Bodyweight Exercises for Wrestling
We are big proponents of lifting weights to improve sports performance. Saying we are big proponents of lifting weights to improve performance is actually quite an understatement on our part. We’re actually HUGE proponents of lifting weights to improve sports performance. So, lift weights to improve sports performance.
But we also have a pretty diverse array of tools in our toolbox and know that there are other effective methods that need to be implemented within an athlete’s training regiment to bring about those all needed gainz to help transfer to success in sport.
One of the compartments in that toolbox that we enjoy using when constructing absolute monsters on the mat for the sport of wrestling is bodyweight exercises.
We know to succeed in wrestling you have to have really good relative strength; in this manner, body weight training greatly compliments and enhances relative strength. The second thing we know is that wrestlers need to be extremely explosive and able to react faster than a thumb movement on your favorite twitch streamers video game feed. And finally, we can’t stress enough, wrestlers need to have great endurance to last late in the match to get the much needed points for the win, and that absolute strength and grip play a role in success on the mat as well.
Let’s take a peek inside our toolbox and dive into the compartment of bodyweight exercises and investigate the 5 body weight exercises that we guarantee will help create the strength, power and endurance needed to achieve a tech fall on the mat!
Give me the goods!
Not only will dips give you a stronger bench press and increase your ability in the clinch as a greco-roman wrestler, but dips will go a long way to making you heavy on head, squeezing for a pin with that cradle or ensuring that the opponent’s knee is nice and tight before finishing off the takedown.
Ideally, you have access to parallel bars to perform dips. Focus on a full range of motion to help strengthen the muscles to a greater capacity. Don’t have access to parallel bars? Get innovative and rearrange the house furniture by putting two chairs together. This movement can be done in a hotel room or a living room to improve strength and mobility in your pecs and triceps.
One big factor with dips on the wrestling mat is in the sport specific skill of pummeling. A wrestler’s chest is going to contribute a lot to how the opponent is being manipulated. The elbow extensors are also going to be pushing the opponent to try to get them off balance. Dips provide a HUGE stimulus to increasing the strength of the elbow extensors, allowing them to be more explosive and that increases the ability to manipulate the opponent while pummeling.
We recommend doing dips twice a week for five to six sets for anywhere from seven to fifteen reps.
4. Handstand Push Ups
For some reason a lot of people struggle with this movement. Why is that? Is it the unfamiliarity with being inverted? Is it an inability to coordinate the rigid trunk control demanded with the pressing movement? Is it a lack of neck strength to absorb the force on the eccentric? With that being said, it is our belief that all wrestlers, even the big boi’s, need to master the handstand push up.
When beginning to learn the handstand push up, start with the hands on the floor and the feet on the box. Once your shoulders get strong enough, you can start kicking up to a wall (an athletic skill in itself) with your hands on the floor. By placing one’s hands on the floor the range of motion in the handstand push up is limited from the top of the head to full extension; however, placing the hands on the floor allows for the body to learn the movement pattern to begin to eventually increase the difficulty of the movement. The difficulty levels up by increasing the range of motion of the handstand press. So overtime, as the athlete gets stronger, we elevate the hands and increase the distance from the floor--do this by using stacked plates of various heights or parallettes. This increase in an athlete’s strength over a larger range of motion benefits the athlete on the mat.
Look at it this way: wrestling is always in an overhead position. If we’re in a collar tie, overhead position. If we’re reaching for a single leg, overhead position. Now if the athlete is able to execute the handstand push up, they will be stronger in that position.
It is obvious, but it has to be said, the athlete will now be stronger in the shoulders from doing this movement. The shoulder girdle will learn how to contract, be stable, co-contract and be a little bit more sound, enhancing structural stability to handle various positions on the mat a little bit more effectively.
We recommend doing this once a week for about four to six sets for seven to ten reps.
3. Pistol Squats
So far we looked at two pressing movements through the upper body. Now we’re going to look at a movement that targets the legs with high demands of balance, coordination and unilateral strength.
Unilateral strength you say?
YES! YES! YES!
As a sport wrestling is almost always done in a unilateral position. Not only when in a neutral stance or changing level, but think about when the opponent takes a shot, gets the leg and elevates the leg. The athlete has to be strong and have the balance to not just give up the take-down. This is where pistol squats come in.
Pistol squats demand a high, high level of mobility to perform the movement. Pistol squats improve the way the knee tracks, the stability of the ankle, the co-contraction around the knee and improve the mobility in the lower back. Benefits? So if the ankle is more mobile, the wrestler can get into a deeper position. If the hips are more mobile, the wrestler can change their levels more effectively.
Visualize having an opponent hitting a nice high crotch and having to defend yourself. Got the image? Alright, go ahead and hit a switch that puts you into a really deep, mobile position to defend. Got the image? Well that new found strength gained in that position from doing pistol squats just allowed you to turn that defensive position into an offensive advantage.
We recommend doing pistols once a week for four to five sets with three to eight reps on each leg (as an added bonus, and for more advanced athletes, try coupling a pistol squat with a box jump or hurdle hop).
2. Pull Ups
Everybody knows in the sport of wrestling there are tons and tons of pulling. There is a ton of overhead work that needs to go into conquering opponents--pulling in a knee pick; deep in on a single leg being able to control with the lats and bicep; hitting a cradle the lats, biceps and pecs have to be strong; overhead in the collar tie being heavy on the head to manipulate the neck.
This is why we do pull ups.
Pull ups is the exercise that is the equivalent to the back squat for the legs.
Garage Strength, we believe if you are a wrestler under 185/190 lbs, you need to be able to bust out twenty plus pull ups on the spot. Now heavier weight athletes, we will take something in the range of ten to fifteen reps.
We recommend doing pull ups multiple times in the week for three to five sets with rep ranges varying from five to twenty. We also recommend using various grips and hand positions when doing pull ups.
1. Knee Tuck Jumps
This is an exercise that teaches wrestlers how to be explosive in their hips. They will learn how to extend their hips rapidly; but, just as importantly, when they get back to their feet they will learn how to be explosive from the new position in their hips, quads, lower-back and just about everywhere!
We love this movement because it is similar to a scramble. There are two different positions the athlete has to be explosive in quickly and rapidly. Just think about the transfer in the referee’s position for folk wrestling--the wrestling athlete will be able to get faster off the mat to hit a very strong stand-up, eliminating the ability of the opponent to accumulate riding time.
We recommend doing this exercise twice a week with four to seven sets for three to four reps (there is also the hidden bonus of core work latent within the movement).
The beauty of bodyweight exercises is that they can be done nearly anywhere. Meaning there is never an excuse to not train because of lack of equipment or access to a gym. On the surface bodyweight exercises seem simple. Latent within bodyweight movements is extreme demand for coordination, balance and strength, further detailing their extreme necessity for use in a wrestling athlete’s training protocol to develop for mat capability and enhance the athlete’s relative strength and balance.
So remember, integrate dips, handstand push ups and pull ups into the wrestler’s training protocol to enhance upper body strength for both pushing and pulling. Couple those movements with pistol squats and knee tuck jumps to attack the lower body and a full body regiment emerges. In turn, a committed work ethic coupled with consistent, near daily training will result in wins and pins on the mat!
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.