Why Wrestlers Need to Add Strength Work Into Their Training

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Penn State Wrestler

In the old days, wrestlers trained with long-distance runs and mat drills—and an occasional high rep plate workout. And although those methods produced great wrestlers, it wasn't because of increased strength and power from the plate workouts. It was due to the wrestlers' long hours on the mat, perfecting their craft.

But times have changed. From top to bottom, in every weight class, wrestlers are stronger and more powerful than ever. To be able to compete, athletes need to combine their mat work with a solid training program.

Wrestling requires the right combination of speed, power, strength and endurance. Sound complicated? It can be—if you don't have the right program. Below are some guidelines that will help you develop the right program so you can dominate on the mat.

Choose Full-Body Strength Exercises
Your main tools to build strength and power should be full-body, compound exercises—Squats, Deadlifts, Overhead Presses, Power Cleans, Lunges, Pull-Ups, Bent-Over Rows, Snatches and Push-Ups. These need to be the "meat and potatoes" of your program, as they will help you become stronger and more powerful on the mat.

Pair Full-Body Exercises With Bodyweight Exercises
By pairing your main exercises with bodyweight exercises, you will maximize your time in the weight room and simultaneously work on your conditioning. Pair examples include Squats and Pull-Ups, Deadlifts and Push-Ups, Overhead Presses and Inverted Rows, Power Snatches and Lunge Jumps, and Bent-Over Rows and Dips.

Use Low Volume Strength Work
To develop strength while maintaining your weight, use low volume strength work. This means doing very few strength exercises over six reps. Bump up the intensity and the weight of the lift, but keep the reps low. Even with your bodyweight exercises, try to keep the reps under 12. Make the exercises harder by adding a resistance band or by using a weight vest.

Work Upper Back and Neck Exercises Daily
In wrestling, the neck takes a constant beating. To stay strong and fight off injury, you need a strong neck. An easy way to protect the neck is by strengthening the upper back. Use exercises such as flexion and extension on a neck harness, Face Pulls, Chest Pulls, Band Pull-Aparts and Shrugs.

Work Grip Exercises Daily
Grip strength is key for wrestlers. If you don't have it, you are at a huge disadvantage. You should do grip work every time you train.  Use exercises such as Towel Pull-Ups, Farmer Walks, Tennis Ball Squeezes and Fat Gripz Bent-Over Rows.

Work Your Conditioning While You Train
By pushing the pace during your time in the weight room, you will also develop a level of conditioning needed to compete on the wrestling mat. By pairing exercises and using short rest periods, you will get stronger and train your stamina at the same time. If you need extra conditioning, perform a bodyweight circuit after your workout.

Now, let's put all these tips together! Here is a sample two-day full-body program that will develop the strength and power needed to dominate on the mat.

Day 1

  • Warm Up — 10 minutes
  • 1a) Squats — 5x5
  • 1b) Pull-Ups — 5x8, superset with Squats
  • 2a) Walking Lunges — 3x6 each leg
  • 2b) Handstand Push-Ups — 3x6, superset with Lunges
  • 3a) Neck Harness — 2x25 each for flexion and extension
  • 3b) Shrugs — 2x12
  • 3c) Plank — 2x60 seconds

Day 2

  • Warm Up — 10 minutes
  • 1a) Weighted Pull-Ups — 5x5
  • 1b) Bodyweight Squat Jumps — 5x8, superset with Weighted Pull-Ups
  • 2a) Dumbbell Overhead Press — 3x5
  • 2b) Lunge Jumps — 3x5 each leg, superset with Dumbbell Overhead Press
  • 3a) Neck Harness — 2x25 each for flexion and extension
  • 3b) Farmer Walks — 2x60 seconds
  • 3c) Face Pulls — 2x15

Extra Conditioning Circuit
Do this Extra Conditioning Circuit back-to-back with no rest. Depending on your level of conditioning or need for conditioning, perform it one to three times.

  • Jump Rope — 1-3x30 seconds
  • Mountain Climbers — 1-3x30 seconds
  • Burpees — 1-3x30 seconds
  • Crab Walk — 1-3x30 seconds

Training for wrestling can no longer rely exclusively on long-distance runs and high rep endurance training, which eat away at your muscle and do nothing to improve strength. By combining your skill work with a solid strength and power program, you will begin to dominate on the mat. If you have any questions, please contact me at flahivetraining@gmail.com.

Photo:  stltoday.com

Connor Flahive is the owner and head sports performance coach at Flahive's Advanced Strength Training (F.A.S.T.) in Park Ridge, Ill. F.A.S.T. specializes in strength, power and speed training for power sports. Flahive is a certified high school strength and conditioning specialist through the IYCA. He played football at the D-I level while earning his bachelor's degree in exercise science at Northern Illinois University. Visit his website at flahivetraining.com and view his channel at youtube.com/flahive43.

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