When writing any training program, it’s important to cater changes based on when the athlete needs what skill most for his next upcoming training event. For ex) intermediate & advanced athletes can get in competition cardio shape in no more than 3 weeks; it doesn’t make sense to waste valuable training time/energy on this at the beginning of the summer unless you’re training for summer competitions/travel teams. While you can get in good cardio shape in 3-4 weeks, it takes much longer than this to build real physical strength. Unbalanced programs focus on running their athletes to death during the time they could be weight lifting and getting physically bigger/stronger. A good pre-season weight lifting program for wrestlers will spend the majority of its time strength training with only the last couple of weeks working directly on hard cardio to get the max benefit of all attributes needed for competing.
Our program splits up 12 weeks (+1 down week) prior to the start of wrestling season into blocks of different types of training so it caters to the wrestler’s needs as he approaches the deadline. The first 4 weeks of our program is designated for power and size, the second 4 weeks focused on strength conditioning and the last 4 weeks for endurance and cardio. While each four weeks will focus on one specific attribute, you should include the others as well but as 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 will still be in great shape for the season but may have lost some of the hard earned strength you gained at the beginning.
During each week, lift weights twice/week (for ex. Monday and Wednesday) and add one day of strength conditioning (Friday). For weight lifting sessions, choose compound movements such as the back squat, bench, deadlift and/or clean for testing maxes throughout the program. For these main exercises, cycle weeks of 5, 3 then 1 rep schemes followed by accessories for repetition work (8-15 reps). During the power phase, choose accessories to help build the particular exercise for your next 1 rep max. During the strength conditioning and endurance phases, choose accessories to help strengthen muscles used for particular wrestling moves. Keep records for both power movements (singles and rep work) as well as 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 combat. When right before a tournament, sometimes this day is used as an extra wrestling day for more conditioning or to cut weight. All sessions whether weight lifting or conditioning should last no longer than 90 minutes.
For lower body weight lifting, choose a compound exercise to be performed first, preferably a variation of some type of squat or deadlift. If following a 5, 3, 1 rep scheme, choose a type of squat (back squat, front squat or box squat) for weeks where 5 and 3 reps are performed; choose a type of deadlift for 1 rep maxes. We do this because most of our lifters are young ages (10-18), have less developed posterior chains and single rep max effort squats pose a high degree of complexity/danger (more so than a deadlift). When performing a one rep max, continue to perform sets adding weight until the max is reached, however try to avoid total failure/missing a weight. When working in the 3-5 rep ranges, perform 3-5 sets. After the main compound lift is done, follow up with 3-4 accessory lifts for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps. Good accessories include exercises to work the hamstrings, glutes, lower back and quads. Examples are glute ham raises, stiff leg deadlifts, dumbbell deadlifts, romainian deadlifts, good mornings, leg curls, pull-throughs, belt squats, reverse hypers, back raises and sled pulling. Finish your lower body sessions with abdominal work preferably performed for 8-12 reps holding weights whenever possible.
For upper body power, choose the bench press as your exercise you will max with for testing new strength. Choose bench variations for 5 and 3 rep schemes such as the floor press, board press, rack press from different heights and even the cambered bar. Choose a second type of press for extra tricep work as your first accessory. Pick accessory lifts to help build lagging parts of your bench max and perform 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps. For example, if you miss your max bench at the top of the press, work this motion with repetitions in board and rack presses. If you miss your max bench at the bottom of the lift, push ups w/chains, dumb bell presses, floor press and cambered bar bench pressing will help. After the pressing accessory, work the lats/back for 4-8 sets of 8-12 reps with all types of pull-ups (+ weighted), lat pulls, bar and dumbbell rows. Beyond this, pick 1-2 other accessories and perform 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps targeting your shoulders, traps, neck and/or arms. Grip is also extremely important for the wrestling mat and should be trained at the end of each upper body session (and never before).
If training three days/week, two days will be weight lifting and the third will be a strength conditioning day. During the power phase, make this day another weight lifting session in the gym focused on pulling/posterior chain, neck/upper back & heavy core. During the strength endurance & cardio phases, train in the wrestling room with body weight or light weight exercises for high repetitions. Try to choose exercises that will strengthen/enhance specific moves; for example performing shots against band resistance. Also include numerous body lifting drills for example, shooting in for a takedown then lifting your partner and carrying him for 10 feet instead of finishing the shot. Perform 5-10 repetitions of this. Superset band or light weight rep exercises with wrestling drills. For ex). Band only good mornings & kettle bell swings superset w/buddy carries &/or takedowns after the lower back and hips are pre-exhausted. Exercises like sled pulling, farmer’s walk, beating a tire with a sledge hammer and flipping giant tires are excellent for this type of training.