I recently had a conversation with a prominent researcher in the wrestling community and we both agreed that if you could do only ONE exercise for wrestling, it should be pullups. Weighted, unweighted, neutral grip, overhand, rope, grenade, it doesn’t matter…if you want to be a Stronger Wrestler, you should be doing pullups. Here are a few reasons.

1. Fat, un-athletic people can’t do pull-ups

Great athletes have great relative strength. In other words, a 200 lb athlete who can squat 400lbs is far more impressive than a 300lb athlete that can squat 450lbs. This also holds true with body weight exercises. More often than not, athletes who can do a large amount of pullups tend to be powerful, fast, and quick. This is simply due to the fact that pullups are hard, and you must be strong and not carry a lot of body fat to be able to do pullups.

2. Wrestling is a pulling sport

I still don’t understand why wrestling Strength and Conditioning Coaches have their athletes bench press! Occasionally is fine, but it should not be a staple in a wrestling strength program, because wrestling is a PULLING sport! Single legs, body locks, snap downs, etc are all pulling movements. Coach Bobby Douglas once told Cael Sanderson that “If you want to be an Olympic Champion, do 50 pullups a day”; Cael did, and look what happened. While he wasn’t able to do lots of pullups in a row in the beginning, eventually he got to the point where he was doing 30-40 in a row. In fact, a recent profile of 70 ELITE Iranian Junior wrestlers found that the average amount of pullups they could do was 31 (1)! If you want to be strong for your sport, then you must train for your sport!! (See Wrestling Needs)

Remember: As an athlete, we must train to kick ass on the mat/court/field first, and look good second.

Jordan Burroughs EASILY reps out 7 pullups (that’s all the video shows) with about 40-60lbs of chain on his back.

3. Anyone can do lat pull-downs, not everyone can do pullups

Pull-ups suck. No one likes doing them. It’s much easier to do lat pull-downs/rows/etc, but guess what? More often the not, the things we don’t like doing, are the things we SHOULD be doing.In fact, a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that pullups and lat pull-downs “were not highly related and should not be substituted for one another in a training regimen”(2).

4. Grip

A strong grip is a HUGE advantage in a wrestling match. I have seen a large correlation in grip strength and ability to do pullups in my athletes and believe pullups are a great way to strengthen the grip. Further, there are a lot of great ways to challenge the grip even more during pullups, such as:

-Fat Gripz

Attach these to the regular pullup bar, make sure to keep your fingers on the fat gripz, and not the outside of it, and get ready for a great grip workout!

-Towel, Rope, or Gi Pullups

Throw a towel, thick rope, or Judo/Jiu-Jitsu Gi on a pull-up bar, grab both ends and start your pullups!

-Grenade Pullups

A great implement from EliteFTS.com. Check them out!

-Weighted Pullups

Use chains, weighted vests, or dumbbells/plates attached to a belt while doing your pullups.

5. Strengthen your weakest points

What’s tougher? Pulling in a single leg from a bent arm position, or when your arms are completely stretched out? Obviously the latter. Our muscles’ are weakest when they are completely lengthened. Because that’s the case, it’s important to get stronger at our weakest points. So, when you do your pullups, MAKE SURE you go all the way down. Doing so will strengthen your pulling ability at all angles, and increase your ability to finish those take downs.

Would you rather try finish this takedown...
Would you rather try finish this take down…
...or this one?
…or this one?

6. Healthy Shoulders and Stronger Abs

Every needs healthy shoulders, especially wrestlers. There are so many opportunities in the sport to injure your shoulders, so you must take the necessary precautions to keep them healthy. While things like pull aparts, IYWT drills, face pulls, and other external rotation work are very important, pullups have also been shown to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles as well, which leads to healthy shoulders (3). Further, a PROPER pullup (neutral spine, no swinging) has been shown to elicit huge rectus abdominis activity compared to many other traditional abdominal exercises. Thanks to this article done by Bret Contreras , pullups were found to work the rectus abdominis better than 50+ ab exercises!

Because if Arnold does them, so should you
Because if Arnold does them, so should you

In conclusion, DO YOUR PULLUPS! If you have trouble doing one, start with assisted pullups. Use a friend or bands attached to the bar to help you up. When building up your pullup strength, always focus on the eccentric portion of the exercise-take at least 3 seconds on the downward portion. Pullups may not be fun to do, but they WILL make you a better/stronger wrestler!


1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19620915

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22445162

3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19826290

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