Ever wonder what the physical qualities are in some of the top wrestlers in the world?
As a performance coach for wrestlers, I’m constantly searching for better, more efficient ways to help wrestlers to reach their physical potential.
So when I came across the studies below I was pretty excited. The studies measure and evaluate various physiological qualities of wrestlers. The wrestlers studied range from high school to the elite level. I hope these studies will help you improve your overall training program.
Preseason Body Composition, Build, and Strength as Predictors of High School Wrestling Success
The goal of the researchers was to examine preseason measurements of wrestlers. They measured body composition, overall build, and strength as a means to predict success during the upcoming season.
55 male high school wrestlers from Nebraska took part in the study. They were categorized as follows:
14 were highly skilled. They either won more than 67% of their matches the previous year or competed in the regional or state meet.
13 were average skilled. They won between 34-66% of their matches from the previous season.
28 were novice skilled. They won less than 33% of their matches from the previous season.
When compared to the subjects in similar studies, the researchers concluded “the body composition, build, and strength of the subjects in this study appear to be representative of typical preseason high school wrestlers.”
No significant differences between the highly skilled and average wrestlers existed. However, there were statistically significant differences found between the highly skilled and novice wrestlers.
When compared to novice wrestlers, highly skilled wrestlers were found to have:
1. Lower relative body fat.
2. A better ratio of shoulder width to hip width.
3. Greater muscular size. This was measured compared by comparing lean body weight to height.
4. Greater strength relative to body weight.
When addressing the lack of differences between highly skilled and average wrestlers, the researchers stated- “…other factors which contribute in wrestling success, such as aerobic and anaerobic energy systems, muscular power and endurance, flexibility, movement skill, balance, quickness, and agility, may account for the considerable additional variance between the groups.”
Sometimes I think research proves what is already known. In this case, more athletic looking kids will have more success wrestling than ones who don’t look super athletic.
This study does bring up an interesting finding. Specifically that there weren’t statistically significant differences in the physical qualities measured between the highly skilled and average skilled wrestlers.
Obviously, a lot more than just being fit and athletic goes into being a successful wrestler. This study further supports that.
However, it does make the case for improving your muscle size and strength in addition to reducing your bodyfat.
Cisar, C., G. Johnson, A. Fry, T. Housh, R. Hughes, A. Ryan, W. Thorland. Preseason body composition, build, and strength as predictors of high school wrestling success. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Volume 1, Number 4, pp 66-70. 1987.
Physiological Profiles of Elite Freestyle Wrestlers
To measure 6 physiological parameters of the U.S. Freestyle Team as they prepared for the 1997 World Championships.
Measurements assessed the following:
1. Upper-body power and endurance.
2. Body composition.
3. Lower-body power.
4. Upper-body power and anaerobic capacity.
5. Peak aerobic power.
6. Low back/hamstring flexibility.
8 members of the World Team were tested about 2 weeks before the 1997 World Championships. These wrestlers had prior successes at previous Olympic and World Championships winning a total of 4 golds and 5 silver/bronze medals.
2 weeks later the wrestlers went on to win 1 gold, 1 silver, and a 4th place finish. The team finished in 6th place.
Bodyfat: Excluding the heavyweight, it ranged from 5-8%.
Vertical Jump: 50-70 cm.
Rope Climb (5.6 meters): 5.4-20.4 seconds. There was no note about the heavyweight in this case. I think it’s safe to assume he would be on the slower end due to the extra weight. In addition, the researchers did note that one wrestler did not complete the test in a hand over hand fashion.
Flexibility: “Surprisingly low.” 1 wrestler couldn’t reach his toes during a sit-and-reach test. 2 received scores of 0 (only able to reach toes, but not beyond). The other 5 were able to reach past their toes. The best score was only 9.5 cm.
The VO2 max, upper body and lower body power tests used specialized equipment. Therefore, I will not include them simply because I don’t think coaches and wrestlers reading this post will be able to replicate them.
However, when I did a couple VO2 maxes in college my peak was about 62 and the average for this team was 54.6. Previous VO2 maxes of a similar level of international wrestler had been in the low 60s the researchers stated.
The researchers felt the decrease is probably the result in the change in match time. It was 3-periods of 3-minutes each (which is similar to 3, 2, 2 for college wrestlers) but recently changed to one 5-minute period.
Anyway, from what I remember, the extent of my conditioning training was simply going to practice along with extra steady-state cardio sessions to help bring my weight down.
What I’m trying to say is that if you want to improve your conditioning, I think working hard in practice should be your first focus.
The researchers stated that these athletic qualities are not necessarily an accurate way to predict success of wrestlers. This is especially true because strategy and technique are so important. However, this information does provide some goals when it comes to developing wrestlers by implementing a performance program.
I think both this study and the study below are valuable in that they provide some tests and results. This should give you a decent idea of how some of the top senior and junior wrestlers are performing from a physical skills standpoint.
Callan, S., D. Brunner, K. Devolve, S. Mulligan, J. Hesson, R. Wilber, J. Kearney. Physiological profiles of elite freestyle wrestlers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 14(2), 162-169. 2000.
Physiological Profile of Elite Iranian Junior Freestyle Wrestlers
The focus of the researchers was to measure and compare various physiological capabilities of elite level Iranian junior freestyle wrestlers.
The subjects were 70 wrestlers between the ages of 18-20. All wrestlers were ranked in the top 10 in the nation. Each had at least 6 years of experience. They were assessed during the competitive portion of their season.
VO2 max: The average was approximately 50. This is important to note because this study was performed in 2009 when freestyle matches were three 2-minute periods.
*Take note of a quote in the conclusions section below on VO2 max and its importance in wrestling. It’s the best summary I’ve found thus far.
Bodyfat: Excluding the heavyweights, the range was 7.4-11.4%. The 7 heavyweights had an average of 20.1%.
Flexibility: The average was approximately 8cm more than in the study of Elite US Freestyle Wrestlers.
Strength: The squat and bench press values were higher than in those found in a study on Division 3 wrestlers. The results were recorded as Watts/kg rather than pounds or kilograms.
Another study cited in this paper suggests that a previous analysis of Junior level World Champions had high levels of strength and power. The researchers concluded that these were two major determining qualities in terms of identifying the most successful wrestlers.
Speed, agility, and muscular endurance were all consistent with findings in other studies as well.
Situps/min: 59-75 for 50 and 55kg weight classes. Performance drops as weight increases. Hands were locked behind head and wrestlers had to touch their elbows to their thighs while a partner held their feet.
Pushups/min: 60-80 for 50 and 55kg weight classes. Values drop as weight increases. The wrestlers were not allowed to rest at the top or bottom position. No mention was made as to how the test was measured (touch chest to ground, to the fist of a partner, etc.).
Pullups: 28-57 for 50kg class and 25-42 for 55kg class. Again, reps drop as body weight increases. No mention of measurability was made (chin above bar, no kicking, come to straight arms at bottom, etc.).
Based on my experience training wrestlers at all levels, I can say that those are exactly “one shit ton” of pullups. So I’d imagine the researchers were not strict on range of motion, kicking, etc.
This is a small, sub-conclusion, but I found it interesting in regards to aerobic development for wrestlers:
“Therefore, although a high VO2 max is not a guarantee of good results in wrestling, it must be developed to an optimal level to allow the athlete to maintain a high activity level during the whole match without demonstrating excessive fatigue.”
Another statement I found very valuable was:
“Coaches at all levels can establish testing programs for their athletes, which can be used to monitor their progress.”
There’s a lot to consider when selecting exercises/tests to measure the success of your strength and conditioning program. Here are a few qualities that are consistent among the studies I’ve reviewed: strength, power, cardiovascular conditioning, anaerobic power, and flexibility.
Here are some quick tests for each:
Strength- squat, bench press, deadlift, weighted chinup.
Power- Olympic lift or DB derivative, vertical jump, horizontal jump.
Cardiovascular Conditioning- timed run.
Anaerobic Power- I like to use a rower (because of the digital output) for this for 20-30 seconds. The more distance covered in that period of time, the better power the wrestler has. Any all-out effort for around 30 seconds is good, just make sure it’s measurable.
Flexibility- I don’t test flexibility. If the wrestler I’m training is moving poorly and unable to perform lifts with a certain range of motion, we simply work on mobility/flexibility. Like the studies above suggest, a standard sit and reach works fine.
Remember that most of the studies have found wrestlers to not perform very well on this. As a result, don’t go crazy working on flexibility. Research suggests that it’s not a big predictor of success on the mat.
Mirzaei, R. D. Curby, F. Rahmain-Nia, M. Moghadasi. Physiological profile of elite iranian junior freestyle wrestlers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 23(8), 2339-2344. 2009.
Physiological Profile of Elite Chinese Female Wrestlers
The researchers were interested in measuring a number of physiological capabilities. The goal was to determine which they thought were most important for success in female wrestling.
25 female wrestlers categorized as elite by their top-3 national ranking. Some of the wrestlers were medalists in the Olympic Games and World Championships.
Generally speaking, the Olympic and World Championship medalists had significantly higher scores in both the strength and power tests.
The higher level wrestlers did not test significantly higher for aerobic ability.
The VO2 maxes ranged from 41.7 to 55.6. The highest values being associated with the lower weight wrestlers and vice versa.
“The present data generally supports previous data for 1 RM bench press, 1 RM back squat and maximal grip strength being significantly greater in female wrestlers with experience in at least one international tournament compared to wrestlers with no international tournament experience indicating more experienced successful wrestlers are stronger than less successful wrestlers.”
One of the things I’ve found consistent in the research is that as the match length decreases, the aerobic performance does too.
The results above that show insignificant differences in aerobic ability between the various wrestlers. This further suggests that while having an aerobic base is important, it doesn’t need to be as highly developed as it once did.
On the other side of the coin, because the demands on the aerobic system are lower, it would suggest that the demands on the anaerobic systems would be greater. That may explain the differences in the various strength tests.
A good summary of the findings was made by the researchers:
“International rules encourage maneuvers that require both absolute whole-body strength and power as well as an isometric strength component. To be effective, wrestling techniques should be applied with accuracy, within a good “window of opportunity,” with high strength, velocity and power. Therefore, decisive wrestling actions might be mainly dependent on anerobic metabolism.”
Zi-hong, H. F. Lian-shi, Z. Hao-jie, X. Kui-yuan, C. Feng-tang, T. Da-lang, L. Ming-yi, A. Lucia, S. Fleck. Physiological profile of elite chinese female wrestlers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Published ahead of print. 2013.
Physiological Profiles of Elite Senior Wrestlers
This wasn’t a research study. It’s a review of existing research. I thought it would help to better define/characterize the qualities that make a successful wrestler.
So I thought I’d throw it in as a way to summarize the information above. Keep in mind this is a review of various research papers on elite senior wrestlers from around the world.
Generally speaking, successful wrestlers have more strength and power than less successful wrestlers.
The most significant differences between the two groups was in upper body strength and power.
“Aerobic capacity is one of the most important physical factors to achieve good results in wrestling competitions. The maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) of national and international wrestlers taking part in international competition has shown to be about 53-56 ml/kg/min.”
I think it’s important to note that the researchers say it’s been higher in the past (which is when matches were of longer duration). At the time of publishing this paper the matches were two 3-minute periods with a 30-second break in between.
Keep in mind that the average in the study of elite junior Iranian wrestlers was 50 and the range of elite Chinese female wrestlers was 41-55.
A well stated conclusion on aerobic conditioning was made by the researchers in the elite Chinese female study:
“It has been hypothesized that a higher aerobic capacity should allow athletes to maintain higher intensity activity during the match, delay the accumulation of metabolites associated with fatigue processes and improve the recovery process between two consecutive matches. Collectively, the above indicates aerobic metabolism is important as a basic requirement for female wrestler to achieve good performance, but our results indicate it may not be a major determinant of success in all weight classes, which is similar to male wrestlers.”
Regardless, you still must have a solid aerobic base. For a great resource on a variety of “at home” VO2 max tests, click here.
The research reviewed (and detailed above) obviously supports achieving and maintaining a low level of body fat. A good goal to shoot for is under 10%.
Keep in mind that flexibility measurements have produced less than impressive results across the board. However, the paper did state “the flexibility of top-level wrestlers was higher than that of lower level wrestlers.”
Final Conclusions On Training:
“Overtraining in the wrestler should also be studied because wrestlers have a long season of competition at scholastic and collegiate levels. A period for tapering and recovery may be lacking during the season because of having to make weight. Collectively, to become a successful wrestler it is suggested that development of appropriate and optimal training methods is a key requirement.”
I think this conclusion is very important to note. It brings to light the fact that unlike most other sports, you typically don’t see a tapering period in wrestling. Even if the coach has the intention on bringing down practice time and intensity, wrestlers who are cutting weight will end up needing to add in extra workouts to make up for the decrease.
This observation really brings to light the importance of following a sound nutrition plan during the season. For more info on how to get started cleaning up your diet read Wrestling Nutrition.
Yoon, J. Physiological profiles of elite senior wrestlers. Sports Med. 32(4), 225-233. 2002.