The Dirty Dozen: 12 Essential Strength Exercises for Wrestling
As a strength coach for elite wrestlers I am constantly tasked with finding exercises that will build explosive strength in the areas where my athletes need it - primarily the legs, hips, back and core. Hang Cleans are a specialty movement that require expert coaching and oversight to master - something that is typically lacking in a high school weight room. The Squat is truly the king of all exercises, but a split-squat variation with dumbbells is safer for the lower back, can be done without a spotter (key for large groups of athletes) and because of the balance and lateral stability required on the mat, is more applicable to wrestling. The regular Barbell Bench Press can be dangerous for the shoulder joint if done improperly and doesn't translate well to the sport (my coach used to say "when you are on your back pressing up…it's too late. You're pinned"). Now does that mean we shouldn't train "pressing" movements since wrestling is primarily "pulling"? Of course not. It's important for an athletes body to be strong, balanced, and developed in all areas. However I think it’s important to de-emphasize everyone’s favorite exercise - the bench press - and incorporate some different types of presses that also require a lot of core and back stability.
Today I would like to share with you what I consider the 12 best strength exercises for wrestlers. Are there other movements that are great for wrestlers? Absolutely, but these dozen are what I consider to be the essential movements and I have grouped them into a no nonsense, 3 day workout split that will be perfect for you or your team to make gains. After you familiarize yourself with the exercises, get started with one of the programs - beginner through advanced - below. For a more detailed strength regimen make sure to follow me on Instagram (@CoachMyers_GutCheck).
- Deadlift 5x5
- Wide Pull Ups 3 x Max Reps
- Iso-Row 3 x 8/8
- Curl/Hammer Curl Combo 5 each for 4 sets
- Iso-Chest Press 10/10, 8/8, 6/6, 4/4, 4/4
- Standing Iso Press 3 x 8 each side
- Barbell Shrugs 5 x 10
- Bodyweight Skullcrushers 3 x max reps
- Front Squat - 3 x 5
- Split Squat 4 x 10 each side
- Body Weight Hamstring Bridge 3 x 5
- Barbell Roll Outs 3 x 10
- Neck Plank 3 x 10 seconds
- Superset: 6 sets
Deadlift - 3
Wide Pull Ups - 12
- Iso-Row 5 x 5 each side, 1 x 5/10/20 (lower weight each set on the 5/10/20 and do both arms at the same time)
- Curl/Hammer Curl Combo 3 each for 5 sets
- Iso-Chest Press 5 x 5/5
- Standing Iso Press 5 x 5/5
- Barbell Shrugs 20, 15, 12, 10, 8, 5 (on set of 5 hold each rep for 5 seconds)
- Bodyweight Skullcrushers - 100 total
- Front Squat 5 x 5
- Split Squat 10/10, 8/8, 6/6, 4/4, 2/2
- Body Weight Hamstring Bridge - 20 total
- Barbell Roll Outs 3 x 15
- Neck Plank 30 seconds, 20, 10
Deadlift - 10, 8, 6, 4, 2
Wide Pull Ups - 20, 16, 12, 8, 4
Front Squat - 3
Barbell Shrug 10
x 5 sets
- Barbell Shrug 5 x 10
- Barbell Roll Outs - 50 total
- Iso-Chest Press 5 x 5/5, do another set of 10/10 with lighter weight immediately after last set of 5/5
- Standing Iso Press 8/8, 5/5, 4/4, 3/3, 10/10
- Bodyweight Skullcrushers 5 x 10 (feet on bench)
- Neck Plank 3 sets of 30 seconds
- Split Squat 5 x 4 each side, 1 x 4/8/16 each side (drop weight as numbers increase) Superset each set of Split Squats with 10 Underhand grip Pull Ups
Body Weight Hamstring Bridge - 5
Curl/Hammer Curl Combo - 5 each
x 3 sets
- Barbell Roll Outs 3 x 10
#1 Deadlift - Approach a loaded bar and stand with your feet at shoulder width. Squat down and grab the bar with your arms outside of your legs. Keep your back flat and pull the bar up and off the ground, bringing your shoulders back and hips forward as you "drag" the bar up your thighs. Carefully return to the starting position and reset your hips.
#2 Pull Ups - Using an overhand grip, grab the bar slightly wider than shoulder width. Pull up with out swinging or kicking your feet until your head is over the bar. Lower to the starting position but don't "unpack" - keep some tension in your lats and don't let your arms relax completely. Alternate grip: underhand with hands no wider than shoulder width.
#3 Iso-Row - Lay face down on an incline bench and grab a set of medium weight dumbbells. Pull them up and back towards your hips, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold one side flexed and in place while you complete 1 rep on the opposite side, then switch. One side should always be in the top position.
#4 Curl-Hammer Curl combo - Curl a set of Dumbbells, twisting at the top to contract the bicep. On the next rep bring the dumbbells straight up without turning them. Alternate reps between regular and hammer reps.
#5 Iso-Chest Press - Start in a normal bench position with a heavy set of dumbbells. Slowly press one side while you keep the other side extended
#6 Front Squat - Hold the bar in a "front rack" position. Keep your elbows up and your back tight as you squat to parallel and back up. You may need to go with a slightly wider stance than your normal squat. You can substitute a medicine ball or dumbbell in large group settings.
#7 - Shrug - Grab a heavy loaded bar with an over/under grip. Tuck your chin and use your traps to explosively pull the bar up as if you were trying to touch your shoulders to your ears. Squeeze at the top and control the weight back down.
#8 – Body-weight Skull Crushers - Depending on your strength level, you will use a stationary object somewhere between shoulder level and as low as the floor. Stand with your body rigid (don't sag your hips) and bend your elbows straight down and touch your forehead to your knuckles. The lower your hand-hold, the harder these are. For a real challenge, put your feet up on a bench and your hands on the ground.
#9 Split Squat - Hold a pair of Dumbbells and stand in front of a bench. Take one foot and place it on the bench behind you so you are in a split/lunge stance with the rear foot elevated. Slowly lower into a single leg squat and back up. Keep your back straight and chest up, and be sure not to lean too far forward. Make sure that your front foot is out far enough that your knee does not go beyond your toes.
#10 - Bodyweight Hamstring Bridge - Lay on your back with your feet up on a bench and your knees bent at 90 degrees. Extend one leg straight up in the air and push thru your other heel into the bench, bridging your hips up. Hold at the top for 3 seconds maintaining a straight line from the knee thru the hips to your shoulder.
#11 - Neck Plank - Sit on a Swiss ball and walk your feet forward until just the back of your head is in contact with the ball. Bridge your hips up and keep your neck straight (not arched) in a static position. Keep your hamstrings and Glutes flexed.
#12 - Barbell Roll Outs - Kneel down with a loaded barbell in front of you. Grab the bar at shoulder width and roll out, extending your body, then pull back by contracting your core to the starting position. Keep your back hunched slightly and abs flexed to avoid stressing the lower back.