Wrestling is a challenging sport that requires physical strength, technical prowess, anaerobic endurance and mental fortitude. An effective personal training program for a high school wrestler must expand the limits of these four areas in an individual in a safe and effective manner. In the words of wrestling and coaching icon Dan Gable, “Wrestling has no shortcuts, especially when it comes to practicing.”
A wrestler’s weight training program needs to focus on building tremendous strength rather than massive muscles. A combination of muscular endurance and explosive power are needed throughout the match, and a weight training program should target both these demands. A wrestler should weight train all year long, but the program specifics will depend on the time of year.
During the wrestling season, weight training should focus on fatiguing the muscles to burn calories and lose weight. Olympic gold medalist and wrestling coach Kevin Jackson told Stack.com that he recommends wrestlers lift 20 to 50 pounds less than their max. Each set, increase the reps by two to four reps to build muscular endurance and burn calories. Jackson also says that lifting after a tough cardio workout or a match is another great strategy; working fatigued muscles helps you continue to burn calories while getting stronger.
During the off-season and early season, wrestlers should be trying to build some mass, according to Jackson, although the focus is still on getting stronger. Trainers also need to ensure adequate rest and recovery between tough training sessions to prevent overtraining and burnout.
The average high school wrestling match lasts a total of six minutes with very little rest between the two-minute periods. This means that a wrestler must have a high level of anaerobic conditioning to perform at maximum effort for short periods of time and to endure through a full match.
Cardio training should include a regular mix of endurance conditioning and explosive conditioning. Endurance training includes running for 30 minutes or more and explosive conditioning consists of sprints and high-intensity interval training. Running should be included frequently with an emphasis on increased distance or increased pace to continually improve endurance needed to excel at the sport.
No wrestling training program is complete without time spent on the mat. Gable recommends a portion of the wrestler’s daily mat time be spent on drills to build muscle memory. Trainers should provide motivation and clear explanation of each drill, demonstrating proper execution when possible. Gable recommends breaking down the skill or drill being taught into several small parts, teaching each part separately, then putting it all together.
Drills may include gymnastic movements and tumbling; pummeling drills; sumo drills; stance, motion and penetration drills; takedown machine drills; riding and pinning drills; execution and throwing drills.
Trainers should pay close attention to high school wrestlers' diets as they play a crucial role in aiding energy, endurance, muscle building and recovery. Concerns are often raised about high school wrestlers cutting weight drastically and subsequently suffering from poor nutrition. A consistently healthy diet can limit the extent of weight cutting needed.
Though a wrestler losing weight must be conscientious of diet, young athletes should still be consuming about .5 to .9 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. Protein should be from lean, unprocessed sources such as white meat chicken, lean beef, fish and legumes.
Carbohydrates from vegetables, fruits and whole grains provide energy for strenuous training and matches. During the season, trainers should ensure an adequate intake of carbohydrates from whole food sources.
Healthy fats from olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds also aid in recovery and should be included in small amounts in the diet.
High school wrestlers should be encouraged to avoid processed junk foods, refined carbs, sweets and sugary beverages which provide extra calories but no nutrition. Staying hydrated is especially important for performance and recovery. Water is the best source of hydration, but low-sugar, specially formulated sports drinks may be used during hard workouts and matches.