High School Wrestling: In-Season Training

High school wrestling is arguably one of the most physically and mentally demanding sports for the high school athlete. From the brutal conditioning to the intense practices and in-season meets, it’s definitely a warrior’s sport. With all the demands placed on the student athlete, it’s vital that his strength and conditioning program is on point.

Student athlete

One thing we must keep in mind is we’re talking about high school wrestlers who are student athletes. I remember the days of being a student athlete myself, and I know the stresses all too well. Various factors affect mood, sleep patterns, eating habits, and feelings. These factors combined with in-season wrestling can take a toll. Add a poorly designed strength and conditioning program to the mix and the athlete can become overtrained and even injured very quickly. That’s why it’s very important to make sure to communicate with your athlete.

Did he stay up late the night before because his girlfriend dumped him? Is he upset because he failed a big test? Did the coach add 20 minutes of conditioning to the end of a typical practice as punishment? How hard was practice? What all was done that day (skill, conditioning)? And the list goes on.

As a strength coach, you have to know what your athlete has been through each and every time he walks into your facility. These factors play a vital role in what changes will be made to his programming for the day. There is no question that you should have a program written for your athlete. At the same time, there isn’t any reason why you can’t make changes and modifications to it on the spot. Build a bond with the athlete. Ask questions when he comes in. Make changes to the program when needed.

Why in-season training?

Strength, power, and conditioning are very important skills for wrestling performance. During the off-season, many wrestlers develop these qualities. Once the season begins, they stop their strength training all together. To maintain performance through the season, the wrestler must maintain his strength and power as much as possible. If you take two evenly skilled wrestlers in the same weight class at the high school level, the stronger of the two will win. By not maintaining strength and power through the season, the wrestler could be setting himself up for a losing record.

What not to do

The three things my wrestlers don’t do when training in-season with me are:

  • Direct abdominal work
  • Conditioning
  • Neck work

All wrestling programs are different so again communication is the key. At our school, the wrestlers perform countless crunches and various abdominal movements at each and every practice. They also condition a ton, which is obliviously very common with wrestling. Their necks are also taking a beating from practices, matches, and extra neck work performed at practice. Because the coaches seem to have these bases covered, doing additional work will most definitely have a negative effect.

Strength training

The purpose of the in-season program is to maintain strength, power, and muscle mass. The number of workouts is dependent on wrestling meets and practice schedules, but wrestlers are in the gym no more than twice a week and sometimes only once. Occasionally, I’ll give them a full week off if it’s been an intense week of practices and meets or they’re feeling beat up from a meet.

You’ll notice that I give a few options for exercises. These are exercises that I believe have the most carry over and bang for your buck for in-season training. Within a wrestler’s actual program, there is very little variation in exercise selection in-season. This is by design because I prefer to keep using exercises that the athlete is accustomed. By doing this, it helps to prevent soreness during the season.

We keep the volume very low because we’re focusing on strength and power while maintaining muscle mass. We aren’t trying to build muscle during the season because of weight class restrictions. We also want to minimize the stresses placed on the body.

A typical in-season workout for my wrestlers is structured like this:

1. Power movement

2. Quad/hip dominant movement

3A. Horizontal or vertical push

3B. Horizontal or vertical pull

Exercise toolbox

Power

  • Box jump
  • One-arm hang snatch
  • Hang clean

Quad dominant

  • Front squat
  • Bulgarian split squat*

Hip dominant

  • Deadlift
  • Romanian deadlift*
  • Glute ham raise*

Horizontal or vertical push

  • Incline bench
  • Push-ups
  • Push press (also power)**

Horizontal or vertical pull

  • Chin-ups
  • Inverted rows
  • Blast strap rows

* For stronger wrestlers, it’s best to use quad/hip dominant movements that aren’t as demanding on the central nervous system in-season. Younger and/or weaker wrestlers can handle the more intensive movements. A kid who front squats 135 lbs for 5 reps will be able to handle more than a kid who front squats 255 lbs for 5 reps.

**When implementing the push press, I use it as the push movement for that day and for power.

Putting it all together

Here’s an actual in-season program that I used this year for a junior year wrestler wrestling in the 135-lb class. Each session was preceded by foam rolling and a dynamic warm up with mobility drills and some face pulls.

Workout A

1. Box Jump, 3 X 3

2. Front squat, 3 X 3–5 reps

3A. Incline bench press, 3 X 3–6 reps

3B. Blast strap rows, 3 X 10–15 reps

Workout B

1. Push press, 3 X 3–5 reps

2. Deadlift, 3 X 3–5 reps

3. Chin-ups 3 X 10

Note: The first two sets on each lift are relatively light (starting at around 55–60 percent of a 1RM) in comparison to the final set. Each set is slowly ramped up in weight to the heaviest final set. On days when a wrestler is feeling fresh and strong, we push to set PRs and focus on continually getting stronger during the season. If he isn’t feeling “it,” we back off a little and get the necessary work in.

Hopefully, you picked up some things on how I view training in-season wrestlers. Remember, the most important thing you can do with your in-season wrestlers is to communicate with them about how they’re feeling. Be ready to make any necessary changes/modifications to the program or even have the wrestler take a week off from strength training when needed. Do this while focusing your job on maintaining strength, power, and muscle mass throughout the season, and your wrestler will most definitely be a beast on the mat.

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About the Author

Chase Karnes is a personal trainer/strength coach located in Paducah, Kentucky. He holds a bachelor's of science degree in exercise science along with his CSCS and NSCA-CPT credentials. Chase is also a national level Strongman competitor with a second place finish at the NAS Strongman Nationals in 2012. He can be reached through his website at www.chasekarnes.com.