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Uchi-komi and rhythm: a winning blend?

This is an excerpt from Training and Conditioning for Judo by Aurelien Broussal-Derval.

TECHNICAL WORK AND PHYSICAL CONDITIONING: THESE ARE THE GOALS OF JUDOKAS' FUNDAMENTAL EXERCISE, UCHI-KOMI. HOWEVER, IF DONE TOO QUICKLY, THIS EXERCISE CAN END UP BEING COUNTERPRODUCTIVE. BUT WHAT IF EVERYTHING WERE A QUESTION OF RHYTHM?

Uchi-komi is an absolutely key component of judo training. We ascribe to it great benefits related to learning and technical development, as well as to the improvement of physical attributes (speed and endurance in particular). However, even focusing solely on the technical dimension, there's still no escaping the eternal battle between speed and accuracy. And when we add the element of physical work, fatigue can ultimately hamper your efforts.

Sometimes, this is where you see a bit of everything: A superb tsugi-ashi that impacts your opponent can quickly be transformed into a sad-looking side step that looks more like Zumba than judo.

But can we reconcile the technical and physical dimensions? Can we become fast and accurate and improve our endurance through uchi-komi? Since we are great fans of integrated physical training, we like to think so! Let's take a little detour and look at the concept of uchi-komi rhythm.

Uchi-Komi Rhythm

By uchi-komi rhythm, we mean the number of repetitions within an allotted time, for example, 25 uchi-komi in 30 sec. The rhythm depends on the technique used, the capabilities of each judoka, and the degree of resistance offered by Uke. We talk about optimum rhythm when the judoka cannot manage another repetition without the technical execution being impaired. With fatigue, the optimum rhythm may decrease.

Be wary of extrapolating: Being able to do 10 uchi-komi in 10 seconds does not necessarily mean that it's possible to do 60 uchi-komi in 1 minute. It is better to assess the rhythm using different timings, providing you with specific benchmarks for each movement and each number of repetitions.

Finally, it's worth noting that the subrhythm is not without interest: It can be beneficial for active recovery, as well as for tiny technical adjustments. As you vary your uchi-komi rhythm, you'll become aware of the physical and technical effectiveness of the method, and you may find yourself going so far as to vary the rhythm within the same set (slow-fast-slow, fast-slow-fast, for example).

What Does It Do?

This allows you to personalize your uchi-komi training. Instead of imposing a fixed number of repetitions for everyone, we establish a time frame (30 sec, for example) and each judoka knows the number of uchi-komi that he or she needs to perform according to the chosen technique.

In this way, everyone has a clear indicator of their training intensity, but also of his or her progress. Always remember that the quality of execution must remain the priority. If your technique deteriorates, you should stop the set.

Is It Relevant?

Yes, to the extent that the physiological adaptations are specific to the muscle actions used (Hather et al. 1991), the speed of movement (Kanehisa and Miyashita 1983), and the energy systems involved (Mac Dougall et al. 1998). Consequently, the concept of optimum rhythm can be a versatile tool, falling somewhere between technical and physical development.

How Can You Use It?

Step 1: Find Out Your Optimum Rhythm

All you have to do for this is count the number of (correctly executed) repetitions for a technique within a given time frame. Do an assessment for each exercise duration and for each technique that is part of your attack plan. We recommend you use the following 5 standard durations: 10, 20, 30, 45 sec, and 1 min.

Step 2: Develop Your Physical Condition

Then you can plan a routine depending on the desired goal: speed, endurance, or lactic. The benefit of a rhythm is that it gives you a tempo and a goal while helping you to see how you are working, whether too slow or too fast. As for the trainer or coach, it helps them assess the work the judoka puts in and how invested he or she is.

Examples

FORWARD-MOTION TECHNIQUES (with a half turn, as in seoi-nage or tai-otoshi)

FAST: 7 sec, 1 min of recovery. The number of repetitions depends on the judoka's skill and rotation capacity when performing these techniques; we generally include 6 to 10 reps

FAST-SLOW-FAST: 5 sec at high speed, immediately followed by 4 sec of slow recovery time and adjustments (about 2 movements), and then 5 sec at high speed

SLOW-FAST-SLOW: 5 sec of slow physical and rhythmic preparation, then 10 sec at full speed, and then 5 sec returning to a slower pace

BACKWARD-MOTION TECHNIQUES (such as o-soto-gari or tsugi-ashi basics)

FAST: 15 sec, 1 min of recovery time. The number of repetitions depends on the judoka's stride rate and skill level when performing these techniques; we generally include 10 to 20 reps

FAST-SLOW-FAST: 7 sec at high speed, immediately followed by 5 sec slow recovery time and adjustments (about 2 movements), and then 7 sec at high speed

SLOW-FAST-SLOW: 6 sec of slow physical and rhythmic preparation, then 15 sec at full speed, and then 5 sec returning to a slower pace

ALL MOVEMENTS

SESSION 1: 10 × 30 sec of effort with 20 sec of recovery time, 1 min of recovery time, 10 × 30 sec of effort with 10 sec of recovery time, 1 min of recovery time, 10 × 30 sec of effort for 15 sec of recovery time

SESSION 2: 15-15/20-20/30-30/40-40/30-30/20-20/15-15 pyramid 1 to 3 times, depending on your training level, with 2 min to recover between sets

SESSION 3: 3 to 6 × (6 × 30-30) at maximum intensity with 4 min of recovery time between sets

SESSION 4: 20 sec at maximum rhythm, 10 sec of passive recovery, 15 sec at maximum rhythm, 5 sec of passive recovery, 10 sec at maximum rhythm, 4 min of rest before the next set (2 to 6 sets in total)

SPEED

The uchi-komi sequences should be short (20 sec max) and the rhythm must be optimal (i.e., 10 sec for 10 uchi-komi). There may be an additional rep in one or two sets. The quality of movement must be the priority, otherwise your motor pattern may become affected. It is best to stop work once you cannot maintain the optimal rhythm in two consecutive sets (-2 repetitions compared to the optimal rhythm).

ENDURANCE

The sequences are long (minimum of 30 sec) and the rhythm is slower than for speed circuits (e.g., 40 reps in 45 sec). The rhythm must be maintained; you can be more lenient with the number of repetitions, but not with the quality of execution. Beyond 45 sec, the quality drops significantly. We do not recommend going longer than 60 sec.

LACTIC

Sequences are an average length. The optimal rhythm should be maintained for as long as possible, and a decrease in the number of repetitions likely indicates that fatigue is setting in.

THROWING IS THE GOAL!

Remember that uchi-komi helps you adjust your positioning in readiness for a throw. That's why the advice we give to all our judokas is as qualitative as it's always been: Plan your throw. We like to push this philosophy to its rightful conclusion by releasing the movement at the end of the set with a nage-komi as the very last repetition.