Training For Wrestling- Power Development

training for wrestling

Training for wrestling can be very general and pretty much encompass just about any kind of resistance training.

…It unfortunately isn’t through eating pie and ice cream after a large Thanksgiving meal though.

In this post I’ll go into the specifics involved with following a training for wrestling plan focused on maximizing lower body and hip power.

Additionally, in this next series of posts I’ll be specifically referring to the explosive focused training that I use in the wrestling workout programs I design.

Typically, building power in wrestlers at the Olympic Training Center and in the collegiate setting is done via the Olympic Lifts.

Because I usually don’t have a lot of time to work with wrestlers on their weight training (about three 1-hour sessions a week), I’ve found these lifts do not have the most immediate impact when evaluating them with a cost-benefit analysis.

What I mean by this is the implementation of the traditional Olympic Lifts into a training for wrestling plan can slow progress.


Because the lifts are very technical.

Training For Wrestling

Don't get me wrong, this is very impressive. It just takes too long to perfect.

Like I mention above, most of the wrestlers I work with come in for 3-1 hour sessions a week.

Spending a significant amount of time on instruction and technique development greatly cuts into their time to be throwing heavy ass shit around.

…And ultimately, that’s how you develop power.


Explosive Training For Wrestling Principle:

Yes, after the “fancy” 4 year private school education and the certifications, as well as the years of experience I have working with top wrestlers like Kyle Dake, Troy Nickerson and J.P. O’Connor that’s the cutting edge conclusion I’ve made.

What I’m going to do with this next series of posts is detail some of the exercises I prefer to use in a program for wrestlers looking to increase their speed and power.

But before I go into that, I’d like to first go into the Olympic Lifts so we have something to refer to.


The Olympic Lifts

As I mentioned above, the primary purpose of the Olympic Lifts in training for wrestling programs is to build power throughout the lower body and hips.

Specifically they are used to train and develop triple extension. Triple extension is the simultaneous extension of the ankle, knee, and hip.

Wrestling Training

Notice the ankle, knee, and hip during the above Snatch attempt.

To further support the importance of triple extension training for wrestling, watch this highlight film from the 2011 D1 National Championships.

Be sure to look for triple extension- during shots, sprawls, stand ups, mat returns, and throws to name a few.


A PhD Perspective On Olympic Lifts

I’d like to quote leading low back expert, Stuart McGill, with his thoughts on Olympic Lifts for athletes:

“Many strength coaches, ranging from high school through to collegiate levels believe in building their programs around the Olympic lifts- in particular the first phase of the clean and jerk or the “power clean”. There is no question that this will build strength, but at what cost and with what utility? Too many young athletes ruin their backs with this exercise.”

“In the former Soviet system, athletes were carefully selected for the Olympic lifts based on their body segment proportions, natural speed and flexibility. Very few North American men possess these attributes to even obtain the initial “set” at the beginning of the lift where the bar is pulled, to minimize back loading for safety.”

“Further, very few can withstand the cumulative toll on the body of this very demanding event to survive for a necessary amount of time. Our data (Cholewicki and McGill, 1991) from national level powerlifting competition (not Olympic lifting) showed that better lifters actually sustained lower back loads than their less skilled competitors (less skilled meaning poorer performance and less weight lifted).”

“They were able to obtain a body postured that spared their joints but the posture demands joint positions that are at the extreme range of the population continuum. Without question, there is merit for Olympic lifts when training some athletes, but with using much lighter loads and modified starting positions and postures.”

“Greg Wilson and colleagues (1993) noted that optimal power development occurs with much lower load and much higher speed than in conventionally practiced.”

“Given the potential assets and liabilities of training athletes with the Olympic lifts, on balance, they are overemphasized in many programs. Certainly for team training purposes where there is an interest in these lifts, a qualification procedure is absolutely necessary to identify those athletes who are candidates for low risk training, and to restrict those who do not possess the hip, knee, ankle and shoulder flexibility to perform the lifts with impeccable technique.”

“A final consideration must be given to recovery. Many coaches do not realize the lengthy recovery time needed by some athletes following an Olympic lifting session. Only some athletes will be able to withstand the rigors of an intense Olympic program; others will need much greater recovery time compromising the training intensity.”


McGill, S. (2009) Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance- Fourth Edition. Waterloo, Ontario, Canada: Backfitpro Inc.


Exercise 1

My most recent favorite way to improve triple extension in a power training program is with an exercise I feel best mimics the traditional Hang Clean.

It mimics it both in terms of the triple extension and the pull from the upper body.

The Double Hand Kettlebell Snatch has been a mainstay in the training of both the wrestlers I work with for a few months now and has produced some fantastic results in terms of overall hip power.

Here’s a video of me performing the exercise and below it is a video of me performing a Hang Clean.

Watch both carefully and look at the similarities in the hip and lower body power.

As you can see in these two videos, the hip power and triple extension in both is virtually identical. The execution speed is similar as well.

In fact, I feel as though the speed at which I perform the Double Hand Kettlebell Snatch is actually faster and more explosive (although the weight being used factors in to that as well).

Anyway, although both are very similar in regards to the actual objective of the exercise; I’ve personally found it much easier to instruct and explain the Double Hand Kettlebell Snatch.

I feel it’s superior because it’s easier for wrestlers to learn. Therefore, they can start to use it and start benefiting from it sooner (ie developing more power with their triple extension).

And, as a result, I have started to implement it fairly early on in the wrestling training programs I write for my clients.

…On a quick side note, while the focus of the Power Training For Wrestling post series is to go into Olympic Lift alternatives, the basics should still be introduced because they are valuable lifts if you have solid technique.

Here’s a great video of a Hang Clean progression for those who are interested in adding it to your plan (or just want to refine your technique):

Anyway, back to the Double Hand Kettlebell Snatch. To perform this exercise, position your feet on either side of the Kettlebell and take a double overhand grip.

Lower your hips, arch your back and perform a Deadlift to lift it to the starting position. From there drive your hips back which will lower the bell straight down to just about between your knees.

Drive your hips forward and drive your legs into the ground in an attempt to jump as high as you can. At the peak of your jump begin to pull the bell over your head. Do this by shrugging and then performing an Upright Row as you direct it overhead.

Keep in mind that at no point during this exercise should you be performing the lift with your upper body. It is simply used to direct the bell overhead from the force being produced by your lower body and hips.

Once the bell is overhead, stabilize it in the bottoms up position (upside down). This will help build your reactive grip strength as well as develop and improve your shoulder and core stability.

Return the bell as shown in the video to the starting position and repeat for the necessary reps.


Power Training Principle:

Always remember- when performing this or any other exercise aimed at increasing lower body and hip power it’s of the utmost importance that you handle weights that allow you to move explosively as possible.

Going too heavy will slow down the execution speed, detracting from the focus and purpose of the exercise.

So while I always encourage wrestlers to increase the resistance used when lifting (so long as the form is in tact), always be sure your speed is consistent so that you’re not losing the desired training effect.

Alright, so now that I covered that, let’s get into another exercise I like when looking to maximize hip/lower body power for wrestling.


Exercise 2

The Kettlebell Swing is usually one of the first exercises I implement to develop lower body and hip power.

While the Kettlebell Swing doesn’t train full triple extension (the ankle should not extend at the peak; the feet are supposed to stay flat), this exercise does build unbelievably explosive hips.

I’ve found a great correlation between properly performed Kettlebell Swings and sprawling power.


KB Swing Technique

To perform the Kettlebell Swing you’ll begin just like you would for a Double Hand Kettlebell Snatch. Start by positioning your feet on either side of the Kettlebell and take a double overhand grip. Lower your hips, arch your back and perform a Deadlift to lift it to the starting position.

From there drive your hips back as if you were performing a Romanian Deadlift. This will lower the bell straight down to just about between your knees. While your knees should bend from this action, don’t think about squatting. Focus on driving your hips back.

With a nice relaxed upper body, drive your hips forward, snapping them at the peak to propel the bell up. Your arms should remain straight and relaxed and simply act as an attachment to the bell as it moves away from your body.

When the bell reaches it’s peak height as a result of your hip drive, pull it back to the starting position by squeezing your lats and throwing it back as though you were hiking a football.

As soon as you’ve reached the starting position with your hips back and the bell as far back between your legs as your body will allow, drive it back up with your hips and continue for reps.

Make sure you’re able to maintain a high level of power output throughout the given reps. If you feel you’re losing power cut back on the reps.


Keys To Success

There are a couple key points to keep in mind.

First, as with pretty much any other exercise that creates motion around the hip joint, always keep your back neutral.

Second, really focus on pulling the bell back between your legs once it’s traveled as high as it can from your hip pop. In fact, keep your lats tight throughout to prevent it from traveling much above shoulder height.

By pulling the bell back down, you’ll help to set off your stretch reflex. This will help increase your power output per rep.

Remember- quality, not quantity for exercises aimed at developing explosive power.

Finally, as with any other exercise being used to increase power, focus on exploding forward with your hips as violently as possible. Be sure to do this while keeping your feet flat on the ground.

Training For Wrestling

A 2 step photo of Pavel performing the KB Swing.

As with any other exercise that you may not be familiar with, start light with the Swing to get your rhythm and timing down.

However, once you get a decent handle on what your body needs to be doing, I encourage you to move up in weight as long as you feel comfortable. The heavier weight will actually force you to use your hips more, which is ultimately the purpose of using a Swing in your program.

The number one problem I find with wrestlers is that they want to use their shoulders and arms to perform a Front Raise to help it reach shoulder height.

Using a heavier weight will keep your upper body from getting involved. It also really helps you to develop the necessary pop from your hips.

Either way, beginning your quest to develop serious power from your lower body and hips should start with, among other things, KB Swings.



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Breakdown Of This Series:

Since I already introduced the Double Hand Kettlebell Snatch, the first bunch of posts after this will go into other the Strength-Speed exercises I have the wrestlers I train perform.

Strength-Speed exercises are typically performed with heavier implements and will improve your ability to produce power against external resistance (in the weight room this would be some kind of weight, but on the mat it’s your opponent).

The proper implementation of Strength-Speed exercises into your training for wrestling program will help you finish shots quicker, perform mat returns with more power, and stand up with more speed and effectiveness.

Once the Strength-Speed exercises have been discussed, I’ll then go into the Speed-Strength category.

Speed-Strength exercises are oftentimes also referred to as plyometrics and typically utilize your bodyweight or light Medicine Balls to provide resistance.

Proper implementation and progression of Speed-Strength exercises into your wrestling training plan will help you get in on shots quicker, react to your opponents shots faster, and win more scrambles.

For the next exercise, Click Here.

To check out another post (that isn’t part of the Training for Wrestling series) I wrote on the importance of developing horizontal power for wrestling and the best ways to accomplish it, click here.

And to check out a more recent post I’ve written about hip power and a sequence of exercises that will help you to better develop your ability to produce power from your hips, click here.


Related Posts:

Increase Your Shot Speed And Power- Original Research

Research On Predicting Lunge Speed AND Shot Speed/Power Testing

Using Band To Increase Shot Power

Maximizing Your Power Output (Without Power Cleans)

2 Responses to Training For Wrestling- Power Development

  1. Jeff January 24, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    I love the info that i get from your blog. Please keep up the good work
    Thank You

    • Dickie January 24, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

      Thanks Jeff; I really appreciate the feedback (especially the good kind!). Let me know if there’s anything specific you’re looking for in future posts. I have about 6 right now that I’ve written and will be posting in the next few weeks, but after that will need some new ideas. Thanks again man and talk to you soon.

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