A New Take On Hip Power For Wrestling

A picture of a college wrestling match with one wrestler lifting another off the mat during a mat return.

I’m sure you know the importance of hip power for wrestling.

Better sprawls.

Faster takedowns.

More explosive mat returns.

And although I’ve seen it’s beauty for 4 years, the art of the mat return (as popularized by Kyle Dake), has recently struck me as one of the most amazing feats ever.

Why?

Well, from a pure nerdy exercise science point of view- it’s amazing to see the power that can be produced from the hips.

It’s really got me thinking lately. How can I, as a performance coach for wrestlers, make adjustments to my program to help maximize hip power?

After giving it some serious thought, here’s what I’ve come up with…

A picture of Dickie White holding a gym member from behind. His hips are driven far back in a traditional power position.

In the above picture, my hips are loaded pretty well and ready to produce a lot of power. However, they aren’t in the best position to lift my buddy, Brody.

And, if you’ve ever been in this situation in a match you know he’s probably hand fighting like crazy and trying to get his hips away from mine.

The bottom line is- with space like this, more than likely, he’s going to get out.

In order to be most effective in this situation, I need to keep my hips tight to his.

But, that’s not the power position that is trained in the weight room (with exercises like Power Cleans). So while I’ve put my hips in a position to maximize power output, I’m actually at a disadvantage in this specific wrestling situation.

Why?

Because the time I have to apply power to get the mat return is lost due to the distance my hips need to cover.

Does this make sense?

Now, take a look at the next picture demonstrating another common position.

A picture of Dickie White on a single leg of a gym member. His hips are driven far back and are not under him.

The same basic idea applies to this picture, right?

While my hips are loaded and ready to produce a lot of power, the distance they need to cover in order to score this takedown gives my opponent a lot of space. More than likely, he’s going to use this much space to hit a serious sprawl which will prevent me from scoring.

To further demonstrate my point watch some of these mat returns (one is at about :56):

Specifically watch the distance Kyle’s hips cover.

It’s not very much, is it?

Compare the distance he covers to the space in the pictures above.

Now compare Kyle’s hip motion during the mat returns to the distance my hips travel in the videos below.

Take a look at this Hang Clean and watch the range of motion in my hips.

Again, if I were to shoot my hips back that far for a mat return or to finish a takedown, I’d more than likely lose the battle.

Now look at the Log Clean:

Same thing, right?

Now the DB Snatch:

Same thing.

By the way, all of the examples above are well-executed exercises (no, you haven’t been doing them wrong). They just require the hips to move into a position that wouldn’t be ideal for the situations I detailed above.

Anyway, what’s this telling us?

It tells me that it’s not necessarily the exercise chosen to develop explosive power in the hips. I’m sure you would agree that those are all good exercises for “hip power.”

It’s something else…

Cutting Down On Your Range Of Motion

In order to maximize your ability to transfer the hip power you develop in the weight room to the mat, you need to start using a shorter range of motion.

You may think that this will be as simple as just being aware of it while you lift. However, it’s easier said than done.

This is especially true considering that your hips are naturally going to drive back more as you increase the weight.

However, I’ve been using a specific exercise progression that’s really been paying off.

First, I’m noticing much shorter hip movement during weighted power movements.

Second, the guys are all telling me that they feel the increased power on the mat.

Here’s what I’ve been doing…

Kneeling Jump Progressions

Wrestling is a full body sport. That’s why I suggest prioritizing multi-joint, compound exercises.

However, the Kneeling Jump is one “isolation” exercise that should be a mainstay in your program.

I put isolation in quotes because it doesn’t really isolate a specific muscle group. However, it does isolate a specific movement, one that is most important in wrestling- hip extension.

Ever heard a coach yell “hips in” or “hips” or anything like that?

They’re more than likely referring to extending your hips (driving your hips forward).

That’s what the Kneeling Jump isolates.

Kneeling Jump

The first progression is the standard Kneeling Jump.

If you’re having trouble, use a wider base to make it slightly easier.

Whichever you choose, there are a few things to keep in mind.

1. When in the starting position, place the tops of your feet flat against the ground. I’ve found that if you dig your toes into the ground, you have the tendency to rock back rather than jump up.

2. Try to land in as much of a fully standing position as possible. This will give you a rough idea of how your power is improving. Let’s say you can only land in a deep squat position when you start. Then, after a few weeks you are landing in a nearly standing position. This is an indication that your power is improving.

3. Finally, focus on the speed of your coil. Once you’re comfortable with the technique, start focusing on executing the jump as quickly as possible. The faster you can train your body to load and fire your hips into extension the better you’ll be at completing mat returns, takedowns, or sprawls.

Kneeling Jump w/ Stick

Once you have a good feel for the Kneeling Jump, it’s time to move on to the next progression. You accomplish this by taking the arms out of the equation. This better isolates the hips while making the exercise more challenging.

You can use a PVC pipe, a light barbell, a broomstick, or whatever else you may have. Just take your arms out of the equation.

Here’s a video of me demonstrating with a PVC pipe:

Just like any progression, keep the 3 tips I mention above in mind.

It may seem awkward when you first attempt this variation. If this is the case, you can bridge the gap by holding a light medicine ball against your chest.

While your arms may have the tendency to still swing a little, this will significantly cut down on the overall arm action.

Once you get comfortable with this variation, you may find it easier to progress to a stick/bar behind your head.

After you develop a good feel for the Kneeling Jump with your arms isolated, the next step is to add weight. Start with an empty bar and work up.

I started with a 6-pound Bodybar and then progressed to a 15-pound E-Z curl bar. From there I added weight to the E-Z curl bar until I could jump with 45 pounds. I continued adding weight to that until I could use a 75-pound Safety Squat Bar.

At my best I was able to use 165 pounds for 2 reps.

If jumping with a bar on your back becomes a pain in the neck (I’m funny, aren’t I?), consider performing kneeling jumps with dumbbells.

Kneeling Jump To Height

I’m not really sure if I’ve found jumping to height to be more difficult than jumping with a bar on your back. So, if you’re experiencing a lot of trouble with one of the variations, try the other and see how that works for you.

I remember when I first did a Kneeling Jump to an elevated surface.

I was only looking to jump onto one of the lifting platforms at my gym. It was about 3 inches off the ground.

But man did I really sit and think about things before going.

For whatever reason it seemed like such a daunting task.

Fortunately I convinced myself that I could do it and made it without incident.

So if you feel like performing a Kneeling Jump to height looks too difficult, don’t worry, I’ve been where you are.

Anyway, here’s a video of me going to a small box.

With regular use I was able to work up to an 18 or 20-inch box, if I remember correctly. But, like I said, it definitely wasn’t an easy first step.

An additional thing to point out is that for whatever reason the first few times I did this type of jump I experienced some low back discomfort during the landing. Nothing that left me sore, but there was definitely some discomfort.

So don’t be alarmed if this happens to you too. It seemed to resolve itself after a few weeks.

One thing you could focus on (which I probably didn’t) is bracing your core when you land. I’m guessing I was too focused on simply landing on my feet and forgot to do this.

And, I guess, this is understandably so. It’s not like we grew up jumping from our knees.

Combinations

Finally, another thing you can do to challenge yourself is to use a combination of weight and height.

I use combinations when I see a plateau in either height or weight.

For instance, if a wrestler seems to be stuck at a certain height for a couple weeks, I’ll have them use a 10-20 pound bar, or simply hold a PVC pipe behind their head. Sometimes just taking the arm action out of the jump is enough to get it moving again.

Or, if you find that you can’t progress past a certain weight, try jumping to a 3 inch box with weight. You’ll use less at first, but it will climb back up over a few weeks.

Safety First!

This guy didn’t get it too bad.

But let me tell you- there’s nothing worse than missing a jump and having your shin crash into the box.

It happened once when I was Box Jumping and once when I was performing a Kneeling Jump to height.

Both times were no fun.

Not only does it produce an open wound on your shin (which is an open invitation for various mat-related diseases) but it also messes with you mentally.

Even after all of the Muay Thai I’ve done (I’m far from a weathered fighter, but my shins don’t feel anything regardless of how much bag/pad kicking I do) it still can hurt a whole lot.

So here’s an awesome question from one of my coaches- why don’t you just wear your shin guards?

Genius!

If Box Jumps or Kneeling Jumps to height are something you do regularly, I highly suggest a pair of shin guards.

Here are two ways to go about it:

1. Soccer shin guards with high socks. I’ve never used these, but imagine that they’d do a good job.

2. Muay Thai/Kickboxing shin guards. All of the pairs I’ve ever seen have a foot pad as well as some sort of attachment to loop around the foot. This may hinder your ability to jump. This was the case for me, so I just cut it off.

There are a lot of varieties and styles out there, but I just went with the cheap cloth ones, especially since I knew I’d be cutting them up.

A Final Piece Of Advice

Because I’ve written about Glute Strengthening before, I won’t get into it too much, but I do want to cover it quickly.

I recently read an interview with Dr. Squat (Fred Hatfield). In it he was asked why he thought the United States hasn’t performed very well at the International level in Olympic Weightlifting.

He said it was simple- that the guys just weren’t that strong. He felt that there was too much emphasis put on technique. But he said that once you perfect your technique, the only way you’ll get better is by getting stronger.

It made me think of the lesson that former Cornell Wrestling Strength Coach Tom Dilliplane taught me during my internship.

He had a similar stance. He said it’s easy to see why strength training is a must if you want to maximize your performance. He stated that it was as simple as looking at the best sprinters in the world.

He said that the best sprinters in the world are all jacked.

A picture of Michael Johnson sprinting in the Olympics.

Why?

Because once they mastered their technique and timing, there was only one other way to improve- by getting stronger and more powerful.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make here is that strength directly affects your power production.

So while Kneeling Jumps will definitely increase the speed and power that your hips can produce, strengthening your Glutes is an important piece of the puzzle.

Ultimately combining the two will help you to construct hips that will help you sprawl with more power, finish takedowns faster, and, of course, return an opponent to the mat with the authority displayed by one of the best of all time!

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

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

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

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10 Comments. Leave new

  • another great post and another piece of the puzzle. thanks mike

    Reply
  • Excellent article, well thought out and thoroughly detailed. Your articles and ideas really hit the mark for wrestlers in ways I don’t find anywhere else.

    Thanks, Chuck

    Reply
    • Thanks a lot Chuck. It’s a big goal of mine to offer up more than just a bunch of exercises without really thinking about how it all fits in to the big picture of improving the performance of my readers (and their kids).

      Reply
  • I will add the kneeling jumps to me routine-GRACIAS

    Reply
  • Great info as always. I’m def going to try the kneeling jump to box idea. I’ve done well before with a bar on my back (175×1) but that just seems mentally more difficult.

    Reply
    • Yeah, when I first did it, jumping to a box seemed crazy hard. Hopefully it’ll provide a new stimulus to help take your hip power to the next level. Thanks for commenting again, Franco. Talk to you soon man.

      Reply
  • Dickie,

    Fine article thank you.

    Two questions:

    1. How much volume do you suggest?

    2. How do you fit the exercise into a training program? Leg days before weights or some other time?

    I guess this and plyos ( assuming there is a need for the latter: is much wrestling movement plyo based?) may justify a stand alone session but that is difficult to achieve when
    strength and conditioning sessions are needed on top of wrestling practice.

    Reply
    • Thanks Peter; good to hear from you again, and thanks for another great set of questions. It really helps me to add better quality information to the post so keep them coming whenever you get the chance.

      1. When Kneeling Jumps are done with bodyweight I typically have the guys do them for 5×3 or 5×5 depending on whether I feel the effort can remain high for 5 reps as opposed to 3. I usually superset this with another plyo exercise; usually a med ball slam. To bridge the gap between the warm-up and plyos I usually have the guys do a few sets of 3-5 low intensity bench squat vertical jump and bench plyo pushups:

      From there I like to add in a horizontal movement (thankfully it’s getting warm up here in central NY so I’ll be using the Prowler pretty regularly). Otherwise it’s usually a high intensity horizontal jump for 2-4 jumps performed in rapid succession for 4-5 sets.

      So in terms of total volume lets say this:

      4-5 x 3ish of 2 low/mod intensity plyo exercises (30ish total reps)

      5 x 3-5 of Kneeling Jump variation (I’ll go to 5 reps if using bodyweight only, but will typically keep these at 2-3 if using a challenging weight and/or height) supersetted with usually a band twist or med ball slam (30-50 total reps)

      4-5 sets of a reactive horizontal movement (depends)

      It may seem like a high volume, and according to some authors, I’m sure it would be categorized as this. However, with single effort plyos (low intensity jumps with proper landing, Kneeling Jumps, etc.) there isn’t nearly the stress on the central nervous system as there is from high intensity reactive work like triple jumps, depth jumps, etc. On top of that I’ve found that for the most part, wrestlers with minimal background in strength training aren’t able to produce force like those who have been lifting for quite a few years, and so the total stress on their system isn’t nearly that as it can be for higher level wrestlers with a lot more experience in the weight room.

      2. I usually like to perform 1-2 sessions (2 within the last 6-8 weeks of the season and 1 during the first month or so of the season) of plyos like this a week. They can be used before on any day, or you can break things up so there are a few sets before every day. There are a lot of recommendations out there in terms of total volume, but I’d say just start off conservatively and work from there (perhaps start on the low end of sets and reps I suggest above and build up as familiarity with the exercises go). Or, if you’re a wrestling coach, simply perform them at the end of your warm-up.

      As far as whether or not there is a lot of “plyo activity” in wrestling; I’d say there is undoubtedly a lot of it. Plyos are commonly used in programs to increase power outputs and rate of force development. Producing a lot of force in minimal time is needed everywhere in wrestling. For instance it’s used to increase the odds of scoring when shooting a takedown, sprawling and/or just getting out of the way of a shot, lifting and returning an opponent to the mat, throwing an opponent, and getting off the bottom.

      So while a Kneeling Jump doesn’t directly mimic the total body activity when lifting and returning an opponent to the mat, it does train the hips to produce a hell of a lot of power in a very short amount of time (which, in my opinion is of the utmost importance in a mat return situation).

      Anyway, kind of a rant, but hopefully it’s helpful. For more on plyos, here’s a video response to a question I answered on my blog a few months ago:

      Thanks again for the questions man and let me know if this helped or if I could better address things for you. Talk to you soon.

      Reply

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