Unlike most sports, wrestling has the propensity for supplying its athletes with everything they need to be successful. Many legendary athletes received their status from everything they’ve gotten from only the wrestling room and nothing more. However the insatiable hunger for an edge continues to push the boundaries of performance science. Added with anecdotal evidence of ‘what works’, new methods become the norm and soon what worked from yesteryear no longer does the trick. The fact is in today’s extremely competitive environment, only the coaches and athletes who are willing to risk trial and error with the latest methods will succeed. Anymore, athletes who rely entirely on what happens in the practice room are quickly beaten by those who also employ other techniques. The best wrestlers keep searching and studying to incorporate new methods of physical training to also improve speed, power and endurance as they relate to their sport.
Strength training for wrestlers can be broken down into three separate but synergistic components, power, strength conditioning and speed/agility. While some teams choose to focus on only one or two of these, the most well rounded athletes include all three in their programs. Power training is any type of weight lifting with the goal of improving absolute strength. For the best results in this area, rep schemes and program concepts taken from powerlifting are most effective. Speed and agility is easy to improve with a combination of foot work, plyometrics and speed drills borrowed from sprinters and conditioning used on the football field. Strength conditioning is a type of training that will build endurance and toughness in every wrestler. Concepts here can be seen in cross fit and top football programs however most wrestling coaches are very familiar with this type of training. If power training is lifting heavy weights for few reps, speed training is lifting extremely light weights or body weight exercises performed explosively, strength conditioning is exercises performed in the 8-20+ range.
To define it further, strength conditioning is any type of training that will build both strength and conditioning at the same time. While wrestling is very much a combination of these two components, training to improve these at the same time makes much sense and produces fast results. If a wrestler had to choose only one of these components, strength conditioning would produce the most noticeable results (if done correctly). Due to the extreme demand on the body and high potential for injury, power training must be limited to the off season, however this is not the case with strength conditioning. This style of training can be performed at any time of the year in both the weight room and/or on the wrestling mat. Ramping up strength conditioning weeks before the start of wrestling season is a great way to get in shape, improve functional strength and build a physical hardiness envied by any serious combat athlete.
While there are lots of different types of strength conditioning and tons of different ways to do it, keeping an open mind and experimentation is key. A good start is to use as many compound exercises as possible performed with and without moderate to light weights. Keeping the drills and exercises as specific to the movements found on the wrestling mat will be a key element in producing functional strength here. For example a set of 15 burpees or 10 power cleans with light weight directly before executing 5 takedowns in a row. Perform this superset 3-4 times for an excellent workout that builds both strength and endurance. You can build great strength conditioning by adding resistance with either light weights or bands to certain movements you perform when wrestling. For example performing shots (without an opponent) against the resistance of a band connected to a chest harness is a great way to build a more explosive takedown. To get more explosive power from the legs or core, combine a set of front squats while holding a kettlebell for 12 reps with 12-15 band resisted shots. Add 3-4 of these supersets to the end of a practice for an incredible finisher.
Another great concept to add to your strength conditioning program is Chaos training. Chaos training is a group of sports specific exercises to help you prepare for any ‘chaotic event’ that might come up in competition. A chaotic event is described as anything that could either cause you to become injured or lose. For a powerlifter, one such event a smart lifter will train to prevent is falling forward when squatting. If a lifter falls forward during the squat and cannot recover, he could fall on his face and have a very bad injury. To prepare for this chaotic event, certain exercises should be performed so the lifter can prevent this from happening. For example exercises like good mornings, heavy core work and lots of arch strengthening exercises will build strength in the musculature the lifter will need to stay upright at all times. In wrestling, one instance of a chaotic event is getting pinned! If you are on your back and can maintain a spinal arch hard enough and long enough, you may be able ride out the period. To strengthen musculature that will help you do this, perform lots of heavy neck extensions, trap work and exercises to build your lumbar erectors and glutes. Holding your arch with your partner’s body weight on you for time is also a great exercise that can be performed right in the practice room.