In the first part of this series, I talked about some tips to maintain your strength and muscle, or even gain something during wrestling season. In the second part of this series, I will give you ten infallible tips to improve your “fighting strength” and therefore your performance in wrestling. These tips apply to both in-season and off-season training.
1. Train the “back chain”
The posterior chain muscles are made up of the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. This extremely powerful area of the body is a key section for general fighting performances. By improving strength in this area, you will notice a marked improvement in speed and power in the neutral and lower positions. Some exercises you may want to consider to work your back chain are good morning, stiff-legged deadlift, deadlift, barbell squats (low bar on shoulders). My two favorites are the reverse hyperextension and the Russian glute-ham-gastroc machine. They are the ultimate in working the posterior chain muscles.
2. SLOW strength training, FAST Fight
You want to be fast and strong on the fight mat. However, don’t think you should pull weights when you strength train. When fighters try to move a barbell quickly in their workouts, they are using momentum to help move the weight. You should minimize momentum and maximize the amount of muscle being worked by slowing down. How fast (or slow) should you move a weight when doing strength training? When you are lifting a weight (or contracting the muscle) try to do it in 2 seconds. When you drop the weight, do it twice as slow. It should take about 4 seconds to lose a weight.
3. Short trainings
Your workouts should never exceed 35 minutes in length. If they do, IT IS NOT WORKING ENOUGH! By completing your workout in no more than 35 minutes, your body’s hormone levels are optimal. Your ability to recover from workouts, and therefore build more strength, increases. Avoid long and prolonged strength training.
4. 12 exercises or less
When developing sport-specific strength training routines for my athletes, I always stick to this. This amount of exercises will allow you to hit the “fighting muscles” enough, but not too much. Plus it will almost guarantee that you will send your body into overtraining syndrome.
5. 2 games or less
Read this carefully and really try to absorb the content. You should not do more than two work sets (the sets that count. These do not include a warm-up set) for any given exercise. If you are working long enough, this is enough. Do a warm-up set for an exercise and then move to your maximum weight. After completing that higher weight, reduce the total weight on the bar or machine by 20% and repeat. If you are really training intensely, you can do only one set of work per exercise. This is the ideal. If you can hammer a muscle with a perfect set of exercise, there will be no need for another set. I advocate a second set with a 20% weight reduction because a lot of people don’t hammer that muscle with one set.
6. Failing in the gym to dominate on the mat
In addition to your warm-up set for each strength training exercise, you should train your sets for “momentary muscle failure.” This is the point where you can no longer complete another repetition with perfect form. By training to momentary muscle failure, you are forcing your muscles to adapt and therefore get stronger. Let me clarify the “failure” training. Training to failure is not “almost muscle testing.” It’s the point where you can’t push or pull another rep no matter what. Is it safe to train this way? Absolutely! The first few reps of a set are actually more dangerous. When an athlete is not using good form and slower speed, it is usually during these first few repetitions that the athlete is injured.
7. Use machines and free weights
There is a common misconception among athletes and coaches that you should use free weights when doing strength training. Free weights are great! So are machines! Your muscles don’t know the difference. Intensity is the most important when trying to improve your wrestling strength. The tool you use to get there is not. I like certain exercises for certain muscles. It also depends on the injuries a fighter may already have. You can work “around” injuries and still give your body a full strength workout. If you have access to Hammer Strength machines, I recommend that you include them in your wrestling strength training.
8. Use a thick bar
If you don’t have access to a thick bar, get one. This is usually a hollow metal tube in which a free weight is placed on the end. A thick bar forces you to hold on tight when exercising. Build fantastic strength in your forearm and hand. It should be part of any serious strength training program for wrestlers. You can make curls, reverse curls, rows and presses with it.
9. Keep protein
Whether you’re trying to lose weight or move up a weight class, you need a regular protein diet. Protein helps repair and rebuild muscle tissue. It’s vital to stick with protein if you’re trying to lose weight … unless, of course, you don’t mind losing muscle and getting weaker. Try to get at least 5 protein foods per day. The difference lies in the carbohydrate intake. If you need to lose weight, you should start cutting carbs slowly, but never completely. You can’t fight if you don’t have energy. Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred source of energy. Contact me at [email protected] if you are interested in a custom wrestling meal plan.
10. The cheat bar
The cheat bar is another amazing piece of equipment when it comes to gaining strength in wrestling. The trap bar is a hexagonal shaped bar. It allows you to perform deadlifts with maximum stimulation of almost all vital muscles to improve performance in wrestling. If you’ve never seen one, do a web search. This is an exercise that all my wrestling clients use. It will make your whole body stronger. If I were to limit myself to just one exercise to build strength in my fighters, this would be the exercise I would choose.