How to Train Conditioning for Wrestling
In the sport of wrestling, a lot of coaches LOVE conditioning. They love to hammer conditioning; they love to push their athletes. They’ll say things like, “Conditioning is king! You gotta be an animal!”
This is true. To a point.
As strength coaches, we have to think that hammering conditioning in the off-season isn’t really needed. The reason why is because typically most wrestlers can get into pretty peak condition in six to eight weeks as far as endurance and strength endurance is concerned; conditioning is pretty easy to train.
Understand that when talking about conditioning, it is not just going out for a run or doing long-duration, cyclical work. It is also about being able to apply strength, explosiveness, and speed over long periods of time. Wrestlers need to be in decent shape so they don’t get hurt and have a decent amount of lung capacity when refining skills on the mat. But we don’t want to take away from what is being done in the weight room: developing lean muscle mass, power development, and speed and explosiveness.
We want to focus on how conditioning can be set up for wrestling in the off-season. We want to consider what that entails in regards to the weight room, recovery, long-duration work, and explosiveness.
In the weight room, we want to do things that help create lean muscle mass and help wrestlers carry their strength and speed over to the mat. Right away we want to start with developing and refining technical coordination. Technical coordination is typically built around the Olympic lifts.
Technical coordination means static contraction followed by a dynamic contraction followed by elastic force absorption and then a contraction where the athlete recruits their absolute strength. What does that mean for wrestling? That means we can start to tap into OTM (on the minutes) cleans. Twelve to fifteen sets of singles on the minute working anywhere from 70-85%. One little trick that can be performed is completing doubles over the first five minutes. This is a real easy way to use weightlifting to improve conditioning.
Another trick is using complexes. Complexes can be grueling and very challenging. They are hard to do. They require athletes to coordinate rapidly and be strong. If the complexes are performed on a short rest time, about sixty seconds, it is going to improve endurance long term.
Finally, finishers, especially for the upper body. So after strength work and explosive work, hit a finisher. Maybe a sled-pull followed by explosive push-ups followed by med ball slams. That is a finisher that will help maintain strength and explosiveness and still improve conditioning in the off-season.
Long-duration work in the off-season should not be the key factor. It needs to play a supporting role. It is primarily utilized, the aerobic capacity, just to support the athlete’s anaerobic capacity and alactic system.
Keep this simple. Don’t go out and run for three to five miles. Get on the assault bike or rower, something that is going to be easy to recover from because there is not a lot of pounding on the body. Keep it nice and easy at a conversational pace for thirty minutes no more than twice a week.
This long-duration work will help improve the athlete’s anaerobic capacity, aerobic capacity, and help with recovery as well.
This can be challenging. We don’t want to do crazy things, jumping all over the place with minimal rest. However, we can do explosive work followed by adequate rest to create endurance relative to explosive capability.
The best thing is interval-based training. Garage Strength uses two options. Option one: find a hill that is thirty to fifty meters. Sprint full speed to the top, walk down, and sprint again. Do ten to fifteen reps. That is great interval-based training. It will improve explosiveness, power output, the strength of quads and glutes, and will improve speed in taking better shots on the mat.
The next thing is using the Tabata protocol. The Tabata protocol is twenty seconds on, ten seconds off for four minutes. If trying to get dangerous, go for eight minutes. Can also do a Tabata round for four minutes, rest for three minutes, and go again for four minutes. We recommend not using jumps. We recommend using kettlebell swings paired with explosive knee planks, switching movements every thirty seconds. Tabatas can also be done on the machines.
The main point is to not take away from the main goal of the off-season: turning into a freak athlete, get stronger and more explosive so that when executing technique on the mat it can be done with more precision at a faster rate.
Recovery can play a huge role. A lot of wrestling coaches are clueless about this and refuse to acknowledge science. They need to stop.
A real simple thing to do with recovery to help with endurance is utilizing the sauna. The sauna mimics moderate-intensity exercise. Take it easy to start. Do it three to five days a week.
There is something called heat-shock-protein-70. This will help with recovery and will improve endurance. It will also improve cardiovascular markers. Use the sauna to recover the body and mind and disconnect from electronics.
The main things we recommend in the off-season for conditioning are to utilize on-the-minute drills in the weight room, utilize the sauna, and stay away from the three to five-mile runs. Remember, the sauna mimics the moderate intensity of cardiovascular training and stimulates heat-shock-protein-70. Sprinkle in long-duration cyclical exercise once, maybe twice, a week on a machine and use interval training where appropriate. Remember, for off-season wrestling training, the main goal is turning into a freak athlete, getting stronger and more explosive so that when executing technique on the mat it can be done with more precision at a faster rate. Regardless, get working!
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.