Taekwondo Conditioning & The Law of Specificity – Step Away From The Treadmill!

TreadmillRecently I was asked to review an Strengh & Conditioning programme written for a full time Taekwondo athlete, by the athlete’s full time coach. Within the programme the coach was making the athlete do swimming a few times in a week!

I queried as to why swimming had been included within the programme, and the coach said to make the athlete “fitter” for competition… It was very apparent to me by this point that this coach had completely no idea about effective training and had really missed the point… Most importantly they must have never heard about the Law of Specifity!

Ok, so let’s turn the tables and set a scene.

An elite swimmer moving onto a new full time programme has been designated a new coach. The coach says to improve cardiovascular conditioning for the next event they want the athlete to do Taekwondo training a few times a week. The swimmer looks at the coach confused… get the idea?

The Law of Specifity dictates that the the specific nature of a training load produces its own specific response and adaptations. The exercise will have a very specific pattern of joint and muscle coordination.

The training load must be specific to both the individual athlete and the demands of their chosen event. This does not negate general training. General training prepares athletes for specific training. The greater the volume of general training, the greater the capacity is for specific training.

I constantly hear about and (often see) many different Taekwondo athlete’s training programmes and they all seem to be doing the same thing. Going to the gym and spending hours on a treadmill, cross-trainer or bike, running miles and miles outdoors in freezing weather conditions… and even occasionally swimming.

In past articles we have looked at energy sources for Taekwondo, how the body uses these energy sources for Taekwondo and the differing energy pathways and which ones we use in Taekwondo training and competition.

Recall Taekwondo athletes rely heavily on both the ATP-PCr and mainly the anaerobic glycolytic system. Running long distances and doing hours and hours on a cross-trainer works one thing… the aerobic oxidative system.

As mentioned in previous articles the aerobic oxidative energy system contribution is minimal and is involved only in ring movement and recovery mechanisms. On this basis road running and using gym apparatus such as a cross-trainer (and any other training modality directed at increasing aerobic capacity) may actually even be a negative factor to Taekwondo performance and may alter the other energy system adaptations.

Now I am in no way saying do not do these types of activity. Swimming is very good for the body as it takes away massive amounts of training stresses from the muscles and joints, can aid in recovery and can even be used as a specific means of training i.e. kicking in the water for resistance. The same applies for running whereas having a good aerobic base will help recovery. Track running is an excellent form of training for Taekwondo as well as weight loss and will be mentioned in future articles.

Just don’t rely on these methods as a mode of training for cardiovascular endurance within the Taekwondo ring.

So PLEASE… step away from the treadmill!!!

Please let me know what you thought of the article in the comments box and if there’s anything in particular you want to know, feel free to include that too.

10 thoughts on “Taekwondo Conditioning & The Law of Specificity – Step Away From The Treadmill!

  1. Richard Jones


    Im interested in the structure and content of a strength and conditioning program for an advanced taekwondo athlete, but not necessarily an advanced gym user. Can you offer any advice or guidance where i can find out more information or what a program should consist of?

    Many thanks


  2. David

    Hi Richard,

    We have many different programs for advanced Taekwondo athletes, all depending on where they are in their competition/training cycle.

    We will send you some info about what can be done for you directly.


  3. Sohail


    As i use the gym once a week, could you email me some information on the different equipments and exercises i can use/do to help reduce weight but also help with my kicking speed.

    Also any additional exercises which i can do at home.


  4. Jabster

    I have a tournament coming up on July 29th , I have been training really hard for it. I red your article about step away from Treadmills which made me disappointed but you clearly justified it and it makes sense . I do a lot of jump ropes up to 2500 every other day is that something I should do or not ? What other training’s would you recommend for a full time advanced TKD athlete ? Thank you

  5. Daran


    I completely agree with you. I recently began training an Olympic Tae Kwon Do hopeful and have completely changed his training style. He was hitting the weight room, swimming 3 times per week for his cardio and he was gaining weight. I now have him training with a version of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and using his body weight as resistance for a number of core exercises. His improvements are incredible.

    Specificity is definitely the key. I can’t train my Tae Kwon Do athlete exactly like I train one of my MLB clients (a pitcher), but I do need to keep the training volume and intensity the same.

    Thanks for the article.

  6. Martin


    In general I agree that competitive Taekwondo training should be geared towards the way competition works – especially catering for the anaerobic nature of high-intensity exertion. However, I believe cross- training is an important aspect of any athlete’s preparation. Balancing the high-intensity workouts with low impact exercise such as swimming, stretch classes – even yoga, dare I suggest it – can have positive effects on the body’s fast-twitch fibre recovery, circulation and lactic acid flushing. In addition, the mental rest that comes with doing something different and/or fun/social can be a refreshing aspect of one’s training regime and should not be underestimated.

    In my own experience I found significant improvement in my aneoribic base from combining running track interval sprint sessions with the same type of excercise in the pool, plus of course sparring and targeted core muscle weight training. The advantage of sprint swimming in particular is that it forces you to build respiratory fitness whilst exerting heavily as you cannot breath as easily — and therefore less oxygen to process at high-intensity (anaerobic). Butterfly is excellent for core muscle strengthening and breaststroke for inner leg strength. Any stroke at full speed will build full body conditioning. Of course, it requires an athlete to be a relatively competent swimmer/runner to benefit from such training – and importantly possess a substantial enough aerobic base in the first place to handle interval training with quick turn-arounds on a sustained basis. Leg speed, stamina and breathing control were much improved as a result of the balanced approach I chose.

    Balance in training is in my view the best way to avoid burnout and ensure it remains fun.


  7. Carl Post author

    Sohail & Jabster please e-mail us for some further information regarding your requests.

    Martin I think you missed the point….we arn’t suggesting that cross training isn’t an effective method of training (in fact we even encourage it) we have merely suggested that non specific forms of training are not the best (or only) way to condition for Taekwondo.

    I think you need to read the article again to get an idea of where we are coming from.

    1. David

      Hey DT,

      Thanks for stopping by and asking your question.

      For me, the best training you can do to build up endurance it Sprinting.

      Whether that’s on the running track over 100m or 200m, on rowing machine, on a sports pitch or even “sprint kicking”, it doesn’t matter.

      Doing any exercise as fast as you can in short bursts of time will kill you when you do it, and also dramatically increase your fitness and endurance in the shortest time possible.

      Look out for an article on this subject very soon 🙂


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