Best Way To Get In Shape For Wrestling?

The cover of the 10th Anniversary DVD of Billy Blanks's Tae Bo.

This week I’m doing the same thing as I did last week. I’m going to introduce a research paper similarly structured to how I write blog posts.

As a result, in the first half of the post, I’ll do very little in the way of adding my thoughts. Instead, I’ll simply link to relevant blog posts that will give you a good idea on where I stand on the topic.

After the paper is presented, I copied and pasted an email rant that I sent to one of the guys I train via email. He was basically asking me what kind of cardio he should be doing to help remedy specific situations he has been experiencing during practice.

It’s a little scatter brained, but I think this rant will give you some good ideas on how to improve your conditioning.

Important Points From Rowing Ergometer Training For Combat Sports

“Rowing ergometer training provides a basis for combat athletes to improve aerobic and anaerobic fitness while maintaining lean body mass and decreasing fat mass. The specific needs of combat athletes may be met by training on the ergometer because it involves the coordination of both the upper and lower body to develop maximal strength, speed, and power.”

The authors state that wrestling (well, “combat sports”) and rowing obviously appear to be different. However, the cardiovascular/metabolic demands are very similar.

They go on to write that in order to be successful at either wrestling or rowing, the athlete must have a high aerobic capacity to withstand high volumes of work. They must also have a highly developed anaerobic system to buffer lactic acid.

“A closer examination of the training used for both sports reveals that they share a common goal, to increase muscle buffering capacity and delay fatigue while improving and explosiveness to maintain peak performance during competition.”

Research has shown that rowers have blood lactate levels that reach as high as 19 mmol L after 2,000 meters of maximal rowing. For an in-shape individual with some rowing experience, 2,000 meters would take somewhere between 7 and 8 minutes.

Compare this to the lactate levels found in the study I detail in this post. …If you don’t want to look, it’s 20 mmol.

Much like wrestling, interval training is also used in rowing throughout a season leading to a major competition at the end.

“Repeated sprint training is commonly used as a method of interval training and includes repeated bouts of high-intensity exercise with short rest periods, with the goal to perform each work bout at the same intensity.” Read- Easy To Implement Conditioning.

“Replacing longer bouts of exercise with short duration, high-intensity intervals can lead to significant improvements in aerobic and anaerobic parameters while delaying muscle fatigue.” Read- How To Maximize Your Conditioning.

“Metabolic adaptations to interval training have been shown to enhance the muscle’s ability to remove such metabolites and facilitate the resynthesis of the energy stores, glycogen and creatine phosphate. Such adaptations should enhance an athlete’s ability to generate high-power outputs for a longer period.” Read- Wrestling Conditioning.

The authors cite that there seems to be a growing popularity with rowing among wrestlers and MMA fighters. They feel this is due to the fact that involves similar muscle groups and produces similar blood lactate levels.

To best simulate match scrambles and intensity, the authors suggest keeping work intervals between 30 and 60 seconds. They suggest a work-to-rest ratio of 2:1 or 3:1. This is different from the 1:2 to 1:3 most of the other research I’ve reviewed on my blog suggests.

Another study cited in this paper looked at the effects of a high-intensity intermittent rowing training program on 7 subjects. Here’s what the researchers found:

First, the subjects completed a 5 day/week training program for 6 weeks.

Each day consisted of 7-8 sets of 20 second bursts with a 10 second rest between each one.

After the completion of the program VO2max increased, on average, 7

Additionally, anaerobic capacity increased 28%.

The researchers concluded that high-intensity training like the protocol that was used in the study is effective at improving both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems.

“In summary, when designing a conditioning program for combat athletes with the ultimate goal to improve speed, power, and endurance, incorporating ergometer training may prove to be advantageous to the fighter. Conditioning the body to buffer highly acidic conditions, as well as increasing muscular endurance and enhancing oxidative capacity, can be achieved through high-intensity ergometer training and may help prepare athletes for the high-intensity bouts experienced while fighting.” Abstract here.

Sample Anaerobic Workout

Warm-up: light for 5-10 minutes.

12 x 250 meters at high intensity followed by 250 meters at low intensity.

5-minute rest.

20 x 20-second row at high intensity followed by 40-second rest.

Cool down: light row for 5-10 minutes.

Paper Referenced

K. Kendall. Rowing ergometer training for combat sports. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 33(6), 80-84. December 2011.

My Email From This Morning:

I actually detail what I was going to suggest in this post. It’s the lactic power interval portion. Let me know what questions you have on it.

Here’s a sample program from a paper I’m using in a post today:

…I included the exact workout above, so I won’t repost it here.

I always like to consult Joel’s book and use that as the authority. A lot of people who write these journal articles just review research and then write sample programs based on what the research says. It’s usually not anything they’ve actually done and/or implemented with someone.

Regardless, what I do like is that the paper I’m citing today found that high level rowers have similar accumulations of lactate in their system as a wrestler does at the end of a match (both approximately 19).

So I do think that the similarities in terms of the overall effects on your system are very similar. Therefore, I’d suggest trying both of the samples above and seeing what you think. In fact, since there’s no progression in the second program I’d start with half of the recommended workout above and go from there. In all honesty, I think that will still be too much. Consider doing a quarter of it.

On a side note- here’s a perfect example of the authors of this paper not having a clue. 20×20-second sprints is really freaking hard. That would have crushed my body at my peak physical condition late last year when I was a cardio machine making 145.

So with that, I will make a recommendation:

Start with a Joel progression. Here’s what I would do:

Week 1- do 1-2 workouts of the following- 20 seconds on, 45 seconds off. Or, if you have a heart rate monitor, when your heart rate drops to a certain range. Repeat until you get three 20 second bursts done. Then take a 8-15 minute break for light stuff. Then repeat once. So you’ll do 2 total sets of 3 bursts.

For one workout try the rower. For the other try the ropes. The ropes will be a beast. Anything over 10-12 seconds for me and I start to have a marked decrease in effort. However, give it a whirl. Some of the Binghamton University guys (including the heavyweight) did this and got through it this summer. In addition, they all gave positive feedback on their ability to recover from it. This is obviously very important when you’re working out as much as they were or you currently are. They also said that it positively transferred over to a big improvement in wrestling-specific conditioning.

Sample progression:

This type of training typically takes 8-weeks to adapt to according to the research papers I’ve been reading. So don’t feel like you need to rush it. Additionally, keep in mind that this is just some trial and error stuff to see what some of the initial impacts are on your wrestling before the season starts. Based on your feedback from it all, we’ll be able to better program for you to ensure you’re at your best for the state tournament.

First, I wouldn’t go beyond a 25-30second burst. In all honesty, the key is to exert maximal effort, to recover quickly from a 20-25 second burst, and to be able for your body to handle a lot of them. That will best carryover as opposed to being able to push hard for 40-seconds. I say that simply because I can’t remember the last time I saw a 40-second scramble.

So, with that here’s what I’d do for 4 weeks:

Week 2- same as week 1. Cut down the 45-second rest to 35 or 40 seconds (if you don’t have a heart rate monitor). If you don’t have a monitor make sure your quality of effort remains high by keeping track of the number of reps you get through on the rope or the distance covered on the rower. If you notice a pronounced dip by the 3rd burst in a set, you’re probably resting too little. Additionally, another way to progress here would be to cut down on your break time between sets. Again, make sure your quality of effort stays high. Ultimately the goal in 8 weeks would be able to handle a set of three 20-25 second bursts with 8-10 minutes of rest for 4 sets while being able to maintain your power output throughout.

Week 3- keep all the times the same from week 2. Add a set to one or both days.

Week 4- if you added only 1 set to one day; add another set this week (so you’re at 3 sets on each day). If you’re currently doing 3 on both days, consider cutting down on rest time between bursts and/or between sets.

Again, this is all hypothetical. It should be assessed and progressed on a week to week basis with the following information used as indicators:

1. How are you wrestling? If you’re tired, banged up, have less energy/excitement before practice, etc. then guess what? You need to back off. Try to repeat the same week so that better adaptation can occur before progression continues.

2. How are you lifting? The same questions and recommendations apply here. If you’re struggling to hit your weights that used to be easy, that’s a good indication that further adaptation and/or program adjustment needs to be made.


Hopefully this paper combined with my email rant helps you better understand one way to improve your conditioning for wrestling. Always keep in mind the most important focus- the ultimate goal of winning more matches.

If you have any questions please leave a comment below. Thanks!

Related Posts:

Easy To Implement Conditioning

Wrestling Conditioning

Interval Training For Wrestling

Maintain Your Stance! Core Conditioning You Need

How To Maximize Your Conditioning

A picture of Kyle Dake and Dickie White.
Hi, I’m Dickie (the author of this blog). Here I am with my good buddy, Kyle Dake. While he doesn't have a nice coat like me, he is pretty good at wrestling. Here's what he said about my training system:

Before I began lifting using Dickie's system my wrestling skills were getting slightly better. I've now been lifting under his guidance for more than 5 months and I have begun to dominating ALL of my competition. At first I had little faith in Dickie and his program, but now I would run into a wall if he told me I would get stronger! I know it sounds insane, but I would. The bottom line is Dickie is an expert and knows what he is talking about. If you want to defeat those kids whom you've always lost to and reach a level you never thought possible, I suggest you start lifting using Dickie's system immediately.

-Kyle Dake, 4X NCAA Division 1 National Champion

Want to see what other wrestlers are saying about my training system? Check out my Success Stories page.


Want to learn more about Dickie? Check out my About page.


Want to get started on a program today? Read this post and download your free program- 12 Week Training Program For Wrestlers.


3 Comments. Leave new

  • Nice research paper…better rant! Haha

    Question about conditioning: What are your thoughts and feelings on Cross-fit for wrestlers? As it relates to HIIT

    • Hey Oliver, thanks for the comment. I’ve gotten asked this a few times and don’t really have a strong stance one way or another on it.

      I recently was contacted by a former client who plays rugby. He’s coming off surgery and is looking to get back into playing shape. The first thing I asked him was what exercises he was best at when he was playing his best rugby. The reason being is that I am so against haphazard exercise/workout selection, so having an idea of some things he’d be ultimately working toward improving in the gym should be the focus.

      So, with that said, if you notice that your best times doing a specific Crossfit circuit(s) are improving and you’re simultaneously feeling in better and better shape on the wrestling mat, then by all means continue to work to improve that circuit(s).

      I guess what I’m trying to say is that while I have my own thoughts on how to improve performance for wrestling, if a guy who’s very successful and has a lot of confidence in certain Crossfit circuits comes to me looking for help, I’m not going to revamp his entire routine. Not only has he experienced success with it, but he has confidence in it.

      Now, with that said, I think there are better ways to get in shape for wrestling. Refer to this post for a more thorough breakdown. To me, Crossfit seems like a bit of a random selection of exercises all mashed together with very little thought to long term programming. I’m a HUGE South Park fan, so here’s a reference. I oftentimes compare the exercise selection to the scene in the Family Guy series of episodes where Cartman uncovers the manatees that are in charge of making the jokes for Family Guy. …I just did a quick search on YouTube and couldn’t find anything, sorry.

      In all honesty, I haven’t actually sat down with a Crossfit instructor/coach to really discuss what/if any programming is involved with their style of training. In some capacity and at some level, there has to be. The people who compete in the Crossfit Games probably don’t just show up after a bunch of random training. I would imagine they follow some sort of a structured program aimed at peaking specific qualities for the Games. But, like I said, I honestly don’t know.

      So, I guess in a nutshell, while I think there are more solid, research proven ways to go about things, I’m not going to tell a firm believer in it to stop doing it because xyz coach or study says that it’s not the very best way to go about things. Make sense? Lol, I feel like this is a little jumbled; my coffee is starting to wearing off.

      Anyway, thanks again man, let me know your thoughts and talk to you soon. …oh, and how’s the training and the program going with the new boost in volume? Body holding up well? Everything continuing to move forward?

      • Makes sense. I mean if something is working for someone and they are getting results then why fix it. The workouts are a bit scattled, I agree. And some of the movements don’t directly transfer over. But I was reffereing to the intense workload in a short duration of time, that I feel mimics that of a wrestling match.

        Finished up the workout plan this week. Not sure how my body feels becuase mentally I just do it and not complain. But my wrestling coaches notice that I sometimes lack that explosion pop on my feet, but look better from par tar. I’ll email you today with my numbers from the workout plan.


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