Wrestling Strength Training For The Upper Body

wrestling strength training picture of a wrestler flipping a tire, the Shamrock Strength and Conditioning, LLC logo

Convincing a wrestler to do a wrestling strength training workout for their upper bodies a couple times a week is not too difficult.

This is especially easy if they are getting muscled around during matches.

However, more often than not they fall into the same trap- they don’t switch the exercises they’re performing to prevent plateaus.

Rotating your exercises every three to six weeks helps for a number of reasons.

First, it changes the stimulus on the body, which is one way to prevent a plateau from occurring.

I like to do this because adjusting the sets and reps is oftentimes not an option. For instance, during the season, sudden volume manipulations to wrestling strength training program can lead to unexpected and intense soreness after a workout.

This could ultimately lead to a decrease in performance both in practice and in any upcoming matches. Neither of these are desirable, so I tend to favor relatively consistent volume throughout the season.

Therefore, having alternative exercises that mimic the core exercise is of the utmost importance in a wrestling strength training plan.

Second, it presents a new challenge for the wrestler which helps keep him motivated. Doing the same thing day in, day out is a great way to kill the motivation in just about anyone.

Just think about how disinterested you’d get with wrestling if practice were the same each and every day…

And third, it helps to prevent boredom with lifting. Ultimately this will lead to increased adherence to the program which will lead to continued progress. This, as opposed to stopping altogether or following an inconsistent wrestling strength training plan that produces little, if any, results.

With that, here are some upper body movements you may not have seen before that you should consider working into your training.

Wrestling Strength Training Plan Bench Alternative 1- Floor Press

The floor press is great because it takes the leg drive out of the bench and forces the lifter to be explosive from a dead stop. Ultimately, for most people (except those with abnormally long arms) this makes it a great low end builder for the bench press (ie it’s great at building strength to help get the bar through the first third to half of the press off your chest).

To set up for a floor press, start by first getting a bar set up in a power rack at a height that allows you to lift it off as though you were on a bench press. From there, lay on the floor and set up like you would for a normal bench press.

One quick tip- Donnie Thompson (the first person to every total 3,000 pounds in a powerlifting meet) regularly suggests using a pad behind the shoulders to prevent a potential injury.

I don’t argue with 380+ pound guys who total 3,000 pounds, I just go with whatever they say. So whatever you put behind your back (I typically fold up a yoga mat), put something with some give on the ground just to be safe.

Anyway, your legs can either be straight or bent at the knees with your feet flat on the floor. Just make sure you don’t drive them into the ground hard enough to where your hips raise off the ground during the press.

**Side Note- Just to be safe, I suggest you keep your legs straight. I used to bend my knees and allow the wrestlers I train to do the same, but I kept seeing the same thing- when things started to get tough, leg drive was almost impossible to prevent from happening.

Because this is a low end builder of the bench press, using leg drive to help initiate the press defeats the purpose of using the floor press. So, unless there is a huge amount of discomfort by straightening your legs, I suggest you do that to ensure you get the most out of this exercise.

Bring the weight down like you would for a bench press until your triceps are completely resting on the ground. Hold that position for two seconds. This pause, combined with no leg drive is what makes the floor press one of the best low end builders of the bench press.

Drive the weight back to the starting position without utilizing any leg drive.

A big benefit to performing this exercise is it builds static to dynamic (no motion to motion) strength. These type of exercises are great for wrestlers because they resemble stalemate situations in matches that are usually stopped by the official.

Additional Note– I’m revisiting the post a couple years later and would like to add some things. In the last couple years my philosophy has changed a bit. Some of my old clients would say I’ve gotten soft. I think I’ve just gotten smarter.

For instance, I used to have wrestlers Bench Press regularly. However, over the years I’ve dealt with more and more guys with shoulder pain/discomfort. One of the top suggestions by lots of Doctors and Physical Therapists I know is when looking to minimize stress on the shoulder, don’t let the elbows go past the torso when performing a horizontal press (Bench Press, primarily).

The Floor Press is the perfect fit for this because it makes it physically impossible to break this rule.

Additionally, almost every guy who follows a wrestling strength training program I design performs the Floor Press with less weight than the Bench Press.

Why is using less weight good, Dickie?

Because it’s going to help cut down on the wear and tear on your shoulders.

You can still train with heavy weights that cause you to strain. Therefore, the neurological adaptations you’re looking for to increase your strength will still be there.

You’ll just be using less weight to make these improvements.

Think about it…

Most wrestlers I work with Floor Press about 30 pounds less than they Bench Press. To make it easy, let’s use that number throughout this hypothetical.

So, for a training set of 5 in their wrestling strength training plan, 30 pounds less will be used with the Floor Press.

That’s 150 fewer pounds in 1 set!

Now, imagine I programmed you to perform 5 sets of 5 reps.

That’s 750 pounds less wear and tear on your shoulders.

However, you’re still building the necessary strength. If at any point you wanted to test your Bench Press, I guarantee you’ll find that it’s still about (in this case) 30 pounds heavier than your Floor Press.

So, to summarize, by using the Floor Press, you will still increase your horizontal pushing strength (commonly measured via the Bench Press). But, you’ll do so without as much stress on your shoulders.

A real win-win, if you ask me!

Wrestling Strength Training Plan Bench Alternative 2- Board Press

Board pressing is simply a shortened range of motion bench press. It’s a great way to strengthen specific spots where you may be weak and it’s also a great way to gain confidence with heavier weight.

Building a board press is easy. Go to your local hardware store and pick out a nice long 2×6 or 2×8. Cut one piece to 24-30 inches and cut the rest to 12-inches.

You can either wood screw the pieces together or use Velcro. Having an adjustable board press by using Velcro to attach the pieces will save you time and money (and space if you have to transport them to your gym) because you won’t need to build multiple board press boards.

The movement itself is exactly like a bench press. The only difference is that instead of touching the bar to your chest, you’ll touch the bar to the board.

Board pressing also requires another workout partner to hold the boards while you bench. Having your spotter hand the bar off to you and then position the board on your chest is a recipe for disaster.

If you only have one training partner, you can always put the boards under your shirt, which I see regularly with the lifters at my gym.

Here’s a video of a 2 board press with John Bogart. Although I had used board pressing before in my bench training, I started using them weekly for the year or so that I trained with him.

He’s a huge proponent of using boards, and it turns out that they were just what I was missing- my raw bench went up 35 pounds and my shirted bench jumped close to 100 while I was training with him.

If you don’t have a spotter available or don’t trust anyone that happens to be around the gym that day, the Pin Press could be “just what the doctor ordered.”

Feel free to vary the height of the pins, but typically I would recommend keep the bar within an inch or two of your chest (which is where raw lifters more often than not will experience the most difficulty and/or miss a lift).

To “steal” from the idea of better targeting the low end portion of the bench press, you can also perform the Pin Press without the use of leg drive.

Additionally, I like to let go of the bar at the bottom of each rep. This releases the stretch on my muscles thereby minimizing the effect of the stretch reflex. The benefit of this is that it builds better starting strength, a very important quality for wrestlers to develop.

Wrestling Strength Training Chinup Alternative 1- Towel/Gi

The chinup is one of the most common exercises performed in a wrestling room so I don’t think I need to go over too much here regarding execution.

As far as setup goes, simply hang a towel over the chinup bar and get a strong grip around it. The thicker the towel, the more this exercise will challenge the grip.

Using a thick rope in place of a towel here works just as well. I’ve personally found using a Jiu-Jitsu Gi works very well as they can withstand a lot more punishment than a towel. Just make sure it’s a Jiu-Jitsu Gi. I’ve used a Karate Gi before and it ended up ripping after about a month.

Pull yourself up by squeezing your shoulder blades together as forcefully as possible in an effort to touch your elbows together behind your back. Keep pulling until your chin is above your hands. That’s the top of the chinup.

Lower yourself back down to a straight arms position. I cannot stress this enough. Not only is it important to develop strength across the entire range of motion, but it also allows you to accurately record your workout progress.

Going to a straight arms position at the bottom of the chin-up is done for the same reason as squatting to a box; it takes the guesswork out of each rep.

If you can’t complete the set without cheating, simply make a note and try to get it next time or perform a Bodyweight Gi Row (shown below).

That’s the beauty of strength training, there’s always another opportunity to improve from the last lift and it’s something you should always be looking to do.

Performing exercises incorrectly will not only keep you from getting the results you want, but also will put you at a greater risk for injury.

If you’re having trouble performing more than a few chinups bodyweight rows may be just the solution. Click Here to read a post I wrote on a progression that I started using with the wrestlers from Binghamton University.

Wrestling Strength Training Chinup Alternative 1- Fat Handle

This is exactly like a chinup, only with a different implement. You’ll need to go to your local hardware store to get some materials before you start.

Get some thick PVC pipe, the thicker the PVC the more challenging it will be for your grip. Cut it into lengths that you can comfortably get your hands on.

Get lengths of chain cut with enough room to hang the PVC pipe to a chinup bar or power rack. Put the chain through the PVC and around a chinup bar or power rack and attach both ends with a carabineer.

Hang up two of these and you’re ready to start doing fat handled chinups. Execute the movement the same way as detailed above in the towel chinup section.

Improving Grip With Your Wrestling Strength Training Plan

This is just a quick side topic since both chinup variations detail the use of two grip elements.

Click Here to read a post on more strategies on improving your grip.

Additionally, check out this post on proper strength training guidelines for wrestlers on TeamUSA.org.

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.


2 Comments. Leave new

  • On the floor press, are you supposed to relax your muscles at the bottom of the movement or stay tensed throughout the whole exercise?

    • tim,

      i just realized this post sucks! i’m going to doctor it up a bunch tomorrow morning and will email you when it’s all done. to answer your question quick though, i do a little of both. i relax enough to where my elbows come in contact with the ground (i’m unable to do this if i stay super tight), however i don’t completely relax. i think if you’re just starting to use this exercise the best thing to do is stay tight throughout so that there is a higher probability that consistency with each rep will be achieved. too often i see people completely relax and when they go to explode into the bar it affects the bar path and either forces it to jump over the face too quickly or dump toward their stomach. does this help? if not, let me know and i’ll get back to you. thanks for commenting man.


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