HOW TO PROPERLY STRENGTH TRAIN FOR WRESTLING
This article will going to give you a thorough understanding of what must be done and how it must be done to be more successful on the mat. Body weight training is a big key to improve your strength with wrestling. Especially in the beginning, I like to use a lot of bodyweight exercises to get the body alive and prepared for heavier free weight exercises in the near future. Before any of my clients touch a weight I want them to master a hand full of body weight exercises. After all, you are using your body in wrestling. Hand to hand combat it is, and so you must be able to master your own body first!
Training with your own body can be adapted in countless ways & they are convenient. Most of the exercises require no equipment. We can change the position of our hands, arms and legs to work different muscles and change the pressure we place on the body. Elevate your legs or balance on one leg and then an exercise gets changed dramatically! If you so choose, you do not have to purchase any of the equipment I recommend and you can simply do the body weight exercises and you will easily be outdistancing yourself from the competition! Make no mistake about it, body weight training can be brutal and exhausting when done properly. Still, it is only one component of a solid strength & conditioning program. I am a firm believer in using a variety of tools to make the most of a program.
Even an advanced lifter / athlete should incorporate body weight strength training in his / her routine. Every athlete I train, including myself, will use more than one bodyweight exercise each workout! The most common used exercises here are pull ups & the many variations, parallel bar dips & the many variations, push ups & the many variations and squats or lunges & their many variations. If I list each variation we can get probably over 25 exercises just by varying the 4 exercises just mentioned!
The next portion of our strength training involves free weights and bodyweight conditioning together. If you have no access to free weights, implements such as sand bags, wheel barrows, sledge hammers and buckets of sand will work very well! No machines, no cables, just good old dumbbells and barbells, & a few toys from Home Depot or the local hardware store can turn you into a modern day gladiator! Back in the 1800’s and early 1900’s there were no machines. Those men back in the day were called strong men. Not only did they look strong, they WERE STRONG! They had functional strength and were able to use their muscles to lift enormous weights. They could lift hundreds of pounds over their head using one arm! Functional strength will come from using unusual objects such as the Home Depot products I listed above in addition to the free weight & / or body weight strength training.
Free weights force your ligaments and tendons to get stronger as well as the muscles. The problem with machines is you are moving the resistance in a guided & predictable motion, which limits the benefit you can gain. You do not want to waste time when training. Making the most use of your time is obviously a key here. In addition, training with machines can “detrain” you as an athlete. This simply means that you are taking away the body’s ability to learn simple physical stress, such as balancing a heavy weight, stabilizing a heavy weight, etc.
As a wrestler, there are injuries that plague many of us. The knees, shoulders and neck are vulnerable to injury if they are weak. Free weights allow you to load your body with heavier weights forcing your muscles, joints, ligaments & bones to get stronger & more powerful. If you want longevity in your wrestling career, avoiding injuries is key.
Injuries have sidelined some of the best wrestlers their senior year in high school ending their dream of winning states. As far as how many reps and sets to do, this is a key portion of your program. As a wrestler, we need strength, strength endurance, muscular endurance and power (there are many more such as speed – strength, strength – speed – but we will not over do it here we will keep this simple & basic!). Let me explain these terms in English.
- STRENGTH is how much weight you can lift (push, pull, etc) for a low number of reps - anywhere from 1 – 3 reps usually
- STRENGTH ENDURANCE is the ability to stay strong for extended periods of time. This is what gives you the strength to finish your shots in the third period when your opponent is unable to finish shots due to fatigue in their strength levels. This is where you do sets for low reps (2 or 3 reps) but do a larger volume of sets – sometimes up to 10 sets, w/little rest periods, no more than 1 minute (very challenging). This way you are using heavy weights for longer periods of time. Your body becomes better at handling heavy loads for extended periods of time and in turn becomes more efficient in staying strong during the entire match! For the young athlete, I try to go no lower than 5 reps. I never say there is an absolute rule though. So experiment and perhaps try doing sets of 3 reps. See what works best for you!
- POWER is strength in relation to time / spedd. If you can bench press 300 lbs and it takes you 15 seconds to push off your chest, and I can bench the same weight but it goes up in 5 seconds, I have more power in that exercise. Power is necessary in order to explode out of the bottom position in double over time in the region finals! Power is hitting a double and driving your opponent into the air and on his back in the blink of an eye! Power is hitting a stand up and escaping in less than 1 second! Training for power requires moderate weights, lower reps (3 – 5) and fast tempo. Training for power is an advanced method and should not be attempted until you have a solid foundation of strength, which can easily take 1 year and often times longer!
NOTE: many of these principles are being tweaked for young athletes (high school specifically). Young athletes are different than those in college; physically & mentally. Even though I give guidelines here, they are just that, guidelines. Change sets, reps, weights, rest, etc. as you feel necessary.
How can we train for these traits? Let me explain. It is easier than you think! Your work outs will need to change often in order to develop these traits as well. Training for strength requires heavy to moderately heavy weights, doing 3 – 5 sets per exercise for 5 – 10 reps per set, perhaps going as low as 3. Rest should be approximately 60 - 180 seconds between each set. You should be able to have energy left for 1 or 2 reps when finishing your last set. I call this leaving 1 or 2 left in the tank. It is not necessary to train to muscular fatigue (this is when you can no longer lift the weight under your own strength and need assistance from a partner). Training to fatigue slows you down. Notice that as a set gets more difficult, your speed becomes slower and slower. We want to avoid that type of training, which is popular with bodybuilders. In addition, training to fatigue tends to diminish your exercise technique. Doing so will put you at risk for injury. Get my point?
Training for strength endurance requires doing a lot of body weight exercises such as pull ups, hand stand push ups, parallel bar dips or using heavy weights for low reps & a lot of sets. Push ups, pull ups, hand stand push ups, parallel bar dips as I just mentioned are tough to do, and are some of my favorites. Doing 1 pull up might be difficult for you & we can improve strength simply by doing 1 rep at a time, aiming for a grand total of 10, or 15, etc. Do these body weight exercises with shorter rest periods in between each set (30 seconds – 1 minute) and try doing 4 – 6 sets per exercise (maybe more if you are feeling good about it) and reps will vary greatly here according to your strength levels. Pull ups you may only be able to get 5 or 6 at a time, maybe even less.
Some athletes can do more. Form is key in all exercises. If you start getting sloppy, stop your set immediately! If you can only do lower reps, rest a bit longer and do a few extra sets. So rather than 5 sets, try doing maybe 8 sets. Dips you might be able to get 12, 20 or even more. Push ups might be 30 or more. These are just examples and we are all different so these exercises are to be done with higher reps. I like having my athletes do low reps on pull ups, sometimes 2 or 3 reps only, but they will do 6 or 7 total sets. This way they are pulling w/all their might on each rep, exerting high force each rep and the tempo of the exercise is fairly fast. When you train to muscular fatigue, your reps start slowing down a lot. I prefer to see speed in each exercise once my athletes master form and gain appropriate strength levels.
DO NOT CONFUSE SPEED & BEING UNDER CONTROL FOR A SLOPPY, OUT OF CONTROL REPETITION!
If you are having trouble controlling a weight, lighten up, and slow down. As you gain strength & control you will start feeling more comfortable with speeding up your rep tempo. We cover rep tempo a little later in the book.
Often times when I am short on time I do chin ups, followed by dips with no rest in between exercises. I will do this for maybe 10 minutes straight. I will do 6 – 10 pulls ups or chin ups, then 10 – 20 dips. The body gets stronger and endurance is built up because I am barely resting. After 10 minutes of chins & dips, I’ll go and knock out push ups ranging anywhere from 25 – 50 at a time, followed by 1 minute of jumping rope or some form of lower body work (walking lunges, squat jumps, split squat jumps). I will do this push up – jump rope circuit for 5 – 6 minutes and then after 15 minutes of total exercise I am done! Talk about an awesome work out! As always, my hand spacing and grip changes on pull ups, push ups and dips. Constantly add variation to your workouts to keep your muscles worked from all angles! I bet you if every wrestler on your team did this workout twice a week he / she would be in awesome shape. Problem is, many young athletes do not take strength training seriously. Wrestlers especially are not tuned in yet to the importance of strength training. Most wrestlers attend camps and clubs and leave out strength training. This can explain to the high incidence of injuries many wrestlers are attacked with.
Strength endurance with free weights is more advanced so this should be reserved for the athlete who has been working out for at least 1 year under the guidance of a qualified & experienced strength coach. An example of training for strength endurance would be if I took the barbell squat & I loaded the bar with 315 lbs. I would do sets of 2-5 reps, rest 1 minute, and repeat – totaling 5 sets at first, then building up to 10 sets perhaps for future workouts! Very advanced lifters will do even more sets! The lower reps require extra volume in sets to have the desired effect.
Notice how I always emphasize variety & experimentation. I much prefer you see what works best for you. Young athletes are all so different, some kids are age 14 but look 18, and vice versa. This will change the way they train. A young athlete can improve athletic performance on almost any strength training program b/s it is a new stimulus! After some time training through, the program should be solid and well planned.
For the high school athlete, I am not a big fan of training below 5 reps with free weights. You can still become strong by doing sets of 5. So remember, there is
NO REASON FOR YOU TO MAX OUT ON 1 OR 2 REPS. YOUNG ATHLETES SHOULD DOAT LEAST 5 REPS IN FREE WEIGHT EXERCISES. Notice I said free weight exercises. Body weight exercises might be different. Pull ups you may only be able to do 1 or 2 reps. No problem, that is a body weight exercise and is not dangerous to do low reps. Free weights add extra load to your body, so do not max out. It does nothing for wrestling! So, for bodyweight exercises, you are safe if doing reps below 5 if you can only accomplish that many reps.
For free weights, choose a load that allows you to complete at least 5 reps. Perhaps experiment with 3 reps.
Training for power requires lower repetitions anywhere from 3 – 5 reps. As I keep mentioning, bodyweight exercises can get lower reps, free weights at least 5 reps due to the safety factor. Your sets will increase here and be around 4 sets per exercise. Rest longer in between power exercises (2 – 4 minutes), and at other times rest only long enough to allow your partner to do a set. I know that sounds like a lot of rest at times, but in order to develop power, we are looking for you to explode the weight or your body which means move it as fast as possible. The extra rest allows the central nervous system to recuperate adequately.
Power will mostly be achieved with moderate or light weights, or bodyweight exercises that are plyometric in nature. If the weight is TOO heavy you will not be able to move it quickly enough. When you get to the exercise photo / description portion of the manual, you will see exercises with body weight and free weights that lend themselves towards power development. Referring to the DVD, The Ultimate Guide to Sport Specific Training will give you the visual you need to see exactly how these exercises are performed. Some of my favorites are plyo push ups, jump squats & their variations, medicine ball throws & tosses and light weight free weight exercises with higher speed. The DVD allows you to see the exercises in real life, and of course I prefer you to see them that way.
One more thing I want you to understand when training for wrestling is the tempo of your exercises. This simply means how fast should you move your body or the weights. When training w ith free weights, first of all, I want to see perfect form. Some exercises lend themselves to some body motion and you will feel your way through them. Notice I said SOME BODY MOTION. Being too strict is not what we want because as a wrestler you want to involve as much of your body as possible when wrestling. During a match, if you are the in the top position you are not going to turn your opponent using your arms, rather you will drive with your legs and upper body, working together as one unit. We never use only our arms or only our legs during a match. The body has touse all the muscles together in order for you to be as successful as possible.
Move the weights under control yet with speed at the same time. Lower the weights under control and NEVER let them drop. For those of you just starting with the weights, you need to move down slowly and under control. This allows you to keep proper posture during the exercise. An athlete who is more experienced with strength training can vary rep tempo more so than a beginner obviously. If you can not control the weight, it’s too heavy. Dropping the weights on the downward portion of the rep eliminates half of the rep, which then makes half your set a waste of time. Take the dumbbell curl – press combo. When I curl the bells’ up I use a little body swing to explode the weights up to my shoulders quickly. Then with no rest I press them quickly upward & give a slight push from the legs. I lower the weights under control down to my shoulders and once again slowly lower the weights down to my side. As you become more advanced, you can begin lowering the weights quickly, NOT SLOPPILY!
Lowering the weights quickly yet still under control and then quickly reversing the process builds up a lot of kinetic energy which is key in wrestling. It forces you to reverse an excess load with greater force and lends itself better for wrestling, or any sport for that matter! Lowering the weights quickly is an advanced way of training and should only be performed by the advanced trainee!
I know what you are saying now, “Quickly, slowly, what in the world does that mean?” It should take you 1 or 2 seconds during the exertion portion of an exercise (probably faster with body weight) and 3 - 5 seconds to lower the weight. When using body weight exercises like push ups you will be moving much faster. Still, control is key. Moving quickly is much different than moving quickly and sloppy. Control the movement of your body or the free weights. As your strength & control improves, you can lower the weight quickly. The quick lowering will take a lot of time & experience, and I can easily say that even after a year of strength training you will still be working on lowering weights slowly.
In addition, I have found that many young athletes benefit greatly from switching the speed of the exercise. Sometimes I have an athlete move the weights slowly on the upward & downward phase, sometimes the complete opposite. I use a lot of variety when training athletes! Vary the sets, weights, rest periods, the repetition temp, the position of their body, etc.
Tempo Contrast Method
This is an interesting method of varying your training. You will be varying the speed of the exercise during the same set of an exercise. For example, on the barbell squat, let’s say you have a weight where you can complete 10 perfect reps. On reps 1 and 2 you lower yourself slowly, taking 8 seconds, and up slowly, taking 5 seconds, then on reps 3 and 4 you move quicker, 4 seconds downs, and maybe 2 or 3 seconds up. This allows the athlete to work the muscles differently, and keeps the body responding to a new stimulus. In fact, as a beginner, before you increase your weights, try using the tempo contrast method for 3 weeks. This is a safer way to intensify your workouts as a beginner as opposed to lading the weights on. It also gives you more time to master your exercise technique. If you are doing an exercise incorrectly, it doesn’t matter how heavy of a weight you are moving! Do not worry about what your friends are doing in the gym.
Focus on your own progress.
Rest Periods are next when determining how to move through a work out. When using body weight exercises you can rest very little between exercises or simply perform one exercises after another in circuit style. Here are the various names given to performing more than one exercise at a time.
- Super sets – this is when you perform two exercises in a row with no rest after the first exercise. Perfect example is doing chin ups and dips. Do 10 chin ups then immediately do 15 dips. After the dips you can rest anywhere from 30 – 90 seconds. The more advanced you get, you can go non stop with no rest and go for a certain time (5 – 10 minutes non stop) or 5 sets of each non stop (this non stop training for time is a CIRCUIT, explained below) Another example would be to do dumbbell chest presses on the stability ball immediately followed by the curl – press combo.
Last example, medium grip flat bench press immediately followed by a few reps of plyo push ups.
- Circuit Training – this is when you perform more than 2 exercises in a row non stop. You can do this using free weights or body weight or a combination of both. Here is a sample circuit.
1. chin ups - 8 reps
2. dips - 8 reps
3. knee tucks on stability ball – 12 reps
4. trap bar deadlift – 8 reps
5. squat jumps – 8 reps
6. push ups – 12 reps
7. walking lunges with body weight – 30 seconds
8. dumbbell curl – press combo – 8 reps
No doubt a circuit like that will kick your body into high gear and get your heart beating faster than a steam train! You can rest 1 – 3 minutes after a circuit and then repeat it once or twice or even more depending on your energy level as well as how long you have been training for. A circuit is more for an intermediate or advanced trainee. They are also highly beneficial in the practice room – picking all bodyweight exercises and performing them in circuit fashion helps the body get used to higher fatigue levels in the muscle. Your body then becomes better trained at performing in a higher state of fatigue. This is a key factor in tough matches where 3rd period is neck to neck – who is the better conditioned athlete?
- Straight sets – this is when you perform a set of one exercise, rest the appropriate time period, then perform the same exercise again, etc. until you complete the correct amount of sets. I like to use straight sets when I work on power & strength in order to give the central nervous system ample time to recover. Often times the first exercise of the day is going to be straight sets where you are performing max effort lifts and shooting for heavy weights and reps of 5 or 6. Make no mistake about it though, power & strength training can still be brutal and exhausting. Yes, you rest longer, but you NEED to rest after you exert yourself so intensely to move the heavy weights with proper form.
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.