Thursday, March 17, 2011

Off Season and Summer Training

The high school folkstyle wrestling season is over. What do you do now? Do you throw your wrestling shoes in the back of the closet and not look at them again until next November? Do you forget about weight training and conditioning until next November as well? Do you spend the entire summer drinking soda pop, eating ice cream, and hanging out at the beach? I hope that you answered no to all of these questions. If you want to excel in the sport of wrestling, you need to train year round.

Training Year Round

Very few high school state champions or NCAA champions wrestle only during the regular scholastic season. Most elite wrestlers do not simply wrestle three or four months out of the year. Do you think Dan Gable or John Smith only wrestled during the high school folkstyle season or collegiate season? No. They wrestled year round. They wrestled freestyle and as well as folkstyle.


Periodization is simply the planning of your training for a specific period of time. Different types of periodization exist including linear, undulating, concurrent, and conjugate. Periodization consists primarily of three phases: the preparatory, competitive, and transition phases.

After the folkstyle season ends, you may wrestle in some postseason takedown tournaments. In addition, you may begin wrestling in the spring freestyle season. Wrestling in a few spring freestyle tournaments can give you many opportunities to work on your takedown skills. The freestyle season may be a time that seems a bit more relaxed. Freestyle offers a slight change of pace from folkstyle and you may not be as concerned about maintaining a certain weight.

You don't want to get burned out on wrestling. You also don't want to overwork your body. Taking a week or two off after the folkstyle season to let your body rest is a good idea. Try to take a week or two off in your training at some point. Rest is an important component of periodization. You may decide not to wrestle freestyle. Perhaps you'd rather just take a few weeks off and then begin lifting weights and doing some running. Maybe your local school has open mat times when you can go in and drill some moves. Freestyle isn't a favorite of everyone.

Summer Camps

Summer camps make winter champs. Perhaps you've heard that phrase before. Attending camps and clinics can definitely help your wrestling to keep improving. My high wrestling coach encouraged attending a wrestling camp during the summer. He thought that a wrestler became too detached from wrestling he if completely forgot about it until the following fall. I attended camps the summers after my sophomore and junior years of high school. I learned new moves and met some talented college wrestlers. I even got to hear Dan gable speak and meet him in person.

John Fritz (an NCAA champion and former coach for Penn State) used a quote on his summer camp brochure that said, "There will come a time when winter will ask what you were doing all summer." If you don't spend some time wrestling during the summer or at least working on your conditioning it will almost surely have an effect on your wrestling success the following season.

If freestyle wrestling or camps aren't your thing or don't fit into your schedule, you might consider buying some technique videos to study over the summer. You could perhaps do some shadow wrestling at home. Try doing some stand up drills and takedown drills. Visualize and practice moves even if you aren't at a camp or working out with a wrestling partner. Some coaches have stated that your best training partner is yourself.

Summer can be a good time to work on weaknesses as well. If you spent the season being out muscled by your opponents, perhaps you need to focus on strength training over the summer. If you ran out of "gas" in a lot of your matches during the season, perhaps you need to really focus on improving your conditioning over the summer. Do some running, wind sprints, and circuit training. Build up your work capacity and your GPP (general physical preparedness). Conditioning expert Matt Wiggins likes to talk about building a bigger "gas tank" so you can go longer and do more work over a longer period of time. You may want to research work capacity and GPP. You may also want to research wrestling conditioning.

10, 000 Hour Rule

Success in wrestling or any other endeavor in life may not have as much to do with talent as you think. Two books, The Talent Code and Outliers: The Story of Success, both discuss something called the 10,000 hour rule. It takes about 10,000 hours of practice to achieve greatness or mastery in a certain area of expertise. These books express the idea that even people society deem as "talented" actually practiced a lot to achieve their levels of greatness. Practice it seems is more important than innate talent. Even the famous composer Mozart put in years of practice to become an expert in his field of expertise.

Six-time world and Olympic wrestling champion John Smith has stated, "I think we throw the word talent around a lot. People say I was talented or this or that. I probably hit a million low single legs in my lifetime. I probably drilled a leg lace 40 or 50 times a day. I earned the right to be able to hit sharp techniques. It had nothing to do with talent."

Basketball legend Michael Jordan is considered by many to be the greatest basketball player that the sport of basketball has ever seen. However, Michael Jordan was cut from the varsity team during his sophomore year of high school. He hadn't quite honed his talent yet at that point in his life. He dedicated himself to practicing diligently to improve his basketball skills. That extra work and dedication obviously paid off.

Are you willing to put in thousands of hours of practice to achieve your wrestling goals? Off season and summer training is essential if you want to become a champion in the sport of wrestling.

I'm not trying to imply that you need to put in 10,000 hours of practice to become a state champion or even an NCAA champion wrestler. I'm simply stating that the more you practice, the better you will be. Just make sure your technique is correct to begin with and then drill it religiously.

I've seen many elite athletes state that they didn't have that much innate talent. They weren't special or gifted. But, they put in several hours of dedicated practice to excel in their chosen sport. Therefore, if you spend your spring and summer wrestling and practicing moves, you will have put in many more hours of practice compared to some other wrestlers.

Dan Gable continued to wrestle during the summer two or three times per week while he was in high school to keep the sport close. Even though he worked summer jobs, he still found some time for wrestling. Masahiko Kimura, one of the greatest judoka of all time, sometimes practiced up to nine hours a day. Dan Gable worked out seven hours a day, seven days a week while preparing for the Olympics. Boxing legend Rocky Marciano was known to train year round. Rocky Marciano is considered by many to be the best conditioned boxer the sport of boxing has ever seen.. But, it wasn't always that way. In an early amateur fight against a former Golden Gloves champion he became exhausted early in the fight. He was eventually disqualified. He vowed to never be out of condition for a fight again. He retired undefeated.

I mainly wrestled four months out of the year except for attending a week of wrestling camp during the summer. I always did some conditioning during the summer months such as running and lifting weights. I was a conference champion and a state qualifier during my senior year. That's not too bad considering the amount of effort I put in. However, I could have been so much better if I had been more committed to off season training. Make sure to spend some time on your wrestling and conditioning year round. You can excel in wrestling if you don't neglect off season training.

Building a Strong Foundation

I grew up on a farm in the Midwest. I engaged in a large volume of physical labor over the years. I lifted and carried thousands of hay and straw bales. I carried pails of corn and water. I carried bags of lime and feed. I dug fence post holes. I pounded metal fence posts into the ground. I pushed wheel barrows and swung sledgehammers occasionally. I carried rocks and chunks of wood. I pushed brooms and shoveled out bunks. I climbed an 80 foot silo occasionally. I walked all over our property. All of this activity helped me build a strong base of physical fitness. I was never "out of shape."

When you are in the process of designing your wrestling conditioning program, you should keep the concept of general physical preparedness (GPP) in mind. GPP provides basic all-around conditioning in areas such as endurance, strength, speed, agility, coordination, and flexibility. GPP often involves using compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups. GPP can be weighted or non-weighted. General physical preparedness increases your ability to do more work. Therefore, the concept of work capacity is closely related to GPP.

According to conditioning expert Matt Wiggins, the use of GPP will increase your work capacity. With greater work capacity, one can do a greater volume of conditioning. Having greater work capacity is like having a bigger "gas tank." If you have great work capacity, then you won't "gas out" toward the end of a wrestling match.

A wrestler will absolutely benefit from improved work capacity. He will be prepared for intense work and will be able to recover more quickly. For instance, if you are wrestling three matches in one day at a tournament then work capacity and recovery are extremely important.

A wrestler must be prepared to wrestle hard for six to seven minutes. Improving work capacity allows a wrestler to train harder and more often. Remember to build a bigger "gas tank."

Weighted GPP Examples:

Sled Dragging

Sandbag Lifting

Sledgehammer Swinging

Medicine Ball Throws

Tire Flipping

Non-Weighted GPP Examples:

Jumping Jacks

Mountain Climbers


Push Ups

Pull Ups

Athletes and Hard Work

Dan Gable spent summers during high school working for a construction company and a lumber yard. He enjoyed unloading trucks of cement bags and lumber. He lifted cinder blocks at the construction site. He got up at five a.m. so he could run four miles to the job site.

Boxers used to saw wood and split it with an axe as part of their training. They also used to do construction work that involved lifting, digging, sawing, and hammering. Boxing legend Rocky Marciano did all of that and more. He used to stand down in a pit and throw stones up out of it.

Another boxing legend, James J. Braddock, used to walk miles each day looking for work after his boxing career had stalled. Sometimes he would work on the docks unloading railroad ties. Braddock was no stranger to hard manual labor. When he had a chance to box again he went on to become the world heavyweight boxing champion.

Finnish powerlifters are known for their skill in the deadlift. Most of them had a background of hard labor, like lumberjacks, construction workers, farmers or something similar. They carried, lifted and dragged for their living. Similarly, legendary strongman Bill Kazmaier was an oil rigger and a lumberjack in his youth.

What I'm implying here is that hard manual labor is basically a GPP workout. As you can see, many great athletes have a background of hard manual labor. Does this mean that you have to work on a farm or on a construction site? No. Just find a good GPP program and work on building up your work capacity. You can lift sandbags instead of cement bags. You can do sledgehammer training instead of chopping wood with an axe. You can carry around dumbbells instead of pails of corn. Improving your work capacity will allow you to train harder and more often. Spend some time researching GPP and work capacity.

Working on your GPP and work capacity will help you build a strong foundation. As you enter your competitive season, you can start doing training that is more specifically designed for wrestling. Remember that wrestling is primarily an anaerobic (i.e. with oxygen) sport. The anaerobic system is what will primarily need to be worked after your season begins. Your most specific training will simply involve wrestling itself. If you have done a sufficient amount of GPP and built up your work capacity then the training to follow will be that much more effective.