I’m going to keep it real with you guys. You are not going to find any muscle-building, nutrition, exercise or fat-loss content in this article. All you will find are five workout lessons you need to learn if you want to compete at the highest levels. These lessons will teach you to use the two most important tools an athlete has—the heart and mind.
It’s no secret. I love wrestling. Ask anybody who has ever wrestled, “What is the toughest sport you have ever done?” I can almost guarantee you that they will say wrestling. Not everybody can do it, but everybody can learn from it.
Before we go further, let me tell you a little bit about my background.
I began wrestling at age 4. I was a pretty dominant high school wrestler and went on to wrestle in college for five years in the Big Ten at Michigan State University. I went from being a walk-on to being named team captain during my senior season. Was I a national champion? Nope. All American? Nope. I never even won a state title, but I beat All-Americans and 3-time and even 4-time state champions. I won a lot of matches that I had no business winning. I did it not with talent, but with heart and mental toughness. That mental focus still burns inside me, and I apply it to every single thing I do every single day.
1. You are only as good as your practice partner makes you
Most of the time in wrestling practice, you get to choose who you want for your partner. Sounds like a simple task right? It’s not. You have the choice of the guy who will give you a fight for your life or the kid you beat with one arm. Choose the latter and you will not succeed. Trust me, you can be good to a certain point, but not at the higher levels.
I first heard this from my oldest brother R.J., on the way home from a youth practice. He saw me beating up on a weaker kid while I could have gone up against a state champ who was way better than me. He was so mad at me, and it broke my heart. I never let it happen again.
2. There are no shortcuts. If you fake it, everybody will find out
We have all been there. That moment during practice when you start to get tired and you find yourself looking for an easy way out. You know that if you take it, nobody will know except you. It’s so tempting, and after more and more fatigue—you do it. You skip a rep or jog through a sprint. You make it look like you’re tired, but really you could go harder. That’s what we call coasting.
Coasting is when you know you can work harder, but you settle for doing just enough to get by. Toward the end of my freshman season I was guilty of it a few times. Guess what happened? I got my butt handed to me!
I knew I was doing something wrong, so I went to my coach. We were watching the NCAA Championships from the stands, and I told him I wanted to be out there wrestling. He called me out and told me I had been coasting. It was right in front of my dad, too. Man, was I upset with myself! I made the change right then and there.
If you take it easy during your workout at the gym, you will not see the results you want to see. You know if you are pushing your body past the point of comfort. You can grunt and yell and act like you’re tired, but deep down only you know if you’re able to push out a few more reps. There are no shortcuts. Work your butt off every day, because if you don’t, everybody will soon find out.
3. Get comfortable being uncomfortable
Take your arm and put it behind your back. I don’t care how you do it. Now have somebody take that arm and crank on it until it feels like it’s about to rip off. Sucks, right? Try doing that after losing 10 pounds in a week with every muscle in your body sore and you can barely breathe because you’re inside an 85-degree room.
That, my friends, is just a glimpse of what wrestlers have to go through on a daily basis. It is extremely uncomfortable. As a young athlete, I had no choice but to learn how to deal with it and even love it! I found that the wrestlers who could look at that situation and embrace it were the ones on top of the podium at the end of tournaments.
Every time you train, you have to push your body past its threshold to reach progression. It could involve adding 5 pounds to your bench or shaving time off your mile run. Forget about how hard you are working and focus on getting as tired as possible. Learn to crave being exhausted. Don’t run from it. Embrace it!
4. You have to train every part of your body
Wrestling requires you to be in the best shape of your life from head to toe. You don’t realize how many muscles you use while wrestling until you truly attempt the sport. One second you’re using all legs, the next you’re using just your neck. It’s crazy. I was lucky enough to have some great strength coaches in college. We trained every muscle from head to toe in a balanced fashion, which allowed our bodies to adapt and become strong for our sport.
Don’t be that guy who never trains legs or only does bench for the upper body. Nobody remembers that guy. Find a coach who knows what he is talking about and have him write you up a balanced program. If you’re struggling with certain exercises, it most likely means you’re weak in that part of your body. Check out the video player above to learn more about improving your weaknesses to have full-body strength.
5. Play the game, not the name
I’ll never forget it. I was wrestling a nationally ranked opponent from where else—the Iowa Hawkeyes, which is probably the all-time greatest team in college wrestling. Just before the match, my teammate and roommate on the road whispered to me, “Wrestle the match, not his name.” I heard that loud and clear. I wrestled the match with clear confidence because I knew that I trained harder than he did.
You can either wait for success to come to you, or you can chase it.
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