Sometimes the best way to learn something and do it correctly is by first learning what you shouldn’t do. This article contains 5 random thoughts I have about strength training for wrestling…. and how so many do it wrong.
Wrestling Training Mistake # 1: Jogging
Now donʼt get me wrong… I have nothing against joggers. In fact, some of my best friends are “runners.”
But jogging for wrestlers is one of my biggest training gripes…
A lot of guys spend the entire Offseason, Preseason and Inseason going out for ʻrunsʼthat are miles and miles long… and then wonder why they are getting gassed on the wrestling mat.
Let me tell you why…
Long distance running, jogging etc is aerobic in nature. That means it requires oxygen.
Wrestling, on the other hand, is anaerobic in nature. That means it does not require oxygen.
When you over-do the aerobics your body begins to break down muscle, especially when it has anaerobic conditioning needs. Your body will begin to break down muscle tissue to use as fuel. The result is strength loss, fatigue and injuries.
Sprinting is also anaerobic.
Sprinters require explosive muscle for fast starts and for maintaining high-intensity output for short periods. This more closely mimics the needs of a wrestling match.
But jogging does have its place in wrestling…
If you choose to use running as a means of conditioning for wrestling than you might use an approach where you jog one day per week, and sprint 2 days per week. It would look something like this:
Jogging for 15 minutes. Increase weekly
Uphill Sprints. 8-10 sprints uphill followed by walk down hill.
Sprint on Track. 4×100 meters 4×50 meters 4×20 meters
The possibilities are endless with setting up a running program.
You donʼt need to run, jog sprint at all to get into wrestling condition if you choose not to. In fact, due to knee stress Iʼve been minimizing the running programs of some wrestlers lately and relying more on actual gym training to get into condition.
The other gripe I have about wrestlers and running is when they run first, followed byʻworking-out.ʼ This is a recipe for disaster!! When you run, your body will use the stored muscle energy known as Glycogen for energy. This is a process that starts when you eat Carbohydrate foods that are broken down into glucose molecules which are converted to Glycogen and stored in your muscles.
Once you body uses up the Glycogen to fuel the running, it has to still find energy to fuel your strength workout. It has no choice but to use good lean muscle tissue at this point. Strength training is not a very efficient means to burn fat, so the body cannibalizes itself to fuel the workout.
Sounds pretty bad, doesnʼt it? The solution is to reverse the two workouts. If you plan on using running for conditioning plus strength training, be sure to do the strength training workout before you run. This will help preserve/build muscle, burn more body fat, and reduce injuries.
Be sure to look for my upcoming emails where Iʼll tell you exactly how to combine your strength training and conditioning to get into amazing shape for wrestling fast!
Wrestling Training Mistake # 2: Training Like The Football Team
Another big mistake I see many wrestlers and teams doing is using a generic program, bodybuilding program or another team sportʼs program for strength training…
Hey, working out is just about going in the gym and lifting weights right?? WRONG!
Wrestling is different from most other sports in reference to what muscles work together and how they should be trained.
Wrestling requires much more ʻpullingʼ than other sports.
A sport like football requires much more ʻpushingʼ and driving forward than wrestling.
To train a football player and wrestler the same way is functionally wrong, and is doing the young athlete a disservice.
Do you think training like a football player is really how a wrestler should train??
Iʼm not trying to single-out football vs. wrestling. Iʼm referring to any other sports training program vs. wrestling training. They ARE different and need different approaches to strength and conditioning.
What about a bodybuilding workout from one of those muscle magazines?
They are no good for wrestlers because they train the entire body equally. This is called “muscle-balance.” Itʼs important in bodybuilding because those guys simply want to build big, showy muscles that do anything more than flex.
In fact, bodybuilders strive to achieve symmetry between all muscle groups. But wrestlers shouldnʼt strive for “muscle-balance” the way a bodybuilder does… because they donʼt have balanced needs.
Think about a rear-wheel muscle car… Where does the power come from?
It comes from the rear wheels. This is where the drive, power and strength comes from.
Wrestling is kind of the same way. A lot of power needs to be generated from the rear of the body for maximum performance on the mat.
Since the power and strength come from the posterior side of a wrestler, it makes sense that the training should emphasize making a wrestler strong from back to front.
More emphasis should be placed on training the muscles of the low back, mid back, biceps, forearms, hamstrings, glutes and hips in order develop more power in a wrestler.
Wrestling Training Mistake # 3: Using the Wrong Exercises
Is there any such thing as the perfect exercise for wrestling? I would say no… but there are exercises that work synergistically to give you a perfect training result.
Thatʼs how I like to set up my wrestling training programs… with exercises that by themselves are just another exercise, yet together they get you strong!
But before you set up your wrestling training program with all of the best exercises, you should know which exercises are the wrong exercises.
There are a number of exercises that I frequently see wrestlers perform that are OK at best, and will get you hurt at worst…
The thing that most of these exercises have in common is that they are the “Open- Chain” type…
Open Chain exercises are when your hands or feet are in motion. This is different from Closed-Chain exercises, where your hands or feet are planted or grasping something.
Open Chain exercises can be more dangerous, as many of them have a shearing effect on your bodyʼs joints. This is definitely not what you want to do to your body when youʼre growing. Itʼs also not what you want to do with your wrestling training.
(The following list is from a recent article on my blog. It was just too important not to give to you again!)
- Donʼt do Bench Dips In this exercise you have your feet up on a Bench or Chair and your hands are braced against a Bench behind you. You lower into a Dip position and push back up. Iʼve found that this exercise tends to put undo pressure on the Rotator Cuff, due to the Scapulae being forced forward and up (like when you apply a Chicken Wing on a fellow wrestler).
- Donʼt do Bounce Reps on Calf Raises Most guys tend to do Calf Raises way too fast. When youʼre a wrestler, your goal when you train the Calves is to increase the strength of the Gastrocnemius, Soleus and Tibialis Anterior. When you bounce up and down from start to finish with your Calf exercises, you bring in too much momentum which in turn, minimizes muscle involvement. Also, you neglect the benefit of increased stability to the ankle joint when you train too fast.
- Donʼt do Bench Presses if it hurts your Shoulder Iʼve said it before, and Iʼll say it again… I love the Bench Press. I used to be pretty good at it too, with a 500 pound Bench at a 189 pound bodyweight (I competed as a “light” 198 lber at that time). But… for wrestlers, the Bench Press is optional. If you feel a lot of stress in the Shoulder joint when you Bench Press, just drop ʻem from your training arsenal. In the case of the Bench Press, it isnʼt worth it to tweak your Shoulders if you are prone to Shoulder issues. There are other choices. Iʼll discuss in my next post.
- Donʼt Do Exercises That Force Your Knees Over Your Toes If you perform Squats, Deadlifts or Lunges and allow your knees to travel forward over your toes, you put yourself in an anatomically compromised position. This puts stress on the Patellar tendon, leading to knee pain. The key is to perform these exercises while keeping your tibia (shin) upright throughout the exercise. In order to do this for Squats and Deadlifts, you will need to use more hips and glutes, which is the result your looking for when strength training for wrestling.
- Donʼt Do Pullups or Pulldowns Behind Your Neck For ultimate wrestling strength you need to develop your Latissimus Dorsi (Lats), Biceps and Brachialis (forearm). By performing Pullups or Pulldowns with a Cable and Bar is not a favorite of mine because you are limiting the range of motion required to fully-involve the Lats throughout.
This makes them poor choices when developing strength and conditioning programs for wrestling.
- Donʼt Do Twisting Exercises… Without Clearance First! One of the fastest ways to increase a wrestlers speed and mat performance is to increase the strength in the Internal Obliques. These muscles are developed with twisting exercises such as Russian Twists. 2 things about this: Start with Bodyweight. This is more about developing form, range of motion and stability than it is about cranking a lot of weight. Make sure you donʼt have an underlying issue with your Intervertebral Discs. Have a Doctor check you out.
- Donʼt Do Presses Behind the Neck Shoulder presses should always be performed either to the front or neutral (when you use Dumbbells). Presses behind the neck are notorious for the stress they put on the Rotator Cuff as well as impingements in the Neck area. Your range of motion is limited as well, allowing less muscle involvement.
While this list is not complete, these are the main culprits that donʼt usually work as well for a lot of guys and can cause more injuries than anything. Notice how I didnʼt ban exercises such as Bench Press. I suggested you donʼt do them if youʼre having Shoulder issues etc.
Wrestling Training Mistake # 4: Working Out Instead of TRAINING!
“Hey Steve, can you write me a workout?”
Iʼve heard that question so many times over the years that I would be retired right now if I had a nickel for each one…
Itʼs not a bad thing to get that question… itʼs what I do. I love training people and even more than that I love designing training programs.
But the problem is that everybody wants the magical workout that will give you the end results youʼre looking for.
For wrestlers the desired result is to be stronger, faster and in top condition for the wrestling mat.
This means that this magical workout would have to do all of those things at once.
Guess what… it doesnʼt exist.
There Is No Magical Workout That Will Get You Stronger, Faster and In Top Condition for Wrestling… There Must Be A System!
The body tends to get used to the stimulus that you give it over the course of about 4 weeks. That means it is usually a good idea to change up your training every 4 weeks.
This is where the “workout” becomes a “training plan”…
Each new workout you perform should:
• Address your weaknesses
• Build on your strengths
• Build upon the previous training program
Now, if you want to just be a meat-head and build big, showy, useless muscles than you can just train on the same program for longer periods of time. Arnold Schwarzenegger would train on the same program for years and years at a time. But… he wasnʼt a wrestler and probably wouldʼve needed an oxygen tank after the first 30 seconds into a wrestling match.
But wrestling isnʼt about big, showy muscles (although the wrestlers that use my programs are always happy to see more defined muscles as a result of the training programs).
Wrestling is about having muscle that can react, adapt and execute. Itʼs muscle that has a need to function outside of the training we place upon it. This is why I canʼt just write up a workout for you… it has to be a complete training system in order to be effective.
A training system for wrestlers can be a year-round program, or it can be for shorter periods of time. It all depends on you and your goals… and time.
The important thing is to include specific strength training, speed/power training and conditioning training in your training.
Wrestling Training Mistake # 5: Trying To Get Fast Without Getting Strong First!
This is my #1 gripe when it comes to wrestling training…
Many Coaches and Wrestlers are taught that in order to get faster you have to train exercises really fast and use a lot of plyometrics.
In fact, I was training at the gym the other day and was watching a “Personal Trainer” who was trying to dazzle and amaze us with his knowledge of training… (note the sarcasm)
He had a High School athlete with him and had him doing Box Jumps (see below)
Box Jumps are a popular Plyometric exercise. This is a rapid ground to box leap, designed to increase speed…
The problem is that this kid had only been training for a month… he hadnʼt built up enough strength to reap the benefits of the Box Jump exercise.
You Must First Build Strength… Speed Will Follow!
Itʼs not that what he had the kid doing was going to hurt him… it just wasnʼt doing him much good.
What was even worse is that the trainer wanted this kid to keep doing the Box Jumps until he couldnʼt do any more…
Box Jumps, as with other speed/power development exercises arenʼt meant to be done to exhaustion. On the contrary, they are meant to be done with your muscles as fresh as possible.
Unfortunately, the desired goal of more speed will probably not be reached with this kid… or at least not to the level that he wants.
The Personal Trainer was doing the kid a disservice by trying to get him fast before spending enough time getting him strong.
The Stronger Muscle Is a Faster Muscle!
Plyometrics and Speed Training in general should be used to ʻflip the switchʼ between strength and speed. Also, they shouldnʼt be done for long periods of time. They begin to lose their effectiveness when overdone or done too frequently.
Remember, speed training is most-effective when done for short periods of time, AFTER a strength foundation has been built.
So… now you know some of the things that you should NOT do when trying to achieve ultimate wrestling performance from your training.
But what about the things you SHOULD do??
Be sure to have a look at our Wrestling Strength X training programs for youth, high school and college wrestlers and grab one that will work for YOUR team here: