Agility with Illinois Wrestling

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In an age when everything—including training and competition—is affected by science and technology, athletes searching for the next big thing in equipment often overlook the most simple, time-tested performance boosters, such as the jump rope.

For Jim Zielinski, head strength and conditioning coach at the University of Illinois, skipping rope has never gone out of style. He's got a four-in-one claim that he breaks down this way: "First, cardio benefits are the main emphasis of our jump rope work, so we incorporate jumping rope pre- and post-lift. Since it's a great plyometric activity, we gain those benefits as well. It improves quickness and agility by working the short bursts and acceleration necessary to change direction. And finally, great hand-eye coordination results from jumping rope."

Although these training effects can enhance any athlete's game, Zielinski's top-five nationally ranked wrestling squad has especially benefited. "Quantifying everything we do is extremely important, because it's a way to give the guys feedback on their hard work and improvements," he says. "You see them getting quicker, more explosive and better conditioned on the mat. But I can put their improvements in black and white with something like a vertical jump test. It gets them feeling good about their improvements, and they can understand why we do this."

By incorporating jump rope routines into a larger plyo program, two-time NCAA finalist and All-American Kyle Ott added a ridiculous eight and a half inches to his vert in the off-season. The 125-pound grappler's improved vertical explosion clearly carries over to his performance on the mat. "The improvements and benefits of this training are evident," Zielinski says. "Quickness, acceleration and short bursts all improve a guy's chances on the mat. When you watch everything that really goes into wrestling, it's more than a few guys rolling around on the mat, like a lot of people think."

During the season, the Illini skip rope for five minutes—switching between double- and single-leg hops—before their two to three weight lifting sessions a week. Zielinski says, "It's a great way to get your heart rate up and muscles warm before a lift."

In the off-season, Zielinski cranks up the intensity with the following routine.

Off-Season Jump Rope Routine (see Workout)

When to Jump: Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the off-season, before each full-body lift.

Zielinski on the Routine: "With any jump rope routine we do, we emphasize spending as little time on the ground as possible between jumps. Stay up on the balls of your feet the whole time, and when you are doing any lateral movement, keep most of your weight on the instep and big toe without letting your ankle roll. When you jump from one square to another, don't think about how much distance you cover, think about jumping as quickly as you can. Thinking about where your feet have to move takes a lot of concentration, and know right away if a guy isn't in the right mindset before a workout. I'll get on him right away. This whole routine shouldn't take more than 12 minutes. It takes longer at first, but as you progress, you will get through it quicker and quicker."

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