Cycling your training means changing the focus of your work outs and thus changing the previously mentioned principles (strength, power, muscular endurance, etc.). You will change the sets, reps, rest periods and amount of weight used. The body easily adapts to an exercise program. Keep doing the same work out with the same weight and the same reps, same exercises and the same rest periods, the body simply stops responding!

There are scientific ways to do this, but before talking about the science of periodization, (a fancy word for cycling your training program) let’s talk about you! What I mean by this is to listen to your body and react accordingly. On high energy days you can train heavier and push yourself more. On low energy days you can do a circuit and use lighter weights or simply take the day off. On days you feel middle of the road, perhaps do a light circuit to get warmed up and some chins and dips for low reps. This will get your mind and body warmed up and then you can decide after 5 – 7 minutes which direction you want to take that day.

Scientifically speaking, here are a few ways you can break down your work outs (there are more – but this is plenty for the young athlete)

  • Strength                                        3 – 4 weeks
  • Power                                            2 – 3 weeks
  • Strength endurance                       2  weeks
  • Circuit training                             1 week
  • Active Rest / Restoration             3 days – 1 week


  • Monday: Upper body – max effort
  • Wednesday: Lower body – max effort
  • Friday: full body – max repetition day
  • Do 1 – 2 GPP workouts per week on “off days” according to energy levels

Which do I prefer? To be honest, the most popular cycle is where you switch from strength to power, to muscular endurance every 3 weeks or so. The problem with that program is if you focus on one phase at the expense of another (which you do for 2 – 4 weeks normally), you can lose strength or lose power or lose muscular endurance all depending on which cycle you are focusing on. So why did I show this? I like to give examples because variety is important. This type of program might work well for some athletes. It is recommended by many strength coaches as a matter of fact.

The good thing about the young athlete is that he / she can make gains relatively easily by doing the most basic of training programs! There is no need to confuse yourself and do advanced lifting programs. You don’t need them and they can probably lead to injuries.

How would I prefer you to train? I like following max effort workouts and max repetition workouts. When I feel the need for change, physically & mentally, I change. Living in NJ does not allow me or my athletes to train outdoors safely year round. When weather allows, they are outside doing a lot of sled dragging, pushing & pulling. In addition, we use a variety of techniques w/sand bags and outdoor medicine ball throwing. If you live in the southern states or out west, take advantage of these “farm boy” training methods. The other day I was in the backyard chopping wood for 10 minutes. The next day my entire abdominal region was extremely sore! I was also feeling a major workout on my entire body; legs, shoulders, arms & forearms. It was tough! Try some sledge hammer chopping for a GPP workout!

When you move sand bags or wheel barrows you are picking up and moving the object, just as you would during wrestling. This makes the exercise more “functional”, having a greater carry over to the sport of wrestling. Sled work is tremendous because it allows the wrestler to work on explosive pushing and pulling movements with out having to lower the weight. Lowering weights leads to a lot of muscle soreness. This is why sled training is great on GPP days because they do not make you feel exhausted and sore. This means if I pull the rope into me as hard as I can (rowing the sled), I do not have to return it back to position. I simply take 1 or 2 steps back and repeat the explosive motion. This allows me to turn this exercise into a true power movement. How is this possible? Let me explain.

A true power movement will allow you to fully exert yourself with out having to slow down the motion at any time. Medicine ball throwing is a perfect example. If I do a medicine ball granny toss, I am using all my power to release the ball from my hands behind my head. Do I need to slow down at the top? NO! If I have a dumbbell or barbell, I need to slow down at the top or else the bar or DB will fly out of my hands. This is simply not possible or safe (obviously!). My body is literally putting on the brakes at the last moment to avoid releasing the bar or DB. If I can release the object and use all my force, then it is a true power move. So when rowing or pressing the sled, I exert all the force w/out worry of the rope handles or the sled doing something dangerous (such as crashing into me). Releasing a barbell or DB sounds a bit scary!

If you follow the max effort portion twice a week and then a max repetition day once a week, you will see gains in strength & power year round. Why gains year round? Because you are never leaving out strength, power, strength endurance for 3 weeks or more at a time like the popular periodization method does. You address these styles of training on a weekly basis! This method is a modified method learned from Westside Barbell – the strongest gym in the world! As mentioned before, this is the method I prefer to use due to the fact that on max effort days, you make your first exercise a heavy basic exercise and pyramid up in weight, eventually you go for a final 2 or 3 heavy sets of 5 reps with max weights after pyramiding up in weight for a few sets. After that, you perform “supplemental lifts” with sets in the 3 – 4 range and reps in the 6– 15 range. The supplemental lifts are usually bodybuilding type lifts done with free weights.

The reason why you can always you use max effort lifts is because every 2nd or 3rd workout, you change that basic compound move to something that is similar in nature. For example, after doing 2 or 3 heavy flat bench workouts (1 a week), next time you’ll be doing 2 or 3 stability ball DB chest press workouts. Or instead of squatting, try doing trap bar dead lifts with your feet elevated slightly on 1 or 2 Olympic plates. These exercises are similar in nature and work the same general area, but you will be giving your central nervous system a rest by varying the exercise selection & not repeating the same exact movement. If you do not vary the exercise you become a candidate for over use injuries and burn out. In addition, you can not keep maxing out if you use the same max effort exercise every time. This is why you change the first exercise (the max effort lift) to an exercise similar in nature.

On max repetition day, you do exactly what it is called, aim for max reps.

Choosing light weights or bodyweight exercises you do 2 - 3 sets and do as many reps as possible in good form, but still leave 1 or 2 reps in the bank. This day gives your joints a break and allows you to work on muscular endurance as well as developing lactate tolerance. Lactate tolerance is the ability of your body to tolerate the build up of lactic acid in the muscles. Ever see a wrestler in the 3rdperiod getting weaker and weaker, no longer able to finish shots or even hold a guy down while in the top position. Often times their arms have gotten such a pump & burn from lactic acid build up they simply can not function at full steam any more. Lactic acid is defense mechanism basically. Your body works harder and harder and more lactic acid builds up in the muscles – trying to stop you from pushing further and further. If you can train at this high repetition mode you will teach your body to work more efficiently during this lactic acid build up.

Another way to improve lactate tolerance is to use heavy weights, low reps (3 – 5), and multiple sets (5 – 8) with short rest periods (30 sec. – 1 minute maximum) = here you keep moving a heavy weight with short rest for a larger number of sets. This will prep your body to handle the moving of heavy weights for longer periods of time – sounds just like a wrestling match, right?

Favorites here on max rep days are push ups, pull ups, recline pull ups, light barbell squats, light dead lifts, light bench pressing, bench dips, BW squats. Be creative, and have fun! Keep this workout well balanced. Include lifts that work lower body as well as upper body. As always, vary the exercises. Do not do high rep benching every single week!

If you decide to experiment with the popular periodization method of focusing on a specific trait for a few weeks at a time, you can change the time spent on these cycles. Two to three weeks is the average and sometimes a cycle can last 4 weeks for strength and maybe only 2 weeks for power. Everyone is different and so you really must learn to listen to your body. My last injury was the most serious injury I ever had. It occurred on a day that I truly felt exhausted and I knew I needed to rest. I had the Dan Gable philosophy of out working your future opponents. It is important to not only work harder than your opponents, but you must work smarter as well!

Training when you truly feel exhausted is a great way to injure yourself. LEARN TO REST WHEN NEEDED!

If I knew how to listen to my body more and followed a program which included max effort, max rep & GPP training then I would have been a much healthier athlete! I went full steam year round. Light days were unheard of and I NEVER did any GPP training.

Another point concerning variation is for your max effort day. Your max effort lift does not always have to be a conventional lift. It can be something like a farmers carry with heavy dumbbells, or heavy wheel barrows walks. Try pushing a wheel barrow up a hill and then walking it back down for a few sets! So remember to keep variety in each portion of your workout!

The last portion I listed in your cycle is called Active Rest. This can be placed into your yearly training AT ANY TIME! You use active rest on the day (s) you are feeling tired, in need of change yet you still want to do something active. Here are a few examples of active rest:

  • Wall / rock climbing (indoor or outdoor)
  • Hiking
  • Mountain Biking
  • Kayaking
  • Surfing
  • Swimming at the beach

You can come up with more of these activities, but they simply give you a break from the daily grind and keep you fresh. I can not emphasize this enough, as the goal is for you to arrive fresh, ready and stronger than ever when the season begins and keeping you this way through the very last day of your season! Too many kids lose their first match at states due to burn out and the need to rest.

The importance of rest is truly underestimated. If you feel completely exhausted, then you need to do a few things. First, do not wrestle or strength train for at least 3 days and you may even need to take a week off. Second, cycle your training more often. Do not think that heavy strength training is needed to be done all the time. This is why I encourage you to use max effort – max rep – GPP training, it gives your body time to rest by forcing you to train light in max rep days. Strength training (using your body or free weights) can be done 2 to 3 times a week. Following the max effort – max rep – GPP style has you training 3 times a week, no more (not counting GPP workouts). This way you still have energy for your off season wrestling which you most likely will be doing another 2 – 4 times a week, and sometimes more. Add this to your daily school work and perhaps a part time job and you’re a great candidate for over training. Over training means you are over worked and need a rest. If you do not listen to your body and you keep on pushing you increase chances of injury. Learn from my mistakes, don’t experience them!
GPP workouts can replace normal weight training as well. Sled dragging, chest presses on the sled, sand bag carries are awesome full body exercises and they can rejuvenate the mind as well as the body. If the weather is nice, take advantage and train out doors. Very important though – GPP workouts should be short and can focus on weak areas. How short, anything more than 20 minutes is too long. How do you gauge how much effort is too much effort? If you have to recover from your GPP workouts, then you are training too long / too hard. GPP workouts are additional workouts that get the body acclimated to heavier work loads. Some of my GPP workouts simply include dragging the sled for 10 – 15 minutes. Sled dragging does not tax the body too much. It is strange in you do not feel it to be a killer workout, but, the results are very great!

Max Effort Days:

On these days, you choose your first exercise to be the most important exercise of that day, and the heaviest. This exercise will probably be a dead lift, some form of the bench press, barbell squats (if you have access to a squat rack), Romanian Dead Lifts (RDL’s). You would perform sets of 5 – 6 reps on this first exercise. Shooting for heavy weights as well, but still having 1 or 2 reps left in the bank. After the focus exercise, you would follow with supplementary exercises (bodybuilding exercises).

Here is a list of a few supplementary exercises:

  • Pull ups – chin ups
  • Parallel bar dips
  • Close grip bench press
  • Lying tricep XT using DB’s, or barbell (straight or curl bar)
  • Side or bent over lateral raises
  • Barbell or DB curls
  • Forward lunges
  • Reverse lunges
  • Step ups w/ a barbell or DB
  • Lying leg curls using a dumbbell
  • Leg raises for abdominals
  • Bent over laterals (rear deltoid exercise)


For young athletes I try not to have them train 2 days in a row. Once again though, there is never an absolute here. I know this variety thing is getting confusing & perhaps annoying, but it all depends – some wrestlers go to a club 5 days a week for 2 hours, then train with me 3 times a week. When this is the case, I always take caution to keep workouts brief and to the point, often lasting 35 – 40 minutes. In addition, those 3 workouts will vary so as not to over stress the central nervous system (CNS). If your CNS is run down then you will not make gains!

Most of these work outs will be full body, or divided into upper body, lower body & the final day being full body w/light weights. We need to give you a chance to rest after stressing your entire body. In addition, wrestlers tend to train much more than other athletes, often times wrestling 5 nights a week in the off season. Coupled with a tough strength training program and I start getting concerned that your body does not get enough recuperation time!

Strength training tears down your muscles. They get stronger from rest and proper nutrition. If you wrestle at a club in the off season then your body is under even more stress. At the least take one day off from strength training in between each workout, and if you feel you need it, take 2 days off after you do a strength training work out.

There is now law stating you must train 3 days a week. You can still strength train the days you go to the wrestling club, but that is going to be an exhausting day so experiment with how long, when and where you incorporate strength training into your daily schedule.

As I mentioned before, learn to listen to your body. You should be shooting for two days of the week where you are not wrestling OR strength training! If you have decided to take a month or two off away from the mat (which I do recommend!) then you can train a bit more often. Last note, GPP training is critical! I like to see my wrestlers performing GPP activities in the form of “farm boy” type training. It is not unlikely for me to train wrestlers with out even having them touch a barbell or dumbbell, rather pushing and pulling sleds and wheel barrows and carrying sand bags. These workouts are awesome, I simply can not emphasize this type of training enough!

You might be thinking I’m crazy pushing you to rest, but, this keeps you fresh and rejuvenated for any upcoming workouts, whether they are strength training or wrestling. You can take advantage of active rest days by grouping together with some friends from your wrestling team and get in a fun bike ride at a state park, or find a wall climbing gym in your area and keep active that way as well.

BOTTOM LINE: You can work as hard as you want, harder than anyone else, but if you do not get adequate rest & nutrition then your body will always be in a state of repair. Our goal is for you to have rest days in order to reap the benefits of your strength training. In addition, the old saying of getting 8 hours of sleep EVERY DAY is key for progress! Your program of wrestling and strength training does not end when you finish a work out. It includes everything you do in addition to these workouts (rest & nutrition).

Do not waste your efforts by over doing it! I encourage a daily nap when you have the time, even if it’s just for 30 minutes.

Here are my favorite guidelines for strength training, and they are just that, GUIDELINES:

In Season – 2 - 4 days/week-15-30 mins./workout Post Season – 3 - 4 days/week-45-60 mins./workout Pre Season - 3 - 4 days/week-30-60 mins./workout.

DISCLAIMER: This post on our site is not responsible in any way, shape or form regarding any injuries that may result from following the training programs outlined here. It is advised that all readers get a full medical check up and clearance prior to performing this or any exercise program. The workouts listed may be too strenuous for some individuals and should only be done under the supervision of a trained professional.

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