Keys to a Successful Offseason Strength and Conditioning Program

June 25, 2015, 10:23 a.m. (ET)

by Matt Krumrie

Strength and conditioning are an important part of a wrestler’s development. And that doesn’t stop once the season ends.

Consistency remains the key to a successful offseason strength and conditioning program, says José Valenzuela, president and founder of Boston Youth Wrestling. "No one builds meaningful strength after just one day of lifting weights and no one develops great endurance after just one run," he notes. Improvement takes time. To make any sort of significant progress, an athlete needs to commit to working out on a regular basis.

To do this, Valenzuela recommends youth wrestlers develop workouts that they look forward to doing. If a young athlete dreads working out, they simply won’t do it, he points out. "The best workout program is something that you’ll stick with, which is usually something you genuinely like doing," he says.

Another important point: you don't need to have access to a health club or fitness center to create an effective offseason strength and training program, says Brendan Buckley, head coach of the Cal Poly University Wrestling program. In fact, there are plenty of equipment-free exercises wrestlers can focus on, Buckley notes. These include: core work (crunches/planks), shoulders and back (pull-ups), jumps (for explosion) and agility exercises (for proper footwork).

Mike Favre, Director of Olympic Sports Strength and Conditioning at the University of Michigan, says: "Wrestlers need power, speed and endurance along with strength to be successful." They key to offseason workouts, Favre adds, is finding a good balance between strength training and endurance.

"Proper conditioning will ensure a wrestler not only has the endurance to last a match and tournament, but to handle all the training that goes on in preparation tocompete," Favre says. "Conditioning will also assist with recovery and injury prevention." 

Paul Rothenberg, head coach with the Cypress Lakes Wrestling Club in Fort Myers, Florida, says setting personal goals and trying new exercises can help challenge an athlete and break up the monotony of an offseason training routine. Some alternative ideas for exercises include:

  • Running: work towards setting a personal record in the one mile run.
  • Cross training: running hills and bleachers as well as interval training helps build endurance and stamina. 
  • Swimming: a great way to break up the monotony if running or cross training is getting dull. Water activities like playing games in a pool, lake, or ocean are also great ways to have fun while exercising.
  • Cycling: Challenge yourself with hill training or try long distance rides for endurance.

Joe Somerville, head assistant coach at Jeffersonville High School in Jeffersonville, Indiana, encourages wrestlers to compete in other sports during the offseason to help with strength and conditioning. "We don't want kids to get burned out by practicing wrestling all year," he explains. To help them stay active, he and his coaches post suggested workouts on Facebook and Twitter. 

"These are activities they can do anywhere, whether at home or on vacation with family," says Somerville. "Training in new places or outside the wrestling room or gym helps keep it fresh."

Jeff Wichern, a coach with the Eden Prairie (Minn.) Eagles Youth Wrestling Program, agrees. He says strength training doesn't necessarily mean lifting heavy weights and maxing out. Instead, he has his kids, focus on pull ups, pushups, and rope climbing. They also focus on plyometrics and circuit training, such as box jumps and speed hurdles. 

"We try to make it fun for our kids and they think they are just doing an obstacle course," says Wichern. "But really they’re working their tails off." Still, Wichern doesn’t expect his young athletes to make the same time commitment as they would during the season. "Make it short and sweet, don’t waste time and have fun.”

Offseason strength and conditioning program
Below is a sample workout from Brendan Buckley, head coach, Cal Poly University Wrestling that can be done three times per week.

Jump Rope: 3-5 sets. Start with 100 jumps in a set (30-second rest). Over the summer, build up to 200, 300 jumps in a set with a final goal of 1,000 jumps.

Push Ups: 3-5 sets of each with hands narrow, wide, on books, and claps in between.
Body Weight Squats: 3-5 sets of 25 or more. Also mix in varieties like 5-second descend and 5-second pause at the bottom each rep.
Pull Ups or Timed Hangs (for kids who cannot do pull ups): 3 sets to muscle failure
Lying Leg Raises: Hands under the butt (up to 90 degrees): 3 sets of 25
Hanging Leg Raises: 3 sets of 10
Crunches: 3 sets of 25

Knee-High Jumps (for maximum height): 5 sets of 10 (30-second rest)
Lunge Jumps: 4 sets of 10 each per leg (30-second rest)

High Knees: 4 x 25 yards (30-second rest)
Butt Kicks: 4 x 25 yards (30-second rest)
Acceleration Sprints: 5 x 50 yards (30-second rest) Start slow and in a crouch, rise up and accelerate to top speed by 30 to 40 yards.