Lower Body Strength Training for Wrestlers

By Dickie White

Fitting a heavy lower body strength workout into your strength training program is usually the last thing on a wrestler's mind, especially in season. With all the practicing and running to make weight, who can blame them?! However, finding time to get in at least one lower body day a week in season is crucial for success. A lot of parents try to convince me their kids don't need it. They think that their kid's legs must be strong from all the running and practicing. They couldn't be further from the truth. Running to sweat weight off is not going to give you the strength to finish takedowns, the speed to get in on your opponents legs, or the power to return your opponent to the mat after they have stood up from the bottom. Making lower body strength training one of your top priorities in your wrestling training program will help you score more takedowns, improve the effectiveness of your sprawls, increase the success of your standups, and ultimately, help you win more matches. Now that you know what stronger legs can do, let's go into the top four best exercises for developing them.

Box Squats

The squat is arguably the best exercise a wrestler can perform. I have all my wrestlers box squat for two big reasons. The first reason is that by sitting and pausing on a box and then squatting up forces the wrestler to overcome a static position. This closely resembles stalemate situations during a match. The second reason is that every rep is consistently deep. Squatting to a box takes all the guess work out of whether or not the wrestler went deep enough on their squats.

The first step to box squatting is building a box. You can use a bench, stack plates, use aerobic steps, or anything else you can find. I make mine out of wood and use ¾" plywood to adjust the height. You may be so lucky as to find an adjustable box in the gym you workout at. The most important thing is that when you are sitting on the box your thighs are parallel to the floor.

After your box is built you're ready to start squatting. Get under the bar and walk back until you're close enough to the box where you can sit on it only when you drive your hips back and down. The width of your stance is up to you but be sure to angle your toes out slightly. Initiate the squat from the hips, not the knees. Force your hips back, drive your knees out and sit down to the box in a controlled manner. Do not drop to the box. Make sure your chest is kept tall throughout and your lower back stays flat.

Now that you're at the bottom of the squat it's time to stand back up. Force your chest up, drive your hips up off the box and return to the standing position. When you're done walk forward until the bar hits the rack and lower yourself from there until the bar rests on the hooks.

Deadlifts

The deadlift is one of two other exercises that come to mind that may challenge the squat in terms of the best exercise for a wrestler. The deadlift is a little easier to setup and perform but it requires an incredible amount of strength in the hips, back, and hands. There are two ways to deadlift- conventional and sumo. I will detail the sumo deadlift because that tends to be the favorite among the wrestlers that I work with.

The stance for a sumo deadlift is going to be wider than a conventional deadlift, and it will resemble the stance of a sumo wrestler…go figure. Your stance should be wider than your hips with your toes angled out like you have them when you squat. Take an alternate grip (one palm facing you the other facing away from you) where your hands are directly under your shoulders. With your grip inside your knees you will be able to prevent your knees from being forced together by your arms during the lift. Sink your hips down and get your chest up tall and your low back flat. Lift the bar off the ground while maintaining a flat low back until you are completely standing. Make sure your arms stay straight and relaxed throughout the lift. Lower the bar and repeat.

Lunges

The lunge is a great builder of single leg lower body strength. Single leg strength is needed throughout wrestling, especially when shooting on the legs; which is why lunges are so important in a lower body wrestling training program.

The lunge can be performed with a barbell or with dumbbells. If you are using a barbell hold it on your back as you would for a squat. If you are using dumbbells, hold them at your sides. Your feet should be hip width apart throughout the exercise. Begin the lunge by taking an exaggerated step forward with one foot (like you would for your penetration step) while keeping the other foot planted behind you. Once you are in the lunge position, lower your hips until the knee of the trail leg lightly touches the ground. Concentrate on lowering your hips to touch your knee instead of driving the knee of the lead leg forward. Be sure to keep your upper body tight so the movement is controlled when your knee touches- your knee should not slam against the ground. Drive your lead foot into the ground to power you back to a standing position. It should only take one smooth step to return to the standing position, if it takes more, lower the weight.

Romanian Deadlifts

The Romanian deadlift is a great way to strengthen your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. It is one of the most effective ways to train your hip extenders (the muscles that help you stand up, return an opponent to the mat, lift an opponent to finish a shot, and sprawl). Begin by holding the bar at the lock out position of a deadlift. Your feet should be underneath your hips with toes pointed forward and your grip should be outside of your legs in a position that will prevent your arms from driving your knees together at any time during the movement. Keep your chest up and back flat throughout the movement. Start with a slight bend your knees and keep them locked in this position throughout the exercise. Just like the squat, initiate the movement by pushing your hips back and begin to slide the bar down your quads and shins. Keep lowering the bar while maintaining a tight core until you feel a strong stretch in your hamstrings. Although this movement is completely dependent upon hamstring flexibility, all of my wrestlers can lower the bar down to their mid-shin. Once you reach the bottom, bring your hips back through and stand back up.

Dickie White is the founder of Got Dickie?, one of the nation's top systems for training champion wrestlers. Dickie is a 2006 graduate of the Ithaca College Clinical Exercise Science program and holds a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). For more information on how you can improve your performance on the mat through his strength training system please visit http://www.gotdickie.com/

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