I believe that proper conditioning is one of the most important aspects in developing competitive wrestlers and MMA exponents. And this proper conditioning does not simply mean training for muscular strength or the ability to wrestle hard for six or eight minutes.
NOTE: Proper conditioning is far more inclusive, in that it must allow for the development of muscular range, sharpening of muscle tone, and the building up of endurance qualities.
These items have to be built into your wrestling program since they don’t just happen. They don’t just happen for the athlete either—even if they are in your program. He has to have the proper attitude in approaching the conditioning in order to benefit most by it.
Here are some of the ways we have approached these problems and tried to “build in” good conditioning techniques in our wrestling program.
PRIDE IN CONDITIONING
Our wrestling program begins about three weeks before the football season ends. Many of our wrestlers are football players, but for those who are not we have a rigorous program of physical activity. It consists of a great deal of running—distance as well as sprints. The practice on the mat is of an introductory nature or a review of basics for the experienced boys, but the entire three weeks is devoted to conditioning the non-football players.
NOTE: To help instill pride in conditioning, we tell the non-football players how badly they are going to make the football players look when they finally report for practice. These boys seem to like this idea of getting into shape and being able to challenge the football players when they arrive for practice on the first day. This is a positive type of competition and one in which both groups thrive.
One of the side issues here is an old wives’ tale to the effect that football conditions boys for wrestling and wrestling conditions boys for spring sports, etc. This is definitely not true. It depends on the sport because each of the seasonal sports requires different abilities.
NOTE: It doesn’t hurt to play other sports per se. However if a boy needs muscular development, he has to do some of this out-of-season. He can’t expect to do all of it via other sports—but only through a concentrated program.
We keep our boys appraised of what they will be doing. We also have them do more each day . . . more each week . . . than they did before. They take great pride in this and feel that it sets them apart as special.
Once the wrestlers are in reasonably good condition, we work on an alternating system of hard days and light days to allow their bodies to respond to the pressure and build resistance.
WARM-UP: The warm-up activities are quite important before practice. We spend about 20 minutes in muscle-stretching exercises to raise the body temperature and get the blood coursing through the veins. This warm-up period, long though it is, has been a significant factor in the lack of injuries to our boys.
During practice, we work in three groups, usually designated by weight divisions. While one group is on the mat, the other two are either jumping rope or working with the weights. Both of these activities help sharpen tone and build endurance.
Some authorities discourage weight training during the season; that is, lifting weights for bulk. We agree with this but there is a great advantage in using weights for another purpose. Muscle tone can be sharpened and muscle range can be expanded by using the weights and the same exercises (military press, etc.), with the only difference being that the weight lifted be just 25% of what the wrestler can normally do. The wrestler should do about three sets of ten repetitions as fast as he can, without losing any of the technique in the exercise.
There are still wrestlers who must develop strength and they must do it to survive the season honorably. So we employ other methods of developing strength in-season. For instance, we do a series of after-practice exercises when the day is officially over on the mat. These exercises include: push-ups with a man on your back; bridging (back) with a man on; half-squats with a man on your shoulders; from one knee, lift man off the mat; etc.
NOTE: You can use others, of course, or make up exercises. The number used depends on the type of practice held.
Pride in workouts after practice also develops to the point where the entire momentum will be taken over by the wrestlers and they will vie with one another and former records. An example of this would be sprints. We run a series of runningin-place drills, alternating jogging and sprinting. We build up on the time from week to week and once in a while throw in a challenge to the team. They really push themselves to accomplish the new goals.
SALT: When you work boys extremely hard, remember that they lose a great deal of body fluid. Thus, there is a need for salt tablets. This is a regulation with us after practice every day. Fatigue has, in general, disappeared.
DEVELOPING PROPER ATTITUDES
We do two things along this line. First, we duplicate all articles that we can on the conditioning of athletes and include them in a handbook which is then distributed to the boys. Articles on vitamins, diets, and other pertinent health information, as well as articles written by well-known athletes and coaches are included.
Secondly, we conduct a clinic for all athletes at the school covering training, conditioning, and mental attitudes for interscholastic competition. Guest speakers as well as staff members speak and give demonstrations.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
My chief source of information on conditioning has been our two swimming coaches. Coaches of swimming are vitally concerned about diet, vitamins, and the principles of conditioning and training in general. Also, check the journals on swimming for more information on these matters.
NOTE: While there are a number of variations that can be applied to this type of conditioning, we do it the following way—a sort of free-style workout.