Wrestlers need to take a step-by-step approach to building their strength

Updated: May 17, 2024

Photo: Dumbbell bench lifts are a great way to prep for a barbell bench lift.

By Zach Even-Esh

I recently visited a wrestling club that was in the same building as a personal training studio. While waiting to speak with the wrestling coach, I watched through the corner of my eye an athlete going through a personal training session. He was a bigger athlete and was likely a football player. 

Regardless of the sport(s) this athlete was focused on, I was taken aback by a few things:

• The technique of the exercises being coached were incorrect and even dangerous;

• The basics of safety were ignored. There were no clamps on the barbell while the athlete incorrectly and dangerously performed an advanced exercise; the clean and jerk;

• The athlete being trained was doing exercises that require a lot of practice to be done safely, correctly and effectively. There was no coaching of the movement during the multiple sets.

If you want to perform advanced wrestling drills, you must earn your way to this place. We don’t teach beginner and intermediate wrestlers advanced wrestling moves and strategies. Instead, we get them great at the basics. 

The same applies for strength and conditioning for wrestling. Choose exercises that are best suited for the wrestler’s age, experience, physical and emotional needs. 

Before a wrestler performs the power clean or the clean and jerk, they must become strong and skilled at front squats, military press and push press.

Before a wrestler is benching with a barbell, get them strong with dumbbell benching (flat and incline), pull-ups, push-ups and dumbbell military presses. 

Before a wrestler is performing the trap-bar deadlift, get them strong with sleds, lunges, split squats, hill sprints, jump rope, back extensions and rowing exercises. 

Here are some basic strength standards I like to see wrestlers able to perform before touching a barbell for trap-bar deadlift, cleans and benching:

• Before trap-bar deadlifts: dumbbell goblet squat 3 x 10 reps at 75 pounds (if you weight under 175 pounds) / 3 x 10 reps at 100 pounds (if you weigh over 175 pounds);

• Before barbell bench: dumbbell bench 3 x 10 reps with 40-pound dumbbells; 

• Before hang power cleans: front squat 3 x 5 reps with 95 pounds.

How do you build these numbers up? 

Keep showing up on a regular basis. Keep practicing these exercises. Perform calisthenics almost every day. Getting strong does not happen by accident. Keep doing the work. There is no such thing as a weak and successful wrestler. You must be strong! 

(Zach Even-Esh is a strength and performance coach who specializes in training combat athletes. He is available for consulting by visiting http://ZachStrength.com and has on-line training courses available for coaches and wrestling parents. Zach is the founder of The Underground Strength Gym located in Manasquan, N.J. Details at https://UndergroundStrengthClub.com.)