A lifting program for wrestlers must be:
1. Specific to the wrestlers needs and goals.
2. Designed to maximize performance on the mat, not just “be a tough workout.”
3. Take into account the equipment and facilities the wrestler has access to.
I’ve learned a lot in the 10+ years I have been designing lifting programs for wrestlers.
As a result, I’ve been able to see the effectiveness and carryover of a lot of exercises.
So, I decided to put together a list of the Top 4 lower body exercises to include in a lifting program for wrestlers.
Obviously putting them into a well-designed program is a whole other animal, but I do include a couple quick samples at the end.
Anyway, here are, in no particular order, my Top 4 exercises for a lifting program for wrestlers.
By the way, if you have a few bucks and you’re looking for a program proven to improve your shot speed and power, then check out my $7 Programs page.
#1 Exercise for a Lifting Program for Wrestlers- Horizontal Jump
If there’s one exercise I’ve found in my research to be positively correlated to shot speed it’s the horizontal jump.
Specifically, the one that I tested and measured is the Seated Horizontal Jump.
Here’s a video of the execution.
As your jumping distance increases, so will your shot speed. At least, that’s what I have consistently seen in the research I perform at my gym.
Because I found the horizontal jump to be so effective, I’ve since branched off into other variations.
I now have started to include the following:
This is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a single effort, just like the seated variation above.
Although I haven’t measured this, I think it’s safe to assume that this will be correlated to shot speed, just like the seated version.
I prefer the seated version for one big reason- I think it’s slightly more functional.
No, you don’t shoot from a seated position. But, you tend to do so from a state of relaxation. I feel as though sitting takes the tension off your legs and makes your body to produce a lot of force from a relaxed state.
But, to be honest, this is probably just a preference. I can’t imagine there being much, if any, difference between the seated and standing horizontal jumps on shot speed.
Bottom line- as you increase your jumping distance, you will shoot faster.
A lifting program for wrestlers should definitely include these variations. Both have been a mainstay in my programs for a few years.
In fact, I had a super smart grad student perform some mathematical analysis on the correlation between the Triple Jump and shot speed. Based on his analysis, there was a 90% positive correlation. For more info, read- Two Proven Ways To Shoot Faster.
Anyway, this Horizontal Jump variation is great to include in your lifting program. It builds incredible power.
Specifically, it trains your body to absorb and redirect force quickly. This makes the Triple Jump great at increasing your speed when looking to put 2 shots together.
Additionally, I’ve read on other blogs that quite a few strength coaches see this as the #1 predictor of athletic ability. This may have been referring to the traditional Triple Jump performed in track meets.
While there are some differences, there are also similarities. So, I think it’s safe to say this is probably a pretty good way to measure athletic ability.
This Horizontal Jump variation is a newer addition to the lifting programs I design. I’ve been having wrestlers use it for the last couple years.
A word of caution, though. Most coaches suggest having a double bodyweight squat before starting depth jumps.
I don’t necessarily subscribe to that recommendation, but I want to put it out there. I think a better way to approach it is in terms of lifting experience and athleticism.
For instance, a wrestler may have a few years of lifting experience, but may not be a double bodyweight squatter. This would be especially likely if they have long legs.
Longer legs make the lifter have to move the bar a whole lot more. This is why the top squatters in the world are all relatively short.
Additionally, bodyweight factors in. For example, I’ve worked with a number of strong heavyweight wrestlers. Many of them squat between 450-550 pounds. However, they’re also heavy guys. As a result, their squat is not technically a double bodyweight squat.
But, I think we can agree that these wrestlers would still be considered pretty strong, right?
The real determinant comes from the jump itself. You should be able to jump the same, if not more, distance than you would from a Standing Horizontal Jump.
If you’re jumping considerably farther when performing a standard Standing Horizontal Jump, lower the height of the box.
If you’re already at a low height, you’re probably not a good candidate for Depth Jumps.
Spend your time focusing on Seated and Standing Horizontal Jumps. In addition, work on bringing up your leg strength with Box Squats and Prowler pushes.
If you really want to add Depth Horizontal Jumps to your lifting program, re-test them every few weeks. Once you meet the criteria above, you can start using them more regularly.
As far as the benefits go, this variation is very similar to the Triple Jump. It’s going to build tremendous reactive power in your legs. Just make sure you keep the criteria above in mind and don’t implement this jump before you can really benefit from it. Otherwise, you’ll just be spinning your wheels.
One quick technical tip- focus on “attacking” the ground. What I mean by this is don’t just look to step off, land, and jump. Instead, try to rush yourself to the ground and land in a position ready to jump. I focus on trying to pull myself to the ground. I know, it sounds weird. But that’s what I do and that’s what I suggest the wrestlers I train do.
Ultimately the goal of this focus is to simply help you to get off the ground quicker and more explosively. It’s tough to explain, but when performing Depth Horizontal Jumps, focus on something like this. I’m sure you’ll notice it increases your power output (distance you jump).
#2 Exercise for a Lifting Program for Wrestlers- Prowler
If you’re looking to develop functional leg strength and power for wrestling, this is the best exercise. I used to think it was just good at making wrestlers puke. Then I did some thinking and realized it’s great for other reasons.
You can go heavy with it to develop great leg strength.
You can go light with it to develop leg power.
The best part- all this strength and power is developed horizontally.
Why is this important?
Think about how much vertical movement you do in wrestling.
Now think about how often you move horizontally.
While there are vertical components within a match, the great majority of the force you generate in wrestling is horizontal in nature.
And, if you’re looking for optimal carryover to the mat, movement direction is an important consideration.
Generally speaking, the more specific you are with the direction and speed of the force you produce in the weight room, the more likely you are to have a better carryover to the mat.
Proper exercise selection and program design for wrestlers goes way beyond targeting muscles.
For example, yes you use your quads in wrestling.
And, if you perform Leg Extensions and get stronger, you may see a slight improvement in how you wrestle. This is especially true the younger you are.
However, you’re not going to get nearly the carryover that you would if you were to invest your time performing a specific exercise like the Prowler push.
Here are my favorite ways to use the Prowler in a lifting program for wrestlers.
Additionally, if I have a few wrestlers lifting together, I prefer to have them stand on the Prowler, rather than add weight. It makes turning it around a lot easier.
If you’re lifting by yourself, turning the Prowler may be difficult. If that’s the case, I suggest pushing the low bars to get the Prowler back where you started.
Don’t get me wrong, I think pushing with the low bars is valuable. I just think that when you push with the high bars the angle of your body better matches the angles you’ll be in on the mat.
As far as weight selection goes, the only thing I look for is if there is too much struggling. I do this simply for the sake of consistency and better measurement.
For instance, consider this scenario.
A wrestler Prowler pushes 500 pounds. This wrestler does so smoothly and without any stops. It’s a challenging set, but again, there are no stops.
The same wrestler Prowler pushes 550 pounds. However, this time they stop 4 times.
They struggle with traction.
In a nutshell, the push looks like it’s going to kill them.
While I applaud the effort and determination, how can I be sure that wrestler is stronger?
I can’t, because you can’t compare the 2 pushes.
That’s why I stress smooth pushes without any stops.
That doesn’t mean the push can’t be heavy. For example, watch this amazing feat of strength:
Another variation I have wrestlers use is a drag. I don’t use it as often simply because I only have about 35 useable feet of turf in my gym. The attachments added to perform the Drag shorten this distance even more. So I tend to use this variation more when the weather is nice and we can go outside.
Here’s a video of me demonstrating:
You can hook it up however you want. I prefer having a rope or Gi available to grab onto. It adds an additional grip element to the equation.
I used to have wrestlers perform drags with a chest strap attachment. However, once the weight got heavy enough, it put them on all fours.
Again, I don’t think this is bad. It just resembles the low bar Prowler push. And personally, I don’t think the angle your body is in matches how you are when you’re in on a shot. This is just a personal observation.
I still think all of the pushing and dragging variations discussed above have a better carryover than squatting or deadlifting. Keep in mind- I don’t think squatting or deadlifting are bad. I just think Prowler pushes and drags are better for wrestlers.
I mean, what’s the reason you’re following a lifting program?
To be a better wrestler, right?
You’re driving off one leg at a time, just like you do when you take a shot.
And, with the right weight selection, you can maximize speed and power.
Selecting weight for speed is easy- just use the Prowler.
Think about it…
As you add weight, you’re going to move slower, right?
Therefore, you’ll maximize your speed at the lightest weight.
Improving your speed pushing the empty Prowler is going to more directly affect your ability to get in on shots.
Selecting a weight to maximize power output requires some math (and research).
I cover that in more detail in this post- The Missing Link In Your Program.
But, to summarize today, here’s what I suggest.
Work with weights that are between 30-40% of your heaviest Prowler push.
Research has shown that for strength exercises like the squat and deadlift, power outputs are maximized in this range.
I know, I’m extrapolating from the research, but I think it’s a safe assumption to make.
Training to maximize your power output is going to help to improve your ability to finish shots once you get in.
Anyway, I bet you can imagine sprinting with a Prowler. But what about sprinting with a Prowler while a “tough” Chihuahua chases and barks at you?
For that reason, here’s a video of a Prowler sprint with a little dog:
#3 Exercise for a Lifting Program for Wrestlers- Box Squat
It may have sounded like I was bad mouthing squats and deadlifts earlier. But I want to reassure you that I wasn’t. Both of these exercises are great ways to develop lower body strength and power. However, because the Prowler is a movement-specific exercise, I prefer to use that, especially during the season.
Unfortunately, not all wrestlers have access to Prowlers or pushing sleds. In those cases, I include Box Squats in their lifting programs. Hell, I include Box Squats in pretty much every program.
I write a ton about why I think Box Squats are the best squatting variation for wrestlers in this post- Strength Training for Wrestling- Box Squats. So I won’t go into too much detail here.
But, to summarize, here are the top reasons I prefer them.
1. They are easier to measure. Unless you squat all the way down, there’s going to be some variation in your squatting depth. Even my wife, who is an Elite level power lifter (the highest ranking) still has inconsistent squat depths and she’s a high level squatter (300 pound squat at 132 pound bodyweight).
2. You don’t get as sore. I know what you’re thinking. You think you have to be sore to know you got in a good workout, right? Wrong. A properly designed lifting program for wrestlers allows for getting stronger without getting super sore all the time. How can you get the most out of practice if you’re sore and not able to move well? Don’t worry, you’ll still build strong legs. You’ll just be able to walk the day after lifting. Pretty cool, huh?
3. The Rate of Force Development (RFD) is 3-4 times greater than Free Squats. Why is this important? Don’t you think you’d be more effective on the mat if you were to produce force faster? Well, compared to Free Squats, Box Squats are a much better option if this is one of your goals.
…By the way, this should be one of your goals.
To summarize, there’s a reason why squats are in nearly every lifting program for wrestlers. As a matter of fact, squats are in nearly every lifting program I’ve ever seen, regardless of age, goals, or sport played.
The fact is, they work.
And, as far as wrestling goes, Box Squats work better.
In my opinion, they should be in every lifting program for wrestlers.
#4 Exercise for a Lifting Program for Wrestlers- Trap Bar Deadlift
To be honest, any deadlift will work. I just prefer the Trap Bar when designing a lifting program for wrestlers.
I like it over a traditional deadlift with a bar for a few reasons.
First, I think it’s a little bit safer. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had a wrestler hurt their back when using the Trap Bar. That’s not to say it can’t happen. I just can’t think of a time as I write this. I can think of a number of lifters that go to my gym who’ve hurt their backs deadlifting with a straight bar before. Maybe it’s because it’s a more common lift. Maybe it’s because of this next reason…
Second, it puts the weight in line with your center of mass. This makes you more efficient from a biomechanics standpoint. It probably is a contributing factor to the lower rate of injury as well.
Finally, the biggest reason I have wrestlers use the Trap Bar in the lifting programs I design is because it’s easier to perform Jump Deadlifts with. I’ve written a post on Jump Deadlifts before. Read the post here- Maximizing Your Power Output (Without Power Cleans). To summarize the post, Jump Deadlifts have higher power outputs when compared to Power Cleans.
Jump Deadlifts are also a lot easier to learn than Power Cleans. You know how to jump, right?
Here’s a funny video from Jim Wendler. By the way, if you don’t check out Jim’s site from time to time, you should really start.
But seriously, if you Power Clean, how much different is your form from that?
I mean, it doesn’t look like this, right? Specifically the hip extension portion.
How can you say no to an exercise that’s easier to learn AND has a higher output than a Power Clean?
Listen, I’m not trying to insult anyone here and I’m also not in favor of taking the easy road. I’m just realistic. How much time do you think you’d have to devote to really learn how to Power Clean? I mean really. Where you get perfect triple extension like in the Klokov video above.
When I ask the competitive Olympic lifters at my gym if they thought it was time well spent for athletes to learn the Olympic lifts, they all answer no. They say that it’s much better to spend your time jumping with weight and using the extra time to get better in your sport. I couldn’t agree more.
I only have, on average, three 1-hour sessions a week with the wrestlers I train. I don’t want to spend a good amount of that time working on technique when I can help them reach their goals a lot faster with simpler methods.
Power output is one of the top predictors of success in wrestling. And it makes sense, doesn’t it? The faster you can produce force, the more likely you are to score, right?
Jump Deadlifts are demonstrated in research to produce higher power outputs. They can also be implemented in a lifting program on Day 1.
I just can’t think of a good argument against NOT using them in your program.
Sample Lifting Programs For Wrestlers
Here are a couple sample lifting programs for wrestlers. Keep in mind that these are just quick, general examples of a couple ways to implement the exercises above.
If you’re looking for progressive, ready-to-use lifting programs or for a personalized lifting program, check out my Programs Page.
2x/Week Lifting Program For Wrestlers
This is structured for a wrestler during their last 2-3 months of the season.
Superset 1- Seated Horizontal Jump- 6×5 + Ab Wheel Progression- 4×8
Superset 2- Prowler Push, High Bars- 4x + Weighted Pullup- 4×6
Superset 3- Box Squat- 3×5 @ 80% + Floor Press- 3×5 @ 80%
Superset 1- Triple Jump 6×3 + Horizontal Back Extension Progression- 4×8
Superset 2- Jump Deadlift- 4×4 @ 40% + Bodyweight Row Progression- 4×8
Superset 3- Prowler Drag- 4x + Bodyweight JM Press- 4×8
3x/Week Lifting Program For Wrestlers
This is structured for a wrestler who’s in the off-season and looking to gain strength.
Superset 1- Seated Horizontal Jump- 5×5 + Ab Wheel Progression- 5×8
Superset 2- – Box Squat- 5×5 @ 80% + Weighted Pullup- 5×5
Superset 3- Prowler Push, Low Bars- 5x + Floor Press- 5×5 @ 80%
Superset 1- Triple Jump 5×3 + Horizontal Back Extension Progression- 5×8
Superset 2- Trap Bar Deadlift- 3×5 @ 75% + Bodyweight Row Progression- 5×8
Superset 3- Prowler Drag- 5x + Bodyweight JM Press- 5×8
Superset 1- Prowler Sprint- 5x + Hanging Leg Raise Progression- 5×8
Superset 2- Prowler Push, High Bars- 5x + Cable Row with Hold- 5×8
Superset 3- Good Morning- 4×8 + DB Floor Press- 4×8
Again, keep in mind that these are just 2 quick examples I put together. I just included this section to give you a brief idea of some ways to program the exercises I detail above.
The Top 4 Exercises for a Lifting Program for Wrestlers
Alright, let’s wrap this up.
Listen, if you’re reading my blog, then you’re looking to maximize your speed, strength, and power so that you can win more matches.
The bottom line is, these are the best lower body exercises to include in your lifting program.
If you want to truly maximize your performance on the mat, then start using these 4 exercises immediately.
And if you’re looking for programs proven to maximize your on the mat strength and power, check out my Program Packages.