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Photo: Creating a unique weight-pulling device is a great way for wrestlers to train. (Zach Even-Esh photo)
By Zach Even-Esh
Ever since I opened my first warehouse location of The Underground Strength Gym in 2007, I’ve received regular phone calls from dads of 7 to 11-year-olds inquiring about training. I want to give a guideline/timeline to help safely and effectively train our youth wrestlers.
These workouts are not so much “work” as they are focused on FUN, learning skills, building balance, coordination, speed and a foundation of relative body strength. FUN-damentals is the ticket with this younger generation if you want to prolong the success and ambition of the athlete. In addition, specializing in wrestling is not recommended in these younger years, hence why I will use the word athlete rather than wrestler.
We used to be able to rely on physical education programs in the schools to develop our youth, but in most schools, basic gymnastics equipment has been thrown out or outlawed by administration and hence there is not much physical development happening in the elementary schools that has a carry over to sports. So now, it is up to you as a parent or coach to develop our younger generation.
Below is a list of equipment and exercises that I recommend for our youth athletes. This can be set up at home or if you’re a coach, this can be set up in a wrestling club and then moved aside when it’s wrestling time.
Foam Obstacles / Tumbling Mats – These can and should be a variety of shapes and sizes. Kids should be climbing and jumping over them. For our younger athletes, I take apart our plyo boxes and let the younger kids create their own obstacle courses. They will add hurdles of various sizes for jumping over or climbing under, they will place the boxes in unique patterns to challenge themselves in ways that adults don’t think about. Let the kids use their creativity, they will show you how it should be done.
Medicine Balls – I will include some medicine balls in an obstacle course so the kids have something to carry and lift. You can even make them throw the medicine ball instead of carrying it.
Climbing Rope – The good old standby of climbing rope is great for upper-body strength and kids love it. Kids will use their legs to squeeze the rope to assist in climbing which is perfectly fine. The grip-strength benefits from rope climbing are tremendous. Also, climbing rope is easier when the kids are younger because they are lighter and smaller. Teach them to climb at a young age and they will have the strength to climb rope when they are older, bigger and heavier.
Open Space – Yes, open space! Kids need room to run, move, jump and play games. Playing tag games and dodge ball is great for athleticism. It involves reacting, jumping, sprinting and thinking. Yes, athletes at a young age must learn to think and strategize during game play. This will have a carry over to wrestling and other sports where you must learn to adapt on the fly.
What about weights and when can kids lift weights? With athletes, I am always playing the long game. I prefer to wait until sixth grade to introduce a young athlete to The Underground Strength Gym. If all goes according to plan, we will be training this athlete from sixth grade through the end of high school, that’s seven years of training. That is a lot of time to craft a program where we are NOT rushing. The middle school years get lots of sleds, calisthenics, med balls, kettle-bells, bands and outdoor warm-ups.
Our outdoor warm-ups are often games like Ultimate Football and pick-up basketball. If you look at some of the warm-ups of the overseas wrestlers, they are often playing a modified game of basketball, volleyball, dodge ball. The key here is long-term athletic development (LTAD) and focusing on overall athleticism. Let the games begin. Get out there and let those kids PLAY!
(Zach Even-Esh is a strength and performance coach in New Jersey, the founder of The Underground Strength Gym and author of The Encyclopedia of Underground Strength with 25-plus years of coaching experience. Zach also serves as a consultant for coaches and teams who seek elite performance. You can connect with Zach at https://ZachEven-Esh.com and @zevenesh on social media.)