Aurélien Broussal Derval is an S&C coach that specialized in combat sports, working with both the British and Russian Olympic Judo teams. Aurélien has also worked as a coach in other sports, including volleyball and weightlifting.  In addition to coaching, Aurélien is a successful author, having published 9 books over the last 10 years (3 are available in English with Human Kinetics Publishers).

We had the opportunity to speak with Aurélien about his experiences. Here we summarize the chat, which covered topics as diverse as competition demands to the use of CrossFit, including insight into how HIIT can be used effectively in the sport of Judo.


HIIT Science: What are the physiological demands of a Judo fight?

Aurélien Broussal Derval (ABD): It is important to consider the general picture. The format of a judo competition is like a tournament where athletes compete several times a day. Specifically, to the fight, we could characterize it as a strength task repeated over 4 minutes at high intensity interspersed with some bouts of passive recovery varying in duration. This activity suggests a large anaerobic contribution with some lactatemia recorded between 12 and 20 mmol/L combined with an important neuromuscular contribution due the important level of strength involved. However, this task is repeated over time, suggesting an important contribution of the oxidative system also. However, those contributions can vary between individuals due to different combat styles and anthropometric characteristics.


HIIT Science: What is your approach to solving the programming puzzle for an elite Judo athlete?

ABD: It is important to consider that Judo fixtures are becoming similar to that which many team sport athletes experience. Indeed, elite judo athletes qualify for the main events (e.g. world championship, Olympics) through a ranking system. This suggests that athletes need to be ready to compete throughout the year. This leads to problems relating to traveling, recovery and also adaption, as periods of training (macrocycles) become shorter.

Despite the more congested fixture, I’m still able to use a three-step approach ranging from generic to specific strength and conditioning content. This is composed of 1) a preparation phase, 2) an oriented phase, and 3) a specific phase, which varies in duration based on the fixture (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Periodization plan example


HIIT Science: More specifically, what does each phase look like in practice?

ABD: Specifically, the preparation phase aims to develop physical qualities irrespective of the movement specific demands of the sport (or not as the main focus) in order to prepare our athletes. Specificity would then subsequently be addressed through training the appropriate energetic systems and neuromuscular targets. I am not using many judo exercises, but during this phase I will use more traditional HIIT weapons such as short/long intervals or repeated sprints with some variation in terms of the training modality (running, rowing, biking…) to target a specific physiological system, with volume and intensity tailored for Judo. During this phase, resistance training is also separated in order to limit any potential interference effect between endurance and strength development. The second oriented phase involves more specificity in terms of physiological targets but also in terms of modality. The third specific phase is where we use mainly the Judo activity as our HIIT weapon.

Within phases 2 and 3, we tend to be more specific, trying to replicate a sequence that can happen during a fight. I call this the “Hajime-mate model” which is composed of 4 components illustrated in the figure below.

Figure 2: Ajime Mate model


Due to more specificity, this suggests that the session targets several physiological systems at the same time (Type 4 session in HIIT Science language). Indeed, those sessions will combine heavy strength and power work following efforts involving the anaerobic and aerobic system. By manipulating the number of repetition and rest period, we can have more emphasis on the aerobic or anaerobic system. Figure 3 below shows an example of a session involved during this phase.

Figure 3:  HIIT session example


During phase 3, we use the activity of Judo itself as our HIIT weapon. Here we can easily make a parallel with the small-sided games approach used in team sports. Similarly, we could target different physiological systems by manipulating work:rest ratios, but also by varying the resistance involve during the fight (e.g. heavier vs. lighter athletes; 1 vs 2 with rotation, Ne waza vs tachiwaza). Here, the coach needs to be specific and have deep knowledge about the activity in order to appreciate context. This degree of knowledge allows the coach to finely manipulate the aerobic, anaerobic and neuromuscular load of the specific combat HIIT session. For example, working with three partners versus one makes the resistance more intense, increases the muscle recruitment, leading to isometric contraction repeated at high-intensity. Then obviously variables such as duration, work:rest ratio and so on will help to manipulate those physiological outcomes (for more examples see the nice video from Aurelien’s Work during the 2012 Olympic preparation with the British team).


HIIT Science: It seems that you use a similar combination of exercises to those observed during Crossfit workouts. What do you think about the sport and how do you use CrossFit in practice?

ABD: CrossFit is a sport in itself and not an S&C method. I think there are many things that can be used in practice from CrossFit variation. However, where we can make a difference as an S&C coach is by manipulating some key variables in order to have clear physiological goals compared to CrossFit, where it tends to be a bit more on an ‘all-or-nothing’ approach. In my day-to-day practice, I use some CrossFit variations using the model presented above.


HIIT Science: Combat is also an important part of some team sports such as handball or rugby. What would be your main advice when integrating combat activities as HIIT sessions?

ABD: First, I would suggest to have some emphasis on the ability to fall properly, suggesting more of a technical focus rather than HIIT per se, as well as working on grip technique. Those technical aspects would help athletes to be more efficient on the pitch through a better use of the energy required to perform those tasks.  Regarding HIIT itself, I would suggest using some combat form from the floor (Ne waza). This would allow 1) a very high-intensity due to the repeated isometric contraction and 2) be a safer approach regarding the risk of contact injury as the work is performed from the floor.


HIIT Science: Do you use any particular surveillance tools or tests to prescribe training in your context?

ABD: As mentioned earlier, it is really difficult to characterize precisely the exact physiological demands of combat sports due to the coercion between two individuals.  These considerations apply regarding training load monitoring. Like many practitioners, I use rating of perceived exertion (RPE) to monitor training load. This allows us to get some insight into the load the athlete experienced.

Regarding HIIT prescription, some specific testing exists to quantify the ability to replicate specific judo tasks. However, while this test looks appealing, several limitations exist, such as the use of only one specific technical movement, as well as anthropometric characteristics. Consequently, if necessary, I would suggest using a generic test such as the 30-15 IFT to get an idea of the fitness level of an athlete. However, based on your context, it may be better to not test due to the burden that can be involved relative to usefulness.


HIIT Science: We would like to thank Aurélien for his time, insight and thorough answers. If you want to follow his work, check out some of the useful links below:







Stay informed.

Join our mailing list to receive high-value free content from the HIIT Science team. We'll also keep you updated when course enrollments and new products become available.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Sign up for HIIT Science

Sign up for HIIT Science

Sign up to get access to free lessons from the HIIT Course and learn how to more effectively use HIIT for your sport.

Success! Please check your email for more information.


Be in the know

Join our private mailing list to to get access to free lessons from the HIIT Course and receive the latest HIIT Science information from our experts, curated by Paul Laursen and Martin Buccheit.

You have Successfully Subscribed!