Oklahoma State’s wrestling-rich tradition isn’t a stream of good luck. It results from great recruiting, excellent coaching and just as importantly, establishing lower body strength. Strength expert and OSU coach Gary Calcagno explains what exercises help the cowboys achieve national champ status.
"Squat. Glute-ham. Lunge." It’s that simple according to Gary Calcagno, head strength and conditioning coach for Oklahoma State University. Lower body strength facilitates wrestler success; and these three lifts help achieve this strength.
" … Wrestling is scoring points … Scoring points is taking guys down. So we’re going in for a shot—whether it’s a single or a double—all the time. So, if you’re not lower-body strong, then you’re not going to be able to do that."
Calcagno works with arguably the best collegiate wrestling program of all time. Over the NCAA’s 74-year wrestling history, OSU has produced more All-American wrestlers than any other school—206 to be exact. Even more impressive than that—these 206 all stars have earned All-America status 401 times.
This success isn’t just a result of great coaches like current Head Coach John Smith, or recruiting the best wrestlers in the country. OSU knows what to do with these wrestlers once they get them on campus. Chris Pendleton, a 2004 national champion for OSU, is evidence.
Pendleton, a highly touted wrestler out of high school, had to be introduced to weight training before achieving collegiate success.
"When I first got here, Chris was a red-shirt freshman with very spindly legs. He really didn’t like the weight room. But he was red-shirted, so the coaches sent him down to me," Calcagno explains.
"He took the attitude, ‘well heck, I’m red-shirting; I might as well get as strong as I possibly can.’ He got as big and strong as he could over that year, and the past two years, he’s just been dominant," says Calcagno.
Dominant is an understatement. Pendleton compiled a 63-3 record at 174 pounds over the last two seasons. He placed first in 2004 and third in 2003 at nationals. Not bad for starting as a spin-dly legged freshman wrestling 145 pounds as a high school senior.
Raw talent helped Pendleton succeed—enormously. But the combination of dedication and a lower-strength program are also partly responsible.
So, how do you properly work the squat, glute-ham and lunge into your training? Calcagno recommends implementing a six-week cycle in which you perform four sets of each lift twice a week. OSU wrestlers typically perform lower body lifts on the same day they train their biceps and back.
During the six-week squat cycle, increase weights and decrease the number of repetitions, but keep constant the number of sets (four). For the first few weeks of the cycle, complete four sets of 10 reps at 55-58 percent of your squat max. In the final weeks, do four sets of three reps at 100 percent of your max. (If your squat max is 100 pounds prior to the six-week cycle, use 55-58 pounds with each set of 10 and 100 pounds with each set of three.) Organize the progression by moving from sets of 10 reps to sets of eight, then five reps. Finish with sets of three. After completing the six-week cycle, retest and record your new max. Repeat the cycle for the next six weeks. When performing sets of 10 and eight reps, rest one minute between sets. As the weight increases, at sets of five and three reps, increase rest time to about three and a half to four minutes.
Complete four sets of 10 reps when performing the glute-ham for the first two weeks. Then, every future week, complete four sets of eight reps. Calcagno does not allow his wrestlers to complete less than eight reps when performing this exercise. At first, only use your body weight as resistance. But, once you can dominate the exercise with this resistance, hold a weight plate in your arms. Almost every OSU wrestler can perform sets of eight with at least a 25-pound plate in their arms. Rest one minute between each set.
Progress from four sets of 10 reps of lunges to eight and fnish with fve. OSU wrestlers never complete fewer than fve reps per set when performing lunges. Rest one minute between each lunge set of 10 or eight reps. For reps of five, rest for about three and a half to four minutes. Work these into your program. Then go ahead feel free to move in for the single or double. If you’re lower-body strong, you’re able to do that and score points.
Getting Stronger Exercises
Start with a barbell in a squat rack. Position yourself underneath the bar, so the bar sits on your traps, slightly below the base of your neck. Set your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Point your toes slightly out, but not overly exaggerated. Place your hands on the bar wide enough to easily control and balance the weight. Make sure to look straight ahead during the entire lift. Take the bar off the rack and start to squat down, always making sure to control the weight. Keep your core and lower-back tight. Push your hips back as you lower the weight. Make sure your knees do not move past the front of your toes as you descend. Lower the weight until the top of your thighs are parallel with the ground. Then, drive the weight up to the starting position, pushing through your heels.
Use a glute-ham machine and lie down on your stomach in the apparatus. Make sure the machine is set up so that your knees are slightly bent. Bend at the waist over the mid-section pad until your upper and lower body is at a 90-degree angle. Then, using your glutes and hamstrings, lift up your upper-body until it is parallel with your hips. Then, lower your upper-body back down to the starting position. When working with just your body-weight, place your hands on the back of your head. When holding a weight plate, hold the plate against your chest, with your arms crossing over the plate and across your body.
Place a barbell on your back, slightly below the base of your neck, resting on your traps. Place your hands on the bar wide enough to easily control and balance the weight. Standing with your feet 8-12 inches apart, step forward with your right foot. Try to step out as far as possible with out losing control of the weight or your balance. Then, lower your body down until your left knee nearly touches the ground. Make sure your right knee does not go past the tips of the toes on your right foot. Keep your core and lower back tight during the lift. Lean slightly forward when lowering your body to help work your hamstrings. Then, driving off your right foot, push yourself back up to the starting position. Repeat the same motion, stepping out with the left foot first, to train the left leg.