Grappling and wrestling are a challenging sports because they require the athlete to have a high degree of proficiency in a wide variety of physical qualities: Strength, quickness, power, muscular and cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, and mental toughness are all important to grapplers. While it’s unlikely to become truly exceptional in all of these qualities, the successful grappler must be at least solid in all of them.
Many grappling athletes suffer when it comes to strength training. They tend to overtrain the endurance qualities instead. When excessive endurance training is combined with high amounts of technical training and the commonly restrictive diets seen in weight class sports it makes it very difficult to improve strength.
I’m going to go over three techniques that grapplers can use to improve their practical strength and power.
Increase your grip strength.
If you are spending any length of time rolling on the mat, chances are you have a reasonably good grip. However, do you have someone on your team that just has a crushing grip? Even if he’s not quite as skilled or as strong as some of his opponents, that grip is something to be feared. Wrestling starts with the hands, and a grappler with a powerful grip can easily control his opponent.
Grip strength involves a couple of different qualities: Grip endurance and crushing strength. Grip endurance is a measure of how long a certain grip force may be held. In grappling this is important, as many holds will require static strength of grip to enforce.
Crushing strength is a measure of peak or near peak grip force. Quite simply, it’s a matter of how hard you can grip. Both grip endurance and crushing strength need to be trained for a truly powerful grip. The goal is to hold a more crushing grip longer.
The best ways to increase grip endurance is through mixing it into your normal training and through static holds. First of all, if you use straps while lifting weights then wean yourself off of them. Increase your grip strength to the point where your grip isn’t holding you back.
Start using grip tools during your regular training. Swap out normal barbells and dumbbells for fat bar handles. Instead of doing your chin-ups on a bar hang some climbing ropes or use towels instead. It will make these exercises much harder at first, but your grip will soon get much stronger.
To improve your crushing strength you can use handheld grippers, Captains of Crush are some of the best on the market, or utilize very brief but very heavy static holds. Load up a bar with weight in the squat rack, grab a set of heavy dumbbells or farmer’s walk implements, or pinch grip a couple of plates. Then hold these implements for 5-10 seconds. The goal is to not be able to hold the weight for more than 10 seconds. If you can, then it’s time to go heavier.
Reduce your off-season conditioning.
All too frequently grapplers feel the need to be in top condition year round. While this is a noble pursuit, it’s very difficult to maintain peak condition all of the time, and being in that condition requires a lot of energy. This is energy that the body could spend making you bigger and stronger if it were available.
If you’re in any sort of condition then it will only take about 4-6 weeks of training to bring you to “game shape”. Most grapplers participate in off-season practice and they will maintain a good base of condition from that alone. The extra effort spent on conditioning in the off-season is only limiting their strength gains.
The off-season is for recovering, growing, and improving. Grapplers should use it to rebuild from intense training, hone technical skills, relax their diet, recover their minds, and use the weight room to get strong as heck.
Use explosive, heavy, and brief sets for your primary lifts.
When asked what kind of a weight-training program they follow, many wrestlers start discussing a bodybuilding program involving moderate weights, high repetitions, and high numbers of sets. These programs are designed to put on muscle mass. Unfortunately, that’s not usually the primary goal for athletes.
The goal of a strength-training program for grapplers is primarily to increase the functional strength of the athlete. In addition to building muscle mass it is important for the athlete to refine their nervous system, resulting in better muscle recruitment. This improved muscle recruitment will allow the athlete to generate more strength and power from the muscle they already have. This is why some light grapplers can be just as strong as bigger grapplers. They have less muscle mass, but are much more efficient in using it.
To train the nervous system, the weights used on the primary lifts (such as the bench press, squat, deadlift, and barbell row) should be heavy, and in sets of 1-5. When an athlete increases their strength in this rep range they will become stronger overall. With a rep range in the 6-12 some strength gains will occur, but muscle growth is the primary goal.
Care should be taken when lifting with such heavy weights. These weights are not as quickly recovered from, so more rest should be taken. Also, the athlete should be well trained enough to handle the heavy loads. Beginning lifters should stick to a lighter weight load, with more reps and rest periods, to maintain their form.
By increasing a grappler’s strength they will be better able to exert their will over their opponent. Proper technique, drilling, and speed are tremendously important in a grappling sport, but a strong wrestler is always one to be concerned about. A strong, fast, and sharp wrestler is a champion.