A wrestling workout routine SHOULD be designed with a lot of thought and consideration.
This is especially important because the program factors in to your performance on the mat.
However, as I talk to more and more wrestlers and they ask me strength and conditioning questions regarding their exercise selection, program, etc., I’m finding that there is a big disconnect between their wrestling workout routine and their goals.
In a nutshell- the “programs” a lot of people tend to follow are just a crap shoot, for lack of a better phrase.
Here’s what I mean…
Wrestling Workout Routine Example 1
Ever done a “Leg Day” at the gym?
I used to have workouts like this.
Basically I would select any and all exercises that worked the legs in some capacity and then perform them. I probably followed the good old three sets of ten.
And I would just keep selecting exercises until I was having trouble walking.
And then I’d be sore for a week and think to myself, “Damn, I worked hard. I’m the man.”
…Of course I’d be thinking that in between every painful step I took.
Did I ever stop and wonder if I was actually accomplishing anything by implementing workouts like this?
Have you ever wondered the same?
Wrestling Workout Routine Example 2
What about a wrestling workout routine that calls for the following reps: 20, 15, 12, 8, 4, 4, 8, 12, 15, 20.
What’s really going on here?
I see 20 reps- a great way to build consistency with a technique, warm-up, and/or “burn” a muscle out.
Then I see 12 and 8 reps. That’s in the “muscle building” rep range according to the college textbooks I used to read.
Oh, and then there’s 4 reps, which is great at building strength.
Wow, a wrestling workout routine that follows this set/rep scheme has it all!
…Unless of course you’re looking to build strength and power, in which case you’re pretty fatigued by the time you get to the sets of 4.
Think about one of your recent training sessions during which you intended on lifting heavy…
Did you do 65 warm-up reps before you got to your heavy working sets?
Wrestling Workout Routine Example 3
Finally, I’ll introduce one of the guys who comes to my gym.
Upon writing this post, he’s currently on one of the most intensive squat programs ever (known throughout the powerlifting community as Smolov). I’ve done parts of this program before. All I did was squat, and believe me, it was extremely difficult.
Yesterday after completing the 2nd of 3 days of squatting for the week (keep in mind that all the days are heavy), he then did explosive deadlifts followed by a couple of other accessory exercises. After that he finished up with 20 minutes of conditioning consisting of jumping rope, rowing, and battling ropes.
Listen, the guy is a machine and he loves to train. In fact, sometimes I think he just trains for the sake of training. And that’s fine for people who just want to train and work for the sake of working.
But for people who want to maximize their physical potential (in his case based on his Smolov program selection, I’m guessing he wants to increase his squat), whether it be on the mat or any other sport, the end result must be kept in mind.
So, anyway, now that I’ve written one of the most long-winded intros ever, the first step (as you probably know) to designing effective wrestling workouts is…
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1. Set Goals For Your Wrestling Workout Routine
Let’s go back to some of the above examples above.
What’s really the goal in Example 1?
Is it to simply work the legs?
Or was my intention to strengthen my legs to improve my performance on the mat?
What about in Example 2?
Is the goal to improve conditioning, increase strength, or maximize power?
And finally, Example 3…
The focus should be on maximizing the squat, but in my opinion, the additional stuff is going to inhibit recovery. Ultimately, this detracts from his ability to get the most out of the squat program.
In all of these cases, it seems to me like just getting in a “good sweat” or a “good workout” is as much the goal as anything.
But is that really your goal, as a wrestler?
Or is it that you ultimately want to win more matches?
I’m going to assume it’s to win more matches.
Well, then you need to ask yourself- what do I need to do to win more matches?
1. Get stronger (click here to check out programs you can start today).
2. Sharpen your technique (check out the Technique Wave on Flo by clicking here).
3. Eat better so I don’t have to cut so much weight (read Wrestling Nutrition).
4. Implement a wrestling workout routine designed to improve your conditioning so you’re effective in the 3rd period (read Wrestling Conditioning).
Ok, now that you’ve identified what’s going to help you win more, it’s time to decide how you’re going to measure it. This will let you know whether or not you’re effectively reaching your goals with the wrestling workout routine you’ve decided to implement.
And since in this blog post I’m focusing on the strength aspect, that’s what I’ll focus on.
2. Define Goals Of Your Wrestling Workout Routine
This is really where a lot of struggling can occur. It’s also where I find there to be the biggest disconnect between what your goals are and what your program looks like.
How you define “get stronger” is up to you. I’m a big believer in the phrase “don’t reinvent the wheel,” so I suggest simply looking to programs that are already out there to see how “get stronger” is defined.
For the sake of this post, let’s look at a sample week of training:
a. Squat (4×5)
a. Decline Ab Wheel (4×8)
b. DB Bench (4×6)
b. Cable Row (4×8)
c. Rotational Cable Lift (3x6ea)
c. Spread Eagle Situp (3×10)
c. DB RDL (3×8)
a. Bench Press (4×5)
a. Cable Face Pull (4×10)
b. Weighted Chinup (4×5)
b. Med Ball Pushup (4×10)
c. Lunge (3x5ea)
c. BB Hip Thrust (3×10)
c. BB Curl (3×8)
a. Kneeling Jump w/ Bar (5×3)
a. Plyo Pushup (5×3)
a. Bench Horizontal Jump w/ Bar (5×3)
b. DB Jerk (5x3ea)
b. Speed Russian Twist (5×12)
c. Grip Chinup (3x max reps)
c. Dip (3x max reps)
In the case of getting stronger, the three core lifts from Days 1 and 2 looking to be improved are the Squat, Bench Press, and Weighted Chinup.
Those both build strength AND provide a measure of progress of the program.
If your Squat, Bench Press, and Weighted Chinup don’t go up at the end of the program (or at least stay the same since strength maintenance is adequate In-Season) then you may want to make tweaks to your program.
**On a side note, a small difference in performance isn’t necessarily something to worry about, especially if you’re in season. Varying practice intensity, matches, and making weight can all factor in. I’m trying to convey the idea that tracking and monitoring the measures of your goal are of the utmost importance if you want to get the most out of your wrestling workout routine.
For instance, in powerlifing performance is measured by the amount of weight you Squat, Bench, and Deadlift. If those don’t go up from one meet to the next, you’ve got some evaluating to do.
The same goes for Olympic lifting where the Clean and Jerk and Snatch are contested.
The same goes for the Cornell wrestling workout routine that Tom Dilliplane wrote which focuses on building the Power Clean, Squat, and Bench Press. …By the way you can purchase this program here.
Regardless of the program you’re following, you need to have some way of measuring its effectiveness.
That way, if a situation like the one below were to occur, you can better address it before it becomes a bigger problem.
For example, let’s say you were squatting 100 pounds for 3 reps before the season started. At the mid-season your best is tested at 75 pounds for 3 reps. A 25% drop is something to be worried about and needs to be addressed!
Are you not lifting consistently?
Are the accessory exercises you’re implementing not doing their job (the purpose of accessory exercises is to build the core exercise)?
Did you just happen to lift on a bad day?
Regardless of the situation, it is an absolute MUST that you have measures for your wrestling workout routine.
Building Your Wrestling Workout Routine
This is where a lot of trial and error comes into play. However, as long as you keep in mind the ways you’re going to measure the progress of your program, you should be ok.
In the case of this post, let’s just look at the week of a program detailed above. Specifically, I want to bring to your attention what I did in terms of building the squat:
1. Decline Ab Wheel– used to increase core strength/stability. A stronger, more stable core is able to support more weight when squatting.
2. Rotational Cable Lift– used to increase core stability. I also use it because it mimics mat return/throw situations, but there’s quite a bit of core activity. For the purpose of this post, I’ll say it’s in there specifically for core stability purposes.
3. Spread Eagle Situp– used to increase core strength while simultaneously minimizing the activity of the hip flexors. This will help keep the hips from getting too tight which inhibits squatting, performing power movements and wrestling.
4. DB RDL– used to increase hamstring, glute, and low back strength as well as core stability. Stronger hamstrings and glutes will help pop you out of the hole when squatting as well as help you grind through your sticking point (for raw lifters it’s usually just after you get out of the hole).
5. Lunge– used to increase overall leg strength, address imbalances between the legs, as well as improve core stability.
6. BB Hip Thrust– used to increase glute strength. Increased glute strength will help you to rebound from the bottom of a squat and help bring your hips through once your legs are past parallel.
7. Kneeling Jump w/ Bar– used to increase power produced during hip extension which ultimately helps you finish squats with more power, saving you from having to grind out the top portion of the lift.
8. Bench Horizontal Jump w/ Bar– used to increase the power produced from your legs to help you squat more explosively.
Listen, a lot of the exercises above are also just great exercises for a wrestling workout routine in general. I’m just trying to give you an idea of how to think when selecting your accessory exercises. Ultimately they should be in a program to help build specific areas of the core lifts AND improve specific situations in a match.
The trial-and-error comes from constantly evaluating whether or not you’re progressing (as measured and indicated by, in this case, your squat performance).
When selecting exercises for your wrestling workout routine start thinking in terms of “how is this going to help me achieve the goal of X” rather than “is this a leg exercise?” or “will this be tough?”
Listen, I’m in no way trying to make designing a wrestling workout routine sound like just anyone can do it. If that were the case, then guys like me would have to find a job doing something else.
…and I wouldn’t have people drive from all over the state and out-of-state (Vermont and New Jersey) to come train with me.
But I hope I’ve made a case that you may be limiting your potential by haphazardly selecting exercises, set and rep schemes, etc.
So if you do decide to design your own wrestling workout routine, I hope this post gave you some insight on how to better approach it.
And if you’re ready to start following a proven program designed to maximize your strength and power for wrestling, check out one of my Program Packages:
I won’t let my 13 year old son lift weights because he has not hit puberty yet, but I told him he could do pushups and pullups. He heard Tim Tebow say he does 400 pushups and situps every day since he was eight so unbeknownst to me he starts that routine in his bedroom getting up an hour earlier for school and adding 25 pull-ups for good measure.
Eight months later his back is hurting on an 8/10 pain scale and the orthopedist says his pecs are so strong, and back so comparatively underdeveloped that it is pulling his shoulder blades out so they look like wings and causing the pain. No more push ups until he balances out his back muscles.
A hard lesson in making sure my son has a balanced work out.
Sorry to hear about your son, Michael. This actually is on my list of things to blog about in the near future- why I have lots of upper back work in all of the programs I write (Band Pullaparts, Face Pull variations, Cuban Presses, etc.). …the links go to YouTube videos of me demonstrating; hopefully they will help your son’s recovery process.
On a separate note, here’s a post I’ve written on younger wrestlers lifting- Wrestling Workouts For Young Wrestlers. At the bottom of the post I also link to 3 or 4 other posts related to the topic. Hopefully the post will give you some ideas as to how to approach lifting for your son.
One of the wrestlers I’ve worked with regularly for quite a few years started with me when he was in 4th grade (I talk about him some in the post I link to above). He’s now in 9th and just finished 4th at the FloNationals at 170. Here’s a video of him in the Quarters from this past weekend beating a State Champ from California who’s on scholarship at North Carolina State next year.
Thanks Oliver; great to hear from you again. Hope you’re doing well man.