Strength is one of the most important factors in terms of executing technique effectively and efficiently. One may have great technique, but the athlete who performs the technique with greater strength, speed, and power, is usually the one who wins the attack. By utilizing correct strength techniques and procedures, athletes will also be able to refrain from injury because strength also helps with balance, coordination, as well as strengthening the muscles and the connective tissues. In this section, we will go over strength and how to obtain it.
It’s important to complete the aerobic phase of training before moving on to the strength portion. This is why it is highlighted first and foremost. So, if you haven't read the portion on aerobic conditioning, I highly suggest you read it and perform that or put your athletes through that first. Next, is the strength portion. This should also be done during the off-season, in terms of hypertrophying the muscles (making them bigger). Strength training will also be very important during the season to maintain the gains made in the offseason. In the sections below, I will highlight strength training during the off-season. In later chapters we will go over in depth how to maintain strength during the season.
This section is important to go over because there are many different types of strength. Bench press may seem macho and manly, but at the end of the day may not serve the best purpose in a wrestling match. You have to ask what kind of movements does your sport require? In football, for lineman, bench press would make sense, because in pass-blocking the lineman is required to constantly push their opponent away so that they will not be able to penetrate to the quarterback. That is more of a simple example. Wrestling, however, can get a bit complicated. There are many different positions and movements in wrestling, thus it is vital to be strong in a variety of positions as well as maintain a sufficient balance throughout the match. Stance is first and foremost, and it is a difference between winning and losing in most matches. The athlete who is able to maintain balance and stay in a stance for the whole match is putting themselves in a great position to win. You should expect your athletes to be able to stay in a stance for the whole match, and strength plays a big part in that.
So, in regards to strength, we need to focus on the ability to maintain position, grip strength, as well as muscular endurance. On top of that, we need to execute moves fast and powerfully. That’s a lot, and that’s why strength essentially covers the rest of the strength and conditioning program. This section will highlight how to build strength, and in later chapters we will go over how to gain explosive power and then how to perform those movements and an accelerated pace. Following that, we will go over how to maintain that speed and power for the duration of the match (power endurance).
By definition, hypertrophy means the enlargement of an organ or tissue from the increase in size of its cells. In our case, it means making the muscles bigger. If you or your athlete need to cut weight for the upcoming season, hypertrophying the muscles may not be necessary. However, you will want to maintain strength throughout the preseason as well as during the season. Your athletes should be cutting fat and not muscle, if they are cutting weight at all. Especially high school and youth athletes, it is dangerous for them to be cutting muscle as they are still growing. It makes me cringe seeing the sight of youth athletes cutting weight when they have nothing to lose. A pound or so of water weight is okay, but when athletes start losing the ability to maintain their strength because they are cutting too much weight, this is detrimental to their overall health and can hurt them later in life.
We can manipulate the sets and repetitions that we do in regards to what we are trying to achieve. For example, in the previous section (aerobics) we went over how to get our bodies to sufficiently utilize oxygen while lifting weights (by using repetitions between 10-14). For hypertrophy, we want to lift using repetitions in the 8-10 range. We can still perform sets of 3 to do this.
So, pick an exercise to start with. Let’s start with squats. I choose these because the muscles required to do a squat (quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, etc.) are those required to stay in a stance. And it is the basis of lower body movements and lifts. If you or your athlete have never performed a squat before, do them with just the athlete’s own body weight. It is important to get the postural muscles and alignment down first. In fact, one should start with their own body weight anyway to make sure movements are correct. A common mistake here is jumping straight into the lift, performing as much weight as one can, and not doing the correct movements. This will not help! That’s like doing a high crotch really strong and fast but with your head down. It doesn't matter how hard you go, if the technique isn't right, it won’t work in a match against the best guys. And the reason you’re reading this is to beat the best, not to be average.
So, back to squats. Once you have the correct movement down (and if you are unsure of the correct movements, you can look it up or have a certified strength and conditioning specialist help you out) you can start to add weight. You should be able to perform at least 3 sets of 10 repetitions each. This will help you to obtain the best results in terms of hypertrophying the muscles.
One thing to note about squats is the spinal loading (via the bar that is on the back). If athletes have any previous back injuries this may not be the best exercise to do. Instead, one can hold kettle bells or dumbbells and perform the same movements. Lunges are also a great exercise that can be done without spinal loading.
Athletes can pick from a range of 5-8 different exercises and perform 3 sets of 8-10 for each exercise. Rest time between sets should range from anywhere between 45 seconds to 2 minutes to allow the muscles to recover. For this phase, it is okay to stay with the same exercise until all 3 sets are completed. After each exercise, the athlete may take 4-5 minutes between exercises to again allow for proper recovery of the muscles. During this break, active rest is highly suggested. This can be anything from low intensity cycling, jogging, stance/motion, jump roping, etc. in order to keep the muscles going. Again, it should be low intensities with the heart rate around 145 or lower.
There are many different ways to program for strength training. If you have time in the off-season and care about results, I suggest doing the previous 4 weeks of aerobic training followed by 4 more weeks of strength training. These two phases can blend in with each other, so 6-8 weeks would be sufficient for this. You can start implementing strength training around week 3-4 of the aerobic training cycle. Also, as I mentioned in the previous section, aerobic training should still be done at least 1-2x per week during this phase so that system can remain strong. Failure to do so will result in a loss of aerobic conditioning and a more strength based level of fitness. For wrestling, we need both. So, be sure to keep up with running, cycling, stair-master, or the lifting techniques we went over in the previous section.
This 4 week hypertrophy program is highly recommended for off-season training.
Note: Week 1 can be done during week 3 or 4 of your aerobic program. If you haven't started you're aerobic program yet, check this out.
Strength training: 2x per week (spaced 2-3 days apart) along with 2 days of aerobic training (30-45 minutes each, or if lifting use repetitions of 12-15. Or if you are combining it with the previous section, do the recommended amounts on the previous chapter along with these strength training workouts. To be done on separate days).
3x per week (spaced 1-2 days apart) along with 1-2 aerobic training days (in between or on days when not lifting)
3-4x per week (along with 1 aerobic training day)
2-3x per week (less than the previous week) along with 1-2 aerobic training days.
Along with strength training, and even aerobic training, it is important to maintain core strength. We will be doing blogs and videos on various core exercises, but these should be done every day in warm-ups, cool-downs, and/or during the workouts themselves. The core consists of muscles from the hip and waist region, including abdominals, gluteus maximus, hamstrings, and lower back. These muscles are imperative in performing all types of movements and for staying in our stance.
Workouts for core muscles include, but are not limited to: planks, situps, squats, bear crawls (in perfect position) medicine ball roll outs, push-ups, pull-ups, etc. Take the time to research various core workouts and include them in most, if not all, of your workouts.
We talk about position a lot in wrestling. Generally, the wrestler with the better position will win. So, let’s be sure to maintain perfect position when performing lifts. This is another area I cannot stress enough. For one, if lifts are not performed correctly, this could lead to serious injury or injuries down the road. Please be sure to take enough time to learn the correct movements for strength related exercises or have someone supervise who can. Also, in wrestling, the athlete should be performing the technique correctly every time when drilling. If a technique, in strength training or wrestling drills, is done incorrectly, that exercise should be ended immediately. Performing repetitions that are not correct only creates bad habits in athletes that take a long time to reverse. It’s much better to do the technique correct from the beginning.
That officially concludes our article on strength training during the off-season. In later sections, we will go over how to maintain strength during the season or how to maintain strength while cutting weight. In the next section, we will go over how to build power (now that we have obtained a sufficient aerobic and strength base). Thanks for reading! Now go out there and start training!