Strength and Conditioning for the Hybrid Grappler

I type this on the evening of Thanksgiving, wondering if many of our wrestling cohort will be imbued in a tryptophan malaise over the next few days. So I hope this is a timely post–let’s talk strength and conditioning (SC) for the hybrid grappler and/or catch wrestler!!!

A disclaimer–studies on the specific biomechanics of wrestling are limited, and such information is completely nil for hybrid grappling and catch-as-catch-can. If and when such research becomes widely vetted and published, we’ll be able to tailor an SC program more precisely.

That said, if you’ve read our previous posts, Greco-Roman wrestling is a strong part of the foundation of our program here at HHGC (sidenote: check out our previous blog post on why we also believe upper-body takedowns should be central to your training, as well, regardless of your style).

Fortunately, we have at least some anecdotal evidence on biomechanics for Greco, which we can use as a basis for SC needs. Critically, the hips must have good range of motion, stability, and strength. Keep in mind the lower body musculature is involved in almost every aspect of grappling.

All movement while standing will originate at the hips, whether it be to maintain balance during hand fighting, sprawling to avoid a takedown, or lifting to perform a mat return. Even when the match goes to the ground, the hips are being used to escape from the bottom or to control a competitor from the top position.

Not convinced? Check out this clip that shows how the hips are powerfully used in both the pinch headlock and front headlock takedowns!

Regardless of the style of wrestling, the hands are commonly used more than in other sports and are important to consider, with a wide range of motion associated with the hands and fingers. The shoulders, since they are a common site for injury, also must be flexible.

Note, too, that the patterns of velocity and resistance range from standing still to exploding violently. Resistance can vary, depending on what move you are attempting. Resistance is greater when you are attempting to throw or suplex your opponent, lifting him or her entirely off the ground.

But are we talking about strength, power, or endurance as being the most critical? Well, a 2002 study found the average duration of amateur Greco matches was 427 seconds, with the mean periods of work and rest at 37.2 and 13.8 seconds, respectively. This tells us that the work-to-rest ratio is almost 3:1, pointing to the need to improve power endurance and fatigue rate.

However, a 2011 study aimed at differentiating the physical attributes of highly successful wrestlers vs. less successful wrestlers. The results noted as much as a 30% difference in power output measures between the elite and average wrestler.

So, while the culmination of many physical attributes is the best predictor of success, it is apparent that if you want to be a good wrestler, you need to be powerful and also have power endurance. No easy parameters to balance, for sure!!!

But where to specifically target power and power endurance movements? As noted from our evidence above, we must focus on improving strength and power in the hips, lower back, abs, upper back, and forearms. All other groups should be trained but with less emphasis.

The snatch, clean, and jerk are probably the most effective modalities to do this, too, since they elicit some of the most impressive lower body power outputs of any athletic movements. Olympic-style lifts not only carry over to high-velocity tasks like, let’s say, closing the distance in a shot or quickly sprawl to avoid a takedown attempt, but also maneuvers that require a heartier force production such as a suplex.

Training for maximal lower body power using the Olympic lifts is characterized by the use of high intensities (heavy loads) and low training volumes (limited number of sets and reps). Training intensity may vary from 85 to 100% of 1-rep maximums with volumes ranging from 1 to 5 sets of 1-3 repetitions.

Power endurance, on the other hand, is characterized as the ability to perform powerful movements repetitively over an extended time. For a grappler, this means that their footwork is just as quick, throws just as powerful, and sprawls just as effective at any point in the match.

As noted above, Olympic-style lifting typically involves high intensities and low volumes, which will boost maximal power, but do little to prepare a grappler for the repetitive bouts of explosive action demanded in a six-minute match. A power endurance protocol utilizing Olympic-style lifts is characterized by the use of lighter loads performed for higher volumes over pre-defined time intervals.

So how do you fit all this SC programming and still have time and energy to grapple??? Fortunately, Olympic-style lifts prescribed for maximal power or power endurance development are extremely economical. If training for maximal muscle power, training volumes can be as low as 2-3 sets of 1-3 repetitions which takes little time and energy to complete. When focusing on power endurance, sessions can be purposefully more fatiguing and time-consuming. However, training volumes are still likely to be lower than traditional SC prescriptions, which means you might only need to train 3-5 working sets of 5-20 repetitions and see results!

If you’ve made it this far, note that all medical disclaimers apply–talk with your physician before diving into an additional program. I’d also highly recommend consulting with a qualified trainer to learn proper technique–Olympic-style lifts are complicated movements, and if done improperly and without training, you may risk injury.

Drop us a line with your thoughts and questions–and as always, hope to see you on the mat (or weight room) soon!!!

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