Physiological Demands of Competitive Taekwondo

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Taekwondo has evolved from a traditional martial art into a modern-day Olympic combat sport. Despite this transition, knowledge of the physiological demands of this combat sport is in its infancy. This thesis investigates the physiological demands of competitive Taekwondo using experienced male international Taekwondo competitors. Physiological measures and activity profile information were initially collected in championship Taekwondo competition to determine the fundamental physiological demands of this combat sport. The activity profile of championship Taekwondo combat elicited near-maximal heart rate (HR) responses and high blood lactate concentrations. The activity levels and physiological responses (e.g. HR and blood lactate) increased significantly between round 1 and 3 of combat. These data collectively suggest that the activity pattern of Taekwondo combat imposes high aerobic and anaerobic demands on the competitors, and these energetic requirements are increased as the rounds progress. The activity profile in championship combat was also modulated by a competitor’s weight division. Most notably, the data highlighted a predominance of fighting activity for heavy weights, and longer preparatory actions and less frequent fighting exchanges for feather weights. A Taekwondo competition simulation was devised and implemented to examine the physiological and hormonal responses to Taekwondo combat in simulated and championship settings. The championship Taekwondo combats elevated the physiological (e.g. HR, plasma lactate, glucose and glycerol) and hormonal responses (e.g. plasma adrenaline and noradrenaline) in comparison to simulated combats performed in a controlled setting. These divergent responses were evident even though both combat settings exhibited comparable activity profiles. This suggests that the contrasting physiological and hormonal responses were mediated by the stress responses to fighting in championship events. The physiological and hormonal responses to performing successive Taekwondo combats were examined during a simulated championship event. Performing four combats in an ecologically valid competition time-structure modulated the physiological and hormonal responses to combat and perturbed homeostasis between the combats. Most notably, the successive combats resulted in reduced plasma noradrenaline and lactate responses to combat and increased HR responses earlier in combat. These responses may reflect a change in the activity of the competitors’ and/or altered metabolic function in favour of an increased reliance on aerobic metabolism and diminished anaerobic energy yield as the combats are repeated. Importantly, the HR and plasma concentrations II of glycerol, NEFA and lactate remained elevated above baseline levels between a number of the repeated combats. This suggests that the recovery processes were often incomplete between the combats. The collective findings of these investigations demonstrate that Taekwondo is an intermittent combat sport that elicits high demands upon both aerobic and anaerobic metabolism. The physiological requirements of Taekwondo combat may be regulated by a multitude of competition factors including a competitor’s weight division, the round of combat and performing successive combats with different recovery intervals. Taekwondo combat also activates the sympathetic-adrenal-medulla promoting the release of stress hormones (catecholamines) into the circulation. The stress-hormonal responses are mediated by the specific combat environment and the requirement to perform repeated combats within a single day. These original findings may serve as a valuable ergonomic framework to prepare competitors’ for the specific requirements of Taekwondo competition.
Date of Award1 Jun 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University


  • Taekwondo
  • combat sport
  • physiological responses
  • hormonal responses
  • activity profile
  • competition
  • training
  • metabolism
  • physiology
  • intermittent exercise

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