Wrestling Conditioning

wrestling conditioning post- an image of Jim Wendler pushing the high bars on a Prowler in a parking lot.
Wrestling conditioning at it’s finest!

I used to think wrestling conditioning was as simple as going to practice and working hard. However, the more feedback I get from wrestlers, the more they say they could use a little extra gas in the tank.

I was even asked by former Binghamton University Wrestling Coach (now NC State Head Coach), Pat Popolizio, to include hard conditioning in the 2 month peaking program I designed for his team before the 2012 NCAA Championships. By the way, Binghamton finished 14th that year!

I guess things are changing with how people view conditioning for wrestling.

Maybe it’s from the rise in popularity of MMA and the fighters’ conditioning workouts.

Maybe it’s because of Cross Fit.

Regardless, I have heard the requests for a wrestling conditioning post. Let’s get into it!

Wrestling Conditioning Considerations

When I first started implementing conditioning workouts, the means was really determined by the time of year.

When it was nice out, I’d have the guys push Prowler.

It was anything but scientific. Other than a linear progression (I would increase the number of pushes or decrease the rest time), I really wouldn’t do anything “fancy.”

It oftentimes looked like this…

In all honesty, it did a great job. In fact, I still use this method at times.

Anyway, when the weather was crappy, I usually had wrestlers do Battling Ropes circuits and sprints on the Airdyne Bikes and rowers.

Again, I would set things up so that a progression would occur over a period of time.

Did this work?


However, I recently read a book that changed my opinions on conditioning. Since then, I’ve begun following some of the techniques detailed. And by implementing the strategies below, I’ve noticed a huge difference in performance.

So while I’d like to take credit for the info below, there’s just no way I can. The principles are all from Joel Jamieson’s (of 8weeksout.com) book, Ultimate MMA Conditioning.

Applying Joel’s Ideas To Wrestling Conditioning

What I really like about Joel’s book is that he doesn’t just give you a program to follow. Instead, he teaches you about the different Energy Systems and the adaptations that can occur.

While a lot of people would rather just be given a program, this was a lot better for me. Ultimately, it enabled me to understand the principles and research. This makes it so I can help the wrestlers I train via email get in their best cardiovascular shape.

In his book, he presents a number of methods to achieve certain adaptations. However, there are 2 specific strategies that I’ve started to use.

In fact, that’s one of the best parts of Joel’s book. He introduces the methods and explains the physiological adaptations that occur from that style of training. This enables you to better select methods based on what you feel will be most beneficial.

In addition, because wrestling is an integral part of MMA, he writes about how certain methods will improve your wrestling. Specifically, the ability to power through scramble situations and other scenarios.

Method 1 for Wrestling Conditioning

The first is Cardiac Power Intervals. The primary goal of this training is to increase the amount of blood the heart can pump.

Joel concludes, “A stronger heart with more mitochondria means it’s less likely to fatigue at higher heart rates and it’s capable of delivering more oxygen.”

Now doesn’t that sound like something that could be useful?

He recommends 1 or 2 sessions of Cardiac Power Intervals per week.

Each session should have 4-12 reps.

Each rep should last between 60-120 seconds. It should be performed with maximal effort and have 2-5 minutes of rest between each one. If you use a heart rate monitor, rest until your HR is between 120-130 beats per minute.

On a personal note- this is just a miserable way to spend your day.

But as far as functional wrestling conditioning goes, it’s the best. In fact, I can’t imagine another method being as good for your overall performance.

Here’s a video of me performing a Cardio Power Interval:

Method 2 for Wrestling Conditioning

The second method is the High Intensity Continuous Training (HICT). It sounds complicated, but it’s really not. It’s just very painful.

Joel states, “Because your heart rate is under the anaerobic threshold and there is adequate oxygen supply, this method is extremely effective at increasing the aerobic abilities of your fast twitch fibers. The end result is that your fast twitch fibers can generate ATP for much longer before fatiguing.”

More energy production for longer from your fast twitch fibers?

That means you can maintain higher levels of speed and power for longer periods of time.

Pretty cool, huh?

That’s why I think this is a must in a wrestling conditioning plan.

A picture of a Spin Bike with a white background.
With super high resistance, this is another terrible way to spend your day!

Joel recommends a spin bike at a very high resistance. You should only able to achieve 20-30 revolutions per minute.

He suggests 1-2 sets of this per workout and 1-2 workouts per week.

Implementation in your Wrestling Conditioning Program

Here are some of the principles I like to follow when a wrestling conditioning plan.

1. Prioritize

I regularly talk about prioritizing the importance of your workouts.

For instance, on days when I have a large load of MMA training scheduled, I keep things light with my morning workout. I do things that I know won’t negatively affect my training later.

These two types of conditioning are pretty demanding. I definitely found these conditioning sessions to be harder to get through on days when I didn’t do it as my first workout.

As a result, I adjust my schedule accordingly.

So take a look at your schedule and see how it all fits in. Just make sure you keep your goals in mind when doing so.

2. Good Balance

When I first started CPI I was doing 250 meters on the rower before moving on. This caused my legs to give out after a few sets.

I knew that my goal for the session was to maximally test my cardio, not just fry my legs.

What did I do?

I simply cut down the distance on the rower. I lowered it to 200 meters and added a few more reps to the Curl Press and Rope Slams.

This helped me to get more sets in. It also challenged my upper body more. Upper body conditioning can sometimes be a limiting factor for me, so it was a good adjustment overall.

Now that I’ve gotten acclimated to the HICT, my legs are doing much better. However, at the time it was a big issue for me.

3. Bike for HICT

I’ve found the bike works best for me. I tried both an Elliptical and an Arc Trainer as well. I just didn’t like them as much. It’s just a personal preference, so, if you don’t have access to a Spin Bike or you prefer something else, don’t worry about it. Use whatever works best for you.

Also, be sure to keep track of your revolutions per minute. After a few minutes, your legs may start to fatigue and you may drop below 20/min.

If that’s the case simply turn the adjust the resistance.

However, don’t dog it and makes excuses to lower the resistance.

Here’s a video explaining and showing the implementation of HICT with a bike.

Sample Progression

Week 1

Day 1: 4-6 CPI
Day 2: 15min HICT

Week 2

Day 1: 15min HICT
Day 2: 6-8 CPI
Day 3: 15min HICT

Week 3

Day 1: 2x15min HICT
Day 2: 8-10 CPI
Day 3: 2x15min HICT

Week 4

Day 1: 2×15-20min HICT
Day 2: 8-10 CPI
Day 3: 2×15-20min HICT
Day 4: 6-8 CPI

Follow a progression like this but keep this in mind- you’re looking to become a better wrestler by getting in better shape.

Don’t continue to push and push until it results in over-exhaustion. You don’t want to get to the point where your ability to practice/compete is negatively affected.

Additionally, Joel recommends using these methods for no more than 4 weeks. Ideally, you should use these methods to help add some “finishing touches” to your gas tank before major tournaments.

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.


5 Comments. Leave new

  • Thanks for the fast response, man! I really appreciate the time and effort you have out into these articles. As a strength and conditioning coach, I really appreciate your insight into the specific demands of this sport.

    Since finding this site two days ago, I have read a ton of the articles, purchased the Ultimate MMA Conditioning book, and have subscribed to the newsletter.

    I am really excited to implement the conditioning program into one of my young client’s routine. He is already freakishly strong. He recently squatted 140kg (308lbs) in a USAPL sanctioned competition and clean and jerked 185 in training– at 12 years old and 126 lbs. I have been having him do some high intensity interval training, Prowler and dragging sled work, and short 3-5 minute CrossFit style metcons 3 times a week. It has definitely worked, but I am confident that with the help I’ve received on this site and the information in the book you recommended that he will be in absolute top shape when he tries out for 6th grade wrestling next month.

    Thanks again,

    Kevin Simons

    • Glad you’ve found my info so useful, Kevin. Thanks for all the positive feedback. Man, that kid sounds like an absolute beast, and I thought I worked with some freakish athletes, lol! I’m going to guess that he’s going to be more than prepared for wrestling next month.

      If you’re ever interested in doing a guest post about the kinds of training you do with him, I’d be more than happy to post it. I’m always looking for new ideas and ways to better improve my system and you sound like you’re doing some really good things with him.

      Anyway, let me know and thanks again for checking out all my stuff and for all of the feedback.

  • Is there any trick to getting HR to max? I feel sometimes I need a pre-exhaustion phase before giving it the max effort push to help me get HR above 160’s. Otherwise I burn out (doing on echo bike), before I can continue to push above 165ish. Thinking it is something I will get better at over time but curious if there is a trick to getting the HR up effectively.


    • Hey Billy, a pre-exhaustion may certainly be necessary. I’ve currently been training for some Jiu Jitsu tournaments, and as a result, I’ve been doing a lot of additional conditioning. I’ve found that for certain exercises/pieces of equipment, I need to ramp things up in order to get my heart rate to a near maximal level. I’m in the same boat with you regarding the echo bike. My legs just aren’t able to handle the pump I get from it, and as such, I need multiple shorter sprints to get to a max. If I were involved in a different sport, say soccer, where my legs would be more likely to be appropriately conditioned, that may not be the case. Additionally, the better overall condition you’re in (both from a cardiovascular and muscular conditioning standpoint), the more work will be needed to achieve a max heart rate, which ultimately may result in the need to do a few sets before achieving a very elevated/near max heart rate. Does this all make sense?

      • Ahh Yes. I will try it out. It makes sense, because I know when I spar (Muay Thai), my HR reaches closer to max HR, but it doesn’t feel nearly as brutal as trying to go straight for it on the echo bike.


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