• Strength Training for High School Wrestlers
    This article looks into the world of high school wrestling, and provides some strength training drills to help improve weaknesses and prevent injury.
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    In the United States, there are three styles of wrestling in which athletes compete; Freestyle, Greco Roman, and Collegiate. Freestyle and Greco Roman are the official styles for the Olympic Games whereas collegiate is the style used in schools from middle school and high school through college. The United States is the only country that still uses the collegiate style; all other countries focus on the Olympic styles of Freestyle and Greco Roman. All three styles have different rules, point systems, and ways to score to win the bout. When it comes to training an athlete for the sport of wrestling, cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular endurance, explosive power, reactive agility, full body strength, and flexibility are all important aspects of the sport.  

    Wrestling is a demanding sport that is especially hard on an athlete’s body. Daily practices beat up the body and put pressure on joints. Maintaining weight is also physically and mentally challenging, and if done improperly can substantially weaken the body. The demands of training sessions and weight maintenance can lead to many different injuries in the sport of wrestling; some of these injuries include ACL tears, back and neck strains, and shoulder dislocations. 

    A typical wrestling workout program consists of an afternoon practice once a day and possibly a morning cardiorespiratory workout. These afternoon practices include a warm-up, technical skill drill, teaching new skills, mock wrestling matches, and a final conditioning workout. A warm-up and dynamic stretching routine is important as it is used to get the body moving and blood flowing. Technical skills and drilling sessions are needed to develop an individual wrestler’s key moves through repetition and technical refinement.  

    Wrestling Stance Fig 1-2

    A wrestler should have one to three basic favorite moves that he/she works to perfect to be used in any situation. Teaching new skills can be looked at as situational wrestling. For example, a coach will demonstrate different ways to score points or to help gain better position from specific scenarios that may occur during a match. Mock wrestling matches allow wrestlers to try new moves or techniques they have been practicing in a more stressful environment. Usually, the final part of practice is comprised of a conditioning portion (e.g., sprints and high-speed moves) followed by an active cool-down (e.g., light jogging and walking). 

    A wrestler should have one to three basic favorite moves that he/she works to perfect to be used in any situation.  

    These training sessions can also be used as a form of strength training and conditioning. During these wrestling sessions, the athletes are repeatedly pushing, pulling, and lifting their opponents. However, additional strength training has numerous benefits that cannot be gained from the movements performed throughout the training session. 

    Most high school wrestling programs focus on four aspects of their athletes’ training programs: technical skills, drilling moves, conditioning, and mock wrestling matches. However, two valuable aspects of training (proper nutrition education and strength training) are often absent from programs of this sort. Many high school athletes are not aware of the impact that their diet has on performance, and as a result do not eat or perform properly. It is important to emphasize that eating proper nutrients consistently will help maintain energy levels needed during the intense training sessions and matches. Adding strength training to a wrestling training program will further increase muscle strength, power, and stamina if integrated in an appropriate manner. Unfortunately, many high school athletes do not learn about the importance of nutrition and strength training until the final years of their high school career, or if they compete for a collegiate team or higher (e.g., Olympic level). 

    Many high schools do not utilize a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® (CSCS®) with their athletes. High school athletics directors generally assign the duties of strength training to a physical education teacher or a sports coach. This can put your wrestlers at a disadvantage, as these types of professionals do not know the specifics of muscle anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, and sport-specific training. For example, the athletic stance is an important aspect for many sports. To build core strength, stamina, and explosive power out of the athletic stance, strength and conditioning exercises and drills should be performed from the athletic stance as the starting position and foundation of each movement.  

    While there is a universal athletic stance (see Figure 1) that is employed by many athletes, the athletic stance for wrestling (see Figure 2a) is slightly different in that the torso has a greater forward lean (increased hip flexion) so that the back is near parallel to the ground with the legs in either a staggered stance or a square stance (see Figure 2b). This wrestling athletic stance serves to help protect the legs from the opponent’s offensive leg shoots as well as to assist offensive tactics by maintaining a lower center of mass for faster offensive leg shots. Sport-specific strength and agility training can help a high school wrestler strengthen the athletic wrestling stance which will likely improve match performance and may reduce the potential for injuries that occur in the sport. 

    Stick Wrestling (with partner)

    Start: Wrestlers begin facing each other in the wrestling stance with both holding a short stick (see Figure 3).

    Movement: On a set cue (e.g., coach’s signal), the wrestlers compete for control of the stick until the coach’s signal to stop. Wrestlers should maintain their stance throughout the entire drill.

    Sets and Reps: 5 x 30 s  

    Stick Wrestling 

    Figure 3: Stick Wrestling 

    Medicine Ball Throw-Downs

    Start: Beginning in the wrestling stance with a medicine ball (MB) placed on the floor in front and to the right of the wrestler (see Figure 4a).

    Movement: On the coach’s signal, the wrestler picks up the MB and rotates it in an arcing motion above the head (see Figure 4b – 4e). The wrestler slams it to the ground on the left side of the body. Repeat for the other side of the body.

    Sets and Reps: 3 x 5 to each side  

    * This exercise should be explosive in nature. The wrestler should fully extend onto the toes while lifting the MB overhead. 

    Med Ball Throws Wrestling 

    Pull-Overs

    Start: Begin lying on the back (e.g., on a bench, bleacher, wrestling mat, stability ball, etc.) with a dumbbell raised up above the chest (see Figure 5a).

    Movement: Keeping the arms straight (but not locked), lower the weights over head as far as possible (see Figure 5b) then pull the arms pack to the starting position.

    Sets and Reps: 3 x 10  

    Pull-Overs 5ab 

    Rope Pummels

    Start: Begin in the wrestling stance with two thick ropes extended in front and away from the wrestler (see Figure 6a). Hold the end of a rope in each hand.

    Movement: Maintaining the stance, alternate raising and lowering each arm in a pummeling motion (see Figure 6b). Repeat raising and lowering both arms simultaneously (see Figure 6c).

    Sets and Reps:3 x 15 – 20 s for both technique  

    Rope Pummels fig 6

    Pull-Ups

    Start: Begin by hanging from a bar or beam.

    Movement: When ready, pull the body up towards the bar until the chin clears the bar then lower back down to the starting position. Avoid swinging the legs during the movement.

    Sets and Rep: 3 x 5 – 10

    Push-Ups

    Start: Begin in a plank position (see Figure 8a).

    Movement: When ready, lower down towards the ground by bending the elbows then return to the starting position by straightening the elbows. Avoid flexing at the hip or rounding the back.

    Sets and Reps: 3 x 25

    Bent-Over Rows

    Start: Begin in the wrestling stance, holding a weighted bar or pair of dumbbells in the hands.

    Movement: Maintaining the stance, bring the weights toward the lower chest, squeezing the shoulder blades together. Return to the starting position.

    Sets and Reps: 3 x 10

    Alternating Dumbbell Shoulder Press

    Start: Begin standing while holding a pair of dumbbells in the hands at shoulder height.

    Movement: Alternate raising one arm above the head at a time and returning to shoulder height.

    Sets and Reps: 3 x 10

    Internal Shoulder Rotations

    Start: Begin standing with a resistance band or elastic tubing in the right hand (tied or looped around a pole perpendicular to the right side of the body). The right elbow should be bent at 90° so the hand extends away from the body towards the pole. The elbow should be positioned slightly away from the side of the body (a rolled up hand towel or fist of the opposite hand can be placed between the elbow and torso to ensure that the pectorals are not assisting with the exercise) with the band or tubing taut.

    Movement: Keeping the elbow tight to the side, pull the tubing as the hand is brought towards the front and across the body (the elbow should stay at a 90° angle throughout the movement). Return to the starting position.

    Sets and Reps: 3 x 15 on each arm  

    Internal Shoulder Fig 7

    External Shoulder Rotations

    Start: Begin standing with a resistance band or elastic tubing in the left hand (tied or looped around a pole to the right side of the body). The left elbow should be at 90° with the forearm across the front of the body (see Figure 12a).

    Movement: Keeping the elbow tight to the side, pull the tubing as the hand is brought out and away from the left side of the body (see Figure 12b) (the elbows should stay at a 90° angle throughout the movement). Return to the starting position.

    Sets and Reps: 3 x 15 on each arm  

    External Shoulder Fig 8

    Although there are three different styles of wrestling, a wrestling-specific strength and conditioning program can help improve athletes’ performances and reduce the potential for injury. Having a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® involved in the design and implementation of your high school wrestling training program will ensure that the most appropriate exercises are performed and that proper technique is a primary emphasis (i.e., quality over quantity). It is important for high school wrestlers to start a strength and conditioning program.  

    The inclusion of such a training program will not only decrease their chances of injury and improve performance, but will build a solid foundation for further performance gains if they decide to continue their career in college and beyond. 

  • Disclaimer: The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) encourages the exchange of diverse opinions. The ideas, comments, and materials presented herein do not necessarily reflect the NSCA’s official position on an issue. The NSCA assumes no responsibility for any statements made by authors, whether as fact, opinion, or otherwise. 
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