Combat Sports Research Summary

Today, I’ve assembled a handful of articles looking at 1) tools/methods for assessing training loads in combat sports (specifically Judo) as well as 2) applications of the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) as an injury screening tool in MMA and BJJ. Enjoy.

Fitness (measuring training loads):


1. Agostinho, M. F., Philippe, A. G., Marcolino, G. S., Pereira, E. R., Busso, T., Candau, R. B., & Franchini, E. (2015). Perceived Training Intensity and Performance Changes Quantification in Judo. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29(6), 1570-577. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000777



  • In young, male judoka competing at regional/state level, rate of perceived exertion (RPE) appears to be a valid method for monitoring training load. This result matches up well with similar results in young basketball players, but contrasts with findings in young soccer players. As indicated in this study, RPE has a variable correlation to heart rate and other measurements of load depending on the activity in question. The above study gives us one piece of evidence that using RPE in combat sports might be useful, but it’s probably safe to say that the jury is still out on what “the best” method may be for measuring training load (assuming there is one).
  • Increased training load as measured by RPE seems to correlate moderately well with increased performance in competition (as defined by points earned per level). This indicates that incorporating more high-intensity work into the training of young judoka may improve their capacity for competition, which, while not very surprising, could certainly prove useful.

2. Franchini, E., Brito, C. J., Fukuda, D. H., & Artioli, G. G. (2014). The Physiology of Judo-Specific Training Modalities. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(5), 1474-481. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000281
(abstract) (full text)


  • Uchikomi, nage-komi, and randori can all offer aerobic and anaerobic conditioning benefits in addition to their technical benefits – coaches should manipulate intensity, work:rest ratios, technique choice (since, for instance, morote-seoi-nage requires more energy expenditure than o-uchi-gari), and total duration as appropriate to achieve the desired training load.
  • Heart rate has not been shown to be an accurate measure of intensity in these activities. Taken in light of the results of the study discussed above, that might mean that we should consider using RPE instead of HR to determine load for judoka. However, this is still definitely up for debate.
  • Randori is typically less demanding than competition, so other high-intensity training may be needed to build up the capacity an athlete will need to be able to compete at a high level. This might (and likely should) include high-intensity training modalities that are non-Judo-specific, as well as modalities that are more specific to the sport, such as max-effort/max-speed uchikomi.

Injuries (injury screening tools):


3. Bodden, J. G., Needham, R. A., & Chockalingam, N. (2015). The Effect of an Intervention Program on Functional Movement Screen Test Scores in Mixed Martial Arts Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29(1), 219-225. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e3182a480bf

(abstract) (full text)


  • Standardized intervention can improve FMS scores in MMA athletes over an 8-week period. Whether or not an improved FMS score correlates to decreased rate of injury in this population has yet to be shown, to my knowledge, but this study does show that scores can be improved by following the FMS’ recommended intervention(s).
  • Shoulder mobility and active straight leg raise (ASLR) showed more frequent low scores/asymmetries across all participants. This might be due to training/sport demands – overdeveloped anterior shoulder musculature plus kyphotic defensive posture, commonly seen in striking sports (discussed in more detail here) could lead to shoulder mobility issues; hamstring tightness, poor lumbopelvic stability, and use of contralateral hip ER while kicking could contribute to poor ASLR scores. The authors note that incorporating overly sport-specific exercises (e.g. punching w/ cables) might contribute to these issues by feeding into those same patterns.

4. Del Vecchio, F. B., Gondim, D. F., & Arruda, A. C. (2016). Functional Movement Screening Performance of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Athletes From Brazil. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30(8), 2341-2347. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000001324

(abstract) (full text)


  • Good news – more demographic data regarding injuries in combat athletes, including locations of injuries received both in training and competition, as well as a small sample of FMS scores.
  • Bad news (kind of) – the authors evaluated the athletes’ FMS scores after the period of time in which athletes reported that they had been injured. In other words, they used the FMS retrospectively, not prospectively, so these results do not directly support using the FMS as a predictive test for BJJ athletes. The authors did, however, discover a relationship between previous injury and low FMS score, which is still interesting. This might be due to motor control changes after injury (as discussed broadly here), compensatory/sport-specific movement patterns (as discussed above), different load management strategies due to injury status, etc.
  • The other bad news: BJJ athletes are apparently kind of terrible at the FMS – nearly all scores for the 33 participants were “near, but predominantly below” the usual injury cutoff score of 14. This makes it a bit more difficult to say with confidence which individual athletes with scores under 14 are actually at risk for an injury.

In conclusion: Internal measures of load (rate of perceived exertion, heart rate) are a convenient way to track training load, and may have some application in Judo and potentially other combat sports. However, their usefulness may vary enough depending on the specific activity that we might need to look elsewhere to get a more accurate picture. The Functional Movement Screen identifies some interesting trends among combat athletes, but has not been shown to be all that useful for actually predicting injuries in this population, at least as of yet.

That’s all for today! If you have questions about any of these articles, want to read more about a particular topic, or have suggestions for future topics, drop me a line. Thanks for reading.


  1. Amtmann, J. A. & Berry, S. (2003). Strength and conditioning for reality fighting. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 25(2), 67-72.
  2. Lephart, S. M., Pincivero, D. M., Giraido, J. L., & Fu, F. H. (1997). The Role of Proprioception in the Management and Rehabilitation of Athletic Injuries. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 25(1), 130-137. doi:10.1177/036354659702500126
  3. Lupo, C., Tessitore, A., Gasperi, L., & Gomez, M. (2017). Session-RPE for quantifying the load of different youth basketball training sessions. Biology of Sport, 34(1), 11–17. doi:10.5114/biolsport.2017.63381
  4. Rodríguez-Marroyo, J. A., & Antoñan, C. (2015). Validity of the Session Rating of Perceived Exertion for Monitoring Exercise Demands in Youth Soccer Players. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 10(3), 404-407. doi:10.1123/ijspp.2014-0058
  5.  Scott, B. R., Lockie, R. G., Knight, T. J., Clark, A. C., & Jonge, X. A. (2013). A Comparison of Methods to Quantify the In-Season Training Load of Professional Soccer Players. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 8(2), 195-202. doi:10.1123/ijspp.8.2.195

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