What Sets Top Wrestlers Apart From Everyone Else?

Kyle Dake with a big smile as he poses for his picture for the Cornell wrestling program.

As you probably know, I am on a never ending quest to identify what separates great wrestlers from the rest of the pack.

In fact, I’ve written a post entitled Physiological Profile Of The Ideal Wrestler. In it I review 5 research studies that examine various qualities of wrestlers at different levels.

And while I’m regularly looking for more studies, I hit a dry spell for a while. That is, until recently…

Study Intro:

The focus of this study was to determine differences in various strength, power, flexibility, and other common measures of athleticism between “elite” and “amateur” wrestlers.

The subject pool consisted of 92 wrestlers (53 Greco-Roman and 39 Freestyle) from 5 countries.

They were divided up by weight class into a “Light Weight” group, a “Middle Weight” group, and a “Heavy Weight” group.

Light Weights were between 55 and 68 kilograms (121 – 149.6 pounds). The total number of elite level men in this group was 18. The total number of amateur level men was 15.

Middle Weights were between 68 and 84 kilograms (149.6 – 184.8 pounds). The total number of elite men in this group was 18. The number of amateur level men was 19.

Heavy Weights were between 84 and 100 kilograms (184.8 – 220 pounds). The total number of elite men in this group was 10. The number of amateur men in this group was 12.

Wrestlers who met the “elite” criteria were ones who:

1. Had experience in at least 3 FILA level international competitions (European and/or World Championships).

2. Had at least 6 years of regular training experience.

Wrestlers who were categorized as “amateur”:

1. Had been a finalist in their respective national championship in the last year, but had not yet participated in international competition.

If you ask me, the “amateur” level wrestlers were still pretty damn good.

Other Relevant Study Info:

The study was conducted at the end of a pre-competition training cycle.

All wrestlers had averaged about 9.6 training sessions each week consisting of 60% wrestling practices, 14% endurance training, and 26% resistance training.

None of the wrestlers were cutting weight at the time.

All of the wrestlers followed the same dietary plans during the testing.

None of the wrestlers increased or decreased their body mass by more than 1% during the testing.

The Results:

Power

Elite wrestlers had both higher average and peak power (between 16.0% – 22.0%).

Additionally, when compared with body mass, no elite group showed a significant advantage over another with their ability to express power. This means that per pound power is high in elite wrestlers, regardless of their weight class.

After adjusting for fat free mass, elite level wrestlers were still able to produce significantly more power.

After adjusting for age and training experience, no significant differences existed.

The test utilized was the modified crank-arm Wingate test.

Blood Lactate

Elite wrestlers showed significantly higher levels of lactate (indicative of higher power outputs) than amateur wrestlers. There was a 14.0% – 20.1% difference.

This was determined by blood samples taken after the arm bike test detailed above.

Fatigue Index

No difference between the groups was observed.

This score was arrived at by dividing Peak Power and Minimum Power observed during the arm bike test.

10 Meter Sprint

Elite heavy weights were 6.8% faster than their amateur counterparts.

No significant difference was observed in the other weight classes.

No significant differences were observed between the 3 groups of elite wrestlers.

Jumping

Significantly higher counter-movement vertical jump was measured in all elite groups.

Additionally, all 3 elite groups showed significantly higher power outputs for their body weight.

Differences ranging from 7.6% to 16.6% were found.

A counter-movement vertical jump with a systematized warm-up was used. Wrestlers were allowed to lower themselves to whatever they were comfortable with before jumping.

Strength

Elite wrestlers showed between an 8.4% – 24.6% difference in strength.

When the data was adjusted for muscular differences between elite and amateur wrestlers, elite wrestlers were still significantly stronger.

Additionally, max muscle power during both tests ranged from 14.0% to 29.8% higher in elite wrestlers.

After adjusting for age and training experience, no significant differences existed.

1 rep max squats and bench presses were used to test strength.

Grip

Both dominant and non-dominant grip strength was higher in both elite light and middle weight groups. No significant difference was observed between the heavy weight groups.

A grip dynamometer was used to test grip strength.

Back Strength

Maximal back strength in all elite groups was 9.3% to 20.5% greater when compared to amateur wrestlers.

Additionally, when the data was adjusted to account for muscle mass, elite level light and middle weights still showed significantly greater strength.

A back muscle dynamometer was used to measure back strength.

Flexibility

No differences were observed in any groups.

A straight leg raise and sit and reach test were both used to measure flexibility.

Training Experience

Elite wrestlers had 25-37% more training experience and were 8-12% older.

Fat-Free Mass

Elite wrestlers had 3% to 5% more fat-free mass.

Fat-free mass was measured by skinfold measurements at the triceps, subscapular, and abdominal regions.

Conclusions Of The Researchers

1. Both strength and power in the upper body and lower body of elite wrestlers ranged from 7.7% to 29.9% higher. This was even after adjusting the data for fat-free mass.

2. A “unique finding” was that there were no significant differences between elite wrestlers, regardless of weight class, regarding overall strength (in both the squat and bench) and power output in the squat.

3. This is more for your own training- the subjects showed power output in the squat to be maximized between 62% – 65%.

For the bench it was maximized between 34% and 37%.

“These results may suggest that the higher absolute and normalized maximal strength, muscle power, and anaerobic metabolism, although explained in part by the differences in fat-free mass, will give elite wrestlers a clear advantage during Olympic wrestling compared to amateurs.”

Study Referenced

Garcia-Pallares, J., J. Lopez-Gullon, X. Muriel, A. Diaz, M. Izquierdo. Physical fitness factors to predict male Olympic wrestling performance. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 111(8), 1747-1758. 2011.

My Thoughts:

There were some interesting things in this study.

First, while strength and power was a lot higher in elite level wrestlers, when the researchers made adjustments to the data to account for the extra experience the elite level wrestlers had, they found there was no significant difference.

This tells me something that’s regularly preached in the wrestling community- work hard and you’ll get there.

Even though the elite wrestlers were significantly stronger and more powerful, the adjustment the researchers made leads me to believe that it was due to their age and experience.

Put simply- the elite wrestlers had more lifting experience.

Makes sense as to why they may be stronger, right?

Additionally, the researchers suggest that differences in strength and conditioning programs may be a primary reason for the differences.

What was more interesting to me was the difference in lower body power as measured by the counter-movement jump.

I just double checked the study, and the researchers did not state that the difference became insignificant when adjusted for age/experience.

This tells me that lower body power is an “x factor” as far as athletic qualities.

Elite wrestlers were between 7.6% and 16.6% better in the jump test. That’s quite a significant difference considering so many matches at that level are decided by 1 point or 1 key scramble.

Anyway, those are just two quick things that caught my eye.

What did you find unique about this study and/or what questions do you have?

Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.

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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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