may be advantageous in combat sports body linearity is desirable for taekwondo competition.
where kicking techniques constitute the predominant Future research is warranted into the somatotypes of spe-
means of attack [5, 39]. However, there is limited evidence cific weight divisions to extend the existing knowledge
to suggest that the length of the upper and lower extremi- base.
ties may directly influence success in taekwondo [5, 39–
41]. Some research groups have identified reciprocal
ponderal index (males r = -0.45; females r = 0.68) and 4 Anaerobic Profile
height (males r = -0.48; females r = 0.60) as the most
significant anthropometric factors contributing to the match In championship matches, taekwondo competitors repeat-
outcome in senior national taekwondo athletes [42]. edly perform brief periods of fighting [attacks] (1–5 s)
Whereas, in university taekwondo athletes, height (females interposed with longer periods of non-fighting [pause] at
r = 0.611) and mesomorphy (males r = 0.377) were average ratios between 1:2 and 1:7 [8–13]. These brief
reported as potential anthropometric performance predic- fighting to non-fighting ratios impose a high demand upon
tors, second to general taekwondo experience (males anaerobic metabolic pathways, namely phosphocreatine
r = 0.943; females r = 0.644) and competition-specific (PCr) degradation and moderate anaerobic glycolysis
experience (males r = 0.924; females r = 0.611) [42]. activation [4, 8, 9, 11, 16]. As such, taekwondo competitors

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Physical Characteristics of Taekwondo Athletes 719

Table 3 Lower body Wingate anaerobic test performance in taekwondo athletes (data are presented as mean ± SD)
Athlete characteristics (n) and test details Peak power (W) Peak power Mean power Mean power References
(W/kg) (W) (W/kg)

US international Taaffe and Pieter


M (12) 30 s Wingate test [load: 0.075 kp/kg] 864.6 ± 246.2  
11.8 ± 2.0 671.2 ± 151.3  
9.2 ± 1.2   [30]
F (8) 30 s Wingate test [load: 0.075 kp/kg] 621.4 ± 145.4 10.2 ± 2.5 481.9 ± 77.2 7.9 ± 1.2
US junior Olympic athletes Taaffe et al. [51]
M (27) 30 s Wingate test (load: 0.075 kp/kg) 675.8 ± 30.7 10.7 ± 0.3 526.9 ± 22.2 8.4 ± 0.2
F (24) 30 s Wingate test (load: 0.075 kp/kg) 435.5 ± 12.3 8.4 ± 0.3 340.0 ± 8.3 6.6 ± 0.2
US junior Olympic athletes Bercades et al.
30 s Wingate test (Load: 0.075 kp/kg) [50]
M (76)
Pre-pubertal 504.1 ± 24.7 11.1 ± 0.3 347.7 ± 16.7 7.6 ± 0.2
Post-pubertal 705.9 ± 20.7 11.3 ± 0.2 513.1 ± 14.1 8.2 ± 0.1
F (54)
Pre-pubertal 392.2 ± 24.1 8.3 ± 0.3 297.8 ± 14.4 6.3 ± 0.3
Post-pubertal 477.9 ± 14.7 9.0 ± 0.2 346.4 ± 7.5 6.6 ± 0.1
Spanish junior national athletes 30 s Wingate test
(load NR)
M (5) NR 8.3 ± 2.6 NR NR Pérez-Gómez et al.
F (3) 5.4 ± 1.1 [52]
Tunisian national Bouhlel et al. [17]
M (8) 7 s force-velocity test (incremental Pmax = 855 ± 125 Pmax = 12.1 ± 1.7 NR NR
breaking forces)
Czech international Heller et al. [8]
M (11) 30 s Wingate test (load 6 W/kg) NR 14.7 ± 1.3 NR NR
F (12) 30 s Wingate test [load: 5 W/kg] 10.1 ± 1.2
M (19) Junior Jordanian club athletes Melhim [110]
30 s Wingate test (load 0.075 kp/kg)
Pre-training 422 ± 87.6^ 8.1 ± 1.2^ 235.6 ± 70.2^ 4.5 ± 0.6^
Post-training 541.1 ± 95.6 10.3 ± 2 380.5 ± 85.1 7.3 ± 0.9
M Taiwanese international 30 s Wingate test (load Lin et al. [48]
0.1 kp/kg)
\54 kg (1) NR 8.3 NR 6.9
\58 kg (3) 8.3 ± 1.2 6.3 ± 0.8
\62 kg (3) 9.2 ± 0.2 7.0 ± 0.7
\67 kg (2) 8.3 ± 0.1 6.5 ± 0.4
\72 kg (1) 8.5 6.2
\78 kg (1) 6.8 6.1
Mean 8.4 ± 0.9 6.6 ± 0.6
F Taiwanese international 30 s Wingate test (load:
0.075 kp/kg)
\47 kg (3) 6.5 ± 0.3 5.5 ± 0.2
\51 kg (2) 6.6 ± 0.7 5.6 ± 2.1
\59 kg (1) 6.5 5.1
\67 kg (1) 7.2 5.4
Mean 6.6 ± 0.4 5.5 ± 0.9

123
720 C. A. Bridge et al.

Table 3 continued
Athlete characteristics (n) and test details Peak power (W) Peak power Mean power Mean power References
(W/kg) (W) (W/kg)

M (12) junior recreational 30 s Wingate test (load


NR)
Pre-training 451.4 ± 70.7 NR 343.2 ± 91.7 NR Teng et al. [73]
Mid-training 491.2 ± 89.3 373.0 ± 101.3
Post-training 495.9 ± 74.7 373.6 ± 87.2
Athletes (M and F combined) with mouth guard NR 9.5 ± 1.5§ NR 7.2 ± 1.0§ Cetin et al. [74]
(21)
Athletes (M and F combined) without mouth guard 9.1 ± 1.5 7.0 ± 0.9
(21)
30 s Wingate test (load 0.075 kp/kg)
M Polish national and international 30 s Wingate Sadowski et al.
test (load NR) [40]
Senior medallists (28) NR 9.9 ± 1.0# NR NR
Senior non-medallists (36) 9.3 ± 1.1
M Polish national and international 30 s Wingate Sadowski et al.
test (load NR) [41]
Junior medallists (27) NR 8.6 ± 1.4 NR NR
Junior non-medallists (36) 8.7 ± 1.2

Statistically significant difference presented within the study (p \ 0.05):   sex difference, # medallists vs. non-medallists, ^ pre- vs. post-training, § mouth
guard vs. no mouth guard
F female, kp/kg load prescribed as kilopond per kilogram of body mass, International athletes who compete at international level, M male, National
athletes who compete at national level, NR not reported, Pmax highest power achieved during the force-velocity test, Recreational non-competitive and/or
club practitioners, SD standard deviation, State athletes who compete at regional level, W/kg load prescribed as watts per kilogram of body mass

require high anaerobic power abilities to effectively man- high peak anaerobic power using the lower extremities may
age the energetic requirements of the bouts. therefore be desirable to achieve success in competition.
The 30 s Wingate test constitutes the most common Notably, though, the lower range of values reported in the
method of assessing peak anaerobic power and capacity of literature suggest that some athletes exhibit relatively poor
taekwondo competitors (Table 3). Relative peak power has lower limb peak power capabilities [48]. However, this was
been reported for both senior male (8.4–14.7 W/kg) and acknowledged by the authors of the investigation, who
female (6.6–10.2 W/kg) taekwondo competitors using the emphasised a need to improve this component of fitness to
Wingate test (Table 3). The upper range of peak power effectively manage the demands of combat.
values generated by both male and female taekwondo There have been few attempts to compare relative peak
athletes [8, 17, 30] compare favourably with those pro- power between different weight categories and/or compe-
duced by athletes in other combat sports [43, 44] and a tition levels in taekwondo. Lin et al. [48] appear to be the
range of explosive power-based events [45, 46]. They may only research group to document the relative peak power
also be ranked amid the highest percentile norms for characteristics across different weight divisions (Table 3).
physically active males and females aged between 18 and However, the small sample sizes preclude the ability to
28 years [47]. These findings attest to the intense anaerobic draw definitive conclusions about whether specific weight
character of this combat sport and suggest that the ability of divisions mediate different peak power requirements.
the lower limbs to generate high peak power may be Further research is clearly needed in this area to specialise
important in competition. Indeed, Sadowski et al. [40] anaerobic conditioning to the requirements of specific
reported that successful male taekwondo athletes (medal- weight divisions. Allometric scaling may also be consid-
lists in the Polish Senior Taekwondo Championships) ered when comparing groups differing in size rather than
demonstrated higher peak power on the Wingate test than the conventional per ratio standards.
their less successful counterparts (non-medallists in the Few investigators have reported the mean anaerobic
Polish Senior Taekwondo Championships). The authors power generated by senior male and female taekwondo
postulated that this difference could have exerted an athletes on the Wingate test. The limited available data
influence on the efficacy (speed and strength) of the kick- demonstrate a range of values for both males (6.6–9.2 W/
ing techniques during the bouts. The ability to generate kg) and females (5.5–7.9 W/kg) (Table 3). The upper

123
Physical Characteristics of Taekwondo Athletes 721

Table 4 Maximum oxygen uptake of taekwondo athletes (data are presented as mean ± SD)
Athlete characteristics (n) Ergometer _ 2max (ml kg-1 min-1)
VO References

Males
US international (12) Treadmill 55.8 ± 3.9 Taaffe and Pieter [30]
Brazilian NR Baldi et al. [26]
International (10) 61.0 ± 7.0
State (9) 54.7 ± 6.9
Recreational (14) Treadmill 44.0 ± 6.8 Thompson and Vinueza [103]
Italian international (11) Treadmill 63.2 ± 6.1 Chiodo et al. [16]
Polish national (7) Treadmill 60.7 ± 3.3 Drabik [104]
Czech international (11) Cycle ergometer 53.9 ± 4.4 Heller et al. [8]
Puerto Rican international (13) Treadmill 59.3 ± 4.5 Rivera et al. [29]
Tunisian international (8) Shuttle run test 56.2 ± 2.6 Bouhlel et al. [17]
Malaysian (8) Shuttle run test 49.0 ± 3.9 Erie and Pieter [114]
Recreational juniors
Korean international Shuttle run test Butios and Tasika [60]
(8) \68 kg 53.9 ± 4.1
(8) up to and including 80 kg 54.7 ± 4.1
(8) [80 kg 52.6 ± 3.9
Spanish junior national (5) Shuttle run test 48.6 ± 2.5 Pérez-Gómez et al. [52]
Malaysian recreational juniors (30) Shuttle run test 41.3 ± 6.2 Erie and Pieter [114]
Brazilian international (7) Shuttle run test 51.9 ± 2.9 Perandini et al. [130]
Malaysian recreational adolescents (8) Shuttle run test 42.2 ± 7.9 Noorul et al. [65]
Serbian international (20) Treadmill 44 ± 3 Cubrilo et al. [131]
Australian international (2 M, 2 F) Shuttle run test 53.3 ± 5.7 Ball et al. [18]
Females
US international (8) Treadmill 46.9 ± 7.5 Taaffe and Pieter [30]
Czech international (12) Cycle ergometer 41.6 ± 4.2 Heller et al. [8]
Puerto Rican international (9) Treadmill 48.9 ± 8.0 Rivera et al. [29]
Croatian international (13): medallists Treadmill 49.6 ± 3.3 Markovic et al. [5]
Non-medallists 47.2 ± 2.1
Malaysian (8) recreational juniors Shuttle run test 39.5 ± 2.8 Erie and Pieter [114]
Spanish junior national (3) Shuttle run test 41.1 ± 3.2 Pérez-Gómez et al. [52]
Malaysian junior developmental team (27) Shuttle run test 33.4 ± 4.4 Eire and Pieter [114]
Malaysian recreational adolescents (9) Shuttle run test 30.8 ± 5.5 Noorul et al. [65]
Croatian international (7) Treadmill 49.8 ± 2.8 Markovic et al. [126]
Brazilian international (4) Shuttle run test 41.6 ± 2.4 Perandini et al. [130]
Italian international (4) Treadmill 51.1 ± 2.3 Chiodo et al. [16]
Korean adolescents—different levels (23) Treadmill 49.2 ± 4.8 Lee et al. [127]
F female, International athletes who compete at international level, M male, National athletes who compete at national level, NR not reported,
_ 2max maximum
Recreational non-competitive and/or club practitioners, SD standard deviation, State athletes who compete at regional level, VO
oxygen uptake

range of values [30] compare favourably with those pro- suggest that this may be predominately via the breakdown
duced by athletes in other intense short-duration events, of ATP/PCr with smaller, albeit important, contributions
which elicit high demands on both adenosine triphosphate from anaerobic glycolysis [9]. The lower range of mean
(ATP)/PCr and anaerobic glycolytic metabolic pathways power values reported in the literature indicates that some
[44, 45, 49]. This suggests that the ability to sustain high taekwondo athletes demonstrated a poor ability to sustain
power output via anaerobic metabolic pathways may be power during the Wingate test [48]. Although it remains
important in taekwondo. Recent estimates of the energy unclear how this may influence performance during a
system contributions during simulated taekwondo bouts match, a reduced ability to both generate and maintain

123
722 C. A. Bridge et al.

power through the breakdown of PCr and the activation of effectively support these metabolic demands. The cardio-
anaerobic glycolysis is, arguably, undesirable in combat. respiratory fitness of taekwondo athletes has been deter-
Senior male taekwondo competitors demonstrate higher mined by measuring and estimating maximum oxygen
relative peak and mean power on the Wingate test than uptake (VO_ 2max ) (Table 4).
their senior female counterparts [8, 30, 48] (Table 3). This The VO_ 2max of senior male and female international
trend is also displayed in junior athletes [50–52] and is athletes ranges between 44–63 ml kg-1 min-1 and 40–
consistent with the data reported for other combat sports 51 ml kg-1 min-1, respectively (Table 4). The wide range
[43, 53] and a range of athletic populations [31]. Contrary of values reported for both groups is likely to reflect dif-
to their senior counterparts, peak power did not discrimi- ferences in the structure and phase of training, and/or
nate between levels of success (e.g. medallists vs. non- modes of exercise testing. This range of VO _ 2max scores is
medallists) in junior athletes [41]. However, senior male similar to that of males and females in other combat sports
and female taekwondo competitors show a higher range of that elicit marked demands on aerobic metabolism [43, 53,
peak and mean power performances on the Wingate test 57, 58], but they are lower than those exhibited by athletes
than their adolescent male (peak 8.3–11.3 W/kg; mean _ 2max of these
in endurance-based events [59]. The VO
7.6–8.4 W/kg) and female (peak 5.4–9.0 W/kg; mean
international taekwondo competitors may also be ranked
6.3–6.6 W/kg) counterparts (Table 3). These differences
within the 60–100 and 80–100 percentiles for healthy
probably reflect variation in the groups’ muscle fibre
physically active male and female adults, respectively [31].
composition, motor-unit activation and anaerobic/glyco-
These data suggest that moderate to high levels of cardio-
lytic capacities [37, 54, 55], which should be considered
respiratory fitness may be necessary to support the meta-
when designing conditioning programmes for these popu-
bolic demands of international taekwondo competition.
lations. Scaling issues might also be considered when
Comparison of cardio-respiratory fitness between dif-
comparing groups differing in size.
ferent levels of competition, success, experience and
The available data generated via the Wingate test pro-
weight categories in taekwondo is restricted by the limited
vide insight into the anaerobic power and capacity char-
diversity of existing research. Few studies have examined
acteristics of different taekwondo populations, which may _ 2max of taekwondo athletes in relation to their level
the VO
be useful for developing preparatory strategies within the
of competition success. Markovic et al. [5] reported no
sport. However, coaches and scientists should be aware of
differences in VO_ 2max between international female med-
the inherent limitations associated with the existing
knowledge base, namely the lack of standardisation of allists and non-medallists using an incremental treadmill
Wingate protocols and mechanical specificity demon- test. Sadowski et al. [40, 41], on the other hand, observed a
strated by the test. Variation in the Wingate loads, warm- tendency for senior and junior male medallists to perform a
up, start procedures, testing protocols and ergometer greater number of shuttles during multistage shuttle run-
models may confound the efficacy of data comparisons ning tests than their non-medallist counterparts. Unfortu-
nately, VO_ 2max was not estimated from these running
between existing investigations. Researchers and sports
scientists in taekwondo may therefore wish to consider scores. These findings may suggest that cardio-respiratory
working towards a consensus on the standardisation of fitness is conducive to achieving success in competition,
Wingate procedures to improve the application of the but it should be emphasised that these differences may not
results in both research and practice. As the Wingate test entirely be causal. Cardio-respiratory fitness may not affect
lacks mechanical specificity to the actions of taekwondo, performance per se, but rather exert an influence indirectly
the validity of the existing power profiles may also be by facilitating recovery during the bouts [40]. This is in
subject to scrutiny. There is clearly a need for the devel- line with the general consensus that cardio-respiratory fit-
opment of more specialised anaerobic power and capacity ness is important to support the metabolic demands of
tests that better represent both the mechanical actions and competition, but it does not directly determine success in
the anaerobic demands of the sport. combat sports [43, 53, 57].
Few studies have directly examined the VO _ 2max of tae-
kwondo athletes in relation to the level of competition
5 Aerobic Profile (Table 4). One study has reported higher VO _ 2max in inter-
national male taekwondo competitors when compared with
Recent evidence suggests a high reliance on aerobic their state-level counterparts [26]. Although no confidence
metabolism to support the activity of taekwondo matches intervals were reported, this finding could suggest that the
and to facilitate recovery between successive bouts in level of competition mediates different cardio-respiratory
championship events [4, 8, 9, 14–16, 56]. A well developed fitness requirements, but further research is warranted,
cardio-respiratory system is therefore required to especially since the study was conducted before taekwondo

123
Physical Characteristics of Taekwondo Athletes 723

became an official Olympic sport. Only a single study [60] _ 2max


demonstrates that trained athletes generate higher VO
has attempted to compare VO _ 2max between different weight on tests that are similar, mechanically, to the movements
categories. In contrast to other combat sports [43, 44, 61], performed in the sport when compared with generic exer-
no significant differences were reported in VO _ 2max , as cise modes [69–71]. The development of specialised
estimated from multistage shuttle running, between \68 incremental tests that better represent the mechanical
kg, up to and including 80 kg and [80 kg taekwondo actions and metabolic demands of taekwondo may improve
weight divisions [60]. This preliminary evidence may _ 2max assessment.
the validity of VO
suggest that different weight divisions require similar lev-
els of cardio-respiratory fitness, but large-scale investiga-
tions examining VO _ 2max across a wide range of taekwondo 6 Strength
weight divisions, using large volumes of athletes, are
necessary before definitive conclusions may be drawn. Taekwondo athletes require muscular power, strength and
Senior male international taekwondo competitors dem- strength endurance to effectively perform and sustain the
onstrate a higher range of VO _ 2max scores than their female technical and tactical actions in a match—including kick-
counterparts (Table 4). This trend is also displayed in ing, punching, blocking, holding, pushing and footwork
junior athletes (males 41–49 ml kg-1 min-1; females 31– [10–13, 72]. The muscular strength characteristics of tae-
41 ml kg-1 min-1) and is consistent with the data reported kwondo athletes will be reviewed relative to dynamic
in other combat sports [43, 53] and a range of athletic power, maximal strength and strength endurance actions
groups [31]. However, senior male and female taekwondo using accepted and established field-based testing methods.
_ 2max values The limited available data on the isokinetic strength char-
competitors demonstrate a higher range of VO
acteristics of taekwondo athletes [19, 73–75] were omitted
than their adolescent male and female counterparts. These
from the review on the basis that this analysis technique
differences probably reflect variation in both central and
tends to be reserved for research, rehabilitation and injury
peripheral physiological factors [62–64]. Scaling methods
prevention purposes as opposed to being implicated in the
have rarely been used in taekwondo when dealing with
regular monitoring of fitness status and/or strength devel-
groups differing in size [65].
_ 2max of different taekwondo opment in the context of athletic preparation for perfor-
The available data on the VO
mance. Furthermore, this technique has been criticised on
populations provide insight into their cardio-respiratory
the basis that isokinetic movement, albeit accurate, seldom
fitness, which may be useful in developing preparatory
occurs in actual human performance tasks and the isolation
strategies within the sport. However, coaches and scientists
of muscle groups during testing reduce the validity of
should acknowledge the limitations associated with the
measurements to functional performance, as the multi-joint
existing knowledge base. Some studies have obtained
movements that occur in many sports are not recreated
direct measurements of VO _ 2max , whereas others have relied
[76, 77].
on indirect estimations using multi-stage shuttle running.
The latter may underestimate the true VO _ 2max of taekw-
ondo competitors by 16 % [66], ultimately perplexing data 6.1 Power
comparisons between studies and preparations for compe-
tition. For this reason, Cetin et al. [66] developed a Power may be defined simply as the rate of force produc-
_ 2max tion in a single movement or repetition [78, 79]. The
regression equation to improve the accuracy of VO
muscular power of taekwondo athletes has been deter-
estimations from multi-stage shuttle running, which could
mined through the use of squat/static jump tests (SJ) and
be considered in instances where logistical constraints
counter-movement jump tests performed with (CMJA) or
preclude the direct measurement of VO _ 2max . Studies that
without (CMJ) arm swings (Table 5). The mean SJ per-
have directly measured VO _ 2max using incremental tests
formances reported for national and international compet-
have incorporated different modes of exercise (Table 4). itors in the literature ranged between 35.8–45.4 cm for
The VO_ 2max determined from incremental cycling can elicit males and 23.7–29.8 cm for females [5, 7, 8], whereas the
8–15 % lower VO _ 2max values compared with those CMJ performances ranged between 39.3–43.9 cm and
obtained from incremental treadmill running in the same 26.4–32.8 cm for national and international male and
individuals [67, 68]. This phenomenon is likely a function female athletes, respectively [5, 7, 16]. These SJ and CMJ
of peripheral physiological factors and may further con- performances are lower than those generated by national
found data comparisons between investigations. In this and international athletes in other combat sports [43, 44,
regard, the modes of exercise used to assess VO _ 2max lack 53] and a range of sports that rely heavily on explosive
mechanical specificity to taekwondo. Research consistently actions of the lower limbs in competition [31]. Contrary to

123
724 C. A. Bridge et al.

Table 5 Vertical jump performances of taekwondo athletes (data are presented as mean ± SD)
Athlete characteristics (n) Test method Height (cm) References

Males
Czech international (11) Force platform SJ = 45.4 ± 4.5 Heller et al. [8]
Recreational Jump and reach Toskovic et al. [27]
 ,à
Novice (7) SJ = 43.7 ± 5.0
Experienced (7) SJ = 51.1 ± 8.6 
Malaysian junior developmental team (30) Jump and reach CMJ = 35.6 ± 4.1  Erie and Pieter [114]
Recreational adolescents (8) Jump and reach CMJ = 52.1 ± 11.1  Noorul et al. [65]
Club athletes Jump and reach Suzana and Pieter [90]
Junior (10) CMJ = 51.3 ± 2.8
Senior (10) CMJ = 55.5 ± 7.0
Italian international (11) Optical acquisition system Chiodo et al. [16]
Pre-match CMJ = 40.8 ± 4.9 
Post-match CMJ = 43.9 ± 5.2 ,^
Junior national (10) Optical acquisition system Chiodo et al. [56]
 
Pre-match CMJ = 25 ± 6
Post-match CMJ = 28 ± 6 ,^
Australian international (2 M, 2 F) Optical acquisition system Ball et al. [18]
Pre-training CMJ = 35 ± 0.5
Post-training CMJ = 43 ± 0.7
Italian national Optical acquisition system Casolino et al. [7]
Selected (NR) SJ = 40.7 ± 6.8
Not selected (NR) SJ = 35.8 ± 3.7
Total (NR) SJ = 38.4 ± 6.0 
Selected (NR) CMJ = 42.4 ± 7.1
Not selected (NR) CMJ = 39.3 ± 2.7
Total (NR) CMJ = 41.0 ± 5.6 
Females
Czech international (12) Force platform SJ = 29.8 ± 4.0 Heller et al. [8]
Recreational Jump and reach Toskovic et al. [27]
Novice (7) SJ = 32.1 ± 3.4 
Experienced (7) SJ = 31.3 ± 3.1 
Croatian international Electronic jump mat Markovic et al. [5]
Medallists (6) SJ = 29.8 ± 2.9
Non-medallists (7) SJ = 27.7 ± 2.4
Medallists (6) CMJ = 32.8 ± 3.9#
Non-medallists (7) CMJ = 28.7 ± 1.9
Medallists (6) CMJA = 36.4 ± 3.5#
Non-medallists (7) CMJA = 33.2 ± 2.3
Malaysian junior developmental team (27) Jump and reach CMJ = 35.6 ± 6.1  Erie and Pieter [114]
Recreational adolescents (9) Jump and reach CMJ = 34.0 ± 5.2  Noorul et al. [65]
Athletes (M and F) with mouthguard (21) Cord-based jump meter SJ = 43.5 ± 6.2 Cetin et al. [74]
CMJ = 47.1 ± 6.3
Athletes (M and F) without mouthguard (21) SJ = 43.2 ± 5.9
CMJ = 47.2 ± 6.4
Italian International (4) Optical acquisition system Chiodo et al. [16]
Pre-match CMJ = 28.2 ± 2.5 
Post-match CMJ = 30.8 ± 2.3 ,^

123
Physical Characteristics of Taekwondo Athletes 725

Table 5 continued
Athlete characteristics (n) Test method Height (cm) References

Junior national athletes (7) Optical acquisition system Chiodo et al. [56]
Pre-match CMJ = 22 ± 2 
Post-match CMJ = 22 ± 2 
Italian national Optical acquisition system Casolino et al. [7]
Selected (NR) SJ = 27.9 ± 4.4
Not selected (NR) SJ = 23.7 ± 2.1
Total (NR) SJ = 25.5 ± 3.7 
Selected (NR) CMJ = 28.8 ± 3.7
Not selected (NR) CMJ = 26.4 ± 1.8
Total (NR) CMJ = 27.4 ± 2.8 
  ^
Statistically significant difference presented within the study (p \ 0.05): sex difference; à novice vs. experienced; pre- vs. post-match;
#
medallist vs. non-medallists
CMJ counter-movement jump, CMJA counter-movement jump with arm swing, F female, International athletes who compete at international
level, M male, National athletes who compete at national level, NR not reported, Recreational non-competitive and/or club practitioners, SD
standard deviation, SJ squat jump, State athletes who compete at regional level

the character of combat, these data suggest that national 16, 27, 56] (Table 5). This is consistent with the literature
and international taekwondo competitors demonstrate rel- on athletes in other combat sports [43, 44] and a range of
atively poor lower limb muscular power [80]. However, the athletic groups [31]. There is also evidence for higher CMJ
available data should be interpreted with caution as it performances in senior athletes compared with their junior
represents a small sample of competitors from a limited counterparts [16, 56] (Table 5). These differences may
number of studies. Markovic et al. [5] observed higher reflect variation in the muscle fibre composition and motor-
CMJ and CMJA, but similar SJ, performances in interna- unit activation between these populations [37, 55, 56].
tional female medallists compared with non-medallists, but However, there is marked variability in senior and junior
the effects of these differences were unclear (CMJ: CMJ performances between studies, which may represent
d = 1.46, 95 % CI -1.66–2.87; CMJA d = 1.12, 95 % CI differences in the contractile properties of the muscle, but
-1.68–2.83)—possibly a result of the small sample used in also varied testing procedures.
the study. These findings may tentatively suggest that the The available data on the SJ and CMJ provide limited
ability to generate power using ‘stretch-shortening cycle’ insight into the muscular power characteristics of taekw-
actions of the lower limbs may be important for taekwondo ondo athletes. Further research is required into the mus-
performance, more so than the expression of muscular cular power characteristics of international taekwondo
power purely through concentric muscle actions [5]. competitors to assist preparations for international com-
Differences in lower limb muscular power have also petition. Additional research into the muscular power
been observed between taekwondo practitioners’ level of characteristics of taekwondo athletes in relation to sex, age
experience (Table 5). Toskovic et al. [27], for instance, and weight categories is also needed to assist preparatory
reported higher SJ in experienced recreational male tae- strategies for different populations within the sport. These
kwondo practitioners than their novice counterparts (51.1 investigations might want to consider reporting height/
vs. 43.7 cm). This finding is probably a function of the power in absolute terms and scaled relative to lean body
different training regimes undertaken by these groups and mass or height [82]. Variation in the procedures and
may represent the muscular adaptations arising from equipment used to assess SJ and CMJ in the literature
repeated exposure to the actions performed within the (Table 5) often confounds the effective comparison of data
sport. Interestingly, though, differences in muscular power between investigations [83, 84]. Researchers in taekwondo
were not observed between experienced and novice female might want to consider working toward a consensus on the
practitioners [27]. standardisation of SJ and CMJ procedures and equipment,
This response is difficult to explain, but it might reflect or advocate the use of methods and equipment that dem-
disparity in the adaptive properties of the muscles and/or onstrate good concurrent and convergent validity [85] to
training stimulus between these groups [81]. Senior and enhance the application of the results in research and
junior male taekwondo athletes demonstrate higher abso- practice. Researchers may also wish to consider developing
lute muscular power, as represented by higher SJ and CMJ more specialised tests to determine the muscular power
performances, than their respective female counterparts [8, characteristics of taekwondo athletes.

123
726 C. A. Bridge et al.

Table 6 Maximal dynamic strength of taekwondo athletes (data are presented as mean ± SD)
Athlete characteristics (n) Strength test Absolute 1RM score (kg) Relative 1RM score (kg/body mass) References

Males
Recreational Toskovic et al. [27]
Experienced (7) Bench press 84.3 ± 23.9  1.23 ± 0.3 
Novice (7) (machine based) 86.1 ± 26.8  1.06 ± 0.3 
 
Experienced (7) Leg press 217.1 ± 42.3 3.2 ± 0.6
Novice (7) (machine based) 196.4 ± 33  2.4 ± 0.6
Females
Recreational Toskovic et al. [27]
Experienced (7) Bench press 37.1 ± 13.3  0.62 ± 0.1 
Novice (7) (machine based) 36.1 ± 7.9  0.57 ± 0.1 
 
Experienced (7) Leg press 151.4 ± 30.2 2.6 ± 0.5
Novice (7) (machine based) 147.9 ± 25  2.3 ± 0.4
Croatian international Markovic et al. [5]
Medallists (6) Bench press 55.7 ± 11.6 0.9 ± 0.1
Non-medallists (7) (free weights) 48.5 ± 8.2 0.8 ± 0.1
Medallists (6) Back squat 89.1 ± 17.6 1.4 ± 0.2
Non-medallists (7) (free weights) 72.1 ± 15.2 1.2 ± 0.2
 
Statistically significant difference presented within the study (p \ 0.05): Sex difference
International athletes who compete at international level, Recreational non-competitive and/or club practitioners, SD standard deviation, 1RM 1
repetition maximum

6.2 Maximal Dynamic Strength differences were unclear (Table 6). However, for relative
bench press (d = 1.00, 95 % CI 0.92–1.07) and back squat
Maximum muscular strength may be defined as the ability (d = 1.00, 95 % CI 0.84–1.15) performances, the differ-
to voluntarily produce maximal force or torque under ences between these groups were (statistically) more
specific conditions defined by muscle action, movement notable (Table 6). These data tentatively suggest that while
velocity and posture [86]. A limited number of studies have the ability to generate maximum strength may be important
assessed the maximum dynamic strength of taekwondo in taekwondo, it might not determine success in interna-
athletes using one repetition maximum (1RM) tests of both tional competition.
upper and lower body musculature (Table 6). Higher absolute 1RM bench and leg press performances,
Markovic et al. [5] investigated the maximum upper and and higher relative 1RM bench press performances, have
lower body strength of international female taekwondo been reported in recreational male taekwondo practitioners
athletes using 1RM bench press and bilateral back squat compared with their female counterparts [27] (Table 6).
tests (Table 6). However, the interpretation of these results This finding is in agreement with the data reported in other
is challenging because of the limited available comparative combat sports [43] and a range of athletic populations [31],
data in combat sports and other athletic groups [31]. and may reflect differences in muscle fibre composition
Nevertheless, tentative comparisons with the general and motor-unit activation between these groups [55, 81].
female population aged between 20 and 29 years indicate Further research is needed into taekwondo athletes’ maxi-
that the relative 1RM bench press of international female mum strength characteristics in relation to age, sex, com-
taekwondo athletes is well above the 100th percentile rank petition levels and weight categories to enhance existing
[31], whereas the back squat 1RM may be rated as ‘fair’ to knowledge and to permit effective preparatory strategies
‘average’ [31]. These preliminary results suggest that for different populations within the sport.
international female taekwondo athletes possess well
developed upper body muscular strength, but less well 6.3 Muscular Endurance
developed lower body muscular strength. Markovic et al.
[5] also noted a trend for greater absolute 1RM bench press Muscular endurance may be defined as the ability to vol-
(d = 0.74, 95 % CI -8.54–6.81) and back squat (d = 1.04 untarily produce force or torque repeatedly against sub-
95 % CI -13.04–12.30) performances in international maximal external resistances, or to sustain a required level
female medallists compared with non-medallists, but the of submaximal force in a specific posture for as long as

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Physical Characteristics of Taekwondo Athletes 727

Table 7 Muscular endurance of taekwondo athletes (data are presented as mean ± SD)
Athlete characteristics (n) Exercise: test details Result (number of repetitions) References

Males
Brazilian Sit-ups: 60 s test Baldi et al. [26]
International (10) 47.7 ± 4.7
State (9) 51.8 ± 6.1
Recreational Sit-ups 60 s test 53.7 ± 3.2 Thompson and Vinueza [103]
Recreational Toskovic et al. [27]
Novice (7) Sit-ups: 60 s test 48.1 ± 5.5 
Experienced (7) Sit-ups: 60 s test 53.4 ± 6.9 
Polish senior national and international Sadowski et al. [40]
#
Medallists (28) Sit-ups: 30 s test 34.5 ± 4.1
Non-medallists (36) Sit-ups: 30 s test 30.0 ± 2.9
Polish junior national and international Sadowski et al. [41]
Medallists (27) Sit-ups: 30 s test 31.5 ± 5.1#
Non-medallists (36) Sit-ups: 30 s test 27.7 ± 4.2
Females
Croatian international Markovic et al. [5]
Medallists (6) Sit-ups: 60 s test 58.7 ± 7
Non-medallists (7) Sit-ups: 60 s test 52.2 ± 3.5
Medallists (6) Push-ups: 60 s test 25.8 ± 8.5
Non-medallists (7) Push-ups: 60 s test 23.1 ± 7.7
Recreational Toskovic et al. [27]
Novice (7) Sit-ups: 60 s test 40.9 ± 7.7 
Experienced (7) Sit-ups: 60 s test 45.0 ± 6.8 
  #
Statistically significant difference presented within the study (p \ 0.05): Sex difference; medallist vs. non-medallists
International athletes who compete at international level, National athletes who compete at national level, Recreational non-competitive and/or
club practitioners, SD standard deviation, State athletes who compete at regional level

possible [87]. The most common field tests used to assess medallists (Table 7). These preliminary findings may
the dynamic muscular endurance of taekwondo athletes emphasise the importance of trunk and hip flexor muscular
include sit-up and push-up tests. A limited number of endurance in international taekwondo competition. No
studies have examined the trunk and hip flexor muscular significant differences in 60-s sit-up test performances have
endurance of taekwondo athletes using 30- and 60-s timed been reported between athletes who were active at various
sit-up tests (Table 7). The 60-s sit-up test scores reported levels of competition [26] or between recreational practi-
for national- and international-level taekwondo athletes in tioners with different training experience [27] (Table 7).
the literature range between 48–52 repetitions and 52––59 These findings could reflect similar muscular endurance
repetitions for males and females, respectively [5, 26]. requirements within these competitive and recreational
These scores may be ranked within the 50–60th and settings.
60–70th percentiles for male and female adults aged There have been few attempts to examine the sit-up test
18–25 years [31], and imply that these athletes demonstrate performances in relation to age and sex. A slightly higher
moderate trunk and hip flexor muscular endurance. range of 30-s sit-up test performances has been reported in
Few studies have examined the trunk and hip flexor international senior male athletes [40] compared with
muscular endurance of taekwondo athletes in relation to juniors [41] (Table 7). Recreational male taekwondo
competition success and experience. Markovic et al. [5] practitioners also demonstrate higher 60-s sit-up test scores
reported higher 60-s sit-up test performances in interna- than their recreational female counterparts [27]. This var-
tional female medallists compared with non-medallists, but iation in sit-up test performances between age groups and
this difference was not statistically significant. In contrast, sex are in agreement with the data reported across a range
Sadowski et al. [40, 41] claimed significantly higher 30-s of athletic groups [31].
sit-up test scores in a large group of international male Only a single study has examined the endurance prop-
(senior and junior) medallists compared with non- erties of the upper-extremity and trunk musculature of

123
728 C. A. Bridge et al.

taekwondo athletes (Table 7). Markovic et al. [5] examined counterparts. Even fewer studies have examined the agility
the upper-extremity and trunk muscular endurance of characteristics of taekwondo athletes using field-based
international female taekwondo athletes using a 60-s push- testing methods, including side step tests [5] and 50-m
up test. However, the interpretation of these findings is (10 9 5 m) shuttle run sprint tests [19]. Markovic et al. [5]
challenging because of the limited available data on the reported faster side step test performances in successful
standard push-up test scores of combat sport athletes and female athletes (medallists: 7.8 ± 0.3 s vs. non-medallists:
females in general [31]. No differences in 60-s push-up test 8.21 ± 0.2 s) when compared with their less successful
scores have been reported between international female counterparts. These findings highlight the importance of
taekwondo medallists and non-medallists (Table 7). This both speed and agility in taekwondo and could suggest that
preliminary finding might suggest that while the endurance these aspects of fitness may be a prerequisite for success in
properties of the upper extremities may be important to international competition. However, further research is
support several technical and tactical actions in combat, it warranted to substantiate this idea.
does not determine success in international competition. The field-based tests used to assess speed and agility in
The available sit-up and push-up test data provide lim- the literature may be criticised on the basis that they lack
ited insight into the muscular endurance characteristics of mechanical specificity to many of the technical and tactical
taekwondo athletes. Further studies are required into the actions performed in the sport. To this end, several research
muscle endurance characteristics of taekwondo athletes in groups have attempted to incorporate speed assessments
relation to age, sex, competition level and weight catego- that are more specific to the technical actions performed in
ries to permit effective conditioning for different popula- taekwondo [91–93]. Using an electronic dual-beam timing
tions within the sport. Coaches and scientists should system, Pieter and Pieter [91] reported faster kicking
consider examining the endurance properties of a range of speeds in male compared with female athletes (e.g. turning
muscle groups and actions that are functionally relevant to kick 15.5 ± 2.3 vs. 13.79 ± 1.6 m s-1, respectively), and
the technical and tactical actions performed in combat. they observed that kick speed was dependent upon the type
Indeed, the available data are limited to relatively simple of kicking technique (e.g. turning kick 15.5 ± 2.3 vs. side
field-based assessments of the trunk and upper-extremity kick 6.87 ± 0.4 m s-1 in male athletes). In contrast, Ja-
muscles. A variety of alternative field tests are available for kubiak and Saunders [93] used a digital timer and mounted
the assessment of the endurance properties of different floor and kick pad sensors to determine the effectiveness of
muscle groups. Most of the available testing methods elastic conditioning on the development of turning kick
involve performing repetitions to failure, with loads set at a speed. The authors reported a 7 % increase in turning kick
percentage of the individual’s body mass, at a percentage speed as a consequence of the 4-week training intervention.
of 1RM or as an absolute load [87]. Falco et al. [92] developed a specialised device, comprising
a force platform and pressure sensors integrated into the
body amour of a manikin, to measure the turning kick
7 Speed and Agility speed of competitive and non-competitive taekwondo ath-
letes. Faster turning kick speeds were reported for the
Speed may be defined as the shortest time required for an competitive athletes (0.254 ± 0.057 s) than for their non-
object to move along a fixed distance and incorporates two competitive counterparts (0.317 ± 0.100 s) [92]. While
important phases, acceleration (the rate of change in speed these studies [91–93] have endeavoured to enhance the
up to the point at which maximum speed is reached) and specificity of speed assessment in taekwondo, a lack of
maintenance (the speed that is maintained for the remain- conformity in both the testing methods and the equipment
der of the distance of interest) [88]. In contrast, agility may limit the efficacy of data comparisons between studies and
be defined as a rapid whole-body movement with a change their usefulness as a framework for athlete preparation.
of velocity or direction in response to a given stimulus (e.g. Furthermore, the reliability and validity of such measure-
incorporates both deceleration and acceleration phases) ments and/or devices have seldom been reported.
[89]. A limited number of studies have examined the speed Researchers and sports scientists may therefore wish to
characteristics of taekwondo athletes using conventional consider developing valid, reliable and practical tests to
field-based testing methods, including 20-m sprint [5, 74], assess the speed and agility of taekwondo athletes.
30-m sprint [40] and 6-s sprint tests [90]. The limited
available data demonstrate that successful male (30-m
sprint—medallists: 4.62 ± 0.41 s vs. non-medallists: 8 Flexibility
4.81 ± 0.51 s) [40] and female (20-m sprint—medallists:
3.6 ± 0.2 s vs. non-medallists: 3.81 ± 0.1 s) [5] compet- Flexibility may be defined as the range of motion (ROM) at
itors perform faster sprint times than their less successful a single joint or a series of joints [94]. Taekwondo is a

123
Physical Characteristics of Taekwondo Athletes 729

Table 8 Flexibility of taekwondo athletes as measured by the sit- greater flexibility in females [8, 27, 29]. No differences in
and-reach test (data are presented as mean ± SD) sit-and-reach test scores were identified between junior and
Athlete characteristics (n) Sit-and-reach References senior club athletes [90].
(cm) However, junior taekwondo practitioners demonstrate a
tendency to elicit lower sit-and-reach test scores than most
Males
seniors (Table 8). These differences should be acknowl-
Recreational (14) 53.2 ± 6.6 Thompson and
Vinueza [103] edged when developing preparatory strategies for different
Recreational Toskovic et al. [27] populations within the sport.
Novice (7) 31.7 ± 9.7 The available data on the flexibility of taekwondo ath-
Experienced (7) 39.1 ± 4.3
letes are mostly limited to sit-and-reach test measurements,
Czech international (11) 36.9 ± 4.5 Heller et al. [8]
which provide a reasonably valid assessment of hamstring
flexibility, but a less valid indication of low-back flexion
Puerto Rican 36.0 ± 9.1 Rivera et al. [29]
international (13) ROM [96]. Several research groups have attempted to
Malaysian club athletes Suzana and Pieter [90] assess the ROM in other joints using less conventional
Senior (10) 16.83 ± 6.54 methods, such as front [40] and side [27, 40, 97] leg split
Junior (10) 17.20 ± 3.19 tests. The limited available data demonstrate that experi-
Females enced male taekwondo athletes display superior side leg
Recreational Toskovic et al. [27] split test performances when compared with novice tae-
Novice (7) 37 ± 7.2
kwondo athletes (152.3 ± 27.2° vs. 115.3 ± 8.3°, respec-
Experienced (7) 35.9 ± 6.2
tively) [27], and successful male taekwondo competitors
Czech international (12) 37.9 ± 3.4 Heller et al. [8]
produce superior front leg split test scores when compared
with their less successful counterparts (medallists:
Puerto Rican 35.2 ± 6.0 Rivera et al. [29]
international (9) 90.4 ± 8.8 cm vs. non-medallists: 82.0 ± 7.6 cm) [40].
Croatian international Markovic et al. [5] Although this is an important step towards enhancing the
Medallists (6) 54.8 ± 4.5 specificity of ROM assessment in taekwondo, more
Non-medallists (7) 56.6 ± 5.2 extensive research is required into the validity and reli-
Junior recreational (21) Kim et al. [19] ability of such measurements before being implemented
Pre-training 16.2 ± 7.0^
more widely to assess and monitor the flexibility of athletes
Post-training 18.2 ± 6.4
in the field. Given the nature of the technical actions per-
formed in taekwondo, there is clearly scope for more direct
Statistically significant difference presented within the study and comprehensive assessments of the flexibility of tae-
(p \ 0.05): ^ Pre- vs. post-training
kwondo athletes. Indeed, the use of clinical goniometry
International athletes who compete at international level, Recrea-
tional non-competitive and/or club practitioners, SD standard may permit more direct assessment of the ROM across an
deviation array of joints that are functionally important to the tech-
nical actions in taekwondo [94].

dynamic activity in which the movements require a large


ROM, especially in the lower limbs [95]. The most widely 9 Conclusions and Future Research
used test to assess the flexibility of taekwondo athletes is
the sit-and-reach test (Table 8). The last few decades have witnessed considerable interest
The sit-and-reach test scores reported for senior inter- in the scientific study of taekwondo, and numerous
national taekwondo athletes ranged between 36–36.9 cm research groups have described the physical and physio-
for males and 35.2–56.6 cm for females. These scores lie logical profiles of the athletes [5, 7–9, 14, 16, 27, 35, 40,
within the 80th and 70–100th percentile ranks for males 97]. International taekwondo athletes possess low levels of
and females aged 20–29 years [31]. These high flexibility body fat and a somatotype that characterises a blend of
scores may be a consequence of the adaptations caused by moderate musculoskeletal tissue and relative body linear-
specific taekwondo training and the functional require- ity. While the VO2max of taekwondo athletes is somewhat
ments of the technical actions in the sport [19]. While variable, the available data suggest that moderate to high
flexibility may be important in this context, it does not levels of cardio-respiratory fitness are necessary to support
appear to discriminate between athletes’ level of compet- the metabolic demands of fighting and to facilitate recovery
itive success [5]. Female athletes demonstrate a higher between consecutive matches. Taekwondo athletes dem-
range of sit-and-reach scores than males (Table 8), but onstrate high peak anaerobic power characteristics of the
within-study comparisons provide little evidence to suggest lower limbs and this attribute appears to be conducive to

123
730 C. A. Bridge et al.

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