Interval Training For Wrestling

A picture of a cake designed to look like the Hungry Hungry Hippos game.

One of the most common ways to condition for wrestling is through interval training.

So, just like I have in the last couple posts, this week I thought I’d simply present to you another paper on the subject matter.

As you know, while I am a believer in the style of training I preach, I definitely know that there are other methods out there. On top of that, I’ve been open to other beliefs and ideas. As a result, I always like to present as many sides to a situation as I can.

If you’re not familiar with some of my preferred ways to get in shape check out the “Related Posts” section below.

Anyway, on to today’s paper…

The Use Of Interval Training To Condition For Wrestling

The authors begin by stating the obvious- in order to increase their chances of success, a wrestler must have the necessary conditioning to attack throughout the match.

Specifically, anaerobic conditioning is needed for repeated explosive attacks for both offensive and defensive moves.

To effectively design a conditioning program, one should first start with a needs analysis.

The authors state that the primary energy system, which accounts for 90% of the energy produced, is the phosphagen and lactic acid systems. The aerobic/oxidative system, according to the authors, accounts for only 10%.

I don’t agree with this 90/10 assessment (primarily based on the VO2 maxes found in the studies I cover in this post). However, I do think that both the anaerobic and aerobic systems are important for maximizing your potential as a wrestler.

The authors feel that some coaches can forget about the rule of specificity. The example they provide is that jogging is commonly used to build an aerobic base. However, in terms of specificity, it’s not the best option because it primarily develops slow twitch (ST) fibers.

ST fibers do not contribute a whole lot during key explosive events (takedowns, scrambles, etc.) in a wrestling match. Therefore, the authors feel that they don’t need to be developed as much as fast twitch (FT) fibers.

“It has been established that ST motor units are smaller, generate less force, and reach peak tension at a slow rate compared to fast-twitch (FT) motor units.”

The authors state that as the intensity of the power output increases, there is an equal increase in the number of FT fibers that are recruited.

Therefore, the researchers believe that proper conditioning of FT fibers will better enable wrestlers to increase their success ratio during scrambles and other explosive efforts throughout a match.

“The FT muscle fibers can best be conditioned through anaerobic training. One way to condition the anaerobic energy system, and consequently the FT fibers, is with an interval running program.”

Here is the interval program they suggest:

5 minute warm-up (light jogging).

Four 6-second sprints with an 18-second rest.

Four 20-second sprints with a 60-second rest.

Four 40-second sprints with an 80-second rest.

15 minute cool down.

The authors suggest that manipulating the work-to-rest ratio is a great way to challenge and develop FT fibers.

Interval training has been shown in research to increase resting levels of ATP, phosphocreatine, glycogen and anaerobic enzymes.

Intervals are also effective at increasing the buffering capacity of the body.

Further development of anaerobic power and capacity is achieved by limiting rest. This prevents full recovery between the sprints (or other explosive bouts, depending on what you’re doing).

Past research cited by the authors of this paper suggest that utilizing a 1:3 or 1:2 work-to-rest ratio is best for developing FT fibers.

Additionally, the researchers state that “applying work intervals of 6 to 30 seconds requires a work-to-rest ratio of 1:3, while work intervals of 30 to 120 seconds require work-to-rest ratios of 1:2.”

Paper Referenced

Kelly, R. The use of interval training to condition for wrestling. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 19(5), 62-64. October 1997.

Related Posts:

Easy To Implement Conditioning

Best Way To Get In Shape For Wrestling?

Wrestling Conditioning

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.


10 Comments. Leave new

  • Dickie,

    Two statements from the article:

    1.An interval running program may be the best way to do this.

    2. The more similar the training activities are to the target sport the better they will transfer.

    I wonder if those two statements are entirely compatible in so far as there is no upper body component in running?

    One might think that anaerobic capacity is a generalised attribute so that any activity will have carry over. I would like to hear more about this but the development of anaerobic enzymes and ability to buffer hydrogen ions is I feel at least to some degree muscle specific if not movement specific.
    In other words I would be concerned about the lack of upper body work even if wrestling movements were not duplicated.

    We accept I think that you can be aerobically fit for one activity but not the other because the muscle involvement is not the
    same. With aerobic training there may be a general benefit because of the involvement of the heart in supplying oxygen which justifies using running but the benefit for anaerobic training is less clear to me.

    Of course the whole question of the need for anaerobic training has to be seen in the context of actual wrestling training. If and it may in some cases be a big if, you have the right quality training partners and engage in regular training and practice matches the need for additional non specific anaerobic training must be questioned. We must not lose sight of the fact that the aim is not to endure the toughest posssible workouts for the sake of it.

    • Peter, this is a much better job of explaining my similar thoughts on the matter that I expressed via a “rant” email that I included in my last post.

      I definitely agree with you on everything, especially the last part of your comment. The example I like to use is the two completely different styles of coaches in the last couple years at Binghamton University. Pat Popolizio, who is now the head coach at NC State, had a very traditional, everyday is a battle type of mentality and it came through in his grueling practices. Matt Dernlan, the current head coach, has a much different, less “grinding” of a style. Both styles have gotten positive feedback from the guys on the team and, from what I saw and have been told, there wasn’t/isn’t a noticeable difference in their conditioning.

      Additionally, Pat like to use a lot of running and sprinting, and Matt doesn’t have his team run at all.

      I think it comes down to having a good base (built by Pat via running/sprinting, among other things and build by Matt via drilling) and transferring it appropriately to wrestling-specific qualities/conditioning.

      …I just started reading a textbook published by one of my college professors. In it he differentiates between ability (in this case being aerobically and anerobically fit) and skill. To be a successful wrestler you must have certain abilities- aerobic fitness, developed lactic system, strength, power, etc. However, in order to maximize your effectiveness you must have skill- taking your abilities and applying them to the context of a wrestling match (ie being able to react to various stimulus to set up and score leg attacks, react quickly to sprawl and hit a go behind, feel your opponent standing up to time your mat return, etc.). So I guess that in this case, training your body to handle anaerobic stresses better can be trained/improved through indirect conditioning like the paper above suggests, but ultimately success on the mat is as much related to your overall skill than it is having an indirect ability like your body being able to quickly recover from bouts anaerobic training.

      Anyway, I feel like my thoughts are a bit jumbled today. Hope this makes sense and contributes to your comment, but I’m not running on all cylinders so who knows, lol. Thanks for the great comment and talk to you soon man.

  • I totally agree that ultimately success, certainly at the higher levels, is determined by skill as most of the time opponents will be strong and well conditioned.

    I think that Burroughs is the exception who proves the rule as it is pretty rare internationally to have such a successful and dominant game based so heavily on physical attributes.

    Reverting to the question of anaerobic training I think that we need to understand the anaerobic energy process better to evaluate your statement that:

    “.. training your body to handle anaerobic stresses better can be trained/improved through indirect conditioning like the paper above suggests.”

    From my limited understanding VO2 max is primarily determined by central (cardiac) factors rather than peripheral (muscle) factors so you might think that in improving aerobic fitness the actual mode of training is not crucial albeit that clearly the relevant muscles for a specific activity must be conditioned to efficiently extract oxygen.

    I do not however have much understanding of the factors involved in limiting anaerobic function and whether the adaptations are systemic or local/muscular. If the latter you might think that running would not be the best way to condition for a sport that uses the upper body as much as in wrestling.

    I put this forward for discussion as I have not been able to find out much if anything on line other than a description of the actual production of anaerobic energy.

    As always I am working on the assumption that wrestling of the required quality may not be available and therefore off the mat training is necessary.

    • Hey Peter, thanks for following up. I’m unfortunately without Joel’s book so I can’t reference that right now in regards to the increased need for specificity when it comes to gycolytic training. However, after reading Special Strength Training: Manual for Coaches I found a lot of similarities with the recommendations that Joel makes in his book. So, here are some quotes from that which I think are pretty relevant:

      “In combat sports with ‘short’ contact between adversaries (boxing, fencing, karate, taekwondo), the CP – mechanism plays a dominant role; in combat sports with longer contact between adversaries (judo, free and classic wrestling) – glyocolytic mechanism. Notwithstanding these differences, improvement of the specific work capacity in all these sports is ensured by:

      1) increasing Maximal Anaerobic Power, which allows performing the active phase of competition activity without or with limited accumulation of ‘oxygen debt’;

      2) increasing the aerobic capacity to eliminate ‘oxygen debt’ during the less intensive phases of competition activity, using lactate as the substratum of oxygenation and improvement of Local Muscular Endurance.”

      “For intensifying muscular system work in specific regime, the Conjugate Method is used; it foresees specific exercises with additional external resistance.

      For wrestlers, throws of a mannequin (puppet) in various variants of the interval method are used. Wrestlers use specific exercises with overloads (heavy sacks, the adversary’s ‘effigy’) or with a partner of a heavier weight category can be introduced.”

      “However, in sport games and combat sports, the main part of these SST means should be specific exercises (technical-tactical elements) executed with additional resistance). Wrestlers may use specific exercises with a partner of a heavier weight category or with a specific device, heavy sacks, and the adversary’s ‘effigy’. Boxers may use the Shadow Boxing with dumbbells.”

      The Verkhoshanky’s then detail some suggestions for “increasing Maximal Anaerobic Power” and “improving the glycolytic mechanism” in the form of a couple of charts.

      Unfortunately, while they make specific suggestions for the Maximal Anaerobic Power (throwing a weighted dummy or partner) in regards to exercise selection, they do not in the glycolytic mechanism chart. But, I would bet that it’s safe to assume that they would suggest something specific. I know Joel has suggestions in his book, so I’ll look into those when I get the book back.

      Anyway, yes, it looks like there is a definite push to go from general to specific in terms of your training as you move more toward specific styles of conditioning (in this case the move to glycolytic style training specific for wrestling). And while I can’t find anything that says “these are the xyz adaptations and therefore you must/must not be as specific with your exercise selection as possible,” it definitely appears that that’s what is the suggestion.

      With that said, like you mention, for those who need to do more off the mat training, that may lead to a step back in terms of exercise specificity resulting in things like sprints, bursts on the rower or Airdyne bike, battling rope slams, etc. While they may not be the most specific options, they’re all that’s available.

      Finally, while sprinting, and other exercises may not be as specific from a muscular standpoint I honestly can’t think of a team that doesn’t have some kind of sprinting involved at some point during the year. So while I can’t find anything that specifically says specificity is an absolute must, I also don’t know if I can argue with every coach in the country and around the world.

      Anyway, I’ll hunt down the guy who’s borrowing my copy of Joel’s book and give that a look through to see if he has anything in it in regards to where anaerobic adaptations are primarily systemic or local. It’s definitely something worth digging more into so thanks for all the thoughts on the matter.

  • Dickie,

    I am afraid that i am at lot less taken with those Russian training manuals than you are, underlined by the dubious advice to shadowbox wuth dumbells.

    I am not sure that Joel’s book has the answer to this.

    He divides the anaerobic process into two categories i.e anaerobic power ( high amount of glycolitic tissue/enzymes/nervous system) and anaerobic capacity (buffering ability/tolerance of metabolic by products).

    I do not know if that is a widely accepted classification. Certainly if you are introducing elements of the nervous system when taking about anaerobic power you are seemingly introducing both notions of energy production and muscle function.

    Joel does say that adaptation of the anaerobic system is limited but does not answer my question about the site of the adaptation.

    You say that you cannot think of a team that doesn’t have some kind of sprinting involved at some point but in your previous post you said “Matt doesn’t have his team run at all”

    Anecdotally I cannot say that sensation of running a 400m equates to a wrestling match as hard as both are. My suspicion is that much of the buffering is in the muscles being utilised in the actual sport with presumably some additional lesser systemic benefit but I have nothing to back this up.

    • Yeah, I know what you mean with the shadow boxing portion, although the authors’ go on to say that it’s important to keep the weight of the dumbbells very light to avoid any negative effects on the nervous system and unwanted compensations.

      Once I get Joel’s book back I’ll take a look and see what he has to say. He definitely does a great job of taking what looks to be some of the underlying suggestions/methods in the SST book and developing them better.

      Additionally, in one of the upcoming papers I’m posting, Dr. Kraemer had this to say- “Lactate will directly affect the muscles’ contractile mechanisms by interfering with the actin-myosin cross-bridge interactions. Therefore, wrestlers must be able to buffer the high-acidic muscle and blood concentrations in order to demonstrate optimal strength and power during training and competition.”

      “It is also vital that the upper body is trained in this manner to increase the capability of upper-body musculature to directly adapt to the dramatic acid-base shifts that occur with wrestling.”

      I think those definitely support the belief that this type of training should be more specific to the muscles involved.

      Sorry for the confusion on Matt and running at BU. What I meant by it is that there is no long distance and/or intensive, progressive sprint training especially as a part of the pre-season conditioning program that you commonly find with a lot of other teams. However, I’ve been in the room quite a few times and the team has done some sprinting. Additionally, a few of the guys on the team that I work with do additional sprinting as well. So while it’s not part of a grand scheme in terms of a periodized pre-season program, there is sprinting going on.

      Like I said, I’ll check out Joel’s book when I get it back; hopefully it will shed some light on this. I definitely think that some of the training suggestions made in the SST book and the quotes from Kraemer’s paper would suggest that yes, muscle specificity must be considered. But unfortunately these statements don’t have a citation listed after them, so in terms of the research that you and I are looking for to better substantiate this one way or the other, I too am unable to find anything at this point. There has to be something out there though, so I’ll keep digging. Thanks again man, talk to you soon.

    • Hey Peter, I finally tracked Joel’s book down and just went through and copied some of the most relevant quotes:

      “Although there is still considerable debate as to the exact biochemical mechanisms that are responsible for muscular fatigue during high intensity exercise, it is very clear that the more your lactic system is used in relation to your aerobic system to produce ATP, the faster you will experience fatigue. Quite simply, this is the reason you can’t run a mile at the same speed you can run a single lap, or fight for three rounds at the same pace as you could for just one round.”

      “In the real world situation of MMA, greater power of your lactic system means that in extended exchanges or flurries and takedowns, you’d be able to punch, kick, knee, wrestle, etc. harder and with more all around explosive power. Greater lactic capacity, on the other hand, means that you’d be able to maintain lactic energy production for longer before gassing.”

      “The power side essentially comes from having a lot of muscle tissue that’s ‘glycolytic’ meaning that it predominately relies on anaerobic metabolism for its ATP, and a high level of the enzymes that are necessary to break down glucose.”

      …This, to me, suggests the muscle-specificity we’ve been talking about.

      “On the other side of the equation, your lactic capacity mostly has to do with how well the body can tolerate the buildup of metabolic byproducts that are responsible for muscular fatigue. One thing we do know for certain, however, is that through training it is possible to increase how long you’re able to sustain energy production using the lactic system, but the total amount this ability can be improved is relatively small and largely genetic.”

      “A wide range of exercises can be used, but further out from fights I recommend using more general training exercises with this method and the closer you get to a fight, the more specific your exercise selection should become.”

      …Another quote in regards to specificity.

      “Always remember, the primary adaptations are only going to occur in the muscles that are actually performing the work.”

      …This quote was part of the Lactic Power Interval Method section.

      “Use of this method will increase how long your body can produce energy for using the lactic system before it completely fatigues. In other words, it trains your body to buffer the mechanisms of muscular fatigue that result from the use of this system and thus prolong your ability to continue producing ATP with the lactic system.”

      …This was from the Lactic Capacity Interval Method section.

      He doesn’t make any specific conclusions in the capacity section as he did in the power section. But from the various quotes above, it seems as though the power aspect adaptations are more muscularly specific and the capacity adaptations are more of a central adaptation (I’m guessing this simply based on the fact that he mentions muscle adaptation with power and body adaptation with the capacity).

      Later in the programming section I found these quotes:

      “It’s rare to see a heart rate in the 160s or above when strength training unless you’re doing higher reps on exercises like squats or deadlifts that use a lot of large muscles. This example of fatigue essentially stems from more localized factors, such as those discussed in the chapter on the lactic energy system.”

      “The fatigue you experience from MMA obviously feels quite a bit different than simply maxing out at 10 reps on the bench or pull-ups or whatever, and there is a specific reason for that. The type of fatigue you experience from MMA can best be thought of more as ‘general fatigue’ because it involves the heart and entire cardiovascular system and a much larger amount of muscle.”

      “As we’ve discussed throughout the book, this anaerobic energy production leads to a rapid buildup of fatigue inducing byproducts and the working muscles can’t keep this up long before you become gassed. Unlike the strength training example earlier, this general fatigue means that gassing out in MMA is the result of many different muscles throughout your entire body, including your heart, becoming unable to continue working at the same rate.”

      “The take home message is that when you have a large amount of muscle all fatiguing and unable to continue working at the same rate, you feel completely exhausted and gassed out. Even the diaphragm and different breathing muscles – muscles that play a significant role in oxygen transport – can become significantly fatigued and contribute to reduced oxygen supply. This is very different from when only a small group of muscles become fatigued and thus the fatigue is more localized to just those particular muscles.”

      Anyway, hopefully you find these quotes helpful. I definitely agree with you that the adaptation(s) the training above is looking to produce is more at the muscular level simply because the times of effort are under 40 seconds (Joel recommends 20-40 seconds of maximal effort in his Lactic Power Interval Method).

  • Dickie,

    Thank you for providing that information.

    It really seems difficult to understand the science behind this.

    One can understand the functioning of the anaerobic energy system in general terms but I remain uncertain about the terms anaerobic power and anaerobic capacity.

    Anaerobic power may mean something like the speed at which you can resynthesize ATP but how do you measure anaerobic power apart from testing the capacity of the muscular system
    to exert force? How could you begin to do this in wrestling?

    The capacity of the anaerobic system seems primarily a buffering ability but again how is that measured?

    Joel’s conclusion that gassing out is an all muscle fatigue issue including that of the heart seems a little unsatisfactory but from what he writes sprinting for anaerobic training would not appear to be directly relevant to the fatigue problems in wrestling.

    • Hey Peter, thanks for getting back to me. I’m glad you found the info useful, and I totally agree that understanding the science behind it is rather difficult.

      I’m not quite sure how one would go about measuring anaerobic power vs. capacity specific to wrestling. However, based on my experience this is what I would suggest doing:

      1. Measure blood lactate during a test in a controlled, laboratory environment test.

      2. Measure blood lactate after a wrestling match.

      3. Follow a training program.

      4. Measure both again to see if there’s a parallel.

      If there is, then perhaps, the lab testing procedure and training program may have some kind of carryover to improved wrestling performance.

      Unfortunately, to be accurate and really know what’s going on, a laboratory setting is required. But, at the same time, a coach could simply do a baseline test, and re-test his wrestlers throughout the year and simply compare that to performance (ie is the wrestler improving in the test and does he seem less fatigued during matches?). Subjective? Yes. But, it’s probably the best option for most coaches and wrestlers reading this blog.

      As a means for gauging your anaerobic threshold, Joel recommends going to a a metabolic testing center to get a test/procedure done. However, because he understand that a lot of people don’t have access to, he too has field tests that are used to provide a gauge. Although pushing your anaerobic threshold up is an aerobic adaptation, I thought it was worth mentioning simply because of the field test recommendation he makes.

      And in the case of measuring power and capacity, what I do both with the guys I work with and with myself is just measure everything I can. In the case of the Lactic Power Intervals (let’s say a rower is being used), I measure distance covered in the sprint time, total time needed between sprints to bring the heart rate down, ability to maintain a consistent output without a 5% or more drop in distance covered between sprints, etc. Again, a subjective means of measuring because I basically use that data and feedback from the guys as to how they feel they’re performing to know if it’s working.

      Anyway, hope this helps. Have you considered messaging Joel about this? I definitely think he’d have more insight than me; I mean I’m really just citing his book and referencing some situations where I’ve implemented a handful of his methods. So I’d say by no means do I possess the expert knowledge that he would have.

  • Dickie,

    Thanks for your further thoughts.

    I cannot find anything that clarifies this topic except to say that there appears to be no clear measure of anaerobic energy.

    I am not taken by the concept of anaerobic “power” as this seems to confuse notions of muscle power with energy production and if as Joel asserts the “capacity” of the anaerobic system is primarily a buffering ability which is largely genetic then “capacity” is being used in the sense of enhancing the capacity to tolerate lactate rather than having any direct effect on the energy system itself.

    In more practical terms if the site of adaptation moves from the cardio respiratory system to the muscles using sprinting alone seems not the best way to prepare for wrestling.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.