USA Wrestling Mastering the ABCs o...

Mastering the ABCs of Wrestling

By Matt Krumrie | Nov. 19, 2020, 7:33 a.m. (ET)

Those new to wrestling may be surprised if they watch a youth practice and kids are focusing on gymnastics-style drills such as somersaults, cart wheels, skipping, and handstands, among them.

But these types of practices and drills are nothing new to experienced coaches working to develop the ABCs of wrestling — agility, balance, and coordination.

"Introducing young wrestlers to tumbling/gymnastic drills is a great tool to get them to understand their body and how it moves by developing their balance and coordination," says Mike Favre, M.Ed., RSCC*E, CSCS*D, Director Olympic Sports Strength and Conditioning at the University of Michigan.

Laura (Conway) Lopez-Cepero, M.Ed., a volunteer assistant coach at Maine West High School in Des Plaines, Illinois, and a USA Wrestling Silver Certified Coach says mastering the ABCs of wrestling starts by understanding body awareness and body control.

"You have to teach body awareness to athletes first, then wrestling-specific body awareness, then move-specific body awareness," says Lopez-Cepero. "That's why we see so much success from wrestlers who have backgrounds in tumbling or gymnastics."

This doesn't mean a wrestler should rush out to join gymnastics if they wish to succeed in wrestling — it can certainly help and it’s encouraged if it fits one's schedule — but focusing on the basics of movement before focusing on basic to advanced wrestling moves are critical. Doing this helps develop the athlete first, wrestler second, said Mike Hagerty, a Coaching Education Director with USA Wrestling and six-time USA World Team coach in the previous USA Wrestling article The ABCs of Wrestling.

“It’s like putting a strong foundation under a house,” says Hagerty. "Too many youth and some higher-level coaches teach kids to be one-trick ponies with quick fix moves and never address the necessary skills that will assist kids to be great wrestlers and athletes in the future. Learning and developing athletic skills of strength, balance, body control also builds confidence, which is often overlooked.”

Here are some examples of why and how incorporating agility, balance, and coordination into one's wrestling training program can help them develop into a complete athlete:


Favre says agility can be defined as the ability to quickly move, change directions and positions, easily and efficiently using a combination of balance and coordination, along with speed, strength, and endurance.

"Wrestlers must have excellent body awareness and control as they regularly have to perform quick movements side to side, up and down, diagonally, while twisting, turning, spinning, jumping, starting, and stopping," says Favre. "These are all attributes associated with agility and are required to excel in wrestling."

Being able to recognize that an opponent is about to score on or, worse, pin the athlete, is only half of the battle, says Lopez-Cepero. That athlete also needs to be able to get out of that situation quickly. Whether it is shooting an arm through to get out of a pinning combination, a sit-out or switch to escape an opponent’s breakdown, or a pressure change on the hips to defend a gut wrench, all of these changes need the quickness agility offers to get back into a safer position.

Agility is also important for chain wrestling.

"As a wrestler attempts a double leg takedown they need to be able to react quickly to how their opponent counters in order to successfully complete the offensive endeavor lest they get scored on," says Lopez-Cepero. "If they get sprawled on, should the wrestler switch into a peakout or a dump? If they drop to a crotch lock, should the wrestler elevate the leg and run or try to climb up? All of these adjustments require agility to be successfully executed."


Wrestlers who have practiced developing balance strength in situations such as defending a single-leg takedown will most certainly have an advantage in defending single leg attacks.

"They will know how to maneuver and bounce and balance their way into a successful defense or even a counter-attack," says Lopez-Cepero. "This balance strength can cross over into many other positions; both offensively and defensively. The point is, though, that athletes need to be put into these balance situations in practice often enough so that it is second nature when they get put into them in competition."


Simply put, wrestlers need coordination to successfully complete offensive and defensive moves. Consider the basic double leg takedown, says Lopez-Cepero.

"There are so many steps and substeps that a wrestler has to coordinate multiple parts of their body to make it work," she says. "If they cannot coordinate the changing level in tandem with the penetration step, they’ll never get offensive technical points. If they can’t combine hip pressure, legs back, and forearm pressure, together to effectively sprawl, they’ll never be able to successfully defend a shot.”

ABCs of Safety

Wrestlers of all levels — from youth to international levels — rely on their agility, balance, and coordination to find success. These skills can also help wrestlers get out of tough situations such as these, says Lopez-Cepero:

Agility: If an athlete finds themselves getting moved into a dangerous hold or position, they need to be able to quickly get their body out of that position or at least be able to adjust to a safe position even if it is less advantageous. “Wrestling drills and matches move so quickly on different planes all at the same time, athletes need to have the agility to be able to get out of potentially dangerous situations,” says Lopez-Cepero.

Balance: There are so many situations and mid-scramble moments where the weight of a wrestler is balancing on one hand, or one leg, or on their head. These situations have the potential to end in injury quicker than a referee has time to blow the whistle to stop the action. If a wrestler has developed balance skills through activities like yoga or tumbling, wrestlers are at less of a risk of injury. They’ve already put their bodies in these balance situations and become body aware in those situations. Even something as simple as a partner drill like a single leg push-pull warm-up can wake up those balance muscles and build balance strength for the athlete. "Those skills and strength carry over to the competition arena almost immediately," says Lopez-Cepero.

Coordination: Wrestlers need to make the connection that multiple joints and muscle groups need to be able to move in a specific coordinated way to maneuver out of a dangerous situation. For example: The shoulder crushing sprawl. If a wrestler gets sprawled on with an extended arm and shoulder, they are exposed to a multitude of injury possibilities. They need to be able to coordinate motion with bodyweight adjustment with their opponent’s weight pressure in a way that gets their hold back into a position that protects their shoulder.

ABCs and Weight Training

Mastering the ABCs of wrestling also helps when young wrestlers transition from body weight exercises to weight training.

"Before one jumps into weights, they should be able to balance and control their own body weight first," says Favre. "This doesn’t mean one can’t concurrently lift weights and utilize body weight training, but for example, if one cannot squat correctly without weights, they should not be trying to squat with weights. When they are on the mat it is their body they must be able to command and control, otherwise their opponent will do it for them. Body weight training can also allow more complex training, or movement patterns, to be broken down into simpler, safer movements without the need for equipment.”

Favre continued: "That being said, the need for strength and endurance is also important. Our ability to change direction (agility) is governed by our ability to accelerate and decelerate, while maintaining a proper body position (technique) relative to the activity. Acceleration and deceleration involve the need to produce and overcome great forces. It is our strength that allows us to produce and overcome forces. A stronger athlete is often able to produce and overcome forces more quickly and with better efficiency (less fatiguing) than a weaker athlete. This is also how strength influences balance, by counteracting forces resulting from our weight being shifted too far from our center.”

Body weight exercises:  Favre recommends these body weight exercises that can develop strength along with body awareness, balance, control, and coordination: Squats, lunges, push-ups, core training (abs and low back). Incorporate different versions of these exercises – timed squats for example versus just doing sets/reps, holding oneself up in a push-up position for 30 seconds after 10 reps, and so on. “Add in specific conditioning and the athlete will be able to do this repeatedly with minimal decreases in performance,” says Favre.

Agility drills: Favre recommends agility drills that include multi-directional movement and change of direction and body position such as: Short sprints, jumping and hopping (1 and 2 feet), various foot work, and other activities. Examples of drills include ladders, small hurdles, cones, games, with additional examples available through the USA Wrestling drills, activities, and games page. These drills should be kept confined to small areas. No need for elaborate, large scale cone drills common in soccer for instance. “Wrestling requires a great deal of movement in a small area, so the drills should incorporate that as well,” says Favre.

The best wrestlers focus on developing as a complete athlete. Start by learning and mastering the ABCs of wrestling.