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Physical and Physiological Profile of Elite Karate Athletes

Abstract

This review focuses on the most important physical and physiological characteristics of karate athletes from the available scientific research. It has been established that karate’s top-level performers require a high fitness level. Top-level male karate athletes are typified by low body fat and mesomorphic-ectomorphic somatotype characteristics. Studies dealing with body composition and somatotype of females are scarce. Aerobic capacity has been reported to play a major role in karate performance. It prevents fatigue during training and ensures the recovery processes during rest periods between two subsequent bouts of fighting activity within a fight and between two consecutive matches. It has been established that there is no significant difference between male and female kata (forms) and kumite (sparring/combat) athletes with regard to aerobic performance. Nevertheless, further studies are needed to support these findings. Concerning anaerobic performance, there is a difference in maximal power explored by the force-velocity test between national and international level karatekas (karate practitioners) but, for the maximum accumulated oxygen deficit test there is no difference between them. Muscle explosive power plays a vital role in a karateka’s capacity for high-level performance. However, it has been revealed that vertical jump performance, maximal power and maximal velocity differed between national- and international-level karatekas. Moreover, it has been reported that karate performance relies more on muscle power at lower loads rather than higher ones. Thus, karate’s decisive actions are essentially dependent on muscle explosive power in both the upper and lower limbs. With regard to dynamic strength, limited research has been conducted. The maximal absolute bench press, half-squat one-repetition maximum and performance of isokinetic tasks differed significantly between highly competitive and novice male karatekas. Studies on female karate athletes do not exist. Concerning flexibility, which is important for the execution of high kicks and adequate range of action at high speeds, it has been demonstrated that karate athletes’ ranges of bilateral hip and knee flexion are greater compared with non-karate athletes. Finally, reaction time is a crucial element in karate because high-level performance is based essentially on explosive techniques. A significant difference in the choice reaction time between high-level and novice karatekas exists. Further research is needed concerning the physiological characteristics of female karatekas, the differences between kata and kumite athletes and variations based on weight categories.

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Acknowledgements

The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Tunis, Tunisia, has partially financially participated in the preparation of this manuscript. The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare that are directly relevant to the content of this review.

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Chaabène, H., Hachana, Y., Franchini, E. et al. Physical and Physiological Profile of Elite Karate Athletes. Sports Med 42, 829–843 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03262297

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Keywords

  • Bone Mineral Density
  • Choice Reaction Time
  • Simple Reaction Time
  • Weight Category
  • Bench Press