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Developing Core Strength and Explosive Power For Wrestlers
Improving a wrestler’s core strength will have a direct impact on performance. This muscle group provides the foundation for maintaining strength during explosive maneuvers, postural balance, and agility, not to mention its important role in injury prevention. Unfortunately, most trainers miss the importance of this muscle group and even have a distorted understanding of what it actually consists of. It’s impossible to train it if you don’t know what it is. For the purposes of this article, the ‘core’ muscle group includes the abdominal wall, obliques, lumbar erectors (musculature of the lower back), hips and glutes. While the hips and glutes are often considered part of the lower body, you get the best results when you train them with your abs and lower back.
On the mat, a wrestler uses his core strength for many maneuvers and can expect improved performance when strength gains are made here. Lifting your opponent while taking off or returning the mat relies heavily on a strong, explosive core. Extremely strong lumbar erectors and glutes are what you need to successfully fight your way out of the pin when it gets stuck at the bottom. Improving your core strength will also help you explode out of the bottom position for a faster climb or transition to a flip. When pushing and pulling to control your opponent during hand-to-hand combat, a strong, tight core is important to setting up your next move for dominance. The fact is that improving your core strength will improve almost every aspect of your game on the wrestling mat.
During the season, the best wrestlers train constantly to improve their condition and perfect their technique. With such a busy competition and training schedule, there is very little room for anything other than wrestling practice; when can you put extra effort into core strength? The answer is all the time! During wrestling season, focus on maintaining the strength you have and only make small efforts to improve so you don’t take away from your main skill training. Consider adding a few exercises at the end of your workout 2-3 days a week to maintain strength, tone and fitness. During the off-season, focus extra effort on training your core for further development. This is best accomplished in a supplement lifting program, but can still be done after offseason wrestling workouts. To ensure definite improvement, keep track and try to increase your strength with exercises performed specifically to build a stronger core.
With limited time, it’s important to get the most out of your workouts. Time and effort spent on exercises that will not significantly strengthen you for wrestling is a waste. The fact is that not all exercises are created equal; Crunches are great for toning up your general abs, but they do nothing for functional strength. For the best transfer to the wrestling mat, train your core for strength, not tone or conditioning. To do this, always train abs with weights, rarely with just body weight. Always keep reps in the 8-12 range, never 20+, regardless of the exercise. Use heavier weights for lower rep sets and lighter weights for explosive reps, but still no more than 12-15 and always use weights or training bands for added resistance. Isometrics are also valuable in training the abs and core for wrestling. This can be done with light resistance from a partner or light weight. Abs and core training for timed reps is also an effective isometric type of conditioning.
When training your core to improve strength for wrestling, it’s important to hold your breath when performing your sets; do not exhale after completing each repetition. Breathe in between reps when you can’t hold it anymore only to hold it again for the rest of the set. For the stomach, choose exercises with straight legs, not bent. For example, leg raises are far better than sit-ups with bent knees. This is because when the knees are bent, the abdominal wall is secondary to the hip flexor; bent-knee exercises work the hip flexors more than the abs. A flat-legged sit-up is preferred. When setting up a program, it is important to choose exercises that will enable balanced development. In other words, don’t only train the abdominal wall and never the lower back or you can become unbalanced. Muscular imbalances can eventually lead to injury if they become severe or persist long enough or at the very least prevent you from ever realizing the full potential strength in your core.
During the season, choose exercises that can be done in the wrestling room and leave the weights out of season. To add resistance to core exercises while on the wrestling mat, a set of training stretch bands will be of great help. Flat leg crunches with a partner holding your legs are great, but even better against the resistance of an exercise band. Leg lifts are great, but leg throws (with your partner throwing your legs down and to the side) are even better. If your gym is equipped with a pull-up bar, hanging leg raises (in front of the abdominal wall and out to the sides of the obliques) will make your abs very strong. Training bands of varying strength also allow you to work your lower back when looped around your neck for a high-rep good morning. Anchoring the band to a stationary object will allow for resistance side bends or wood choppers for incredible rotational strength from the obliques. Heavy chains can be purchased at a hardware store to also be used as resistance to train your core. Neck chains are great for adding resistance to a good morning move or adding weight to a leg lift.
Bands and chains should also be used in the off-season to strengthen the core, however many more exercises are available in the weight room. With time off from competition and less time on the mat, the weight room is a great place to improve core strength with the right exercises. Using kettle bells is great for building explosive strength in the hips and glutes. Back lifts and good mornings with weights, bands and chains should definitely be used to strengthen the lower back and glutes. At the gym, train your abs and/or obliques twice a week and your lower back hard at least once a week (and sometimes twice). Straight leg crunches holding dumbbells and using a lat pull-down machine. for training abs with weight they are excellent. Use one side of the cable criss-cross machine to perform heavy explosive wood chippers for slant bones. Lateral curls with heavy dumbbells and offset bar back squats are also great for obliques.
Some of the best functional core strength can be developed simply by carrying heavy objects a short distance. Farmer’s walk (carrying heavy weights in both hands) and suitcase carry (carrying weights in only one hand) do wonders for building both the upper and lower back, as well as the obliques and abdominals. Carrying heavy dumbbells (or a very heavy kettle bell) in front of you (about chest level) 50-100 feet away works amazingly for creating massive core strength. For the fastest and most complete development of core musculature and strength that will translate into better performance on the wrestling mat, your weightlifting program should have a special emphasis on the posterior chain. Devote one full day to nothing but core exercises, additional hamstring and grip work.
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