Keys To A Wrestling Strength and Conditioning Program
Three 2 minute periods (college: 3/2/2 mins) in a circle that is 28 feet in diameter (college: 32 feet) and just two wrestlers battling until one wins and one loses. I have always found wrestling unique compared to other sports, the demands of the activity are mentally and physically fatiguing. There are some days you will have to wrestle three or more matches and use every last bit of energy in your body. That’s why being prepared in every facet is critical for a wrestler.
Below, I listed the keys to a strength and conditioning program for a wrestler. There are multiple ways of going about coaching this sport, however, this is how I have found success.
The four keys:
Every sport requires some sort of mobility, for wrestling it is a tad different. Look no further than National Champion Yianni Diakomihalis. His ability to get into a split allows him to defend shots and actually score off of it. Yes, he is a freak of nature, but we can certainly learn from his abilities.
For wrestling in specific (obviously there are individual differences), there are two areas to cover with mobility.
Thoracic Spine (T-Spine): Due to the duration of being in a flexed thoracic position, a lot of wrestlers develop a kyphotic, “forward shoulder” posture. Not all, but many do. Just take a look at any wrestlers stance, they are hunched over in an effort to stay low to the ground.
Bench Thoracic Spine Mob is a great drill that targets not only the T-Spine, but also the lats and triceps. Click here for a video demonstration.
Hips: Just look again at the picture above of Yianni, you can see why it is important to have mobile hips. You never know what position you may end up in. In wrestling, there is a lot of shifting of weight with legs extended to the side and front of the body. Being able to get into these positions allows one to defend shots and reduce risk of injury.
The cossack squat and Romanian deadlift are two exercises that not only strengthen the areas discussed above, but also increase range of motion when performed properly. Click here for video demonstrations: cossack squat/Romanian deadlift.
In the dictionary you will actually find Jordan Burroughs next to “power” - joking, but search “Jordan Burroughs blast double” on youtube and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
There are many ways to score points in wrestling, scoring off of a shot is one of them. One of the most common variations of a shot is a double leg. In order to execute this move, you need to be able to lower yourself to the ground and drive off of your lead foot, extending your hips up to lift your opponent and bring them down. The more power one can generate the easier it is to lift the other person’s body. And it is all in the hips.
With my wrestlers we work on power development in almost every single session in all three planes of motion. We train with intent and conviction to ensure power will not be an issue on the mat.
There are many different power drills you can program, but here are two examples.
Kettlebell Clean: Before throwing this right into their program, ensure they can effectively perform kettlebell swings and hold the front rack position. This exercise teaches the athlete to rely on their hips and can be methodically progressed in many ways. Click here for a video demonstration.
Kneeling Pop-Up: Boy do I love this exercise. Not only is it sport-specific to the referees position, but it challenges the athlete from end-range hip flexion. There is no momentum helping the athlete and can also be done in multiple variations. Click here for a video demonstration.
As I said in the beginning, a wrestler battles for three periods (as long as there is no fall). Very rarely do I see a wrestler come off the mat not gasping for air and extremely fatigued - it’s the nature of the sport.
There are three energy systems: aerobic, lactic, and alactic. Each have their importance in wrestling.
Aerobic: This system generates energy from Oxygen and is responsible for long term energy development. During a match this allows you to not only be capable of wrestling the entire time, but also recover during and between periods.
Programming the bike for 30 minutes at a low to moderate intensity is a basic example of aerobic training.
Lactic: This system generates energy from glucose and is responsible for short-ish term energy development. During a match this is when you are scrambling with an opponent and also limits fatigue.
Programming sprints 20-40 seconds at high intensity is a basic example of alactic training.
Alactic: This system generates energy from phosphocreatine and is responsible for short term energy development. During a match this is when you are exploding through a shot or performing a mat return.
Programming front squats for 1-5 reps is a basic example of alactic training.
Each energy system is important in its own way, lacking one will hurt the others. It’s important to train all three properly. I recommend Joel Jamieson’s book: Ultimate MMA Conditioning for great information on programming and understanding energy systems.
Lastly, but certainly not least, is mental toughness. There is no secret formula to training this, it’s a mind set. Getting through an entire match, giving it your all is no easy task.
It could be programming farmers holds for as long as possible, Airdyne sprints with all out effort, or maybe a group challenge. It doesn't have to be physical, but usually that is the most effective form of mental toughness training.
This must be done in an intelligent manner with a risk analysis done. Meaning, the risk must be extremely low to none with a reward that is worth it. Programming "hard" workouts may make them tired, but must have intent behind it.
I hope you got a few nuggets from this article. If you have any questions or want to share your ideas, please feel free to do so below.