Strength conditioning training for fighters
Unlike most sports, wrestling has a propensity to provide its athletes with everything they need to be successful. Many legendary athletes received their status from everything they got from the wrestling room and nothing else. Yet the insatiable hunger for an edge continues to push the boundaries of performance science. Added with anecdotal evidence of ‘what works’, new methods become the norm and soon what worked of old no longer works. The fact is that in today’s extremely competitive environment, only coaches and athletes who are willing to risk trial and error with the latest methods will succeed. Furthermore, athletes who rely completely on what happens in the practice room are quickly defeated by those who employ other techniques as well. The best fighters continue to search and study to incorporate new methods of physical training to also improve speed, power and endurance in relation to their sport.
Strength training for wrestlers can be broken down into three separate but synergistic components, power, strength conditioning, and speed/agility. While some teams choose to focus on just one or two of these, the most well-rounded athletes include all three in their programs. Power training is any type of weight lifting with the goal of improving absolute strength. For best results in this area, rep schemes and program concepts borrowed from weightlifting are most effective. Speed and agility are easy to improve with a combination of footwork, plyometrics, and speed drills borrowed from sprinters and conditioning used on the football field. Strength conditioning is a type of training that will develop endurance and toughness in every fighter. The concepts here can be seen in cross fit and top soccer programs, however most wrestling coaches are very familiar with this type of training. Whether power training is lifting heavy weights for low reps, speed training is lifting extremely light weights, or bodyweight exercises performed explosively, strength conditioning is exercises performed in the range of 8- 20+.
To better define it, strength conditioning is any type of training that will develop both strength and conditioning at the same time. While wrestling is very much a combination of these two components, training to improve them at the same time makes a lot of sense and produces quick results. If a fighter had to choose just one of these components, strength conditioning would produce the most remarkable results (if done correctly). Due to the extreme demands on the body and high potential for injury, power training should be limited to the off-season, however this is not the case with strength conditioning. This style of training can be done any time of the year in both the weight room and on the wrestling mat. Increasing strength conditioning weeks before the start of the wrestling season is a great way to get fit, improve functional strength, and develop physical endurance envied by any serious combat athlete.
While there are many different types of strength conditioning and many different ways to do it, keeping an open mind and experimenting is key. A good start is to use as many compound exercises as possible performed with and without moderate to light weights. Keeping drills and drills specific to the movements found on the wrestling mat will be a key element in producing functional strength here. For example, a set of 15 burpees or 10 light weight power cleans directly before executing 5 takedowns in a row. Do this superset 3-4 times for a great workout that builds strength and endurance. You can build great strength conditioning by adding resistance with light weights or bands to certain movements you perform when wrestling. For example, taking shots (without an opponent) against the resistance of a band connected to a chest harness is a great way to build a more explosive takedown. For more explosive leg or core power, combine a set of front squats while holding a kettlebell for 12 reps with 12-15 pull-ups with band resistance. Add 3-4 of these supersets to the end of a practice for an amazing finisher.
Another great concept to add to your strength conditioning program is Chaos training. Chaos Training is a group of sport specific exercises to help you prepare for any “chaotic events” that may arise in competition. A chaotic event is described as anything that could cause you injury or loss. For a weightlifter, one of those events that a smart lifter will train to avoid is falling forward while squatting. If a lifter falls forward during the squat and cannot recover, he could fall on his face and suffer a very serious injury. To prepare for this chaotic event, certain exercises must be performed so that the lifter can prevent this from happening. For example, exercises like good mornings, heavy core work, and many arch-strengthening exercises will build the strength in the musculature that the lifter will need to stay upright at all times. In wrestling, an instance of a chaotic event is being caught! If you are on your back and can maintain a strong enough spinal arch for long enough, you may be able to get through your period. To strengthen the musculature that will help you do this, do lots of heavy neck extensions, trapezius work, and exercises to develop your lumbar and gluteal erectors. Holding the bow with your partner’s body weight on you for a while is also a great exercise that can be done in the practice room.