Wrestlers, don’t just work out; strength train!

Updated: July 12, 2023

Photos: Zach Even-Esh, a strength and performance coach from the Underground Gym in New Jersey, promotes many unique ways for wrestlers to get stronger. That includes a Keg-Hug-Carry (left) and rope climbing to improve one’s grip.

By Zach Even-Esh

The summer is a great opportunity for wrestlers to get ahead of the competition. It’s an opportunity where you can experiment with your training and push harder than ever before to bring up weak points since your competition schedule is not as busy, especially if you’re not traveling to Fargo. Although this topic is on summer training, the truth is that training should be all year-round, not just a seasonal activity.

It’s always interesting to see the wrestlers, who strength train year-round with a high-quality coach, are always light years ahead of the wrestlers who are “too busy” and choose to work out at a normal gym where teens check their phones in between every other set.

This training column appeared in the late June issue of WIN Magazine. Click on the cover or call 888-305-0606 to subscribe.

“Training” signifies working towards a goal and following a plan. “Working out” is when you do what you want, when you want, with no real purpose, plan or goals. Obviously, the wrestlers who are training will make progress from every training session compared to those who “work out”. 

If you’re a wrestling parent reading this, find your son or daughter a qualified strength coach who has a proven track record for building wrestlers. In the summer, don’t try to push your conditioning to max capacity. You can’t be at your best all year-round and the summertime is when you want to focus on the following traits:

• Build quality; lean muscle builds a durable body and reduces chances of injuries;

• Address your weak points and turn them into strong points;

• Address past injuries / lagging muscle groups as weak points and injuries tend to go hand in hand.

Don’t worry about your weight class for next year. Focus on building your body and growing. When you’re worried about cutting weight for the winter, you hold yourself back in strength gains. If your focus is on cutting weight and dodging the competition, then your training is not focused on building yourself into a champion. 

Training in the summer should be five times a week with two days of complete rest. Those two rest days can certainly incorporate stretching, foam rolling, self-massage and any other recovery methods such as sauna, hot/cold contrast showers or sauna + ice bath. The training plan in the summer can be organized like this:

Day 1: Lower body + low-volume calisthenics for upper body (push-ups, dips, rope climbs, pull-ups, etc).

Day 2: Upper body + hill sprints or jump rope for speed.

Day 3: Full body. This day should include kettlebells, sleds, sandbags and strongman-style training.

After three weeks of hard training, the fourth week should be lighter and high reps for 15-20 and cut the volume of work in half. This is what we call a “reload” and not only is it good for the body, but it is also a good break for the mind. Psychological burn-out is a real thing for wrestlers and if we want to maximize your success, we need to play the long game. 

Don’t just think about getting strong during the 10-12 weeks of summer. Think about getting better consistently the next 10-12 months and beyond. 

The summer is also a perfect time to expand your wrestling style. Can you find a judo coach? Can you learn freestyle and Greco? All these added styles will make you more athletic and more dangerous on the mat. These new skills will also boost your confidence and a confident wrestler who has put in the work is a dangerous wrestler! 

Here is a sample full-body training session you can perform after a warm-up:

1A) Sandbag or Barbell Zercher Squats 4 x 3 – 6 reps;

1B) Triple Broad Jump + Sprint 50 ft 4 x 2 reps;

2A) Incline Barbell Bench (Use a thick bar if you have one) 4 x 6 – 8 reps;

2B) Rope Climb x MAX or Weighted Pull-Ups x 5 reps: 4 sets; 

3A) Jump Rope 3 x 1 minute;

3B) Sled Drag 3 x 100 ft;

3C) Heavy Carry 3 x 100 ft.

Finish with arms, abs, grip and foam rolling or stretching. This session should take less than one hour including the warm-up, finisher and cool down. Remember, success is no accident and neither is mediocrity. Get out there and do the work. 

(Zach Even-Esh is a strength and performance coach and owner of The Underground Strength Gym, located in New Jersey, and is an author and a consultant for teams and organizations seeking elite performance. To connect with Zach, go to https://UndergroundStrengthClub.com, http://ZachStrength.com and https://UndergroundStrengthCoach.com.)