Conditioning Drills with Nebraska Wrestling

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By: Josh Staph

University of Nebraska wrestler Jacob Klein had a tough road ahead of him in the early spring of 2004. To advance in the national tournament, he had to beat three wrestlers who defeated him earlier in the year. Klein pulled off the unlikely and defeated all three. For that, he garnered an All-American honor as a sophomore.

Michael Greenfield, University of Nebraska's wrestling strength and conditioning coach, helped facilitate Klein's transformation. "He beat three guys who he had lost to earlier in the season to become an All-American just by getting himself into better shape and getting himself ready for the end of the year," Greenfield says. "Now, he is an All-American and ranked third or fourth in the country at 165 pounds."

Dramatic improvements such as Klein's, from the beginning to the end of one season, highlight the effectiveness of great conditioning. Greenfield, who is certified by the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association, developed a conditioning program for Nebraska wrestlers that can produce transformations like Klein's.

Increasing the anaerobic threshold of a wrestler is the goal of the Huskers' conditioning program. Greenfield explains, "Anaerobic means without oxygen and aerobic means with oxygen." Anaerobic training generally consists of short, intense bursts of exercise, while aerobic training is steady and drawn out over a longer period. For example, sprinting is anaerobic training and distance running is aerobic.

"If you go out for a run and get your heart rate up to 140 beats per minute, and it stays the same the whole time, it is not very similar to a wrestling match," he explains. With this in mind, the Huskers mostly condition with short, intense intervals of work followed by a recovery period to simulate the effect of a match on a wrestler's cardiovascular system. Greenfield says that during a match, a wrestler's heart rate starts at a resting state, maybe 85 to 100 beats per minute (bpm). But from there, the heart rate can spike to about 160 bpm, drop back down to 140 during recovery and then jump up to 172. "So, it is important to try and mimic that same idea with your conditioning drills," Greenfield says.

Although anaerobic in nature, a great aerobic workout results as well, he says. "When you are recovering, you are also taking in oxygen and your heart rate is up."

Following is a list of drills the Huskers use to get heart rates up and take opponents down.

Tapeline Drill

The Huskers perform this drill in the wrestling room over the length of two mats or seven tapelines (including the far wall), each about 15 feet apart. Starting at one end, the wrestlers sprint to the first tapeline, touch it and then sprint back to the starting line and touch it. They follow this pattern for each tapeline over the entire length of the room.

Greenfield strongly encourages using the Huskers' method of recovery for this drill, which is a 3:1 time ratio. For example, if it takes a minute to a minute and a half to complete the length of the mats, the team rests for 3 to 4 minutes before the next rep.

"If you shorten the recovery, then you start to work the aerobic system and that is not what we are trying to train," Greenfield says. "We are trying to work the anaerobic system, and without the appropriate rest, you will not get the proper quality of the drill."

The Huskers perform 4 to 6 reps of this drill. If there is only one mat in the wrestling room, run the length of the mat twice to constitute one rep.

*Coaching point: Greenfield's wrestlers perform a hand touch on each line. "It makes it a good change of direction drill because they will have to flex their knees as though they were wrestling," he explains.

Stance and Motion Drill

Sometimes referred to as phantom or shadow wrestling, this drill simulates having an imaginary opponent.

Greenfield's wrestlers get into a solid wrestling stance with knees bent and hands in front. Then, they shuffle in all directions. While in that stance and moving, Greenfield calls "shot" or "sprawl." When he calls shot, the wrestlers take a double-leg or high crotch shot (wrestler's preference) at the imaginary opponent. When Greenfield calls sprawl, the wrestlers sprawl back as though avoiding a shot. Greenfield continues this drill for 1 to 2 minutes as he calls about 15 shots and sprawls each. The Huskers perform 10 reps of the drill with an approximate 3:1 recovery ratio.

*Coaching point: Greenfield emphasizes the three keys to this drill: Get back into stance as quickly as possible after the movement, move the feet as fast as possible and remain in stance for as long as possible.

Foot Speed Circuit

"When you are tired in a match, the reason you get taken down is because you are not moving your feet," Greenfield says. So, to keep the Huskers off their backs, Greenfield works on foot speed for an extended period of conditioning. All the drills are performed over a tapeline. The wrestlers go through a circuit, performing each drill for 30 to 45 seconds and resting for 45 seconds to a minute. Perform as many repetitions as possible during the allotted time. When anaerobic threshold increases, add 2 to 3 sets of knee-ups at the end of the circuit to increase difficulty.

  • Lateral Hops—Hop side to side over the line with the feet together.
  • Front to Back Hops—With feet together, hop forward and backward over the line.
  • Foot Fires—Chop feet in place as fast as possible.
  • Knee-Ups—Jumping as high as possible, bring the knees to the chest. Repeat immediately upon landing.
  • Right Leg Lateral Hops—Hop using only the right foot.
  • Right Leg Front to Back Hops—Hop using only the right foot.
  • Left Leg Lateral Hops—Hop using only the left foot.
  • Left Leg Front to Back Hops—Hop using only the left foot.

*Coaching point: Keep track of how many you perform to gauge effort and improvement over time.

The Breakdown

The Huskers condition at the end of every practice, five days a week. Greenfield advises against having practice, conditioning and weight training lumped together. "Your body fatigues and you don't get the same out of the lifting that you need to," he says. Consequently, the Huskers weight train in the morning then practice and condition in the afternoon.

To ensure the wrestlers get the best possible conditioning results, the reps and numbers in the program change a few times throughout the year. Greenfield breaks the year into three parts: preseason, competition season and postseason. He explains, "Our training is set up where our conditioning is going to be heavy-ended in the preseason. We are going to anaerobically train our bodies."

During the intense conditioning stage, the wrestlers perform drills and live wrestling. Once wrestlers are anaerobically prepared for competition, Greenfield cuts back on conditioning and increases the live wrestling time. Toward the end of the year, Greenfield cuts the wrestling back and ups the conditioning again. He does this "to get their bodies healthy and keep them off the mat to prevent them from getting strained elbows, bad fingers, poked eyes and all that stuff." During this time, the wrestlers focus on technique and conditioning rather than live wrestling.

Because he is more concerned with quality than quantity, Greenfield uses minutes rather than sets to establish the program's routine. In preseason, the Huskers spend about 30 minutes on conditioning and 10 minutes on live wrestling. Once the competition begins, they perform 15 minutes of conditioning and 25 minutes of wrestling. The Huskers go back to 30 minutes of conditioning and 10 minutes of wrestling in the weeks leading to the Big 12 and national championships. This is all in addition to warm-up, drilling and instructional portions of practice.

Although Nebraska conditions every day after practice, Greenfield explains that what or how many drills are done a day depends on how many minutes of conditioning drills are required for the day. On a light day, the Huskers might do one conditioning drill; during a heavy phase, Greenfield might combine two drills to fill the extended time. During the off-season, Nebraska combines aerobic conditioning in the form of distance running with weight training and voluntary mat time to increase wrestling skills.

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