Strength Training in Wrestling
Strength Training in Wrestling
Folkstyle, Greco-Roman or Freestyle wrestling strength coaches are constantly wondering how much strength, speed and endurance the wrestling athlete needs. Honestly, they need um. All. Strength. Speed. Endurance. On the mat, you can’t have one without the other. If one is lacking, the others are not operating at their full potential on the mat. That isn’t good. That’s a problem.
Thankfully, it's a problem we know how to fix.
Let’s dive into the best ways to train strength for the various energy systems used by wrestlers on the mat!
The Anaerobic Alactic Energy System
Let’s start by beginning with the anaerobic alactic energy system. Typically the anaerobic alactic system falls within the 6 to 15 second time domain. The window for power output is peddled to the metal, cashing out right before that burn begins to come into the muscles being recruited for energy expenditure. Let’s say you don’t necessarily get winded in this state, but your heart rate sure gets the BPMs thumping in such a brief expenditure of energy.
This is also the time domain where big strength movements come into play. Think heavy back squats, front squats, cleans and deadlifts. Do wrestlers operate within this energy system while on the mat? Yeah they do. Think of a scramble with its quick, powerful and deceptive athletic movements. Anyone who has ever been on a mat knows how grueling coming out of a scramble can be. And all that energy expenditure to end up in a stalemate or, even worse, being taken down and finding yourself behind in points.
The Anaerobic Glycolysis Energy System
The second traditional model energy system we are going to look at is the anaerobic glycolysis system. Typically this system operates in a time domain lasting anywhere from :30 seconds to 2 whole minutes. As all wrestlers know, this is the time domain they live in during periods in matches, and as the wrestling athlete advances in skill level, periods in a match extend even longer, forcing the elite wrestlers to want to be able to extend their ability to perform within the anaerobic glycolysis system for as long as possible.
From a strength and endurance perspective, we like to do bench press sets with rep ranges varying from twelve to fifteen reps, at times extending that to twenty reps. Any athlete who has trained at Garage Strength knows, sets of 17 reps is the go to for anaerobic glycolysis strength and endurance training.
Another exercise we like to use for the upper body is pull-ups. We recommend using a variety of grips and diversify your hand placement when doing pull ups to add variety, create neural pathways and strengthen your body through various positions. We are also BIG fans of rope climbs as an upper body pulling exercise, especially for wrestlers. Get creative when doing rope climbs--use your legs, do them legless, hold a L sit, do them for time, and better yet, if you have two ropes hanging parallel to one another, do plyometric pulls, launching yourself up the rope like King Kong.
The Oxidative Energy System
The third traditional model energy system is the oxidative system, which is typically anything over two minutes in duration. From the freestyle/greco-roman perspective, as well as from a collegiate folkstyle perspective, wrestlers are working into three minute long periods. This means the athlete will be tapping into the oxidative system within a single period, as well as throughout the course of the entire match as the periods add up together.
So what does this mean from a programming perspective?
It means we have to factor all this stuff together. But how?
One thing we like to do at Garage Strength is to use OTM (on the minute) cleans or power cleans for a set of two reps to trigger the anaerobic alactic system. This forces the athlete to perform explosive movements over a duration of time with a set amount of rest. We will do a similar style of OTM training but use back squats (typically sets with rep ranges between 2-4 reps), bench presses (sets with rep ranges between 2-5 reps) or pull ups (rep range can vary based on an athlete’s weight class) to trigger a similar response. Any movement that transfers over to the mat is applicable to this format.
Now with the anaerobic glycolysis system, we can develop that within the weight room by doing sets of 15-20 reps. Better yet, super setting a big set of bench presses, taking a quick ten second rest before launching into a massive set of pull ups to tap into the anaerobic glycolysis system. The best part about this is that in addition, the athlete taps into strength reserves and develops the skill of creating a high power output with minimal rest.
Being able to recover the anaerobic alactic system faster and recover the anaerobic glycolysis faster depends on having a big gas tank, that reserve of energy developed through doing aerobic capacity work. Yes, we factor in some low intensity aerobic capacity work by having the athletes get on the bike, get on the rower or have them go for a light jog. However, we know that a lot of wrestlers are doing aerobic capacity work on the mat doing their skill work and technical work. As a strength coach, knowing they are doing a lot of the aerobic capacity work on the mat, we don’t want to make them too fatigued for the weightroom.
So how do we decide which system to bias the training towards?
That’s easy after an assessment of the wrestler. Is the wrestler really, really strong but lacks a gas tank? Well now we have to increase their oxidative energy system and work on their aerobic capacity. Is the wrestler weak? For instance, their clean stinks, they can’t back squat bodyweight on the bar or they can’t do pull-ups; well that means we have to work in that anaerobic alactic system to try and increase their strength tremendously over time. Or do they get gassed during a scramble? Let’s start working that 8-20 rep range as a priority.
Wrestlers need to be able to operate at various levels of energy expenditure for a plethora of time durations. Training all three energy systems predominantly used within the sport, namely the anaerobic alactic, anaerobic glycolysis and anaerobic oxidative, is paramount to transferring success in the weight room to success on the mat. It’s one thing to be strong, but it is another thing to be strong over and over and over again, replicating power output on specific time domains.
Here is some food for thought: imagine an athlete who can clean 1.3 x their body weight for one rep every :30 seconds. Over the course of a three minute period that would be six explosive movements. Now imagine that same athlete, cleaning that same weight, but doing it every :20 seconds. That’s a 33% increase in work capacity over the same time domain. That’s strong, strong over and over and over again.
Gains like that create world champions.
Besides being the strongest non-meat eater at Garage Strength, Earl makes it a point to pick his banjo daily in the Scruggs style, is an avid artist, currently exploring the interaction of color through pixel art, and makes it a point to read and write daily. He makes money working as an educator at a school in the third largest city in Pennsylvania. When not working, he is taking walks with his wife, Julie, playing video games with his daughter, Belle, discussing the lore of some internet deep-dive with his son, Rhys, or texting his daughter Teegan, who is attending college to become a PA about her cat, Ginger, attacking his sockless feet. He also enjoys spending time with his dogs, Otis and Alma, in the morning when everyone else in the household is still sleeping. In addition to having weekends worth of certificates under his belt, he has trained, studied, and apprenticed under his mentor, Dane, for multiple years, investigating programming, technique and transference of training to sport in both closed and opened competitive environments. In 2019 he set the American Masters 35-39, 96 kilo, snatch record. It’s been broken since, but he has a paper certificate and a pdf to accompany the video evidence for documentation. He loves punny people.
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