High School Wrestling: Weight Lifting Options

Weight lifting (i.e. resistance training) is merely one component of the conditioning that a wrestler needs to do to prepare for competition. Nonetheless, it’s an extremely important component.

Resistance training is valuable because it can increase one’s strength, power, and endurance. Resistance training not only increases muscular strength, it also works the ligaments and tendons that are connecting bones and muscles thereby reducing the chance that they become injured when participating in wrestling. In addition, resistance training increases bone density which may keep you from developing stress fractures. The famous strength and conditioning coach Dan John writes, “I’ve come to describe building muscle as ‘armor building’ for the sport athlete.

With so many weight lifting options out there, what is a wrestler to do? Perhaps you’ve seen television infomercials for P90X and have been tempted to try it. Maybe you’ve looked at bodybuilding routines in magazines like Flex, Muscle and Fitness, and Iron Man. Maybe you’ve even looked at a copy of Powerlifting USA. Some of you may have watched Olympic Weightlifting when the Olympics are televised. Seeing a man clean and a jerk a huge amount of weight is very impressive.

But, what is best for a wrestler?

First, I would like to mention a man named Tudor Bompa. Bompa states, “Strength training programs for sports must recognize that almost each sport involves different and specific muscle groups. These muscles are called ‘prime movers’ or the muscles performing the actual technical moves. Therefore, strength training exercises have to target the prime movers.” The sport of wrestling involves a lot of pulling. You pull your opponent’s legs during a takedown. You pummel and fight for position. This is why exercises designed to strengthen the muscles that help you pull are really important. Your biceps, shoulders, and back muscles are all important for pulling strength. You also need grip strength for hand fighting and securing holds. You need hip and leg strength throughout a wrestling match. Therefore, focus on exercises that strengthen those particular muscles.

You may also want to consider whether it’s off-season or in-season training. That’s where the concept of periodization comes into play.

Well, that still leaves the question of what the best resistance training plan is for a wrestler.

Let’s explore some of the options.

High Intensity Training (HIT)

High Intensity Training (HIT) was popularized in the 1970s by Arthur Jones, the founder of Nautilus. HIT usually involves doing only one set of a particular exercise as opposed to multiple sets. This one set is done in a slow and controlled manner. One performs the set until he can’t possibly do another rep. In other words, he trains until muscular failure. This is believed to build muscular strength and size. HIT workouts are usually brief and intense and done only two to three times per week. Champion bodybuilders Dorian Yates and Mike Mentzer were HIT advocates. Other HIT advocates include Matt Brzycki, Ellington Darden, Ken Leistner, and Drew Baye.

HIT workouts are ideal if you are busy and have little time to train because they are brief (i.e. 30 minutes or less). However, some believe that always working to failure with limited sets has many drawbacks. There seems to be much debate about whether ones set or multiple sets produce greater strength gains. Studies have shown one set to be just as effective as three sets. Other studies have shown this not to be true. So, you may want to do some research before doing HIT. Some athletes have experienced great success utilizing HIT workouts so it may be worth a try.

Bill Starr 5×5 Training

Bill Starr was the strength coach to the Baltimore Colts when they won the Super Bowl in 1970. He was the strength coach at several US universities. He was also a US Olympic weightlifting champion and national record holder in powerlifting and Olympic lifting.

Starr focused on what he called The Big Three – the bench press, the squat, and the power clean. You can find different versions of his workout online.

As you can see, Starr’s program used five sets of five repetitions. The workout also involved heavy, medium, and light days. Although he may be associated with football, his training will certainly work for wrestling. Starr is a legend in the field of strength and conditioning.


Powerlifting is a strength sport that involves three lifts – the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Powerlifters usually perform multiple heavy sets of low repetitions, focusing on strength and power as opposed to size. These three lifts are all good for wrestling. But, doing only those three lifts may not meet all of your needs. And, focusing only on heavy weights and low reps may not be best if done exclusively.

5/3/1 Workout

This strength building routine was developed by former powerlifter Jim Wendler. The 5, 3 and 1 refer to repetitions. The 5/3/1 workout involves basic multi-joint lifts. Wendler states, “The bench press, parallel squat, deadlift, and standing press have been the staples of any strong man’s repertoire. Those who ignore these lifts are generally the people who suck at them. If you get good at those, you’ll get good at other stuff, as they have such a huge carryover.” According to the T Nation website, along with the bench press, squat, shoulder press, and deadlift, 5/3/1 includes assistance exercises to build muscle, prevent injury, and create a balanced physique. Wendler’s favorites are strength-training staples like chin-ups, dips, lunges, and back extensions.

Power to the People/Pavel Tsatsouline

Pavel Tsatsouline has written a few books one of which is entitled Power to the People: Russian Strength Training Secrets for Every American. Paevel isn’t fond of HIT or bodybuilding.

Pavel states, “if you look at the training of the strongest people in the world, be it weightlifters, powerlifters, strongmen, whatever, there’s one universal truth. They always lift heavy, in terms of percentage of one rep max, they always keep their repetitions low, and they never, ever train to failure.” His workout promises strength without bulk.

Pavel doesn’t care how much you can bench. The amount you can bench is irrelevant to your wrestling abilities. Pavel states, “Unless you are training purely for looks, you must focus on the strength needed for your sport, job, or lifestyle. When I got the contract from the state of New Mexico to develop new strength tests for their select Special Weapons And Tactics Teams, I did not contemplate the bench press or curls, but enforced ten pull-ups, ten rock bottom one-legged squats, and ten hanging leg raises.” Pavel is about functional strength. Pavel also likes to do “ladders.” For example, you do one push up, rest a second, do two push-ups, rest briefly again, do three push-ups, and so on. You work your way up the ladder until it starts getting difficult. Then you can rest and do another ladder.

You can some of his interviews, workouts, and articles online.

Density Training

Density training involves doing more work in the same amount of time or the same amount of work in a shorter period of time. For example, you could rest less between sets or perform more reps in the same amount of time.

According to Tom Venuto, some benefits of density training include increased time efficiency of workout, increased intensity of workout, enhanced fat loss by burning more calories in same time period, enhancing post exercise calorie burn, and increased natural growth hormone release.

Density training is touted to improve strength, power, and overall conditioning. Density training could help you to increase your push-ups or pull-ups.

Some names associated with density training are Charles Staley, Ethan Reeve, Bryce Lane, and Matt Wiggins. You can easily find articles about density training online.

Controlled Fatigue Training

Controlled Fatigue Training was developed by Ori Hofmekler. CFT involves combining strength and speed together in one workout. For instance, a CFT drill might involve running or sprinting with your hands in front of your face or stretched overhead. This is not as easy as it may sound. CFT is touted to make your muscle fibers stronger, faster, and tougher.

Every wrestler wants muscle fibers capable of generating and sustaining strength for extended periods. A guy named Mike Westerdal wrote a report entitled The Warrior Physique: Building the Hybrid Super Muscle you may want to check out. He states, “By combining cardio and resistance activities it causes the composition of muscles to transform from predominately type II or type IIb into Type III. By doing this, we are able to push beyond our genetic limits, much like the ancient Spartans, Gladiators and Vikings did.”

You may want to research CFT and super hybrid muscle.

Circuits and Complexes

Circuits and complexes are very similar. You do a series of exercises, one after the other without resting. After you have completed a circuit or complex, you may take a short rest before you do another round. Circuits usually involve going from one exercise to the next with no rest. Complexes often involve barbells or dumbbells. The exercises in the complex are all done with the same weight and you don’t stop until you’ve completed the complex.

Some names associated with circuit training are Bob Gajda, Steve Maxwell, John McCallum, and Matt Wiggins.

You can find plenty of articles on circuit training online.

Steve Maxwell states this about circuit training, “This type of training is extremely demanding! Not only does it bring into play a fair amount of muscular strength and endurance but it creates tremendous systemic fatigue, which some people have termed metabolic conditioning or met-con, for short. “

A name associated with complexes is Istvan Javorek.

Here is an example of a barbell complex. This is Istvan Javorek’s Complex 1.

Barbell Upright Row x 6

Barbell High Pull Snatch x 6

Barbell Behind the Head Squat Push Press x 6

Barbell Behind the Head Good Morning x 6

Barbell Bent Over Row x 6

I wrote about High Intensity Interval Training (HIT) earlier. Well, HIT has its own twist on circuit training called 3×3 workouts. You do three exercises one after the other and repeat this sequence for three rounds. This is supposed to improve your metabolic conditioning.

Circuit training and complexes can be great for strength and cardiovascular conditioning. These kind of workouts can time saving as well. They may not be the best if your goal is mainly building brute strength.

Bodyweight Training

Bodyweight training, of course, uses the weight of your body for resistance. You have probably performed push-ups, pull-ups, chin-ups, and dips before. But, have you ever done dive bomber push-ups, Hindu push-ups, hand stand push-ups, Hindu squats, or one-legged pistol squats before?

Some people swear by bodyweight training. Others claim that barbells and dumbbells are better. Some say that resistance is resistance and it doesn’t really matter.

Some good bodyweight training books areCombat Conditioning by Matt Furey and The Naked Warrior by Pavel Tsatsouline.

If weight training isn’t your thing but you like push-ups, pull-ups and climbing ropes then I say, “Go for it.”

Body for Life

Body for Life was a book written by a man named Bill Phillips. He founded Muscle Media, a bodybuilding magazine as well as the EAS supplement company. You may have read or heard about MRPs (meal replacement products). Well, his company produced one of the most popular.

Body for Life outlines an exercise and diet program aimed mainly at people trying to lose weight or simply get in shape.

I’ve seen the Body for Life workout referred to as a half pyramid with a drop set and a superset. It’s very easy to understand. For example, if you were going to work your chest, you would choose two exercises like the bench press and dumbbell flies. You would do five sets of bench presses. You would do one set of 12, 10, 8, 6, and 12 reps for the bench press. That final set of 12 reps on the bench is the drop set. Then, you would immediately do a set of 12 reps for dumbbell flies. That is the superset.

Pyramiding weights is nothing new. Drops sets and supersets are nothing new either. People have indeed used this workout to get stronger and more muscular.

Body for Life is more of a bodybuilding routine although it doesn’t use an excessive number of sets. You work your upper body twice and your lower body once during the first week. The second week, you work your lower body twice and your upper body once. You continue to alternate each week. This keeps you from overtraining.

This is not the perfect workout for a wrestler by any means. But, it’s better than sitting on your couch doing nothing. You can find this workout online.


Bodybuilders are primarily concerned with size, proportion, and symmetry. They care mainly about how their muscles look as opposed to whether or not they are functional for a sport like wrestling. Bodybuilders attempt to build mass (hypertrophy).

A bodybuilder may use a large number of exercises, sets, and repetitions to achieve the size and look he is seeking. A bodybuilder typically stays in the 10-12 rep range. But, does bodybuilding provide any benefits for a wrestler?

Most wrestlers aren’t trying to gain muscle mass. Wrestlers generally want to get stronger without gaining much weight. A wrestler doesn’t really care how defined his quadriceps are or how big his triceps are as long as he is strong, quick, and powerful on the mat.

If you want to gain some muscle mass, then you might consider doing some German Volume Training (10 sets of 10 reps) or some other bodybuilding program for a short time. But, don’t employ bodybuilding training all year round.

Wrestlers really needn’t bother with dumbbell flies, triceps kickbacks, concentration curls, leg extensions, or other isolation exercises.

According to Professor Yuri Verkhoshansky, “In many sports, in many countries, bodybuilding is used to develop strength. This is a big mistake!” He goes on to write, “In sports where success is decided by split seconds and where victory hinges on speed of movement, power of muscular effort, and one’s endurance for intensive work, bodybuilding is not effective.”

A wrestler needs a strong, functional body. Bodybuilding can make you bigger and stronger. However, you can get strong using better methods more suited to a wrestler. And, gaining muscular weight may be of little value to you. Therefore, bodybuilding is probably not the best choice for a wrestler.

Strongman Training/Miscellaneous

Have you ever trained with a sledgehammer? Have you ever pulled around a weighted sled? Have you ever used a kettlebell, Indian clubs, Clubbells, or a Macebell? Well, it might be fun to try something new.

How Did I Train?

Unfortunately, I didn’t know a lot about weight training back in high school.

At our high school we had an old Universal Weight Machine. Sometimes I would do a circuit around the machine, hitting each station one after the other. I might do the circuit a couple of times. I always enjoyed doing push-ups. At home, I had a bench and some weights. One summer, I followed a course my dad had called Bob Hoffman’s Simplified System of Barbell Training. It simply involved doing ten exercises of one set each. The exercises were military presses, curls, rows, shrugs, and other multi-joint compound movements.

I wish I had known more about proper weight training. I was never really organized when it came to my weight training.

I grew up on a farm in the Midwest, so I also performed a lot of physical labor like carrying bales of hay and pails of corn and building fences.


You may want to keep periodization in mind when designing a lifting routine. You may want to lift for strength, power, and endurance at different times. Or, you may want to try to build all three of these at the same time. So, research linear periodization and concurrent or conjugate periodization.


Well, I hope I have given you some options to consider when designing your resistance training program. Resistance training is an important component in your wrestling conditioning. You can combine different options as well. You can lift weights and do bodyweight training as well. Just be sure to include some type of resistance training so you will be strong, quick, and powerful on the mat.

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