Stop Working Out and Start Training-Part 4: Strength Training

imagesThe number one mistake that I see young wrestlers make is to try to copy the latest lifting programs from the internet. The internet is the new replacement of the old muscle mags, but it’s all one and the same: Jimmy sees a jacked guy in the picture and he says he does 40 different chest exercises on Monday, 72 back exercises on Tuesday, and leg press drop sets until he pukes on Wednesday. Take a few capsules of the magic supplement he’s selling for 3 payments of $90.99, rinse, and repeat on Thursday. The problem is, that program will cripple a mortal young man and the amount of exercises, sets, and reps are going to force you to use the pink dumbbells that your mom has on her treadmill under the dry cleaning she’s got hanging on it.

The shift that you absolutely have to make is to look at the movements that we can load in the weight room, not individual muscles. We can break this down very simply as:

  1. Upper Body Push: Bench Press variations, DB Press variations, Floor Presses, Military Presses
  2. Upper Body Pull: DB Rows, BB Rows, Chin Ups, Seated Rows
  3. Squat: Back Squat, Front Squat, Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat, Single Leg Squat, Box Squat
  4. Hip Hinge: Deadlift, KB Swing, Trap Bar Deadlift, Single Leg Deadlift
  5. Carry: Farmer Carries, Suitcase Carries, Sled Push, Sled Drag, Overhead Carries

Each of these exercises listed about have literally hundreds of variations, whether it’s the angle of the bench or swapping a kettlebell in for a dumbbell or vice versa.

So let’s look at this a little closer. For an upper body push, let’s use everyone’s favorite exercise, the bench press. What muscles are working? We’re using our chest, our shoulders, our back, and our triceps primarily. That’s a whole lot of muscles, and we can load it up pretty easily to make all of those muscles work really hard. The same is true for an upper body pull, like a chin up. We’re using all of the muscles in our back, our biceps, our forearms, and our shoulders. The single joint exercises like dumbbell flyes and tricep kickbacks isolate muscles, thus don’t lend themselves to heavy loading, so the stress we can put on the body is far less than their compound (multiple joints involved) movement counterparts, making them inferior options when it come’s to getting bigger and stronger.

So if we create a strength and conditioning program that includes all of the movements listed above, then we can hit all of the muscles of the body, and get stronger faster. This is ultimately what we’re doing in the weight room in the first place: building stronger, more powerful muscles that work together so when we hit that double or snap down, the other guy feels it and can’t do anything to stop it. And if we design the program correctly, we’ll be able to come back a day or 2 later and work the entire body again. And a day or 2 later, guess what? We can come back and do it again! This means that we’re training all of the muscles in our body 3-4 times each week rather than trying to annihilate each individual muscle once each week and then being sore and beat up, which will influence our performance in our drilling and live wrestling sessions.

When I was in high school, I didn’t understand this concept and just followed the routines I saw in the muscle magazines, and it would often look something like this:


  1. Leg Press 5 sets of 12-20
  2. Leg Extensions 4-6 sets of 10-15
  3. Leg Curls 3-5 sets of 8-12
  4. Walking Lunges 3-4 sets of 12-15
  5. Romanian Deadlifts 3 sets of 10

Would my legs be tired as hell after? Absolutely. Would I be dripping in sweat and wanting to die? 100%. Would I be moving any weight though? Not really because I was so fatigued from all of the reps I was racking up with isolation movements. And to top it off, my legs were sore as hell and heavy for 6 or 7 days after, my shots would be slow in practice, and I would be stiff and unable to scramble well when we wrestled live. Not only is this counter productive, it had me set up for injury because I couldn’t move well!

So how do we avoid my mistake and organize our training? Simple. Pick one lift from each of the movement categories listed above. Do 3 sets of each, and on the first, do a light set of 5. After that, add a little weight, and do a medium-hard set of 5. On the 3rd set, add a little more weight, and really challenge yourself for a hard, last set of 5. Continue on like that with each movement and you have yourself a strength and conditioning program with a purpose, not a run of the mill, beat yourself like you stole something type of workout. See our monthly TakedownSC training plan of the month for exactly how our guys are training right now, and I’d suggest starting up with it.

This way of setting up and organizing your program flies in the face of a lot what you’ve been doing, I’m sure, but if you can’t honestly look in the mirror and say that you’ve made monumental progress doing it your way, then it can’t hurt to listen to people who have been there, and made the same mistakes, and use that wisdom to your advantage. Give it a shot and watch your lifts, strength, and power shoot through the roof and let us hear about it on Twitter and on our Facebook page!