Training A Youth Wrestler

I recently had a dad reach out to me for strength and conditioning training his 13 year old son. His son is big into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and wrestling. The kid hasn't really lifted weights and wants to put on muscle for the upcoming wrestling season. I'm not sure how competitive Tennessee wrestling is, but teams better watch out for this kid because he's putting in the WORK to be GREAT.

When looking at how to strength train for the sport of wrestling, a few things pop out to me.

One, you've got to be tough. Two, you've got to be explosive through the hips. Three, your legs need to be strong. Finally, you've got to have a bear like grip.

When it comes to putting programming together for a pre-pubescent youth wrestler, to build on the points outlined above, here are some things I keep in mind.

Building Toughness

Tough lifts are simple that challenges the mind to hang in there more than the body. Lunge holds, farmer carries, sled drags, chin up holds. These are not only great for building foundational strength in joints, but after a little bit of time in those holds, your brain wants to give up. You can't let it. When you're gassed on the mat and your opponent is trying to put you in a hold or has good top position, there is no option to give up. Ya gotta toughen up. Ya gotta push through the suck and be ready to flip the table on your opponent.

Explosive Hips

Being explosive in the hips is extremely important for any athletic endeavor, but it is devastatingly important in combat sports. In these sports it's not a ball you're swinging at, but it is another human that wants to inflict pain and suffering upon you. You can swing and miss at a baseball and you'll get another shot, but in wrestling if you go to throw your opponent and fail, then you know you're in for a world of hurt.

Building explosive hips is a function of mechanics. The entire body has to work in unison to lever through your hips -- your toes, ankles, knees fully extend; your diaphragm tightens and your mid-section locks your spine into place; your glutes and hamstrings fire to drive the hip to full extension.

In adults, teaching explosive hips is often done through olympic lifting such as the snatch, the clean, or the jerk. And these are great ways to train, but for a completely new lifter, I prefer to use a more natural method of creating hip extension -- Throwing a heavyish object over your head. Here is a video of Will doing sand bag throw. Before each throw you will see his mid-section tighten and his entire body get in to the effort of throwing the sand bag. The more proficient he gets at moving these heavy sand bags with speed, the more he'll be throwing his opponents with speed as well!

Strong Legs

In wrestling, you've got to have strong legs to create leverage at different angles to being down your opponent. When I'm looking to build strong legs in a new lifter, here is what I try to do -- hammer the basics of squat mechanics at little to no weight, create functional strength, do single leg work to better mimic sport demands.

You gotta really hammer the basics of the squat from the beginning. This not only builds strength through the full range of motion, but it also helps the brain develop the neurological pathways needed to have good movement for the rest of their life. Hammering the basics means light weight, tempo reps, and high rep counts. If a coach lets half reps slide with a new lifter, they are crappy coaches.

I like to create functional strength through sled work, hill sprints, or band resisted sprints. In a novice lifter, nothing will get their legs firing more than these types of resisted runs.

Finally, for single leg work, I really like walking lunges and deficit reverse lunges to develop glutes and hamstrings. Not only do these positions strengthen the athlete, but it is very similar positions needed when shooting in for a single leg or double leg take down. Having strength and dexterity in those positions will pay dividends for a young athlete.

Here is a video of Will hitting some sled work. As you can see, his legs are really driving to get that sled moving. It's such an overload for his system, that his brain forgets to chug his arms! These are going to be great for him!

Strong Grip

In wrestling, you've got to have a strong grip and endurance in your hands and arms. If you don't have that, it's going to be extremely difficult to win. Plain and simple.

To build grip, you can't just rely on holding on to perfectly round barbells or simply doing wrist curls. You've got to carry heavy stuff while walking, while lunging, while walking quickly. You've got to do rope holds, rope pulls, rope pull ups. You've got to work gripping devices such as stress balls or squishy kid toys. Get a small bucket of sand, shove your hand down into it, and try making 20 fists as fast as you can. You've got to work your grip at different angles of shoulder and elbow as well as different rotational angles of the arm -- you will never have perfect conditions in wrestling, so you've got to train that way as well.

I'm excited to train Will. He's a hard worker and if he keeps up the level of dedication, he is going to dominate in Sport AND in Life for a long time to come!

If you're interested in me coaching your child in wrestling or other sports, please shoot me an email at I'd be honored to help your kid earn greatness.

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