Flexibility Routine with Iowa Wrestling

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By: Josh Staph

As a wrestling competitor and coach, no one is more successful than Dan Gable. At Waterloo West High and Iowa State University, he totally dominated opponents, compiling a record of 182-1 while winning three state championships and two NCAA titles. At the 1972 Olympics, despite a painful shoulder injury, he won all six of his matches and captured the gold medal without surrendering a single point. From 1977 to 1997 and 1999 to 2001, Gable built a dynasty as head wrestling coach at the University of Iowa, becoming the Hawkeyes' all-time winningest coach with a career record of 355-21-5 and 15 NCAA titles.

Gable is a legend in his own time. Studying his mindset and methods will behoove wrestlers at all levels. Get ready to take notes.

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By: Josh Staph

As a wrestling competitor and coach, no one is more successful than Dan Gable. At Waterloo West High and Iowa State University, he totally dominated opponents, compiling a record of 182-1 while winning three state championships and two NCAA titles. At the 1972 Olympics, despite a painful shoulder injury, he won all six of his matches and captured the gold medal without surrendering a single point. From 1977 to 1997 and 1999 to 2001, Gable built a dynasty as head wrestling coach at the University of Iowa, becoming the Hawkeyes' all-time winningest coach with a career record of 355-21-5 and 15 NCAA titles.

Gable is a legend in his own time. Studying his mindset and methods will behoove wrestlers at all levels. Get ready to take notes.

"Wrestling itself is an extreme and excessive stretching workout," he says. "But the stretches are not therapeutic like self-controlled ones, because somebody else applies the force and leverage."

Since the sport is elastic by nature, Gable places great emphasis on flexibility training. Offensively, a supple wrestler can attack from more positions, which increases the number of maneuvers in his repertoire. Defensively, he is better at counter-wrestling, which makes scoring more difficult for his opponent. Being flexible also prevents injuries that can result from the forced twisting and stretching inherent to the sport.

"If you give a flexible guy a chance to win in a difficult position, he will go to the most extreme levels of flexibility to win," Gable says. "You can't give a guy like that a chance." Case in point: Hawkeye Jeff McGinness who wrestled at 142 pounds for the 1998 NCAA championship. When he was put in a tough position and it looked like he would be taken down, McGinness used his extraordinary flexibility to perform a sudden victory move and take the crown.

WARM-UP
Gable recommends several minutes of an aerobic-style warm-up, such as jogging, biking, skipping rope or calisthenics.

HANGING ROUNTINE
Using gravity to help lengthen and loosen tight areas, Gable's wrestlers hang from a chin-up bar.

LIGHT TRUNK TWIST

  • Hang from bar
  • Lightly twist trunk side to side

KNEE-TO-CHEST RAISE

  • Hang from bar
  • Pull knees to chest
  • Lower, then repeat

STRETCHES
Gable's flexibility routine focuses on the center of gravity (hips, hamstrings and lower back), where a wrestler derives most of his power.

PRE-WORKOUT STRETCHES

STANDING HAMSTRING STRETCH

  • With feet together, exhale and bend forward at waist
  • Exhale as you return to upright position by bending knees or rounding torso.

SEATED STRADDLE STRETCH

  • Sit with legs straight and spread wide
  • Exhale as you extend upper torso and grasp foot
  • Keep back low, legs extended and heels on floor
  • Repeat with other leg then repeat reaching between legs

SPINAL TWIST

  • Sit with right leg straight and left foot flat on outside of right knee
  • Turn to left while gently pressing right elbow to outside of left knee
  • Exhale as you turn trunk
  • Repeat in opposite direction

HEAD BRIDGE

  • Lie on back with palms down at shoulders and fingers facing feet
  • Pull feet to butt
  • Inhale as you raise trunk and rest forehead on floor

ELBOW-HEAD BRIDGE

  • Lie on back with palms down at shoulders and fingers facing feet
  • Place feet flat on ground near butt
  • Inhale as you raise trunk and rest forehead on floor
  • Raising one arm at a time, place forearms on floor

DOG STRETCH

  • Place forearms and knees on ground
  • Exhale as you extend shoulders and drive hips back
  • Press on floor with arms to stretch back

MODIFIED PLOUGH

  • Lie on back
  • Roll knees back until they touch ground at your ears
  • Exhale as you put hands behind knees and pull thighs to chest

RECLINING HERO

  • Kneel on ground
  • Exhale, lean back until shoulders touch ground and back is flat
  • Contract your gluteals, rotate pelvis backward
  • Keep knees on floor; do not allow them to spread out
  • Do not allow feet to flare out

POST-WORKOUT PARTNER STRETCHES

SITTING HAMSTRING STRETCH

  • Sit on ground, extend upper torso over straight legs, bend forward at hips
  • Partner pushes your torso to thighs

LYING BUTTERFLY STRETCH

  • Lie on back with soles of feet touching and knees wide
  • Exhale as partner pushes legs to floor
  • Communicate with partner regarding intensity of stretch

BOSTON CRAB PARTNER STRETCH

  • Contract gluteals as partner anchors your abdomen
  • Partner gently lifts one leg higher than other
  • Communicate with partner regarding intensity of stretch

POST-WORKOUT THERAPY
Gable preaches the benefits of an extensive post-workout recuperative routine to help traumatized muscles repair themselves while maintaining flexibility. Although it is time-consuming, Gable says the program is worth it, because "it only takes a fraction of a second to get injured."

His recovery methods help the muscles eliminate lactic acid, which can cause future fatigue and decrease flexibility. First, he recommends a cool-down jog, then about 30 minutes of heat therapy, such as a hot shower, sauna or whirlpool, combined with massage. If a masseuse is unavailable, self massage works well. End the program with 10 to 15 minutes of cold therapy, such as icing or a cold whirlpool. This reduces swelling and heals strained muscles, ligaments and tendons.

COACHING POINT: "Although flexibility is very important, there is a danger sometimes of relying on it too much. Because a really flexible wrestler can worm his way into and out of situations easier than most people, he might be more willing to give up position. When you give up position, you risk getting beat by your opponent. Never perform like this, but instead always assume the best technical position."


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock