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Sports Specific Weight Lifting For Wrestlers
While speed, agility, conditioning and technique are the king attributes on the wrestling mat, when all of these elements are equal, strength can be the deciding factor. Training with weights to strengthen certain commonly used muscle groups with the goal of making specific movements stronger should be the focus of every wrestling weightlifting program. Improving speed, core strength, weight gain, and general development of the posterior chain muscle group are other important aspects that should also be included in an off-season bodybuilding program for wrestlers. . With limited time (per session and off-season), your weightlifting and nutrition program must be meticulously timed to optimize muscle gains for the best carryover into your sport.
When planning your weightlifting program for the competitive wrestler, first make sure your program is balanced for upper and lower body development. Then complete the program with exercises that will strengthen the muscles with particular wrestling moves in mind. Stay away from machines (such as nautilus, hammer strength, etc.) as these tend to deliver strength in a single plane of motion and have very little to no functional force transfer in sports. It’s best to choose movements that consist of free weights (such as squats, cleans, and overhead presses) as they apply to your sport and as the main part of your program, along with accessory lifts to customize the program based on your athlete’s needs. Also include bodyweight exercises such as pull-ups and push-ups, and scale up doing them with additional weight as strength progresses.
Compound exercises such as the squat, power clean, clean and press, and deadlift will produce the greatest stimulus on the nervous system and therefore the greatest effect on muscle development. These exercises are also some of the best ways to build the posterior chain. Developing the posterior chain musculature is key to preventing neck and spinal injuries as well as directly impacting many common wrestling stances. Use only one compound exercise per session, then follow up with 2-4 accessory exercises to complement the already completed compound movement and focus on building strength for specific movements performed on the mat. Choose these to enhance the overall repertoire of techniques the athlete knows or customize drills to help the athlete improve certain movements they want to improve in.
Developing the lats is important for providing a harder slam when pulling your head down, which either results in a pull from your opponent all the way to the mat to secure a front headlock, or a distraction leading to a takedown. Strong lats can also make the difference when pulling the leg inward when your opponent has extended after you attempt a one-legged takedown. The slats also play an important role in securing a firm grip on your opponent when you lift them for a mat return. As your opponents try to break your grip by stiffening/straightening his leg, if your lats, arms and grip are strong enough, you can complete the takedown by pulling his leg inward. Train the lats with pull-ups, one-arm rows, dumbbell rows, and low cable rows. For best carry, pull-ups should be performed with arms slightly bent and fully extended, as you will encounter both positions on the mat.
Strong shoulders are important in the fight when defending a takedown. Once you’ve slouched and your opponent tries to complete the takedown by tucking your leg in, strong shoulders will help push them back when you lean against their hips. An iron shoulder cap is also important in preventing common injuries to this joint, as the arms are frequently extended and pulled beyond their normal range of motion when pinched or twisted. The best exercises to strengthen the shoulders for wrestling are overhead/military presses (behind the neck) and push presses (in front of the neck) with a reduced range of motion. For better shoulder health, overhead presses should only be performed to the top of the head (not the base of the neck). Train your shoulders for power using a short pin press performed inside a power rack with standards set inches from the top of the head. Strengthen and tighten your shoulder capsule with internal and external rotation exercises (the same ones done for physical therapy when treating a rotator cuff tear).
In addition to emphasizing the posterior chain musculature, core training should also be a top priority. Mat returns, breakouts, reversals, bottom outs, and takedowns of any type will all require a strong core. This muscle group includes the lumbar erectors, glutes, hips, abdominals and obliques. For the best performance edge and transfer of strength to the wrestling mat, train abs with weight at least once or twice a week. The most functional exercises are performed with the legs straight rather than bent. Hanging leg raises, straight leg sit-ups (with weights), straight leg sumo sit-ups (with weights), and standing sit-ups using a side pull machine are great exercises for strengthening your abs. . Weighted back raises, deadlifts (stiff leg, Romanian and conventional), reverse hypers and good mornings using a safety squat bar are the best exercises to strengthen your lower back. Obliques are best trained with weighted side bends (as heavy as possible) and twisting movements with weights, such as wood choppers.
Strengthening the neck is also important for wrestlers not only to protect the cervical spine but also to defend against head drop. In a hand fight, the neck is constantly pulled; a strong neck is useful against this, as well as being able to pull your head out of headlocks and break your opponent’s grip when defending against a cradle. Train both the SCM and posterior neck in your sessions. Shrugs and a head harness are great for strengthening the posterior neck; Lying neck flexion with a weight on the forehead works well to train the SCM. End many of your weightlifting sessions with a grip workout. There are plenty of occasions on the wrestling mat where superior grip will help you win. Train the grip with crushing force using professional pliers and static holding force by holding the weight plates together for a period of time. You can also build overwhelming grip strength by rolling up (and squeezing) a beach towel for several reps.
Add an off-season strength program to your wrestling training and watch your performance soar on the mat. When setting up your program, study the specific techniques you want to improve and try to strengthen the muscle groups used in the execution of the movement. Pick at least one compound move per session, do it first, and fill the rest of the workout in with accessory exercises to target muscles used to enhance certain wrestling moves. Train your abs/core at least once or twice a week at the end of your session. Add 1-2 grip training exercises at the end of at least one or two training sessions/week.
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