Lightweight vs. Heavyweight Wrestling Training – Garage Strength

Lightweight vs. Heavyweight Wrestling Training


Lightweight vs. Heavyweight Wrestling Training


The sport of wrestling is conducive to a wide range of body types, sizes and builds. There isn’t a composite of ideal human dimensions to be used to create the perfect human body type to be checkmarked off a dossier sheet to determine if a person will be more suited to be successful at wrestling.

Long and lanky people are successful at wrestling. Short and stocky people are successful at wrestling. You name it, there is a body type that has found success in the sport of wrestling.

However, the training methodologies used to train these various sizes in the weight room and off the mat vary. Especially when dealing with the differences between heavier and lighter wrestlers.

And why, for the love of all things practical and logical, would anyone ever consider training all these weight classes the same way?!?!

We don’t. We wouldn’t even dare. But we do have some suggestions to help.

Dive into the three key differences between training heavyweight wrestlers and lightweight wrestlers.


Where’s the divide?

Let’s begin by pointing out that lightweight wrestlers get as large as 145 lbs (in high-school the lightweights range from 106 lbs weight class to the 138 lbs weight class) while heavyweight wrestlers tend to start around 170 lbs and go up from there in both collegiate (right around the 174 lbs class) and high school wrestling. That’s quite a difference in size. That difference in size means they need to be trained differently as well.

Unfortunately we’ve noticed that some sport coaches and strength and conditioning coaches have been training their lightweight wrestlers the same way they’ve been training their heavyweight wrestlers. Or vice versa. This isn’t good. Actually, this is quite bad. In fact, it’s awful.


For instance, training a heavyweight wrestler like a lightweight wrestler can lead to burn-out for some of the guys. The heavier athletes may develop different issues with chronic injuries from training like a lightweight or they may not respond as well to the stimulus as the other, lighter wrestlers. From there, animosities can start. The wrestler blames the coach and, in turn, the coach is like, “Well it is working for these guys.” The coach is technically correct, but clearly they’re not considering all the factors at play.

Have you ever heard of a football coach training a lineman the same way they train a quarterback? We don’t think so! That’s blasphemy. That’s completely unacceptable. A coach’s license should be revoked, tossed away and have them sent back to school to be educated on proper protocols of training and coaching for various positions.


So why does this happen in wrestling???

We have no idea. We do have opinions, but we won’t share because people might get offended. But at the very least, we will educate you on how to start to bias the training to benefit the upper weight classes most effectively on the mat, as well as how to bias the training to benefit the lower weight classes most effectively on the mat.

Different weight classes need to be trained differently so we can optimize the response. We can optimize the physiological response to improve and enhance adaptations that lead to bigger strength gains, improvement in explosiveness and ultimately, even improve endurance.

Strength Specific Aspects


Pound for pound, lightweight wrestlers need to be strong. Lightweight wrestlers from a strength realm have to focus more on relative strength gains. They need to be able to move weights that have a strong correlation to their competitive weight class. Conversely, heavyweight wrestlers need to have a larger focus on absolute strength. The absolute strength rings pretty loud within the heavyweight weight class. For instance, walking around near the top of the heavyweight class’s weight limit has its benefits from a size perspective, but what good is it when the opponent in the same weight class is walking around lighter but moving more weight squatting? Moving more weight benching? Having more weight loaded for weighted pull ups and weighted dips? The absolute strength for heavier weight classes makes a difference.

Now you can train absolute strength with lightweight wrestlers and you can train relative strength with heavier wrestlers, but remember that you need to prioritize the strength characteristic of relative strength for lighter wrestlers and the absolute strength for heavier wrestlers. Implementing that one protocol will help tremendously with development of both lighter and heavier wrestlers.



Lightweight wrestlers need to focus on a form of explosive that simulates a rapid-response focus with a rapid-reaction component latent within. What does this mean? Rapid reaction is best illustrated by how lighter weight wrestlers move within a scramble, how rapid and quick they are in moving from one move to the other. Sometimes this can last as long as thirty to thirty-five seconds, knowing how to hit a move, counter, hit another move and over and over again. For training this means that lighter weight wrestlers will need to train their rapid reactions over time domains that last 15-20 seconds and, at times, extend into the range of 30 seconds. One way we like to train this time domain is repetitive plyometric series that utilize both upper body and lower body. For instance, couple a burpee with side hurdle hops, into another burpee, only to repeat the same movements in the reverse direction. At times we also utilize mixed modalities of combining an explosive barbell movement, like a power clean+clean with the athlete’s body weight loaded on the bar, with a max set of burpees over the barbell to follow for a :20 second time domain. Since this style of training can be incredibly intense, especially with the ballistic nature of the plyometrics, we have to closely monitor the athlete’s recovery and response to the stimulus.

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Heavier wrestlers need to focus more on general reaction. General reaction requires coordination training, as well as developing timing of movements. So where lighter wrestlers trained in a 15-30 second time window to train reaction for rapid-response, heavier athletes will focus on a time domain lasting in a 7 to 10 second window. Because these guys are a little bit bigger, this has a big impact on how much explosive work, primarily plyometrics, over a sustained time period they can not only handle, but put out the proper power output to achieve the desired results. Besides OTM cleans to develop explosiveness, we also like to use plyometrics designed with a series of jumps. For instance, we will have the wrestler single leg hop over two mini hurdles, followed by a single leg lateral bound, just to land on two feet to hop over a hurdle. Take a quick break and then repeat this same series with the other leg. This way we not only train unilateral coordination, but develop that general reaction that is needed for success on the mat. Because let’s face it, the fastest most coordinated wrestler is going to be the one dominating on the mat more often than not.


If you remember back to when we spoke with Christian Thibadeau, he talked about breaking through a sticking point in a lift. He used the metaphor of the athlete being either a tractor or a porsche. Well the heart of that metaphor is apt here once again.


Lightweight wrestlers, our hypothetical Porsches, will benefit more from interval endurance training. We need to think, “Scramble! Scramble! Scramble!” because scrambles are always happening with lightweight wrestlers. It is one thing to win the scramble and come out with the points, but it is a whole other story to win that scramble and be completely gassed and unable to refill the tank with energy. Interval work helps prevent such exhaustion from limiting performance. Interval work not only forces the athlete to rev the engine, but requires adequate recovery between efforts to be able to repeat the level of performance again and again and again.

Now, when dealing with our heavier wrestlers, our hypothetical tractors, if we are using interval sprints or running hills, we run the risk of beating up their knees and putting strain on their back because, let’s face it, they’re carrying around more baggage on their frames. Running up hills at 240+ lbs puts a lot of forces on the joints. Because of this unnecessary added risk of injury, we believe the best method is to focus on cyclic endurance training movements that have a much lower impact on the frame.

What exercises can be used for cyclic endurance training for heavyweights?

Some of our big go to movements are focusing on sled work over long durations and using the assault bike. We like the assault bike a lot because it doesn’t beat the athlete up and allows them to develop their lungs, i.e. the gas tank, so they aren’t sucking wind at the end of a match. Similar to the assault bike, we will also use a concept 2 rower to fill up the gas tank and not beat them up. Even swimming can do this.


With all this being said, lightweight wrestlers will benefit from the cyclical endurance training as well, but with priority given to the interval style of endurance work. Also, utilizing the implements of the assault bike and concept 2 rower for interval work is a tremendous boon to the athlete’s endurance development.



Wrestling isn’t basketball. Where basketball asks, almost demands, a 6’5” frame or taller to compete at the highest levels, wrestling invites a smorgasbord of body types to have success. And in that regard, we as strength and conditioning coaches have to train the various frames of athletes in different manners for successful transfer from the weight room to the mat.

Lighter wrestlers in the gym need their training to focus on developing relative strength, a rapid-reactive explosiveness for up to :30 seconds and have the endurance to routinely repeat that explosiveness and relative strength over multiple intervals.

Heavier wrestlers, on the other hand, need to develop raw, absolute strength, a precise execution during explosive maneuvers and utilize low impact cyclical work to enhance the air that can be inhaled by the lungs, delivered by the heart and utilized by the muscles.


And just remember, all weight classes need a dose of everything when it comes to strength, explosiveness and endurance training; it is just recognizing what needs to be the main course in their training and what needs to be a side dish for their training.


Dane Miller

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.


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