While I do design and help implement wrestling workout plans on a regular basis, I also understand that there is still a number of wrestlers and coaches who I know like to design their own programs.
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 and the various considerations that go into program design.
And rather than get into the boring science and minute details of what I use during the program design process, I’ll instead introduce and discuss the five basic steps I like to follow.
For further information on the program design process, click here to read a post where I take you through the steps and go through the ins and outs of an actual program I designed for a college wrestler I work with.
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 to help them get in better shape or get stronger.
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, stop gassing out in the 3rd period, or lose 5% body fat to make weight easier.
…To me “getting in shape” would mean they want to have better conditioning so they can compete at a higher level, but people use that term differently.
As far as getting stronger goes- do you want to do weighted chinups with a certain amount of weight so you can finish takedowns easier?
Or do you want to strengthen your legs and hips so you can get off the bottom easier and lift and mat return your opponent with more success?
Defining what you’re looking to accomplish and then putting a concrete number behind your goal will let you know when you’ve reached it. Additionally, it will also allow you to better select the exercises that are going to measure the progress of your wrestling workout plan.
For example, if getting into better shape is your goal, and completing a 5K in less than 20 minutes is going to be your indicator and/or the first step major goal you set, then that is going to be the measure of success of your program.
In a wrestling workout plan, the core exercise is the exercise 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 core exercises is easy; it’s the lifts you perform at the meet and derivatives of those lifts (by derivatives I mean, for example, a floor press and board press for the bench press).
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) for vague goals like “get in shape” or “get stronger” you need to really spend some time defining what that means to you.
What do you do that makes 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!
Step 2: Select 2 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, which is also a way to prevent a plateau), can lead to weight gain; something most wrestlers do not want.
…For those who aren’t looking to maintain your weight, read this post on some weight gaining strategies.
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.
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 a floor press and a close grip bench to be two of your derivatives.
You’ll then rotate those exercises as your primary lift. For 3-5 weeks you’ll bench press, then the next 3-5 weeks you’ll floor press, then the last 3-5 weeks 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 your max has increased.
If it increased then it’s safe to assume that the floor press and close grip bench (assuming those increased as well) 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 even though your floor press and close grip benches did.
It is probably safe to assume that those two lifts do not have a direct carryover to your bench and you should probably look into making some adjustments.
Once you reach this conclusion it is important to then select other derivatives to work into your plan to see what effects they may have both on performance.
As you can see, proper exercise selection in your training plan can be difficult, but it will eventually provide you with a great understanding of what works best for you and what doesn’t carryover as well for you.
This will ultimately lead to better all around progress of your wrestling workout plan through a greater understanding of what your body does and does not respond well to.
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- increased performance, injury prevention, muscular balance, etc.
Ultimately the goal is to help improve the core lift, which has been determined to have an improvement with your wrestling performance.
Not every accessory exercise needs to directly simulate the core exercise. For example, there are lots of great accessory exercises for the lats/upper back to perform.
Do the lats actually provide assistance during a bench press in that they help you press the bar?
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 are a must in order to provide you with increased stability and to help to 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, dominate more on top, get tighter locks, and hand fight more effectively.
Also, neglecting to work muscles on the opposite side of the body will lead to imbalances (in this case, internally rotated shoulders, see the pic below) and instabilities 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:
- Dumbbell Bench Variations- flat, incline, floor, decline
- Lat Exercises- pullups, pulldowns, different types of rows
- Shoulder Exercises- overhead presses, different types of raises, internal/external rotations
- Trap/Upper Back Exercises- shrugs, upright rows, face pulls
- Tricep Exercises- pressdowns, extensions
- 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 shoulder joint.
For instance, while your biceps don’t actually move the weight while benching, curls help maintain proper balance around the elbow and may help 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 increased your weighted chinup which will have you scoring more takedowns.
As you train more you’ll discover that certain exercises do a much better job at increasing your bench than others.
For instance, right now I’ve doing a lot of bodyweight JM Presses and keeping my bench pressing all close grip in an effort to strengthen my triceps.
The idea behind this is that with stronger triceps to press the weight, my shoulders will take less of a beating (I sometimes experience shoulder pain).
So rather than invest a lot of time in the gym on dumbbell presses and overhead presses, which I’ve used in the past successfully, I’m now instead focused on some other lifts.
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 as well as make adjustments throughout based on how you feel certain lifts are or are not helping with your goals.
Also, working from a template provides you with an outline for your strength training program and 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 and Lat Exercise (4×8)
Accessory Superset #2- Shoulder Exercise and Upper Back Exercise (3×12)
Accessory Superset #3- Tricep Exercise and Bicep Exercise (3×10-15)
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 to focus on developing strength and power.
This keeps the total volume low which will help facilitate more strength development rather than muscle growth.
I usually go lighter (especially in the off-season) with more reps on some of the accessory exercises with a focus on simply working the muscle and promoting equal development and muscular balance.
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 (every 2-3 weeks which will allow some time for adaptation and improvements).
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, what 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 and 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 (and they will often change; what once worked for you won’t necessarily work again for you) especially when you have to factor in all of the wrestling you’re doing.
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 exercises.
2. Select two derivatives.
3. Select the accessory exercises.
4. Design your template.
5. Implement the plan and evaluate.
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