Aerobic vs. Anaerobic capacity in karate – Part 2

In the previous post, we discussed the aerobic system and its contribution in supporting our performance. We also mentioned its contribution related to kata and kumite performance. Besides the fact that both are karate disciplines, each one relies on the energy system in a slightly different manner.

In this post, we will talk about how the anaerobic system fits in the equation called, kata of kumite, and what is the benefit of building an anaerobic capacity, and to what extent?


What does it mean to exercise anaerobically anyway?

It is essential to understand that when talking about anaerobic energy systems we can speak of anaerobic glycolytic and phosphocreatine one. The first one is related to the breakdown of glucose, lactate production and subminimum/max continue activities that last between 30 and  45 seconds.

On the other side, we have a phosphocreatine energy system. This energy system gets mobilized during small explosive busts for a limited amount of time, up to 10 sec. Some agree that the phosphagen system could support an intensive activity for up to 30 minutes. Usually, we can get this through proper nutrition and supplementation.

Glycolytic or phosphagen? Which one do we need more? Should we focus on both equally, or give more attention to a particular one?

In my opinion, the answer lies in the question: Are you a kata or kumite competitor? If you compete in both, then you should ask Junior Lefevre. He is the one that has been successful in kata and kumite. However, you might find some good info here as well.

Let’s try to dissect the kata and kumite performance, and try to see what are we dealing with.

Kata vs. Kumite

Muscle engagement defers when comparing kata and kumite performance. It seems that in kata the upper limbs get engaged continually throughout the whole performance. In kumite on the other hand, the upper limbs get involved periodically in an explosive attack or blocking in defense.

Kata or kumite, developing efficient anaerobic glycolytic and phosphocreatine system is essential for both, kata and kumite. However, from this perspective, a kumite competitor might focus more on increasing the efficacy of the phosphocreatine energy systems when talking about upper body strength qualities.

Unlike the upper body, the lower body is continuously occupied to get you in a better point position. For this reason, we should put equal attention to anaerobic glycolytic and phosphocreatine when choosing training modalities that affect mostly the lower limbs.

In kata, throughout the movement, the upper and lower limbs work together. A block or punch follow every move. For this reason, besides phosphocreatine, focusing on the anaerobic glycolytic energy system should be emphasized equally, for the lower and upper body.


Karate, power output, anaerobic glycolytic and phosphocreatine system

The anaerobic glycolytic capacity is related to the ability of the body to cope with lactate accumulation and sustain the ability to maintain high power output. Drop in power output depends on how fast the lactate level accumulation and the duration of the work.

The power output is the biggest at the beginning, in the first ten seconds, where your ATP and creatine phosphate get used, allowing your karate techniques to be powerful.

After this, there is a drop in power, that stays the same for the next 30-45 sec., which is a period where you depend on your glycolytic energy system. You break down glucose to make energy. You can still execute the powerful block, kick or punch in the middle of the match.

In the absence of oxygen, the byproduct of glucose, pyruvate, will accumulate and it will create lactate (usually known as lactic acid). As a result, your legs become heavy.

Becoming more efficient in recycling the lactic acid and increasing your anaerobic threshold is essential. Increasing your anaerobic threshold means you will start accumulation lactic acid later (have a look at the graph in the first post) and use it to produce energy.



Last time a checked, no one goes all out, continually for 45 seconds, once the referee starts the match. Then the question is: How much time do you need to dedicate in building your anaerobic capacity?

In kumite, you do not have continues high-intensity activity that lasts for 30 seconds. Not even 15 or 10 seconds. What we see in a kumite match is short 1s-5s action, followed by a more extended low-intensity period. One study looked at the dynamics of kumite matches, and they found out that the actual work to rest ratio is 1:7 during simulated and 1:11 during official events.


The information provided in this study can be used to reexamine our training practice and modify it accordingly. Many would say that karate is an anaerobic sport. From this perspective, it is reasonable to pay attention to building a strong aerobic system to support our work and help us recover after each 1s-5s burst. This will postpone the lactic acid accumulation and help sustain a reasonable power output throughout the match. It also means that the creatine phosphate system will play a significant role, which is the energy system responsible for supporting short, powerful activity under 10 sec.

More efficient aerobic system (aerobic glycolytic) will prevent excess buildup of pyruvate that body can use to create more ATP through the Krebs Cycle. So slower accumulation of pyruvate results in lower level of lactic acid.


In kata, we have a slightly different scenario. You can’t stop, have a break and shake your legs and arms. Depending on the kata you perform it can be more or less demanding. Again, both, anaerobic glycolytic and phosphocreatine energy system support the performance, but the demand is slightly higher for the glycolytic. For this reason, the training modalities related to anaerobic capacity should focus on the development of the anaerobic glycolytic energy system where upper and the lower body get equal attention.


Wrapping everything up

We can say that the anaerobic energy systems support karate performance. Those anaerobic energy systems are phosphocreatine and anaerobic glycolytic, and both are more or less important. The first supports high-intensity activities for 10-15 seconds, and the other, high-intensity activities that last between 30-45 seconds.

However, we are talking about continues activities, and in kata or kumite, we usually find different dynamic where the energy systems get targeted slightly different. For this reason, the training modalities we use should be appropriate and reflect what is happening on the tatami.

How you can target and develop both anaerobic energy systems, you will have a chance to find out in the next post. I will share some easy to use and practical examples specific to karate.

Until next week, share your thought and ideas in the comments.


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