By Dr. Bill Welker
A dedicated high school wrestler does not stop learning and training when the last practice of the season ends. Continually looking for ways to improve wrestling skills, muscle tone and cardiovascular endurance, these objectives can be accomplished through a variety of activities during the postseason months. Following are off-season priorities for the aspiring state champion: summer wrestling clinics, postseason wrestling tournaments, weight training and off-season sports or running.
Summer Wrestling Clinics
Summer wrestling clinics can be a great way to improve technique. Wrestlers should not try to learn all the moves taught during the weeklong clinic, especially those so-called "clinic moves." These are maneuvers that look fancy but are rarely used or successful in competition. They are not founded on sound fundamentals. Clinicians present them to catch the eyes of the campers in order to teach the truly worthwhile moves.
The wrestler's prime objective should be to learn one or two new moves in each area of wrestling (takedowns, escapes/reversals and rides/pinning combinations). These moves should be maneuvers that suit the wrestler’s style and body type. For example, for individuals who are tall and thin, special attention should be paid to leg-wrestling moves.
Finally, the wrestler must consider the moves that he or she has had the most success with in past competitions.
Clinics can be very worthwhile in perfecting wrestling skills if the clinic participant lives by the following two guidelines:
- The wrestler must keep focused on the preceding suggestions.
- The wrestler must approach the clinic as though it were a classroom. It is not to be perceived as a place for competition but as a place for learning. Therefore, he should never be afraid to ask questions!
In abiding by these guidelines, the wrestler will find the clinic experience to be of great personal benefit on the mats.
The three prime components of successful wrestling are skill development, conditioning and strength. When opposing wrestlers are identical in skill development and conditioning, the deciding factor often becomes strength.
Weight training is a year-round endeavor if a wrestler wants to be a state champion. The priority should be to lift weights for muscle endurance strength – more reps with less weight – and not for explosive strength – few reps with more weight.
The first step in initiating an off-season weight-training program is to talk with the wrestling coach, strength coach or weightlifting trainer from the local fitness center. One of these individuals will make sure that the wrestler starts his or her weight-training program at appropriate weights (and with the correct amount of time at each station) for body type. Not knowing the proper weight or number of sets and repetitions when beginning weight training can cause serious muscular injury.
One time-tested approach is circuit training with one set of 10 repetitions for each of three weightlifting exercise cycles. The amount of weight for each exercise should be enough that the wrestler strains to accomplish the last two or three repetitions. The ideal weight-training program should occur three days a week – for example, Monday-Wednesday-Friday.
Safety is another important factor. It is wise to work with a partner of similar body size so that one can spot while the other is lifting. Note also the following basic safety tips for free weights and weightlifting machines.
- Take great care in putting the weights on the bar evenly; otherwise the bar could tip, potentially causing injury.
- Make sure all weights are locked securely.
- Watch out for bars that are shoulder height or above. Athletes could get serious facial injuries by walking into the bar.
- Put barbells, dumbbells and weight plates away when you are finished so that nobody trips over them.
- See to it that the selector keys are inserted all the way.
- Place levers and seats at locations that suit your body size.
- Establish a stable sitting and foot-support base when performing exercises.
- Keep hands and fingers as far as possible from any moving objects on the weightlifting machine. Always remember that off-season weight training is just as important to the dedicated wrestler as in-season weight training.
Postseason Wrestling Tournaments
There is no substitute for experience when it comes to developing wrestling skills. To be a state champion in today's highly competitive athletic world, wrestlers need to consider competing in post-season tournaments.
On the other hand, there are some very important concerns that must be addressed regarding the advantages of postseason tournaments. Following are recommendations for participating in open wrestling competitions after the regular season:
- First and foremost, the wrestler should join a well-coached wrestling club that stresses conditioning as well as the basics of the mat sport. The surest way to get seriously injured at a postseason tournament is not being in sound physical condition. It would be a tragedy to miss in-season action due to a long-term injury sustained at a postseason wrestling tournament.
- The wrestler should not be concerned with weight reduction when competing in postseason tournaments. Year-round weight watching will lead to wrestling burnout. This loss-of-desire phenomenon has ended the careers of many fine wrestlers.
- Do not wrestle in too many postseason tournaments. Five highly competitive wrestling tournaments would suffice. You don't want to peak at the end of summer but at the end of the wrestling season . . . at the state championships!
The wrestler's goal for wrestling in postseason tournaments should be threefold: First, continue to use successful moves previously learned in an effort to perfect them.
Second, this is the time to attempt new moves. Nothing is lost if the move is not perfected. The key is that the wrestler learns from the experience and makes the appropriate adjustments.
Finally, the wrestler should be constantly evaluating progress with the assistance of the club coach. Summer wrestling tournaments must be viewed as a means to an end, which is to prepare for competitive action during the season. College coaches pay far more attention to where the wrestler places in state competition than in postseason tournaments.
A final concern for the wrestler in the off-season is to be actively involved in enhancing cardiovascular endurance. This can be accomplished through many avenues of physical activity, such as with off-season sports.
In the spring, the wrestler could compete in track and field. Long-distance events, such as the 1500- or 3000-meter events, would be great to improve endurance.
Baseball is another great spring competition; it is outstanding for short sprint training but not for endurance workouts. If a wrestler chooses to play baseball, he or she should consider doing extra running.
Two great fall activities that are conducive to cardiovascular efficiency are cross country and soccer. Wrestlers would be wise to compete in one of these two sports before wrestling season.
Finally, the most popular American sport of the fall – football – is another athletic possibility. Like baseball, this extremely physical sport also requires brief bursts of physical activity during competition, but not stamina. So the wrestler who plays football needs to add running to the daily routine.
If a wrestler is not competing in off-season sports that promote physical endurance, an individual running program should be designed. Following is an off-season running plan that has worked for many wrestlers. It coincides with the weight-training schedule prescribed in the previous section.
Because the wrestler is lifting on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, he or she should run on alternating days – Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Sunday would be a day of rest. These recommendations will maximize the effectiveness of a running program:
- Perform flexibility exercises for the legs and arms before running.
- During the summer months, run in the mornings and carry water to beat the heat.
- Run four to six miles.
- When finished, cool down by walking for 10 to 15 minutes. At this time, the athlete should hydrate himself by drinking enough water to feel comfortable.
Interval training is an outstanding strategy for running. This method involves alternating running and sprinting. For example, the wrestler's initial pace could involve seven- to nine-minute miles, depending on body build. If in doubt, ask for the coach's advice. While running, the wrestler should sprint 30 seconds every two minutes, using a stopwatch. Substitutes for sprinting include running up hills or steps during the workout.
Off-season activities are very important for wrestlers who want to succeed in the mat sport. Summer wrestling clinics, postseason wrestling tournaments, weight training and off-season sports and running are prerequisites for such achievement. Coaches are responsible for guiding them in such a positive direction.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Bill Welker, a former Pennsylvania state champion, has been the wrestling rules interpreter and clinician for the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission since 1989. He was named the 1990 West Virginia Official of the Year. Dr. Welker has also been honored as the 2001 Section 2 Distinguished Active Official and 2002 National Wrestling Official of the Year by Wrestling USA Magazine. In 2003, Bill Welker was selected as the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference (OVAC) Wrestling Official of the Year. He is the author and editor of The Wrestling Drill Book (2005), a Human Kinetics publication.