Cardiovascular Training For Wrestlers - Part 3.

We have tried all of the workouts mentioned and have seen great results from them but understand that not everyone will benefit from them the same as we have ...

It's the end of regulation time and you have ended the match in a tie. You've left everything you had on the mat in the 3rd period and now only have 30 seconds to get ready for overtime.

Your body is tired and your muscles are shaking from fatigue but you need to reach down deep, pool every last ounce of energy you have because this is the time that separates the champions from the winners.

Now you say "Mike, separating the champions from winners, what are you talking about? Champions are winners." Well not exactly, what I mean is if you wrestle long enough you're sure to win a match or two but unless you have the motivation and intensity to push yourself during your training sessions and wrestling practices you will never reach your true potential.

Many factors are involved in development of champion wrestlers. In addition to skill, ability and the knowledge of the sport, one must be strong and well-conditioned. When two highly talented wrestlers compete for the crown, strength and conditioning are often the variables that determine the difference.

As we have stated in other articles, always consult your coach or trainer prior to starting any of the programs discussed in these articles. We have tried all of the workouts mentioned and have seen great results from them but understand that not everyone will benefit from them the same as we have. We have talked about them for educational purposes only.

A Quick Review

Before we start the overtime period lets review what we have learned to this point:

  • Endurance is the ability of your body to maintain a high quality of work in the face of fatigue.

    There are 4 major types of endurance:

    • Aerobic endurance
    • Anaerobic endurance
    • Speed endurance
    • Strength and power endurance.

    All 4 require a good sound aerobic conditioning level to maintain them.

  • Aerobic means "With Oxygen." During aerobic exercise the body is working at a level that the demands for oxygen and fuel can be met by the body's intake.
  • Having a good solid aerobic conditioning level will ensure that your heart beats slower but stronger, moves greater volumes of oxygenated blood (which is important for your muscles), and you breath slower.
  • Anaerobic means "Without Oxygen." During anaerobic exercise at maximum effort, the body works so hard that the demands for oxygen and fuel exceed the rate of supply and the muscles rely on stored reserves of fuel.
  • Speed-endurance training improves your ability to tolerate increased amounts of lactic acid in your system and lessens your feelings of fatigue as you wrestle at high intensity.

    High speed drilling is a good way to develop speed endurance and when incorporated with chain matches or grind matches will also help develop high levels of anaerobic conditioning.

  • Strength endurance is the specific form of strength displayed in activities which require a relatively long duration of muscle tension with minimal decrease in efficiency.

    There are two types of strength endurance:

    • Dynamic strength-endurance
    • Static strength-endurance
  • It has been documented that the average wrestling match has an explosive attack executed approximately every 6-10 seconds.

Creating The "Total Package"

With all this information, how do we go about creating the total package? Many wrestlers just go to practice and wrestle in tournaments and do no type of strength training at all. Many feel that if they do train in-season that it will do more damage than good.

In the article 'Strength Training & Conditioning For Wrestling: The Iowa Approach' posted in the National Strength and Conditioning Journal talks about "the misconception that wrestling practice and competition alone will maintain strength and power in season is incorrect bases on their experience, in that "hard" wrestling and running without routine maintenance lifting will often result in a loss of muscle mass.

Moreover, wrestling may not stress the explosive capacity of the muscle to the same degree as lifting. Thus wrestling in the absence of lifting will likely lead to a loss of strength and power in an individual who had previously strength trained".

So you're sitting at home reading this article thinking to yourself "OK, I have a weight set and a new pair of running shoes so how do I design my own workout program. Well for starters you need to look at what stage of training you're in.

This article is being written in October so we will start with the preseason phase of training. In preseason training your goal should be to maintain the strength and power developed during the off-season while increasing anaerobic conditioning levels. Workouts should be limited to 3-4 days per week and consist of total body circuit program or dumbbell complex.

People ask me all the time "why do you choose working out with dumbbells over a heavier barbells?" That answer is simple ...

  1. I like to train movements, not muscle groups. Training with dumbbells allows you select resistance training exercises based on their similarity to actual movements that occurs during sports. For example, both squats and leg presses effectively train the quadriceps. However, squats are performed in a sport-specific position (standing) while the leg presses are done from the prone position (on your back).
  2. I believe that sometimes it's prudent to sacrifice maximal increases in strength in order to train sport-specific movements. With the squat, for example, athletes sometimes place too high a priority on how much weight they can lift. For many athletes, exercises such as one-legged squats, lunges, or side lunges provide a good opportunity to train sport-specific movements.

How To Start Training The 4 Endurance Systems

Aerobic Endurance Training

The basis for almost any sports conditioning program is good aerobic capacity. As we mentioned before a good solid post-season and off-season aerobic conditioning program will be the foundation for the upcoming season.

Aerobic training can be any activity that keeps your heart rate at 60-65% of max HR for more than 30 mins. Swimming, jogging, bike riding, are all examples of exercises that will help build your aerobic conditioning levels.

Anaerobic Endurance Training

To ensure that wrestlers have the anaerobic capacity to compete, let's look at what anaerobic endurance is and how it affects the body. Anaerobic endurance (capacity) refers to the maximal amount of energy that can be produced during the first 15-90 seconds of all out effort.

The major limitation on anaerobic capacity is the build up of lactic acid in the working muscles, a by-product of metabolism when the demand for oxygen in the working muscles is not met.

Lactic acid causes the muscles to fatigue by disrupting biochemical reactions that produce energy for muscle contraction (The feeling you get in your forearms and lower back during and after a match).

The effect of training for anaerobic endurance is to increase the muscles tolerance to lactic acid so that there is a corresponding resistance to fatigue.

Anaerobic training outside the wrestling room can be accomplished by many different means. We will focus on 2 different methods stationary bike and running. Also see the workout listed in Table 1 for anaerobic training in the gym.

Stationary Bike

Warm up:

      4 mins

Work interval:

      20 secs (pedal all out)

Rest Interval:

      10 secs (stop, only move pedal to keep timer going)

Total intervals:


Cool down:

      4 mins

Total time: 16 mins


      Visit your local football field.

Warm up:

      Jog for 4 mins at a slow pace to loosen up and warm up your muscles.

Work interval:

      starting at the goal line, sprint to the 10-yard line and walk back to the goal line and do 10 push-ups, continue by increasing your sprint by 10 yards each time and walking back to the goal line. Do pushups after each return to the goal line.

Total intervals:


Cool Down:

    4 min jog

Power Endurance Training

Training for power endurance involves using loads of 25-30% of ones 1RM (one rep max) and doing 10-30 repetitions consecutively in as powerful a manner as possible. This can be tough at first and you should start off with only 10 reps and work up gradually until you reach your desired rep max. Complete 3 sets and use exercises that will tax the prime movers and are sport-specific.

The use of kettlebells in your training is another great example of power endurance. High rep snatches and cleans and presses (25-30 reps) using kettlebells is a great way to tax your muscular endurance and conditioning levels. Flipping tires and sledgehammer drills are also ways to work your power endurance.

Another good way to build anaerobic conditioning and maintain power endurance at the same time is to perform the workout listed in Table 1. This work out will simulate a real match by having you perform an explosive exercise over 5-10 seconds for up to 3 mins. It has been documented that in wrestling an explosive attack happens every 6-10 seconds so why not train for it as it happens.

When we first tried this workout we quickly realized what was meant by power endurance due to the short break your muscles don't have time to recover as fast as they would in a normal lifting program. We like to do dumbbell clean and presses when completing this workout, but for those of you who are trained and comfortable using Olympic lifts, power cleans work just as well.

Table 1

Week 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Exercise - - - - - - - -
(between sets)
8 8 7 7 6 6 5 5
Set Time 70 90 110 130 140 155 165 180
% RM 40 40 35 35 35 35 35 35
Sets 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
(between sets)
75 65 55 50 45 40 30 20

Speed Endurance Training

Speed-endurance training improves your ability to tolerate increased amounts of lactic acid in your system and lessens your feelings of fatigue as you wrestle at high intensity. High-speed drilling is a good way to develop speed endurance and when incorporated with chain matches or grind matches will also help develop high levels of anaerobic conditioning.

Running, swimming, bicycle riding at high speeds or for a given distance or time will also help increase your tolerance for lactic acid buildup.

For this workout we will stick with stationary bike riding.

Warm Up:

      5 mins

Work interval:

      30 seconds (max speed 135-145 rpm)

Rest interval:

      90 seconds (slow speed 80 rpm)

Cool Down:

      5 mins

Total Time: 25 mins

As you get closer to the season increase your resistance level and increase your work time by 15 seconds until your working 1:1 with work and rest times.

While in the wrestling room you can perform high rep takedown drills for a set period of time. Try keeping track of how many takedowns you do during that time period that way you the next time you do the drill you can try and top that number.

If you really want to improve on your conditioning and muscular endurance levels, complete your anaerobic / aerobic training prior to practice, this will cause your muscles to tire and fatigue so your takedown drills and wrestling will be conducted using your technique and not your muscle. This will simulate an overtime peroid right from the start of practice.

Dr. John Berardi used a great example for training 4 weeks prior to a season by conducting all 4 endurance exercise groups in the same week.

It looked something like this:

  • Monday - Plyometrics and Aerobic conditioning
  • Tuesday - Anaerobic conditioning
  • Wednesday - Weighted power training (30% of 1RM, 4 sets / 4-8 reps)
  • Thursday - Aerobic conditioning
  • Friday - Dynamic (ballistic)
  • Saturday - Power Endurance (30% of 1RM, 10-30 reps based on training level)

You can also create a great total body program using only 2 dumbbells and about 20 mins of your time by completing Coach Javorek's Dumbbell complex #1.

Dumbbell Upright Row x6
Dumbbell High Pull Snatch x6
Dumbbell Squat Push Press x6
Dumbbell Bent Over Row x6
Dumbbell High Pull Snatch x6
Dumbbell Front Lunge & Side Lunge x10*

* (complete front lunge each leg 1 rep - side lunge each leg 1 rep)

Perform in a non-stop, continuous order as listed above. Go through the exercises twice for beginner, three times for more advanced athletes. For different sports the number of repetitions for each exercise and the number of cycles could vary, determined by the coach or personal trainer.

For a remarkable cardio-vascular stimulation of this exercise, the number of repetition for each exercise could be gradually increased. Wrestlers could gradually increase the number of repetitions and the weight, to achieve a higher quality specific endurance and power in domain of endurance while reducing the rest time.

The important thing to understand from this article is that it's OK to train during the season if you understand what and how to train. If you're looking to keep your strength and become the best wrestler that you can be sometimes you need to look outside the box and see what others are doing.

Think of this for a moment ... What top college programs today do wrestlers look up to? Minnesota, OSU, Iowa, all programs that weight train during the season. So let's learn from the best and get back into the gym and train.