It’s no secret- I design wrestling workout plans on a regular basis.
However, I also understand that there are a number of wrestlers and coaches who want to know how to design their own plans.
So, in this post I’m going to cover the steps that I typically go through when designing a wrestling workout plan.
Hopefully by the end of it you’ll have a better understanding on how to approach programming.
For further information on the program design process, check out my post entitled Wrestling Workout Program. In that post I take you through the steps and go through the ins and outs of an actual program I designed for a college wrestler.
Wrestling Workout Plan Design Steps
Step 1: Select The Core Exercises
All too often I have wrestlers come to me and tell me that they want me to design a workout plan. Their goals include wanting to get stronger or in better shape.
My response is always the same- I ask them what that means.
For instance, “getting in shape” could mean you want to run a 5K in a certain amount of time.
Or it could mean they want to lose 5% body fat to make weight easier.
To me “getting in shape” would mean they want to have better conditioning so they can win more matches. But, I’ve found that people use that phrase differently.
As far as getting stronger goes- do you want to get stronger so you can finish more takedowns?
Or do you want to get off the bottom easier?
Or lift and mat return your opponent with more success?
Do you see what I’m getting at?
You first need to define your goal(s).
Defining your goals/focuses will allow you to better select the exercises for your wrestling workout plan.
For example, let’s say your goal is to score more takedowns. Through analysis, you realize that when you get in on a shot you finish, but you’re not always able to get there. This tells me you have the strength needed to finish, you just lack the speed to get there.
Does this make sense so far?
For those who don’t know, I’m a nerd and do a lot of research on wrestlers.
One of the things I “study” is shot speed. Here’s a post on some of my initial results- Two Proven Ways To Shoot Faster.
Anyway, you decide you need to improve your shot speed. And based on my research, you know the Seated Horizontal Jump has a strong correlation to shot speed.
So, you test yourself and discover you can jump 6-feet.
In your wrestling workout plan, this would be one of the exercises that you use to measure your progress. It is used to determine the overall success of your program.
When competing in a strength sport like powerlifting the selection of the tests/core exercises is easy. It’s the lifts you perform at the meet.
If your squat, bench, and/or deadlift go up, then your training cycle was successful. If one or all of the lifts didn’t go up then you need to re-evaluate your plan and make adjustments.
When looking to select a core exercise(s)/test for vague goals like “get in shape” or “get stronger” you need to really spend some time defining what that means to you.
What situations in a match make you feel out of shape or weak?
Let those things help to determine what may or may not be a good core exercise and develop your wrestling workout plan from there.
Here’s the result of a number of well executed training program- HEAVY weighted Chinups performed by NCAA National Champion, J.P. O’Connor.
This video was shot at my old gym when J.P. was probably a Sophomore or Junior prior to his undefeated Senior season when he capped it off with a National Title.
Sorry for the sideways shot on the first Chinup…I was still getting the hang of how to shoot videos apparently!
Wrestling Workout Plan Step 2: Select Derivatives
There are a number of ways to prevent a training plateau from occurring when implementing a wrestling training plan. One of my favorite ways to prevent this from happening is to rotate exercises.
This is often my preferred way to prevent plateaus from occurring because oftentimes manipulating the volume (sets and reps), can lead to weight gain. This is something most wrestlers do not want, especially during the season.
Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that you select derivatives that will mimic your core exercise.
That way you can rotate the core exercise with an exercise that is similar every 3-5 weeks to prevent boredom and plateauing. Another way I’ll rotate is to simply do so when I feel the wrestler has plateaued. That way, I know they got the most out of the exercise and/or program.
For example, if one of your goals for your training program is to increase your upper body strength you may select the bench press to be one of your core exercises.
As such, you may also select the floor press and close grip bench to be two of your derivatives.
You’ll then rotate those exercises as your primary lift. For 3-5 weeks (or when you plateau) you’ll bench press. Then, the next block of training you’ll floor press. Finally, the last block you’ll close grip bench.
After you finish up that period of training you’ll then return to the bench press to see how much it has increased.
If it increased then it’s safe to assume that the floor press and close grip bench have a positive correlation to your bench press.
Additionally, it suggests that continued use of these exercises will lead to further increases in your bench press.
You may discover that when you return to the bench press after rotating through the derivatives your max did not go up. This may be the case even though your floor press and close grip benches did increase.
It is probably safe to assume that those two lifts do not have a direct carryover to your bench. As a result, adjustments should be made.
Once you reach this conclusion it is important to consider other options to work into your wrestling workout plan.
As you can see, proper exercise selection in your training plan can be difficult. However, it will eventually provide you with a great understanding of what works best for you. Ultimately this will allow you to better personalize your wrestling workout plan.
Wrestling Workout Plan Step 3: Select Accessory Exercises
Once you have your core exercise(s) and derivatives selected for your plan, you can then go on to choosing your accessory exercises.
Accessory exercises are utilized in a program to provide a number of benefits. They are used for:
1. Increased performance (in the lift and on the mat).
2. Injury prevention.
3. Muscular balance.
One of the big focuses is to help improve the core lift.
Not every accessory exercise needs to directly stimulate the muscles and movements of the core exercise. For example, there are lots of great exercises for the lats.
Do the lats actually help you press the bar during a bench press?
In my opinion, no. But I know a lot of lifters who feel as though they are able to drive with their lats to help the initial press during a bench press. I however, prefer to keep them tight to help keep my bar path consistent like Mr. Frankl here:
Strong lats and other muscles in the upper back are a must in order to provide you with increased stability. They also help keep your shoulders in balance.
Additionally, as a wrestler, using lots of heavy pulling exercises will provide you with the strength to finish more takedowns. You’ll also find that you dominate more on top, get tighter locks, and hand fight more effectively.
Also, some accessory exercises are used simply to prevent imbalances. For instance, exercises for the upper back will help prevent shoulder imbalances (shown below) which can lead to injury.
So selecting accessory exercises that may not directly complement the core exercise can still lead to better long term gains in your workout plan by keeping you healthy.
Here are some examples of suitable accessory exercises if the bench press is one of your core exercises:
1. Dumbbell Bench Variations- flat, incline, floor, decline
2. Lat Exercises- pullups, pulldowns, different types of rows
3. Shoulder Exercises- overhead presses, different types of raises, internal/external rotations
4. Trap/Upper Back Exercises- shrugs, upright rows, face pulls
5. Tricep Exercises- pressdowns, extensions
6. Bicep Exercises- different types of curls
As you can see not all of the exercise categories listed above will directly carryover to a bigger bench, but they will all play a factor in your overall strength training and balance throughout the upper body.
For instance, while your biceps don’t actually move the weight while benching, curls help maintain proper balance around the elbow. This helps prevent pain associated with overdeveloped triceps and underdeveloped biceps. This is actually a problem a few of the powerlifters that train at my gym have.
Additionally, from a wrestling perspective, adding curls into your wrestling workout plan will help increase your pulling strength.
As you train more you’ll discover that certain exercises have a better carryover for you than others.
For instance, right now I’ve doing a lot of bodyweight JM Presses. I’m also only performing close grip bench press.
The idea behind this is that with stronger triceps to press the weight, my shoulders will take less of a beating. My hope is that this will help alleviate some shoulder discomfort.
I no longer invest a lot of time in the gym on dumbbell presses and overhead presses. While these have worked for me in the past, I’ve had to make changes to better fit my goals.
Wrestling Workout Plan Step 4: Design Template/Program
Once you have selected the exercises that you are using in to your wrestling workout plan, you can then design the template/program itself.
What’s nice about a template is that it gives you a framework from which to work from. This allows you to make adjustments based on how good/bad you may feel on a given training day. In addition, you can make adjustments to exercises based on how you feel certain lifts are contributing to your success.
Also, working from a template provides you with an outline. This will enable you rotate different exercises within a certain category. That way you can make the necessary changes without missing a key component.
Below is a sample template used for the increasing the bench press and muscle size during the off season.
Exercise #1- Bench Press or Derivative (5×5)
Accessory Superset #1- Dumbbell Bench Variation (4×8) and Lat Exercise (4×12)
Accessory Superset #2- Shoulder Exercise and Upper Back Exercise (3x12ea)
Accessory Superset #3- Tricep Exercise and Bicep Exercise (3×10-15ea)
Sets and reps are completely dependent upon your strength training goals. I put my suggestions in parenthesis but by no means the be all end all that you need to follow.
Because of the weight classes in wrestling, I usually tend to favor going heavier with fewer reps on core movements.
This keeps the total volume low. It also helps promote more strength development rather than muscle growth.
I usually have wrestlers go lighter with more reps on some of the accessory exercises with a focus on simply working the muscle and promoting equal development and muscular balance.
Wrestling Workout Plan Step 5: Implement Plan
Finally, once your work is done and your template and general outlined program is ready to go, it’s time for the real work to begin!
Once you begin your plan you must constantly assess how things are going.
Look back from week to week to see where you’re making gains and where you are stalling out.
If you have a good block of training, look back to see what exercises you were doing. Look at the weights you were lifting and what the sets and reps looked like.
Similarly, look at the same pieces of information if you have an under-productive period of training. Use these pieces of info to make the necessary changes to make progress.
I won’t lie to you, it’s a constant battle trying to determine the missing links in your plan. On top of that, they will often change- what once worked for you won’t necessarily work again for you. The amount of wrestling you’re doing will also be a big factor.
It’s situation specific and can sometimes take a while to figure it all out. No matter how tough it can get though, it’s all worth it in the end.
It’s important to stay focused on the goals of your plan, keep an open mind, and train hard as often as your body can tolerate to improve.
Here’s a quick review on the steps I take in designing a workout plan for a wrestler I’m training.
1. Select the core exercise(s). Examine your goals; this will help.
2. Select derivatives.
3. Select the accessory exercises.
4. Design your template.
5. Implement the plan and evaluate.