Contrary to what you may be thinking; no, in this post on weight training for wrestlers I will not talking about building strength to finish single legs.
While that would make for a valuable series of posts, it will unfortunately not be the focus here.
I’m actually talking about building functional strength in your lower body through the use of specific exercises in your training program which train each leg to produce maximal force by itself.
Why is this so valuable for wrestlers?
Think about it…
How many times in a match are you standing up with one leg?
Shooting off one leg?
Sprawling and fighting off an attack to one of your legs?
You get the idea.
Anyway to get things started, watch this highlight film of the 2011 and 2012 NCAA Champs Penn State University and be on the lookout for all of the times the Nittany Lions are on one leg at a time in these clips.
See what I mean when I say training and developing single leg strength should be an important part of any weight training for wrestlers program?
Before I get into the exercises, sets, reps, and placement in an annual program for the various single leg lift I incorporate into the programs I have the wrestlers I train use; I’d first like to discuss the overall importance of incorporating this type of functional strength training into your weight training program.
Benefits Of Single Leg Weight Training For Wrestlers
Basically the point I’m trying to make in the introduction to this post is that you’re constantly having to produce power off of one leg in a match. Therefore doesn’t it make sense to develop this type of strength and power in the weight room?
In nearly every strength and performance plan I design for a wrestler or a team, I always program at least one single leg variation a week.
I’ll be honest, no one likes doing them.
They are easily at the top of the list of “Most Hated” according to nearly everyone I train (I hate them too, but I do them because they are an absolute must in a weight training for wrestlers program).
However, they are a necessary evil and you know as well as I do- your ability to put yourself through training that your opponents don’t is a primary determinant of your success in wrestling. So take the lesson that I learned from Georges St. Pierre and put everything you’ve got into your preparation.
In addition to being functional (in terms of their application) for wrestling, they also help keep the body in balance.
Go back to the questions above that I started this post with and ask yourself- how many times in these situations am I driving off of only one particular leg in a match and/or practice.
Think of the number of repetitions you’re doing primarily on just one side of your body!
You don’t go to the gym and do hundreds of curls with one arm but none with the other right?!
But oftentimes the number of “reps” we do in practice and the affects it can have in terms of creating imbalances in our bodies never occurs to us!
So not only are single leg exercises great at producing wrestling-specific strength and power, but they’re also essential to keeping our lower bodies in balance so we don’t start overcompensating with one of our legs, which may lead to an injury.
Anyway, here are the six single leg variations I program into the wrestling workouts I design.
Single Leg Variations
1. Single Leg Press
2. Split Squat
3. Step Up
5. Reverse Lunge
6. Walking Lunge
Weight Training For Wrestlers- Single Leg Press
The single leg press is the easiest and least functional of the exercises I will use in a weight training for wrestlers program.
I say least functional because you’re not in a standing position. Therefore, your ankles, knees, hips, and core are not forced to stabilize like they would be during single leg variation where you’re on your feet.
Due to this lack of stabilization and “sports-specificity” it is classified as a less functional exercise when compared to some of the other exercises I’ll cover.
However, they serve a purpose and are important to work in to your program.
I typically program this exercise after the season to give my wrestlers a break from the heavy squats, deadlifts, and lunge variations I have them doing towards the end of the season. It’s also worth working in if someone tells me their back has been bothering them as it doesn’t load the core like a Lunge or other variation would.
Additionally, because it’s more of an “isolation” exercise, I’m able to better see if any asymmetries exist in the lower bodies of the wrestlers I train. Taking a proactive approach to identifying asymmetries/imbalances will help reduce the risk of injury.
Finally, for the same reason that I say the single leg press is a bad weight training exercise for wrestlers (at least as far as how it lags behind the others in terms of being functional), it also makes it a great exercise.
It allows the wrestler to simply focus on driving with the leg.
They don’t need to worry about balancing as they perform a lunge or whether their grip is going to give out from holding heavy dumbbells. The focus of attention is simply pushing the weight!
So while I’m not a huge proponent of machine exercises in a weight training for wrestlers program, the single leg press does have it’s place.
**In fact, as I review this post and add some new insights to it, I actually just recently used the single leg press with a wrestler who for the longest time was unable to progress the weight he was using for lunge variations, or, if he did increase the weight, his form would suffer big time.
So I put him on the single leg press for 4 or 5 weeks and had him hammer 4 or so hard sets once a week and followed a simple linear progression (ie he did 8 reps week 1, 10 reps week 2, 12 reps week 3, then in week 4 we added a little weight and went back to 8 reps).
After 4-5 weeks using this exercise he added 10 pounds to each dumbbell for his lunges and is now back to making steady progress.
Anyway, in terms of sets and reps- I’ll have wrestlers perform anywhere from 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps as an accessory exercise after the core lift(s) have been performed.
SLP Tips and Video
First and foremost, as with any leg press, make sure you position yourself so that your back is flat against the back pad and your hips aren’t rounded underneath you causing your low back to round.
One of the great things about the single leg press is that you’re better able to get into and maintain that proper, flat-back position as opposed to when you use two legs (which can oftentimes rotate your hips posteriorly/up thereby causing a break in your once neutral core).
As far as foot position goes, it’s generally suggested that the higher your foot is on the plate, the more hamstring and glute you will work and the lower your foot is on the plate the more quad you’ll work.
Rather than worry about what muscle you’re “targeting” though, just worry about positioning your foot in such a way that allows you to get the greatest range of motion possible- a key to success when concerning weight training for wrestlers of any age or experience level!
Weight Training For Wrestlers- Split Squat
The first DB single leg exercise I use in a weight training for wrestling program is the Split Squat.
It is a fantastic foundational exercise to include in any athletic development program, but especially in one for wrestlers if you’re looking to build the strength, balance, and coordination necessary to perform higher level single leg exercises like walking lunges and reverse lunges.
Not only does it require great single leg strength, but it also requires stability throughout the lower body and core, making it much more functional than the single leg press I detailed in an earlier post.
Ultimately it is a great “bridge” between the Single Leg Press and more dynamic variations of the Lunge (Reverse, Walking, etc.).
While there is a lot going on from a technical standpoint compared to the Single Leg Press, there are two big technique focuses that I tend to put the most stress on when working with a wrestler performing split squats.
First, I place a strong emphasis on keeping the front foot flat on the ground throughout the exercise.
I’ve found that some coaches and trainers make a big deal about the lead knee driving out over the toe.
I’m not super concerned with that because I’ve found that if the front foot stays flat, there’s only so far out the knee can travel.
Additionally, I’d venture to guess that nearly every penetration step you take your lead knee is out over your toe. So for someone to try to convince me it’s bad for your knees isn’t going to happen. On top of that look at all the people doing Yoga in crazy positions with their knees and Olympic lifters who perform full range of motion squats and front squats with their knees out over their toes (and a LOT of weight on their back).
In a nutshell, I feel that the “no knee over the toe” rule is just a bunch of crap.
All the wrestlers I train do not have any knee pain and, just like you, I’m sure, they’ve shot thousands of penetration steps in their lives.
Additionally, if the wrestler that I’m training tends to drive their lead knee out as opposed to sinking straight down into the bottom of the split squat, it tells me that they’re weak in their hamstrings and glutes and allows me to better personalize their program to target their weak points.
The second big technique point I emphasize when it comes to implementing a Split Squat in a weight training for wrestling program is to touch your trail knee to the ground on every rep.
While some may argue that this is dangerous, I am in favor of this for a number of reasons.
First, it forces consistency on each rep. Ever seen someone at the gym squat?
What usually happens?
They go really low on their warm-up sets but as they add weight they stop going as low right?!
By having my wrestlers LIGHTLY touch their knee to the ground on each rep, it forces them to choose weights that they can handle with proper technique and allows me to better track their progress because I know each rep is consistent.
I put lightly in caps above because it is of the utmost importance that you do not let your knee collide with the floor. This will lead to nothing but trouble and pain. Weight training for wrestling should not include beating your body up, that’s what you do on the mat everyday.
If you are unable to decelerate at the bottom of the Split Squat and knee to the floor without any noise coming from your knee’s contact with the floor, then move down in weight and focus on better control as you perform the exercise.
I’ve heard a few coaches preach that when you’re doing any kind of Split Squat or Lunge variation you shouldn’t involve touching a knee to the ground (the argue that it will lead to bad knees).
But if you’re doing them right, there shouldn’t be any issues.
Besides, how many times do your knees come in contact with the mat during practice (in more awkward angles, too)?
So be sure to keep these two technique points in mind while performing Split Squats.
In terms of implementation in a program, I’ll have them perform anywhere from 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps as an accessory exercise after the core lift(s) have been performed for the day.
Split Squat Video
Be sure to check out the other two posts in this series in which I detail the other progressions in the Single Leg exercise sequence I use for wrestlers.