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Lifting Weights To Become A Better Wrestler
For wrestlers, strength is secondary on the list of important skills needed to improve their game. In wrestling and competitive matches, training should focus on technique and conditioning first, speed and agility second, and strength last. After skill training, drilling, sparring and conditioning, there is almost no time or energy left to even consider strength training in most programs. Some coaches feel that their athletes will get as strong as they need from the skill training/conditioning they do and refuse pure strength training as they fear it will make their athletes bigger and therefore harder to maintain at a certain weight . Some coaches also believe that weight training should be avoided as they fear it will make their athletes bigger and slower. When done correctly, however, this couldn’t be further from the truth. There are many situations in wrestling where strength is the primary attribute used, where the stronger athlete definitely has the advantage.
As a beginner, just practicing and learning how to wrestle will improve your overall strength significantly and even more so for specific movements performed repeatedly on the mat.
However, improving the strength of certain muscle groups used in specific moves while wrestling will take your game a step further and allow you to dominate your opponents when performing those moves. For example, training your lats, arms and grip will make you stronger when you pull your opponent’s head down and perform a head snap. Strong lats and grips are also very useful when you’ve shot in for a single leg takedown and your opponent has spread out. If you still have his leg in your grip and are strong enough, you can continue to pull his leg into you and complete the takedown for two points. On the opposite of this situation, if your shoulders and arms are strong enough, you will be able to successfully fend off your opponent’s takedown attempt by pushing on his hips after spreading despite his attempt to pull your leg in.
Strength training for wrestling is not only a great way to get a head start on performance on the mat, but also an important aspect of injury prevention. Much information has been written about the positive effects (in both performance and injury prevention) of developing the posterior chain. This is the group of muscles that run on both sides of the spine, from the base of the skull to the back of the knees (including the trapezius/neck, mid-lower back muscles, glutes and hamstrings). Training the posterior chain does wonders to protect athletes from spine and neck injuries, especially in contact sports. There are many positions common to wrestling that can be compromising for the spine if the posterior chain is weak. The wrestler’s stance is bent forward in a crouch to stay low for both takedown attacks and defense; this encourages the athlete’s posterior chain to maintain this position. A wrestler with a super strong posterior chain can arch out of cradle attempts or maintain his arch longer to avoid being pinned. Along with the posterior chain emphasis, a wrestler will also benefit greatly from developing their core. Training the abdominals and obliques with weights, over time (sustained contractions/isometric), and rotationally has a huge performance transfer when it comes to lunges or lifting/throwing your opponent.
If done properly, weight training will also make a wrestler much faster. When lifting weights using only the repetition method (for example, 3 sets of 12), as bodybuilders do, larger size is the only result without improvement in speed. But there are many other techniques to use when lifting weights that will make a huge improvement in both speed and explosiveness, regardless of the sport. One method to improve speed is by lifting sub maximal loads (<50% max) explosively for 1-3 reps/set. For the greatest benefit, this should only be done with compound exercises (double or triple extension type) like squats, power cleans, snatches, bench press and even overhead press/push press. Depending on the exercise, adding bands or chains is also helpful for a greater explosive output (best for intermediate and advanced lifters, though). Mixing plyometric exercises with a properly balanced strength training program is also very helpful for speed development and employed by many top level/professional athletes and fighters.
Weight training is also very beneficial for wrestlers when they need to cut weight. It’s true that building muscle will add pounds to a wrestler’s frame and can cause disruptions in what weight class they compete in. But the benefits of building new muscle include more power and explosiveness, which will directly affect mat performance. Greater lean body mass built from lifting weights will also increase the body’s metabolism, making it easier to burn body fat. While weight loss for wrestling often has more to do with reaching a certain body weight to fill a spot on the team, limits should be set based on a current measurement of lean body mass to ensure weight loss remains healthy. Under no circumstances should an athlete choose a weight class during his LBM measurement that requires him to lose muscle to reach the desired weight. That being said, it is beneficial for an athlete to shoot for a lower weight class, barely gain weight, and then bulk up/rehydrate back to normal to ultimately be the bigger athlete in the class. Improved muscle development from weight training ensures greater strength no matter what weight class you enter, provided the weight loss was healthy.
While most of the top high school and NCAA college wrestlers train as much as 6 or more days/week, adding weight training to an already full schedule can be challenging. Fortunately, it is not necessary to search for a 2 hour block of time 3 times a week to exhaust yourself with weights to see big strength gains for an edge on the wrestling mat. During your season, continue wrestling and conditioning as the primary training and only add strength building sessions as an afterthought. You can make significant gains by just adding a few strength exercises to the end of your workout 2-3 days a week. Choose two exercises that target specific movements you perform on the mat in a day; choose two different exercises for another. Do the same exercises after training for no longer than 3 weeks and then switch to something else. Keep these sessions intense, but no longer than 15-20 minutes max. Decide on the day if you have enough left in the tank after training, and skip weight training after particularly hard exercises or when cutting weight. That being said, consistency is the key to improving strength with weightlifting.
The playing field today is very different from the past; there has been much development and advancement in training systems and ideas about what it takes to become a champion. Proof of this is the fact that athletes are bigger, faster and stronger than ever. With competition at the highest level, no attribute can be ignored. Add weightlifting to your wrestling program and improve your confidence as you bully your opponents like never before. When done correctly, weightlifting will improve your strength, power, explosiveness and speed, which translates into a much more well-rounded athlete. Design a program that will strengthen specific movements on the mat so you can dominate and overpower your opponents when the opportunity arises.
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