Energy System Development for Wrestlers (Part III)


The “father of Kinesiology”, Dr. Vladimir Zatsiorsky, states, “…the entire movement pattern, rather than the strength of single muscles or the movement of single joints must be the primary training objective.” This can be applied to conditioning as stated in the previous two articles. Coaches ought to look at the sport specific movements and postural requirements while learning how to condition the localized muscle groups to handle high levels of lactate while performing these movements and postures. Basic conditioning alone will not guarantee that the athlete will be strong enough to repeatedly execute takedown attempts. Nor will only training with strength exercises at heavy loads condition the athlete to be successful at performing the previous task. There must be a balance between both strength and conditioning that will meet the individual wrester’s needs, maintain his strengths, bring up his weaknesses, and of highest regard: improve his performance. In this series I am dabbing into the conditioning aspect of wrestling performance. Strength training suggestions will be covered in an entirely different series of articles as there is much to say about its application to the sport of wrestling.

Now before we start choosing which strength training exercises would be most beneficial for a wrestler, it is important to address the possible functional movement patterns that take place in a wrestling match.

Below is a list covering some possible athletic movement patterns and positions one may find themselves in while on the mat.

  • Neutral
    • Explosive penetration while avoiding, absorbing, deflecting, redirecting impact
    • Sprawling, takedowns, clinching, controlling, twisting, bending, working toward inside positioning
    • random movements of the musculature that braces, stabilizes, and engages the torso
    • demonstrations of agility, footwork, reaction and balance
    • regulation of breathing and pacing the match to execute strategy
  • Top
    • redirecting impact
    • controlling, repositioning, rolling
    • random movements of the musculature that braces, stabilizes and engages the torso (core)
    • hip control and spatial awareness, muscular endurance of the musculature engaging flexion, twisting, bending, extension, abduction, and adduction of the hips
    • all aspects of dynamic grip strength
    • regulation of breathing and pacing the match to execute strategy
  • Bottom
    • explosive hip extension while avoiding, absorbing, deflecting, and redirecting impact
    • controlling, repositioning, rolling
    • random movements of the musculature that braces, stabilizes and engages the torso (core)
    • hip control and spatial awareness, muscular endurance of musculature engaging flexion ,twisting, bending extension, abduction and adduction of the hips
    • all aspects of dynamic grip strength
    • regulation of breathing and pacing the match to execute strategy

The final post will be a review of exercises that apply to the functional movement patterns and positions of wrestling and how to implement them into a conditioning routine/progression.

Energy System Development For Wrestlers (Part II)

Morgan Mcintosh

As mentioned in yesterday’s post Energy System Development For Wrestlers (Part I), the functional transfer of track or machine based sprint intervals has little carryover to what an athlete would be doing on the mat. It isn’t uncommon to see a “well-conditioned” wrestler who has used track based anaerobic interval energy system development fatigue rapidly during a match. Although their cardio system is well-conditioned, the effect of lactic acid on their localized muscle groups runs their performance into the ground. If an athlete has not conditioned themselves within the sport specific movement patterns, the cardio system will feel fine, but the localized muscle groups will lock up and shut down because of their inability to handle high levels of lactate.

We’ve all heard of a fellow wrestler mention that his forearms froze while he was trying to hold his opponent down from the top position. Or how about the “explosive” athlete who secures multiple takedowns in the first period and melts in the remaining four minutes of the match? Despite feeling fine, the legs are so fatigued and unable to produce force that the wrestler is practically useless from the standing position.

This is why it is important that coaches study the muscles in use while performing the sport specific movements and postures before wasting valuable training time that could be spent doing something more effective. Too often have I heard coaches say that their wrestlers are well conditioned from all the “cross training” and poorly designed resistance training circuits they have been using during the peaking phase of their training. From swimming to running long distances, many fall prey to believing that the cardiovascular system can’t discern the difference once you’re out on the mat…as long as you’re working in the same heart rate zone, right? Not so much. Training for such long bouts would be tapping into a completely different energy system than what is required in the sport of wrestling.

In yesterday’s article, we touched on which energy systems are ramped up while wrestling: ATP/CP, glycolytic, and oxidative. In this zone, lactate begins to build up as the aerobic pathways are no longer able to process it fast enough. This zone can only be maintained for 2-5 minutes. So how would training in bouts any longer than 2-5 minutes have any carryover to what is happening on the mat? Most of the “cross training” coaches believe they are prescribing their athletes end up being a piss poor aerobic training session.

So sure, your athletes may be conditioned, but conditioned for what? The only thing you’ve accomplished is made your athletes into average swimmers or runners who just so happen to attain some technical mat skills. Now don’t misunderstand what I’m trying to say here, I’m not one of those douche bag training gurus who is trying to stir up controversy to gain attention on the web. I am in no way endorsing coaches to stop using running, swimming, etc in the off-season to improve their athlete’s general physical preparedness. I believe there is a lot to gain from these types of training from a mental toughness standpoint and I certainly would have never developed as an athlete in my early years of wrestling if it weren’t for the coaches who used various types of “cross training”. However, I do also believe coaches spend a lot of their training time using things that benefit their athletes very little. It’s time for wrestling coaches to stop using such pre-historic training methods and cut out the BS. Just because it’s tough doesn’t mean its optimal.

The hard ass coaches who brag about how their how their team is wiping the competition all over the mat because of their superior conditioning are greatly mistaken. Did they ever think that their guys are better conditioned because the other high school kids aren’t doing jack crap?! Of course they’re going to look good out there. But say we take an opposing athlete who does similar conditioning to that coach’s team on one day and works on energy system development for wrestling with a trainer on another day. Wouldn’t this athlete be more prepared to compete? Again, this series of articles is on energy system development for wrestling, not basic conditioning or cardiovascular function.

Tank Knowles (my brother)

All this has led to the next part of this series, where we will take a look at the comprehensive strength training movement patterns and learn how to apply them to the functional movement patterns for wrestling. Stay in tune!

Energy System Development For Wrestlers (Part I)


Not many have what it takes to become a successful wrestler. It is a grueling sport, the only one in which you can scholastically line up against an opponent who is allowed to beat the living pulp out of you in front of your family and friends. While out on the mat, all you have to your disposal is your skill set, conditioning, strength training, genetics and your heart.

With the numerous athletic and technical strategies required to be successful on the mat, it is key that coaches and trainers address the specific needs of their athletes according to their weaknesses and strengths during training and practice.

Because there is so much to be covered in regards to increasing a wrestler’s potential for victory, this week I will write a series briefly touching the conditioning and metabolic demands for the sport.

Typically, wrestling coaches use the majority of their athlete’s training time addressing aerobic conditioning and skill work. This is a huge mistake, because the energy system required in a wrestling match isn’t just aerobic, but anaerobic as well. At various times through out a wrestling bout, the athlete is drawing energy from multiple energy pathways; ATP-PC, glycolytic and oxidative.

During a match (granted it doesn’t end quickly because of a pin) there are short, repetitive bursts of explosive power and speed. These repetitive bursts put a taxing on both the ATP/CP and glycolytic energy pathways. Because of this, it is important that a coach addresses the issue of lactic acid accumulation. In excess, lactic acid accumulation will hinder the athlete’s ability to continue movement. In exercise science, this is referred to as exceeding their lactic acid threshold. Amongst the wrestling community, this is known as “hitting the wall”.

To ensure an increase in work capacity, it is vital that coaches don’t leave anaerobic conditioning out of their team’s training program. The higher a wrestler’s work capacity, the better is their ability to sustain these repetitive explosive efforts with short rest periods.

Sure, a higher work capacity could be attained through sprints and intervals on the track, but the functional transfer to the sport isn’t as direct as other possible training methods. To ensure a high level of readiness to compete within their athletes, coaches and trainers would benefit from studying the sport specific movements and postural requirements while learning how to develop strength within these movements and postures.


So what is the most efficient and direct method to train the energy systems mentioned above while simultaneously performing exercises specific to the sport? Stay in tune for the next part of this series!