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Best Wrestling Pre-Season Strength and Conditioning Program

When writing any training program, it is important to consider changes based on when the athlete needs which skill more for their next training event. For example, intermediate and advanced athletes can get into cardiovascular fitness for competition in no more than 3 weeks; there’s no point in wasting valuable energy/training time on this at the beginning of the summer, unless you’re training for summer competitions/travel teams. While you can get into good cardiovascular shape in 3-4 weeks, it takes much longer to build real physical strength. Unbalanced programs focus on running their athletes to death during the time they could be lifting weights and getting physically bigger/stronger. A good pre-season weightlifting program for wrestlers will spend the majority of their time on strength training and only the last two weeks will work straight into hard cardio to get maximum benefit from all the attributes needed to compete.

Our program divides 12 weeks (+1 week) before the start of the wrestling season into blocks of different types of training to meet the needs of the fighter as the deadline approaches. The first 4 weeks of our program are designed for power and size, the second 4 weeks focus on strength conditioning, and the last 4 weeks for endurance and cardio. While every four weeks will focus on a specific attribute, you should also include the others, but at a smaller percentage. For example, during the strength conditioning cycle, a small percentage of power exercises should also be included in the program. If you don’t do this, you’ll still be in good shape for the season, but you may have lost some of the hard-earned strength you gained early on.

During each week, lift weights twice a week (for example, Monday and Wednesday) and add a day of strength conditioning (Friday). For weightlifting sessions, choose compound movements like back squat, bench, deadlift, and/or clean to test your highs throughout the program. For these core exercises, cycle 5 weeks, 3 then 1-rep schemes followed by accessory rep work (8-15 reps). During the power phase, choose accessories that help you build the particular exercise for your next one rep max. During strength and endurance conditioning phases, choose accessories to help strengthen the muscles used for particular wrestling moves. Keep records of both power movements (individual and rep work) and accessory lifts. In our program we use Friday as our strength conditioning day and this is done in our wrestling room. This day is used to develop strength and speed during wrestling matches. When just before a tournament, this day is sometimes used as an extra day of wrestling for more conditioning or to cut weight. All sessions, whether it’s weightlifting or conditioning, should be no longer than 90 minutes.

For lower-body weightlifting, choose a compound exercise to perform first, preferably a variation of some type of squat or deadlift. If you’re following a 5, 3, 1 rep scheme, choose a type of squat (back squat, front squat, or box squat) for weeks where you perform 5 and 3 reps; choose a type of deadlift for 1 rep max. We do this because most of our lifters are young (10-18), have less developed posterior chains, and single rep max effort squats represent a high degree of complexity/danger (more so than a deadlift). When performing a one rep max, continue to perform sets adding weight until you reach the max, however try to avoid total failure/losing a weight. When working in the 3-5 rep ranges, do 3-5 sets. After the main compound lift is over, follow up with 3-4 accessory lifts for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps. Good accessories include exercises to work your hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and quads. Some examples are glute raises, stiff-legged deadlifts, dumbbell deadlifts, Roman deadlifts, good mornings, leg curls, pull-ups, belt squats, reverse hypers, back raises, and sled pulls. End lower body sessions with abdominal work preferably done for 8-12 reps with weights whenever possible.

For upper body power, choose the bench press as your maximizing exercise to test new strength. Choose bench variations for 5-rep and 3-rep schemes, like floor press, plank press, rack press from different heights, and even the bent bar. Choose a second type of press for additional triceps work as your first attachment. Choose accessory lifts to help build lagging parts of your bench max and perform 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps. For example, if you lose your bench max at the top of the press, work this move with reps on planks and rack presses. If you lose your bench max at the bottom of the lift, chain curls, dumbbell presses, floor presses, and cambered barbell bench presses will help. After the press attachment, work the lats/back for 4-8 sets of 8-12 reps with all types of pull-ups (+weighted), pull-ups, barbells, and dumbbell rows. Beyond this, choose 1 or 2 other accessories and perform 3 or 4 sets of 8 or 15 repetitions focusing on the shoulders, traps, neck and/or arms. The grip is also extremely important for the wrestling mat and should be trained at the end of every upper body session (and never before).

If you train three days a week, two days will be weightlifting and the third will be a strength conditioning day. During the power phase, make this day another weightlifting session in the gym focused on pulling/posterior chain, neck/upper back, and heavy core. During the strength, endurance and cardio phases, train in the wrestling room with bodyweight or light weight exercises for high reps. Try to choose exercises that strengthen/improve specific movements; for example making shots against the resistance of the band. Also include numerous body lift drills, for example, shooting for a takedown and then picking up your partner and carrying him for 10 feet instead of finishing the shot. Do 5-10 repetitions of this. Superset of exercises with bands or light weight reps with wrestling exercises. For example). Band just good morning and kettlebell swing superset with carries and/or takedowns after lower back and hips are exhausted. Exercises like pulling a sled, the farmer’s walk, hitting a tire with a sledgehammer, and flipping giant tires are great for this type of training.

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