Strength reigns supreme in the sport of wrestling, but it is important to have strength in the right areas. This is strength that is functional for a wrestler to compete at his/her best.
When working with wrestlers, there are some distinct areas of strength that you must focus on. Of course, you always have to have a well-balanced athlete; therefore, if there are any imbalances or asymmetries that could lead to a possible injury, you need to focus on that as well. I just want to point out five essential areas that a wrestler should focus on if they want to compete at a high level.
Remember, we are talking strength right now, not conditioning:
1.Pulling Strength is very important for wrestlers due to the grappling nature of the sport. By pulling strength, I am referring to upper body pulling right now. The muscles that need to be focused on here is the upper back, rhomboids, rear deltoids, lats, and biceps. Wrestlers use this strength when they are in the clinch position, when they are trying to pull legs in on a shot, and just about any other grappling movement in a match.
We break the pulling movements into 2 particular planes to focus on in your program: Vertical Pulling and Horizontal Pulling.
Vertical Pulling major movers are the latissimus dorsi (lats) with help from the biceps and of course, other muscle along the kinetic chain.
Vertical Pulling Exercises: Chin-up, Pull-ups, Weighted Pull-up/Chin-ups, Eccentric Chin-ups/Pull-ups
Horizontal Pulling major movers are the upper back, rear deltoids, rhomboids, along with help from the biceps, etc.
Horizontal Pulling Exercises: Rowing Variations such as Dumbbell Rows, Barbell Rows, Inverted Rows, and Sled Rows.
These exercise will help strengthen wrestlers in the proper areas and should be worked on during off-season training.
2. Not a lot like to work on this next one, but it is super important: Lower Body/Hip and Leg Strength. Many people get too hung up on upper body strength and forget about the lower half. Hip strength goes a long way to making wrestlers dominate the mat.
Lower body strength consists of strengthening the glute muscles, hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, etc. We also break the planar movements up the lower body as well for programming purposes: Lower Pull and Lower Push.
Lower pulling movements use more hip dominant muscles such as the glutes, abductors, adductors, hamstrings, etc. and they consist of Deadlift variations (Sumo Stance, Conventional Stance), Trap Bar Deadlift, Rack Pulls, and any other hip dominant movement.
Lower pushing movements are more quad-dominant in nature. These movements consist of the different type of squat variations: Goblet Squat, Front Squat, Back Squat and your lunge variations can fall under this.
3. Core Strength: Most people think of the core as just the 6-pack Abs; however, the core is essentially the neck to the waist both anterior and posterior. This includes the lats, obliques, abdominals, and lower back erectors. The main job of the core is to resist movement and dissipate forces. We want to train this through Anti-Extension, Anti-Rotation, Anti-Flexion, and Anti-lateral Flexion.
We don’t do this through doing sit-ups and crunches. We achieve this through using “Anti-movements.” Some of the exercises that we can use are plank variations, deadbugs, Palloff presses, farmer carry, and suitcase carry variations.
4. Grip Strength is another area that needs to be focused on for wrestlers. It is important from a grappling perspective where we are pulling and grabbing for long periods of time. Grip is also a direct correlation to the central nervous system. There are some creative ways to train grip; however, we like to keep it simple. You can use all different types of carrying variations: i.e. farmer carries, suitcase carries, and plate carries. Some other exercise methods are plate pinches, towel pull-ups, and sand/rice twists. You will use grip a lot through general strength training if you are doing exercises such as deadlifts, but also you can do supplemental work at the end of your training session.
5. The Neck needs to be a priority in a wrestlers training regime. We are starting to learn how important a strong neck is for concussion prevention, but it should be an emphasized importance for wrestlers from a strength and performance standpoint. In order to get neck strength do some of the following neck exercises: Bench/Stability Ball Neck Bridges, Banded Neck Variations, and also Iso Neck Exercises.
This is just a quick guide of key areas a wrestler, or any grappler for that matter, should focus on during offseason training. Yes, you need to hone your craft and learn technique, but if you compliment good technique with strength in the right areas, you will be the complete wrestler. The exercises that we give are just examples, and by no means a prescription. If you focus on these 5 key areas of strength, you will see an increased performance in your sport.
The last 3-4 years, we have had the opportunity to work with one of the best wrestling teams in New Jersey, and the wrestling rich Lehigh Valley. In the last 4 years of working with them, this particular team has won 4 straight State Championships.
We also work with some of the best Jiu-Jitsu Athletes in the world, and arguably the greatest female grappler of all-time. These are some of the general methods that we apply to their training as well.