Every move you make on the mat can spell the difference between having your hand raised in victory or staring up at the ref as he proclaims you pinned. National Freestyle Head Coach Kevin Jackson provides three agility-enhancing movements to keep you off your back and standing tall in the win column.
By: Josh Staph
Here’s the good news: agility is a trainable motor skill. Any athlete can improve it through proper repetition.
The bad news: due to the ferocity and close contact of the sport, wrestling agility requires more than quick movement.
Kevin Jackson addresses both the good and the bad through the agility program he uses with the U.S. National team. “Wrestlers don’t cover large distances,” he explains. “However, to be the best, we have to be able to cover smaller distances on the mat as quickly as possible.”
It’s not that simple, though. “When you perform an explosive movement, you have to maintain balance and have tremendous body control,” Jackson says. “You have to be ready to defend or attack at any moment. An off-balance wrestler is a defeated wrestler.”
Besides developing balance and control, Jackson’s program helps an athlete feel skilled and comfortable moving in all directions. “You can’t get away with being able to move well in one direction,” he says. “You have to be adept at exploding to the front, back and side-to-side. Wrestlers must train to move in every direction.”
The career of Muhammed Lawal, 2005 U.S. World Team trials champ and U.S. Nationals Champion, highlights Jackson’s point. “Muhammed has always been incredibly explosive and quick moving forward and backward, but he was not nearly as agile moving side to side. But through extremely hard work, he improved this weakness.”
His ability to move in every direction helped Lawal propel himself to the quarterfinals of the 2005 World Championships. Most wrestling experts agree that Lawal was robbed of a victory in the quarters when the referee awarded a controversial point to his opponent with one second left. That point tied the match 1-1, but because Lawal did not score the final point, his opponent was awarded the victory. Jackson isn’t shy in saying, “Muhammed’s dedication helped him develop all the necessary tools to beat a top-ranked Russian and capture the next World Championship.”
1) Agility Shuttle
• Set up 8-10 cones in straight line three feet apart from each other
• Begin on left side of first cone and sprint to just past second cone
• Breakdown and shuffle, backpedal and then shuffle again around second cone
• Sprint to next cone and repeat at each cone down line
REPS: 2 (Begin on right side of cone on second rep)
REST: 60 seconds
Coaching Point: Keep your hips low during each change of direction. Maintain balance and body control at all times. You shouldn’t feel your body leaning too far back during the backpedal, or too far to the side during the shuffling.
BENEFITS: “You are working explosiveness, foot speed, balance and agility simultaneously. You work explosion when you sprint, side-to-side movement when you shuffle, and balance and agility when you are going backward. The movement around the cone works your body control, which is crucial for movement on the mat.
“In a match, you are forced to move in every direction quickly. This drill helps you develop movement in all directions, especially those in which you are weaker.”
2) Line Hops
• Begin with both feet perpendicular to line
• Hop laterally over and back as quickly as possible for specified time
REPS: 1×60 seconds
Coaching Point: Spend as little time on the ground as possible with each hop. Cover the distance over the line as quickly as you can.
BENEFITS: “This helps improve your ability to explode with quickness and balance, which enables you to cover a short distance in a short time. A balanced wrestler can perform a wrestling move immediately after exploding.”
• Lie on back on ground
• When coach yells “go,” roll over and get to feet as quickly as possible
• Explode forward 20 yards
REST: 45 seconds
Coaching Point: Maintain control when you roll onto your stomach and get to your feet as quickly as possible. You don’t want any wasted motion or loss of balance; they translate into lost time when trying to recover.
BENEFITS: “This works quickness and agility while improving your ability to recover from being put on your back. We end up on our back, side and stomach a lot in wrestling; being able to recover quickly and then attack is a huge weapon for any wrestler.”