Research Review

Self defence or art? You choose

Title: Analysis of Acute Cardiovascular Responses in Experienced Practitioners of Capoeira
Author: Dr. Silva and colleagues (Institute Federal De Educação, Brazil)
Source: Journal of Exercise Physiology Online, 15(6): 119-119. 2012.

Introduction: There are so many Brazilians up here on the Gold Coast (many of them students at my university) that I’ve been inspired to go with a Latin theme with this Research Review. As a traditional martial artist (37 years studying – you’d think I’d have mastered it by now!), capoeira is not what I would refer to as a ‘typical’ or ‘traditional’ martial art. Dr Silva from the Institute Federal De Educação in Brazil describes capoeira as components of traditional karate/self defence with kicks, leg sweeps, knee strikes, takedowns and elbow punches – and it also incorporates gymnastics movements and street dance techniques. Furthermore, capoeira is a fast and versatile dance-like martial art from Brazil that integrates theatrical and acrobatic body expressions and which requires balance, strength, agility and endurance. Given practitioners frequently kick above the head of their opponent/partner, I would include flexibility as a necessity! If you are unfamiliar with capoeira, I recommend you type ‘The best capoeira video ever’ into YouTube.

Surprisingly, there is limited scientific research involving the physiological responses and health benefits of martial arts (taekwondo, karate, kung fu, judo) so it is pleasing to see that Dr Silva and colleagues have contributed to the literature with their findings on participation in capoeira.

Methodology: A total of 30 healthy male (n=24) and female (n=6) experienced capoeira practitioners (five years plus) volunteered to take part in this study which involved participation in an advanced capoeira class consisting of three capoeira rhythms: Angola, Banguela and São Bento. According to the authors, Angola is a slower paced rhythm which represents capoeira in its earliest and most historical form. Banguela is an intermediary rhythm that is medium-to-fast paced and is generally used to train technical kicks, takedowns, sweeps and fakes. Lastly, São Bento is a fighting rhythm that represents the martial art aspect of capoeira as it incorporates aggressive movements. It is fast paced and incorporates upright movements, takedowns, sweeps and strong defences. In terms of outcome measures, heart rate was assessed using Polar heart rate telemetry monitors, and blood pressure was assessed via the auscultation method (i.e. sphygmomanometer and stethoscope).

Results: All three forms of capoeira resulted in a systolic blood pressure increase ranging from (approximately) a minimum of +17mmHg in Angola to a maximum of +23mmHg in São Bento. There was no statistically significant difference in increased systolic blood pressure between the three groups. With regard to changes that occurred in diastolic blood pressure, there were minimal changes with all three forms resulting in a +0.5 to +0.75mmHg increase in diastolic blood pressure. This is surprising given the number of handstand movements incorporated into capoeira; however, the measurement of blood pressure was taken at the conclusion of training. A study by Washington State University reported a +25mmHg increase in diastolic blood pressure in a group of subjects exposed to inversions compared to a sitting position.

With regard to heart rate, all three forms resulted in a significant increase in heart rate. Angola increased heart rate by approximately 80bpm, this was followed by Banguela which increased heart rate by approximately 90bpm and São Bento which increased to the greatest degree by approximately 110bpm. There was a significant difference (p<0.001) between groups.

Pros: A beneficial study demonstrating the cardiovascular benefits associated with a single bout of capoeira training. A good follow-up study for these investigators would be a 12-week training study to document the cardiovascular improvements associated with capoeira. I would also include health outcome measures of lipids (total cholesterol, high density lipoproteins, low density lipoproteins and triglycerides), blood pressure, aerobic capacity (VO2max) and fasting plasma glucose.

Hot off the press (16(2): 112-116, 2013): Dr Silva and colleagues recently published a follow-up study on capoeira and concluded that the Angola form is the preferable activity for health promotion. In this follow-up study, experienced capoeira practitioners (average age 18 years) attained the highest exercise heart rates (~198bpm) in the Sao Bento form and slightly lower in the Banguela form. Therefore, the authors stated that due to the higher heart rates associated with both Banguela and São Bento rhythms, caution should be used when practicing these two forms.

Cons: Blood pressure should have been assessed with either a Finapress or Portapres (ambulatory blood pressure monitors that are worn on the fingertip while exercising). As it was, the study’s measurement of blood pressure via auscultation would have necessitated a 30- to 45-second delay from completion of exercise, which would have allowed the blood pressure to recover and hence the (most likely) lower blood pressure response reported.

Dr Mike is supported in writing his Research Reviews by Human Kinetics.


Associate Professor Mike Climstein, PhD FASMF FACSM FAAESS AEP
Dr Mike is the program director of Clinical Exercise Science and co-director of the Water Based Research Unit at the Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine at Bond University, QLD. He is recognised as one of Australia’s leading accredited exercise physiologists working with patients suffering from a wide array of chronic diseases and disorders. For more information on this, or any recent Research Reviews, email michael_climstein@bond.edu.au.

Joe Walsh, MSc
Joe is a highly experienced sport and exercise scientist, currently working as a principle investigator on a series of observational studies investigating the demographics of various cohorts of master athletes. Joe’s research interests include mathematical modelling, in particular use of Monte Carlo Methods and Markov Chains for modelling sports performance. He and Dr Mike have authored many scientific publications with findings presented at international conferences in Europe, Asia and North America.

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