Conditioning with Central Michigan wrestling

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By: Josh Staph

Central Michigan's wrestling squad took over the Mid-American Conference and most of the country with the help of metabolic conditioning.

Although Central Michigan University's wrestling program lacks some of the resources of its larger opponents, the team still manages to flex its supremacy on the mat. For proof, skim the NCAA wrestling rankings from the past few years: the Chippewas finished 39th in 2002, 32nd in 2003, 15th in 2004 and 12th in 2005.

Assistant strength and conditioning coach Chris Sandeen oversees the CMU wrestling team's training. He says, "Our school is not necessarily one that top-flight recruits are going to choose. Therefore, the onus is on the coaches to do a great job of developing the technique, strength and conditioning of relatively raw athletes. We've had nationally competitive wrestling squads for awhile—without a full deck of available scholarships. The only way we can compete with and defeat Division I teams that have more resources is to train harder and smarter."

Together with head strength and conditioning coach Greg Halberg, Sandeen hones CMU's competitive edge by conditioning the Chippewa wrestlers metabolically, which means training their muscular and cardiovascular systems simultaneously. Sandeen explains, "We look to involve as many muscles as possible in conditioning. If we had the athletes just go out there and run, they would only be training their legs and lungs. But the physical, high contact nature of wrestling makes full-body conditioning a requirement."

Halberg distinguishes between general conditioning and training as an athlete. "There is a huge difference between running for general preparation and training specifically for wrestling with metabolic exercises," he says. "Muscle magazines talk about lifting weights and conditioning, but they have little to do with training for a sport. You can be generally conditioned, but not conditioned to take the mat and wrestle."

In 2005, the well-conditioned Chippewas took their fourth consecutive MAC Championship, winning eight of 10 weight classes. Entering the NCAA Tournament as underdogs, the CMU squad finished 12th in the nation with four All-Americans: Mark DiSalvo at 149 pounds, Mitch Hancock at 174 pounds, Wynn Michalak at 197 pounds and Bill Stouffer at Heavyweight.

When characterizing CMU's wrestling program, it's probably time to replace the term underdog with perennial powerhouse. Here are some key drills responsible for the change.

Walking Lunges for Distance

• Begin at goal line of football field and step forward into lunge position

• Lower down until back knee almost touches ground, keeping front knee behind toes

• Raise to standing position and repeat with opposite leg in continuous walking fashion over a specified distance

REPS: 4 x 50 yards (gradually increase reps and distance as season approaches)

RECOVERY: 1-2 minutes (gradually decrease as season approaches)

BENEFITS: "The walking lunge takes you through the same motion you use when you are taking a shot. A wrestler must be able to replicate that movement over and over throughout the course of a match, so he must be conditioned to do so." —Sandeen

Coaching Point: "It is important for a high school athlete to start at a point where he is not going to destroy himself for the next year. The key is to improve as you go so that you can go a little longer each time as you cut the recovery down. Starting in May, look forward to where you want to be in November. Then you can work backward and build up to that point." —Halberg

Partner Carries

• Stand at bottom of hill, stairs or stadium with partner of equal weight on your back

• Run up hill/stairs and drop partner at top

• Walk down alongside partner and repeat with you on his backREPS: 4-6x 50 steps

RECOVERY: Rest while you walk back down and while on partner's back

BENEFITS: "Young guys usually come in here pretty weak, and they are unable to support much weight on their back at first. This exercise helps them deal with the load. They actively recover on the way down and get a short passive recovery when they are carried." —Sandeen

"The reason we do bodyweight-supporting exercises is because the athletes are not only conditioning their bodies, but they are also adapting to carrying and supporting a load on their backs, something young guys should focus on." —Halberg

The Monster Circuit

• Begin on sideline of football field and sprint to other sideline

• Immediately perform specified exercise, then sprint back to other sideline

• Perform specified exercise and repeat pattern for whole circuit

REPS: 20 x each exercise; 3 x circuit

RECOVERY: 2 minutes

BENEFITS: "Three minutes of very physical work is a long time to go. The athletes are always pushing against or pulling on someone, so there is no time when they aren't moving or straining their bodies. They need to adapt to that kind of stress, because it is different from running, sprinting or lifting weights alone. They get a much more metabolic effect from the circuits. It takes from three to three and a half minutes to complete the circuit, which prepares them for a round of wrestling." —Halberg

Circuit Exercises

Bodyweight Squat

• Begin in athletic stance with toes pointing out slightly

• Squat down with control and good posture until thighs are just below parallel

• Keep weight back on heels

• Drive upward out of squat into starting position

Bodyweight Lunge

• Step forward into lunge position

• Lower down until back knee almost touches ground keeping front knee behind toes

• Push back into standing position and repeat

• Complete set on other leg


• Lie on back and bring one knee to chest

• Lower Leg and repeat on other side


• Lie on back with arms straight overhead

• Fold at waist keeping arms and legs straight until hands and feet meet above body

Mountain Climbers

• Begin in push-up position with hips slightly raised

• Lift right foot and place it underneath your chest

• Alternate position of feet continuously in shuffling fashion

Running in Place

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