Bodybuilding For Wrestling
Hot take: bodybuilding is one of the most important factors behind becoming a successful wrestler working in the weight room.
Here at Garage Strength we have heard wrestling coaches say things like, “Well, that team’s got a lot of good bodybuilder physiques on them, but how good are they on the mat?” Reasonable question, completely understandable. We have even heard some coaches proclamate, “[Insert a top college program] are really good at building bodybuilders but are they really good at building wrestlers?” No offense, but that [insert a top college program] turns out pretty legit wrestlers as well--let’s just say the program in question has produced numerous national champs and international gold medals as well.
So what is bodybuilding?
At Garage Strength we see bodybuilding as enhancing and improving the body’s musculature through resistance training while utilizing sarcoplasmic hypertrophy; some of this also goes through myofibrillar-hypertrophy, but typically bodybuilding, when we think about Arnold and Kai Green, the thought goes to classic movements being performed with high reps over long duration sets. Ya know, just getting absolutely HUGE!
Why is bodybuilding one of the most important factors behind becoming a successful wrestler?
When talking about the sport of wrestling, we at Garage Strength see bodybuilding in a slightly different light. What needs to be done is locating elements and facets from the realm of bodybuilding that can help in the training of wrestlers. So we need to analyze the elements of the sport to best choose exercises to apply to the bodybuilding programming for a wrestler.
In the sport of wrestling, athletes need to have the following:
- Grip Strength
- Strength Endurance
- Relative Strength
One of the easiest things that can be done with sprinting, especially in the world of track and field, is to break down the event and actions into phases. We here at Garage Strength like to break it down into the following phases:Working from this understanding, we can utilize different aspects of bodybuilding to improve key elements on the mat. In this way, bodybuilding for wrestling can dramatically improve an athlete’s competitive performance.
Let’s dive into how it can be done.
Off the bat, wrestling is one of the hardest sports out there. The demands the sport puts upon the athletes is gravitational; it burdens the shoulders and layers on the mental anguish. Wrestlers have a certain gumption that is a trade secret. Borroughs, Gable, Sanderson, John Smith, to name a few, are wrestlers with extreme mental toughness. They’re machines.
This may be hard to believe, but bodybuilding isn’t easy. It’s hard. It demands a hard-nose mentality similar to wrestling. One thing that is amazing about utilizing some aspects of bodybuilding in wrestling training is noticing the mentality transfer. Bodybuilding requires grind and grit.
A true bodybuilding session is exhausting. Pushing muscles to failure, extreme times under tension and even greater amounts of discomfort will build a strong mental resolve. Doing sets of thirty reps, only to drop the weight and perform even more reps is taxing way beyond that property tax the libertarian pundit is railing against. This type of stress and discomfort brought about through bodybuilding exercises can transfer phenomenally to the on the mat mentality.
Being under stress and discomfort for long periods of time, athletes get comfortable being in discomfort. That’s what differentiates champions from runners-up: Champions strive in discomfort, where everybody else struggles to get into that zone. And that is one of those key elements bodybuilding brings into the wrestling realm.
When we talk about wrestling training, we know athletes have to be explosive and have high levels of relative strength (high levels of absolute strength if up in those heavier weights). This means utilizing back squats, the olympic lifts, single leg squats, bench presses and a plethora of other compound movements to enhance explosiveness along with relative and absolute strength. These types of movements have to be done.
Remembering this isn’t an all or nothing with bodybuilding movements for wrestling. Parts of bodybuilding need to be utilized to enhance performance on the mat; so when we talk about strength endurance, now we start to think of movements done using long duration sets with high reps. For instance, completing a set of thirty reps for dumbbell hammer curls; completing twenty body weight dips into two legless rope climbs before going back to the dips. These are principles from bodybuilding.
Thankfully, said principles of bodybuilding, namely using long duration sets with high volume reps, that will create strength endurance, especially late in the match when competing on the mat. The heightened strength endurance, coupled with the comfort within discomfort, allows athletes to bring out a large amount of power output while still fatigued through having used bodybuilding to improve one’s wrestling prowess.
We see athletes that are just hulking figures. Forearms like Pop-eye, traps straight out of the Saw franchise and lats that flare out like a Ric Flair, “Wu!” Looking like this carries weight; it is imitating to see an opponent resonating an adonis aura.
Think this sentiment is crazy? Envision Brock Lesnar. Trying to get on the mat with him? Most readers are answering, “Nope.” Now Brock wasn’t by any means the most technical wrestler, but he sure slayed the eye test with his build as a physical athlete.
Why not utilize the factors of intimidation through appearance before getting on the mat? Getting into an opponent’s head gains an immediate advantage. From there, locking up and the opponent feeling the power, feeling the strength, they realize they can’t hang.
Slower Twitch Muscles & Mat Strength
Slower twitch muscles and mat strength tie together like a constrictor knot. Bodybuilding with its long sets and lengthy time under tension can dramatically improve the strength of slower twitch muscle fibers. Slow twitch muscle fibers respond really well to greater times under tension. In this way, slow twitch muscle fibers benefit greatly from bodybuilding style of training.
How do slow twitch muscle fibers improve mat strength though?
Thinking of mat strength as the ability to take all the strength from the weight room and utilize it effectively on the mat. Primarily, what it comes down to from there, mat strength comes down to a lot of applied grip. Advanced grip exercises lead to mat strength.
Here is the big kicker. The biceps, the lats and the forearms are all muscle groups that tend to be slower twitch. Now we will still train these muscles with explosive based work, but we will also target these slower twitch muscles with very high reps. Think targeting the biceps or forearms with farmer’s carries, hangs on a fat bar or long sets of curls with fat grips on the dumbbells. These are all little tricks that can be used to train the slower twitch muscles and have it carryover directly to the strength on the mat.
We have to see the athletic performance enhancement from bodybuilding for wrestling, seeing the sports performance dramatically improve because the slower twitch muscle fibers are actually stronger, possess more strength endurance and enhance key areas in wrestling like the grip--pulling on the head, getting wrist control.
Go ahead, do a lengthy farmer’s carry into a set of pull ups until failure using a false grip on a fat bar. How do the forearms feel? Grip strength improve? Dang right it did!
We have to realize bodybuilding training for wrestling means we take a couple key factors out of the bodybuilding realm to improve sports performance on the mat. By performing select bodybuilding movements we can create a grit and grind mentality that pays off late in matches and greatly enhances strength endurance. In addition, bodybuilding creates a physique that can intimidate opponents before ever locking up, gaining an advantage before the whistle ever blows. Finally, strengthening slower twitch muscle fibers will help dramatically improve mat strength, especially in the realm of grip.
Now go and get swole!!!
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.