I’ve seen a lot of programming for wrestling online and at various college/high school programs. Some of it good, some of it not bad, and some of it downright awful. While there are many factors that go into designing a strength and conditioning program for a wrestler, I want to go over a few exercises that I believe are essential to a wrestlers strength and conditioning program.
Pulling strength, grip strength, abdominals, and healthy shoulders are all benefits of the pullup. Pullups are a must for any wrestler. If you’re not doing them, then you’re probably not winning any medals at big tournaments. Wrestling is a pulling sport, and pullups are the king of pulling exercises.
Think they’re not? A profile of elite Junior wrestlers from Iran, a country that had the 3rd highest wrestling medal count in the 2012 Olympics; showed these pullup numbers by weight class:
Now, granted, these pullups were done with a supinated (palms facing you grip), and I have no idea how strict they were with the test (i.e. did they allow swinging, or did they go all the way down) but what I do know is that is ALOT of pullups. It’s not uncommon for me to see new wrestlers come in to my gym who can barely do 2 or 3 pullups. Once that number starts getting into the double digits, good things start happening.
For more information about pullups, click here.
How to: Take a Pronated, Supinated, or Neutral grip on the bar, and without swinging pull your shoulders all the way up to your hands. Lower yourself down in a slow, controlled manner to completely straight arms, and repeat.
A crazy strong lower back? Check. The grip strength of a gorilla? Check. Incredibly strong glutes and hamstrings? Check. Lats and biceps that can finish a single leg on anyone? Check. Bulletproof abs? Check. If those aren’t great reasons to deadlift, check out the great Dean Somerset’s list of 75 ways deadlifting just plain rocks.
Look, deadlifting is hard. It may scrape up your shins, it will make you tired, and it will probably humble you as well. But doing things you’re bad at or don’t want to do is a prerequisite to greatness. This is one of the top 5 lifts for wrestling because it basically trains every singlemusclethat you need to be a stronger wrestler. Furthermore, while I love squats as well, you can’t really cheat a deadlift. I’ve heard countless stories of high school athletes “squatting” about 1/4th of the way to parallel and calling it a squat. The great thing about a deadlift is you either pick it up, or you don’t. It very well may be the greatest measure of strength for wrestlers, and possibly in general.
How to: Make sure the bar is touching your shins, and bend down with your hips slightly higher than your knees. Make sure you start the lift with tension in your arms, a neutral spine, weight on the heels, and an alternating grip (one overhand, one underhand). Once set, proceed to lift the bar while maintaining a consistent joint angle at both the knees and the hips (i.e. knees and hips must straighten out at the same time).
3. Zercher Squats
Not only is the Zercher Squat a badass looking exercise, it also has great carryover for wrestling. In addition to strengthening the trunk, the glutes, quads, and hamstrings, it is also a great isometric hold for the shoulders and biceps which translates very well to the underhook position in wrestling.
3 College wrestlers Zercher Squatting
How to:Begin with a thick bar or Fat Gripz, preferably. Start with the bar in the crook of the arm and squat down keeping the weight on your heels with an upright torso and straight back. Once you hit parallel, drive the weight up.
4. Thick Implement Training
If you want to be a Stronger Wrestler, you need a strong grip. In a 2011 study looking to find differences between elite and non-elite wrestlers, one of the statistically significant differences was grip strength (2).
Even if you’re a wrestler who moves well, is incredibly quick, and rarely ties up, trust me- Eventually you will run into someone who is just as quick and you will need to tie up. If you don’t deal with your grip strength now, when you meet the opponent who is just as quick as you…you will lose! Don’t let that happen.
One of the common misconceptions of grip strength in wrestling is that wrist curls are going to cut it. They won’t. When you wrestle, you grab a wrist which is much wider than a barbell. Furthermore, it is crucial that you strengthen your thumb as well because that is always what your opponent is going to attach when trying to escape wrist control. So, how do we do that?
Enter thick implements
By using implements that are thicker than a traditional barbell or dumbbell we get our fingers AND thumbs used to hanging on to a wrist. Things like Fat Gripz, thick rope curls, climbs, and pullups, Gi Pullups (for the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu athletes out there), axle bars, grenade pullups or sled dragging, hex holds, and plate pinches will all help us increase our grip strength for wrestling.
Pullups with a thick rope.
5. Trunk Stabilization Movements
Wrestling relies heavily on being stable. In other words, not allowing your opponent to move you. With that being the case, why do most coaches have you do situps and crunches as your ab workout?!
When you are throwing someone, tying up with your opponent, or resisting being turned, are you ever on your back lifting your shoulders up in a crunch position? NO! With that being the case, the best exercises for wrestling trunk muscles is NOT situps and crunches!
They just don’t work
Not only are those exercises only working the rectus abdominis, just a small part of the trunk but the excessive spinal flexion also can cause injury to the lower back! It’s very important to work every aspect of the trunk. In order to do this, we have a variety of options.
While that list is a small taste of movements that can be done, it’s enough to start off with. Here is a modified paloff press we use here at our facility, OA Athletics.
Dynamic Paloff Press for wrestlers
How to:Keep an eye out for the next article on trunk strengthening exercises. An in-depth look at strengthening the trunk for wrestling. Sign up in the email form below to be notified when it’s out!
Don’t waste this off-season!
Now that you have the knowledge, it’s time to implement it! Start adding in these exercises to your program to see a huge increase in strength in all the right places for next wrestling season!