Grappling – Wrestling Practice Drills and Exercises

The practice room is the place where good wrestlers are made. Great wrestlers are often naturals, but they can only become great through good practice and exposure to excellent competition.

Each part of practice must have a reason behind it. The wrestler should understand how each drill or activity is improving him as a wrestler or helping him get into superb condition.

Our practices never last more than one and a half hours, with about 40 minutes of activity the night before a match.

This is probably shorter than most practices, but if one keeps active the wrestler will learn a great deal in a short time and get into condition faster.

The chance of injury is also greatly reduced. A broken thumb is the only injury that has kept one of my wrestlers out of competition in six years.

Wrestling Practice Drills


Our practices are divided into three basic areas:

1. A period of exercise and stretching (15 to 20 minutes).

2. A period of learning a particular move or group of moves (one hour).

NOTE: In this period, we start out slowly and end up wrestling full speed on each move.

3. A period of conditioning (10 minutes). PRACTICE OUTLINE Below is an outline of an average practice, with the reasoning or psychology I use for teaching these moves. This is not complete, but the outline has worked for us.

Make the changes you want to and see if it is an orderly way to cover what you want to teach. Changing what is covered each night adds variety.

NOTE: “Fun-and-Gut Drills” will also add interest. Some of these are listed after the daily practice schedule.

I certainly hope this is something you coaches can tack up on the office wall and use.


ACTIVITY: Running. Three to five minutes of running steps or laps in the gym. Never more than 5 minutes—running in wrestling shoes is hard on the feet.

REASONING: Running works all muscle groups and tends to take away stiffness. The aim is to break a sweat.

ACTIVITY: Short Calisthenics. Ten repetitions. Exercises include jumping jacks, toe touches or windmills, burpees, fingertip push-ups, sit-ups, leg raises, chain breakers, bridges, hurdler’s exercise, groin exercise. Also do a pin drill, such as cradles, arm bars, etc.

NOTE: A spin drill may occur simultaneously.

REASONING: Calisthenics strengthen all muscle groups. Later in the season, we often skip all calisthenics to get in more wrestling and to break up the daily routine.

NOTE: If wrestlers don’t know what’s coming next they are attentive and cooperative.

Hurdler’s exercise, bridging, and groin exercises are aimed at avoiding injury to the neck, groin, and knee areas. This is also a time to talk about the week’s schedule, ranking, and other areas of interest.


Below are most of the moves used in this part of practice. We start out passive for short periods of time and progress to 1-minute periods of full-speed wrestling.

ACTIVITY: Set-Ups and Takedowns. These require quickness and aggressiveness, both of which are difficult to teach but come with confidence and experience.

NOTE: Half of all practices is spent on set-ups and takedowns.

REASONING: If we can take someone down, we can beat him. If we can ride the opponent, we can dominate him. From the bottom, we want to work our opponent with the least amount of energy expended.

1. Set-ups: Drop step. Draw step. Circle and come back. Hand fighting. Single arm ties. Arm drags, cross arm, near arm. Russian ties.

REASONING: Set-ups are more important than takedowns themselves. If you don’t know where to start on a takedown, you don’t know a takedown.

2. Takedowns: Single leg/double leg. Fireman’s carry/head lock. Shrugs/duck-unders. Muscle moves—bear hugs, wranglers, and lateral drop; head locks and arm-under series.

REASONING: The first three are low-risk takedowns, but highly effective. By low risk, we mean a takedown where your chances of success are high and your opponent’s chances are poor.

Muscle moves are high-risk moves, but effective. We use them when we are behind by up to 5 points, or against a weaker opponent.


REASONING: Be able to ride when you have to. If you can’t ride an opponent, let him go. A pin hold is the best way to

The Practice Room: Where Wrestlers Are Made 137 ride anyone. A cradle is almost like legal locking of the hands. Never ride anyone just to hang on—it’s too much work.

1. First move on tap: Deep waist, far ankle. Deep waist, near ankle. Blast (which is far tricep, near leg, and drive over). Crunch (which is arm-over hook, deep waist, knee in crotch). Cross-face, far ankle. Iowa ride.

REASONING: Sometimes we start with group-one rides on wrestler in referee’s position and move from there to show the rider that they work.

2. Ride loose and counter: Hook (which is deep waist and underhooking an arm).

REASONING: Some wrestlers react well to any situation, and for them it’s better to keep their heads up, hips in, and to ride loose.

To hold on to the opponent, we use the under-hook on the arm and the deep waist, alternating the under-hooked arm and deep waist as the bottom man turns. The bottom man does most of the work.

3. Leg riding: Cross-body ride. Jacob’s ride. Figure 4. Grapevine.

REASONING: We work with some wrestlers individually on leg riding after it has been introduced to all wrestlers. We feel the best leg riders are those who can also ride using most methods other than leg riding.

ACTIVITY: Reversals and Bottom Moves.

1. Ride counters and bottom moves: Peeling hands. Maintaining balance. Staying on all fours.

REASONING: Be able to counter every ride your opponent uses.

NOTE: We work as much on ride counters as we do on reversals.

Make a move; wait for the counter; work on the counter; and move when the opening is there for the escape or the reversal. Never try a reversal until you have broken your opponent’s ride.

2. Reversals: Stand-up (inside-outside leg). Sit-in (rather than sit-out). Switch (inside and outside).

REASONING: These are used as first moves and the start of other chain moves.


ACTIVITY: Conditioning Exercises. Wall jumps. Chopping in place, hit the mat on all fours, stand up on whistle. Quick calisthenics for five to 10 minutes. “Big four” on Universal Weight Machine—incline sit-ups, stomach flexor, pull-ups, dips.

REASONING: This is the toughest part of practice. Everyone feels good when it’s over. It builds confidence and strength.


1. Tag-team wrestling: 2-on-1 or 2-on-2.

2. Reaction drill: Two wrestlers lie side-by-side. On the whistle, they react fast to try to get top position.

3. Cage ball: Divide the team in half and roll out the cage ball. The wrestlers fight to force the ball to the opponent’s end of the mat.

4. Fighting the pin: Put a larger opponent on top of a wrestler, with a pin hold on him. The wrestlers go until the bottom man gets off his back.

NOTE: In this drill, the top man is usually one weight class heavier than the bottom man.

5. Fighting cross-face: On the whistle, grab your opponent’s legs. Staying off your belly, fight the cross-face. Basically, just hang on to the leg until the whistle blows again.

6. Work-up: Start with one wrestler flat on his belly, another on top of him. Blow the whistle. The bottom man works to his knees, then to his feet, and stops.

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