Being a strength and conditioning coach for wrestlers, I get asked all the time what the best ways are to improve performance.
And while each question and answer is unique in it’s own way, nearly all of my responses fall into one of four “rules” that I typically follow.
So I thought I’d use this post to detail the top 4 wrestling strength and conditioning program rules I’ve used throughout the years. These rules/principles have helped to maximize the performances of all the wrestlers of different levels that I train both at my gym and through email.
Wrestling Strength And Conditioning Program “Rules”
1. Focus on multi-joint exercises.
What I mean by this is don’t use leg extensions, leg curls, and worse, the “butt blaster” machine to strengthen your lower body.
Instead your wrestling strength and conditioning program should consist of squat variations, single leg variations, and various deadlifts to add solid pounds of muscle and brute strength to your legs and back.
Not only is this a more efficient way to do things, it’s also more functional.
When competing, the body moves as a coordinated unit, not an isolated one. Doesn’t it makes sense to me that it be trained that way?
When do you ever see a leg extension motion on the wrestling mat?
You don’t really, do you?
But you do see a lot of squatting (finishing takedowns, getting off the bottom, lifting an opponent for a mat return).
You do see a lot of lunging (shooting a takedown, standing up to get off the bottom).
And, especially in Greco, you do see a lot of deadlifting (the first step to a big throw!).
Therefore, your wrestling strength and conditioning program should reflect this.
A good principle to keep in mind here is to train movements, not muscles. This is especially important for your core/primary exercises (squats, deadlifts, chinups, presses, and weighted power movements).
Very rarely do I have the wrestlers that I train perform a single-joint, isolation movement like a leg curl, leg extension, etc.
2. Train with reps below 5 for your core lifts.
This will help to develop and maximize your strength and power. Ultimately this will have a bigger positive impact on your performance.
I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right, low reps are not going to put on a lot of muscle on your body.
However, regardless of whether your goal is to increase strength and/or size, you should primarily train the core lifts heavy for low reps.
There’s nothing worse than looking like you’re strong but wrestling like a fish!
If you’re looking to increase muscle then increase your volume on accessory lifts.
Generally speaking I’ve found a good rule of thumb is to perform 4-5 sets of 10-15 reps of 4-6 exercises to put more of an emphasis on gaining muscle.
For more of a strength focus with your accessory work, I usually suggest 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps of 3-4 exercises.
3. Condition like you compete.
When have you ever been involved in a match against a quality opponent where you’ve cruised at the same pace much like you would during a 3-5 mile jog?
I’m going to guess never.
There are parts of a match where you’re going as hard as you can (battling for a takedown). Then there are parts of a match where you’re actively resting (going back to the center after going out of bounds).
To condition as functionally as possible for this type of action you want to mimic the time spent going hard and “resting.”
How do you do this with a wrestling strength and conditioning program?
Train in intervals. I like the Airdyne bike for conditioning wrestlers as it conditions the whole body.
A rower and a Prowler work well too. I find they do better at getting the heart rate up, but they kill the legs a lot faster.
I have my wrestlers sprint for anywhere between 10 and 20 seconds and jog for anywhere between 10 and 40 seconds. Start with a 3:1 rest to work ratio and work down to a 1:1 over the course of a month before a major competition.
Both posts go into some of my more updated thoughts on conditioning for wrestling along with some of my personal experiences with the various methods discussed as I used them to prepare for some of my MMA fights.
4. Prioritize your training.
Sit down and honestly assess yourself from a physical standpoint before developing a wrestling strength and conditioning program.
Rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 on physical capabilities such as strength, power, conditioning, flexibility, agility, etc. and develop your program around that. And also be sure to check out the qualities that make up the best wrestlers in the world by reading this post.
What I mean by this is, if 1 is considered the worst on the scale and you rate yourself a 9 for conditioning and a 5 for strength don’t spend an hour 4 times a week doing various forms of cardio and only 45 minutes once a week strength training.
Make sure to place a majority of your focus on developing one or two qualities during a 2-month period. Then sit down and re-assess yourself to see the progress you’ve made.
It’s also incredibly important that you are both honest and totally objective when doing this. In fact, it may be good to have one of your teammates (preferably one you practice with) and/or your coach do this for you as well. Then you can take the average of the scores to give you an even better idea of both how you see yourself and how others see you.
Wrestling Strength And Conditioning Program
Here’s a sample wrestling strength and conditioning program I designed for the wrestling team at Binghamton University. This 5-week program is part of the year plan I put together for the team. It is meant to be implemented during the five weeks of intensive wrestling they do over the summer throughout July.
Click here to open the program in a new window and download it- Wrestling Strength and Conditioning PDF
Ultimately the goal is to bridge the gap between the principles I cover above and how I actually apply them when designing a program for a wrestler.
And, of course, if you have any questions about anything in this post, or any of the ones I linked to above or below, feel free to leave me a comment (I promise to respond quickly and usually with an overly detailed answer).
Other Strength and Conditioning Programs for Wrestlers:
Click Here to sign up for my email newsletter full of information on how to optimize your wrestling strength and conditioning program.
Also, check out the wrestling Strength and Conditioning page at NC State, where former Binghamton University Coach, Pat Popolizio is now the head coach. I’m fortunate to know and have worked with Pat and his team prepare for their 14th place finish at the 2012 NCAA National Championships. Click here to look at their programs.