If you take the entire summer off, a good pre-season wrestling training program can make up for lost time very easily. The idea is to show up to the first practice already in excellent shape, but bigger, faster and stronger than you were last year. With the right program, all of this is possible. The best way to make sure all attributes are getting covered is to set up a program with attention to both micro and macro cycles of training. The micro training cycle is your weekly program. A great split to use is weight lifting on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; wrestling practice on Tuesday and Thursday, with no training on the weekend. Plan weight lifting sessions to focus on strength/power, strength conditioning and speed/explosiveness. Plan the macro training cycle as a gradient developing pure power and size with weights only in the beginning and ending in speed movements and explosive strength drills relating specifically to wrestling and cardiovascular work. This way wrestlers will have time to develop muscular power in the beginning but also have their agility, speed and lungs ready when the season starts.
If you have 12 weeks to work, divide the macro cycle into thirds. The first four weeks are primarily for strength and power, the second four weeks for strength conditioning and the last 4 weeks leading up to the season should focus on speed, explosiveness and cardiovascular work. While each four weeks will focus on one specific attribute, they should not do so entirely. For example, during the power cycle, a small percentage of exercises should also cover strength endurance, speed and explosiveness. During the strength endurance and speed phases, include one or more exercises each week to encourage power as well. If you don’t do this, you will lose some of the hard earned strength you gained at the beginning of your program when you get to the end while focusing on speed and cardio preparing for the mat. A good pre-season training program should be well balanced to get the max benefit of all attributes trained.
When setting up the power cycle of your program, make one day for lower body, one day for upper body and a third day devoted entirely to core strength and the development of the posterior chain. For the lower and upper body days, choose a heavy compound movement for your first lift, keeping the reps under 5. Use spotters to keep your heavy weight lifting as safe as possible, however you must strain under heavy weights if you want to get stronger. Keep records of the lifts you perform under 3 reps and repeat the same exercise at least once during the whole cycle to try and beat your previous number. Accomplishing this will guarantee strength gains. After the first main lift, choose accessory exercises to target muscle groups that were just used in the main lift. For example, if you just benched, 1-2 accessory lifts should be performed for muscle groups in the following order of importance to the main lift; triceps, lats and shoulders. If you just squatted or dead lifted, perform 1-2 accessory lifts for muscle groups including the hamstrings, lower back, hips, quadriceps and abdominals. Do not perform more than 4-5 accessory lifts total and keep the reps in the 8-12 range.
Strength conditioning is a type of hardening training that every wrestler and fighter will profit from. It consists of performing multi-extension compound movements for repetitions, for example power cleans, clean and press, overhead squats, etc. Super setting or giant setting weight lifting exercises with moderate weight also works very well too. The point is to develop a type of improved cardio while lifting weights. This type of training is excellent for the wrestler or fighter who must strain their muscles and perform a variety of positions for an extended period of time (2 minute periods, 5 minute rounds, etc.). In the strength conditioning phase, an example of this type of workout for the lower body would first include a power movement, squats for 3-4 sets of 3 reps. This is to keep up the athlete’s strength. Next, power cleans for 3 sets of 8, kettle bell swings for 3 sets of 1 minute, weight back raises for 3 sets of 12-15 reps and finally 50-75 ft. sprints at the end.
An example of a strength conditioning workout for the upper body would start with a heavy compound movement first; floor press for 3-4 sets of 2 reps. Good accessory lifts to follow would be close grip push ups for 3-4 sets of 15 reps to failure, hang clean and press for 3 sets of 6-8 reps and weighted pull ups to failure. Grip training can also be performed at the end of upper body sessions and/or at the end of the week as the last exercises. As the strength conditioning phase progresses, switch to exercises that are more wrestling related and will work the whole body. Examples are carrying and throwing grappling dummies, training with sandbags, sled pulling and practicing shots wearing a weighted vest. Exercises mimicking events seen in strongman competitions are also great to implement during a strength conditioning phase. These include tire flipping, farmer’s walk, dead lifts and cleans with an axle bar and carrying heavy weights for distance. If you have pulling harnesses, pulling vehicles on a flat surface for time is excellent work for both the lungs and the legs.
Finally, make the last 3-4 weeks of your pre-season wrestling training emphasizing speed, explosiveness and building cardiovascular conditioning for the upcoming season. For at least the last three weeks right before the season starts, lighten the weights of first heavy compound movement to 40% or less. Perform 6-10 sets of 2-3 reps as fast and explosive as possible. The best exercises for this are the box squat, bench press and dead lift, however perform only single reps with the dead lift. Follow up with strength conditioning accessory lifts such as cleans, kettle bells, sled work and strongman exercises. Finish your speed weight lifting session with plyometric box jumps, depth jumps, drop jumps, shots against band resistance and short sprints. For the last 3-4 weeks of speed training, add 2-4 sessions of cardio to your week building in time as the weeks progress. For example, week one perform three 30 minute cardio sessions, week two perform three 45 minutes cardio sessions and week three perform 3-4 cardio sessions lasting 45 minutes to an hour each. Take the week directly before wrestling season starts off with no training performed at all for a complete rest.