Metabolic and Cardiorespiratory Responses to the Performance of Wing Chun and T'ai Chi Chuan Exercise D. Schneider andR. Leung Human Performance Laboratory, Department of Health, Sport, and Leisure Studies, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115, USA


D. Schneider and R. Leung, Metabolic and Cardiorespiratory Responses to the Performance of Wing Chun and T'ai Chi Chuan Exercise. Tnt J Sports Med, Vol 12,No3,pp319—323, 1991. Accepted: September 10, 1990

The primary purpose of this study was to examine the metabolic and cardiorespiratory responses to the

continuous performance of Wing Chun and T'ai Chi

Chuan exercise. No significant differences in VO2max or HRmax obtained during treadmill exercise were found between the practitioners of the two styles. Average values for 'min — 1(6.6 oxygen uptake (V02) were 23.3 7.5 mlkg

METS) and 16.0 3.9 mFkg 1min —'(4.6 METS) for Wing Chun and T'ai Chi Chuan exercise, respectively. Mean heart rates obtained during exercise were 137 25

beatsmin 'Wing Chun and 116 22 beatsmin 1for T'ai Chi Chuan exercise. These exercise values corresponded to 52.4% of VO2max and 70.5% of HRmax for Wing Chun and only 36.4% of VO2max and 59.8% of HRmax for T'ai Chi Chuan exercise. Thus, only the continuous performance of Wing Chun exercise elicited V02 and HR responses that would be expected to bring about a cardiorespiratory training effect in subjects with a relatively low initial VO2max. The ventilatory equivalent for oxygen (VE/ V02) obtained during T'ai Chi Chuan exercise (21.7) was significantly lower than for Wing Chun exercise (24.2),

suggesting that T'ai Chi practitioners utilize efficient breathing patterns during exercise. Both Wing Chun and T'ai Chi Chuan styles may have a small static component that produces a slightly elevated heart rate relative to metabolic load when compared to traditional aerobic activities. However, the effect was not severe and these forms of exercise should not be considered dangerous for individuals at high risk for cardiovascular disease. Key words

Oxygen uptake, martial arts, T'ai Chi Chuan, Wing Chun

EntJ.SportsMed. 12(1991)319—323 GeorgThieme Verlag StuttgartNewYork

An important part of training in the martial arts is the performance of a prearranged sequence of arm and leg techniques (blocks, strikes, kicks, and sweeps) generally referred to as form. Only two studies have investigated the heart rate (HR) response to the repeated performance of selected types of formalized Japanese karate exercise (4, 6). In addition, Shaw and Deutsch (5) examined both the metabolic and HR responses to a Japanese form performed continuously at two different paces. Two other investigations examined the physiological responses to traditional Chinese T'ai Chi Chuan forms (2, 7). Only Shaw and Deutsch (5) compared HR and VO2 responses to maximal exercise values.

The primary purpose of the present study was to examine the metabolic and cardiorespiratory responses to two different types of Chinese martial arts. These styles represent two ends of a physical performance continuum. The Wing Chun style is executed with rapid, forceful striking and kicking movements with forced expirations timed with punching and kicking in an attempt to achieve maximum power. T'ai Chi, on the other hand, is a Chinese martial art that is thought to develop balance and coordination as well as enhanceemotional and mental health. Contrary to other forms of martial arts, arm movements in T'ai Chi are executed with minimal muscle tension and are coordinated with leg movements in a slow, relaxed, and flowing movement pattern. The practice of formalized T'ai Chi Chuan exercise is thought to promote relaxation (2, 7). The present investigation will add to the limited body of knowledge concerning the physiological demands associated

with the practice of formalized Wing Chun and T'ai Chi Chuan exercise.


Subjects Twenty male volunteer martial arts practitioners who were enrolled in a Chinese martial arts school or club served as subjects in the present study. Ten subjects were selected from the T'ai Chi and 10 from the Wing Chun styles.

Medical clearance and written informed consent were obtained for each subject prior to participation in the study. Table 1 presents the average age, height, weight, and training experience for the subjects. Age was the only general descriptive variable that was significantly different for the two groups. T'ai Chi practitioners were significantly older than the Wing Chun subjects. There was a tendency for the T'ai Chi subjects to have greater training experience than the Wing Chun sub-

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mt. J. Sports Med. 12(1991) Table 1

D. Schneider andR. Leung

Description of the subjects

Martial Arts Style

Age (yrs)






35.5 3.9



Weight (kg)

Training Experience (months)

70.6 10.9

50.2 24.0

73.7 9.4

81.6 40.8

Wing Chun

(n=10) Mean

SD T'ai Chi

(n=10) Mean SD


* Significance (p < 0.05)

jects, but the difference was not statistically significant (p > 0.05). The subjects were proficient in their respective martial arts style and routinely practiced the forms examined in this study.

Maximal exercise test

Each subject performed a continuous incremental test to volitional exhaustion on a Quinton treadmill using a modified Bruce Protocol. The modified Bruce Protocol consisted of three-minute work stages, starting with 1 .7

mph and 0% grade. During the exercise test, the subject breathed through a mouthpiece attached to a turbine device. The subject's expired gas was continuously sampled by a SensorMedics Horizon 4400 metabolic cart for breath-by-breath determination of metabolic and ventilatory variables. Determination of maximal values for oxygen uptake (VO2max) and minute ventilation (VEmax) were made from a 1-mm running average of the data. Maximal oxygen uptake was represented as the highest V02 achieved during peak exercise as calculated by the SensorMedics metabolic cart. Heart rate data were recorded and calculated every minute and during maximal exercise using a Hewlett Packard electrocardiograph.

Determination of oxygen uptake, minute ventilation, and heart rate during the continuous performance of Wing Chun and T'ai Chi Chuan exercise The martial arts test was conducted no more than 7— 10 days after the maximal exercise test. Each student from the T'ai Chi and Wing Chun styles was instructed to perform the same form (prearranged sequence of blocking, striking, and kicking techniques) from his respective style. The exercise pace for each style was controlled by requiring that the

movements be completed in a specific period of time. The Wing Chun form took approximately one minute and 30 seconds to complete. All Wing Chun subjects were instructed to continuously repeat the form at this pace until all physiological measurements were obtained. In other words, the subject repeated the same form for about six minutes or until an adequate amount of mixed expired gas was collected. The entire T'ai Chi Chuan form would have required about 20 minutes to complete. This pace was adhered to as closely as possible by all T'ai Chi practitioners. In order to complete all physiological measurements with the subject in steady-state, each T'ai Chi

subject peformed about seven minutes of the T'ai Chi Chuan exercise.

During the exercise test, the subject breathed through a mouthpiece attached to a Collins triple "J" valve (supported by a head gear) that was connected to a two-way Rudolph valve by corrugated plastic tubing so that expired gas could be collected in a 100-liter Douglas bag. An assistant supported the apparatus and the Douglas bag in such a way that it did not add extra weight onto the subject nor hinder the sub-

ject's movements. The subjects did not have to modify their movements in order to accomodate the measurements. After an interval of four minutes and 30 seconds had been allowed for each subject to reach steady-state, the valve to the Douglas bag was opened to begin continuous collection of expired gases into the Douglas bag. Simultaneously, a timer was activated to determine the exact length of time that expired gases were collected in the Douglas bag. When the Douglas bag was filled to about 50—75% capacity, the valve to the Douglas bag was closed and the subject terminated exercise. A sample from the mixed expired gases in the Douglas bag was analyzed for fractional concentrations of oxygen and carbon dioxide using

the SensorMedics metabolic cart. The analyzers were calibrated prior to each sampling period using standard reference gases. The remaining volume of gas in the Douglas bag was then evacuated and measured by a 120-liter gasometer (Warren E. Collins model P- 1700). Minute expired ventilation (V6) was calculated by dividing the volume of expired air in liters

(the total amount evacuated into the Collins Gasometer plus the sample amount drawn off by the SensorMedics metabolic cart) by the exact period of time required to collect the expired gases in the Douglas bag. Standard metabolic formulas were used to calculate V02 and VCO2. Oxygen uptake during the execution of the form was also expressed as a percent of the previously determined VO2max. At the 30-second mark of each minute in which the subject's expired gases were being collected, the subject's

ECG was recorded and heart rate measured by telemetry (Hewlett Packard model 781 OOA transmitter, model 7810 1A receiver and model 78171 A recorder). The average of these

measurements was used as the subject's exercise heart rate. The heart rate determined during the performance of the form was also expressed as a percent of HRmax. Each subject from both styles repeated the entire formalized exercise test twice on the same day. The subjects rested a minimum of 20 mm between repeat trials. The subject's heart rate returned to the resting value before commencing the repeat trial. Mean metabolic and cardiorespiratory values obtained for trial one were not significantly different from the corresponding values determined for trial two. Therefore, VO, VQO2, Vr, and exercise HR values for each subject were calculated as the average of the two exercise trials. A t-test for dependent samples was used to examine test-retest reliability for the two exercise trials. The t-test for independent

samples was used to demonstrate whether the means for the two styles were significantly different. Statistical significance was accepted at the p < 0.05 level.

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mt. J. Sports Med. 12(1991) 321

Metabolic and Cardiorespiratory Responses to the Performance of Wing C'hun Table 2 Maximal oxygen uptake and maximum cardiorespiratory responses to treadmill running Martial Arts Style

VO2max (1mm


(mFkg 'imin


(1mm )

Table 3 Metabolic and cardiorespiratory responses to Wing Chun and Tai Chi Chuan exercise Martial Arts Style




Wing Chun Mean SD

3.05 0.43

43.4 4.0



194.0 10.0

3.23 0.42

44.3 6.6





T'Chi Mean SD

V02 (mlkgmin ' %VO2max METS

HR (beatmmn 1)


None of the differences between the two groups were found to be statistically significant at the p

Metabolic and cardiorespiratory responses to the performance of Wing Chun and T'ai Chi Chuan exercise.

The primary purpose of this study was to examine the metabolic and cardiorespiratory responses to the continuous performance of Wing Chun and T'ai Chi...
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