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Physiological Profile of Elite Chinese Female Wrestlers

Zi-Hong, He1; Lian-Shi, Feng1; Hao-Jie, Zhang2; Kui-Yuan, Xu3; Feng-Tang, Chi4; Da-Lang, Tao5; Ming-Yi, Liu2; Lucia, Alejandro6; Fleck, Steven J.7

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: September 2013 - Volume 27 - Issue 9 - p 2374–2395
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31827f543c
Original Research
Free

Zi-Hong, H, Lian-Shi, F, Hao-Jie, Z, Kui-Yuan, X, Feng-Tang, C, Da-Lang, T, Ming-Yi, L, Lucia, A, and Fleck, SJ. Physiological profile of elite Chinese female wrestlers. J Strength Cond Res 27(9): 2374–2395, 2013—The purpose of this investigation was to describe the physiological profile of elite, senior Chinese female wrestlers. Twenty-five elite wrestlers, nationally ranked in the top 3 of their weight class, participated in this study. The subjects included Olympic and world champion medalists. The physiological profile included testing of running maximal oxygen consumption (V[Combining Dot Above]O2max), 3,200-m run time, 400-m run time, 30-second Wingate anaerobic power and capacity, shoulder, elbow, knee, and trunk isokinetic torque, and 1 repetition maximums (1RMs) in specified exercises. The major results (mean ± SD) were V[Combining Dot Above]O2max: 50.58 ± 3.33 ml·kg−1·min−1; 3,200-m run: 14 minutes 1 second ± 49 seconds; 400-m run: 1 minute 11 seconds ± 4 seconds; Wingate maximal anaerobic power: 495.21 ± 79.13 W and mean power: 262.97 ± 52.39 W; 1RM deadlift: 124 ± 19 kg; 1RM deep squat: 98 ± 11 kg; 1RM prone rowing: 72 ± 8 kg; 1RM power clean: 76 ± 12 kg; and 1RM hold and squat: 109 ± 17 kg. In absolute terms in the majority of measures, the heavier weight classes had greater values than the lighter weight classes, but relative to body mass, there were few differences in measures between the weight classes. The Olympic and World Championship medalist had the best value or was at the upper end of a measure's range for the strength and power measures. The results indicate that female wrestling success is not dependent on one physiological characteristic, but that a variety of physiological profiles can result in success. These data on elite female wrestlers can be compared with other wrestlers to help determine individual weaknesses or strengths and to design training programs that result in wrestling success.

1Biology Center, China Institute of Sport Science, Beijing, China

2Elite Sports College, Wuhan Sports University, Wuhan, China

3Elite Sports College, Beijing Sports University, Beijing, China

4The Combat and Weightlifting Administration Center of Shandong Province, Jinan, China

5The Combat and Weightlifting Administration Center of Anhui Province, Hefei, China

6Department of Biomedicine, University European of Madrid, Madrid, Spain

7Department of Health, Exercise Science and Sport Management, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Kenosha, Wisconsin

Address correspondence to Feng Lian-shi, cissfls@yahoo.com.

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Introduction

Female wrestling has grown in popularity since being accepted into the Olympic Games in 2004. According to the international wrestling rules, wrestling is a dynamic, high-intensity intermittent sport that requires complex skills and tactical excellence for success. A wrestling athlete has needs to have a high anaerobic capacity as indicated by very high blood lactate values (up to 20 mmol·L−1) after a match (7). Typically, medalists at a tournament perform 5–7 matches during a single day, with each match having three 2-minute rounds with a 30-second rest between rounds. Consequently, to be successful in international competitions, wrestling athletes need a high level of physical fitness (6). Wrestling as a sport demands several specific characteristics, including maximal strength, aerobic endurance, and anaerobic capabilities to achieve success in competition. Both laboratory and field tests can be used to provide a profile of the above physiological characteristics needed for competitive success.

A review examining fitness and physiological characteristics of male wrestlers concludes that maximal oxygen consumption (V[Combining Dot Above]O2max) does not appear to differentiate between wrestlers at different levels of competition, such as Olympic, collegiate, and scholastic (6), although V[Combining Dot Above]O2max values of male wrestlers are as high as 60 ml·kg−1·min−1, with a few wrestlers having values as high as 70 ml·kg−1·min−1. The same review also indicates in general that successful male wrestlers show higher dynamic and isokinetic strength than unsuccessful wrestlers, and anaerobic power may differentiate between successful and less successful male wrestlers (6). However, in general, there are relatively few studies examining the above characteristics in wrestlers.

We are aware of only 1 study profiling the physiological characteristics of female wrestlers (10). In this study, elite female wrestlers, who had competed in at least 1 international tournament, demonstrated significantly greater maximal bench press, back squat, grip, and isometric back extension strength than those who had not competed at their countries national championships. The elite wrestlers also demonstrated greater power in a 30-second Wingate arm test.

There is a lack of data concerning physiological characteristics of female wrestlers. Additionally, there is an indication that some physiological characteristics, such as maximal strength, isokinetic torque, and anaerobic power, differentiate between successful compared with less successful male (6) and female wrestlers (10). Therefore, the major aim of the present study was to investigate the physiological profiles of elite female wrestlers and how physiological characteristics relate to success in competition. A secondary aim was to examine whether weight class of the wrestler affects their physiological profile. It was hypothesized that measures of maximal isokinetic torque, maximal strength, and anaerobic power, but not aerobic endurance and V[Combining Dot Above]O2max, would differentiate between more successful and less successful elite Chinese female wrestlers.

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Methods

Experimental Approach to the Problem

Both laboratory and field tests were used to obtain data for the physiological profile of the female wrestlers. To ensure that the athletes were elite wrestlers, athletes were recruited from wrestling squads participating in national team training camps and had to have finished in the top 3 in the 2010 China national championships. The laboratory tests were initiated 3–4 weeks after the national championships, which allowed for a recovery period and also ensured that all subjects were in peak wrestling condition. The only exception to the above time frame for laboratory testing were 2 athletes, one of whom was the gold medalist at the 2004 Olympic Games and the other was the gold medalist at the 2005 world championships, who were tested in April 2008. These 2 athletes were preparing for the 2008 Olympic Games at the time they were tested. The gold medalist at the 2004 Olympic Games was also the gold medalist at the 2006 Asian games and fifth at the 2007 world championship, a qualifying tournament for 2008 Olympic Games. The gold medalist at the 2005 world championship also finished second in the 2006 world championship and second in the 2007 world championship (51 kg). So at that time, they underwent the laboratory testing, and these athletes were in good wrestling physical condition. Laboratory testing included treadmill maximal oxygen consumption (V[Combining Dot Above]O2max), 30-second Wingate test, and isokinetic strength measurements. All laboratory tests were completed on the same day for a given athlete in a counterbalanced order, with at least 60 minutes between tests. Isokinetic tests were also performed in a counterbalanced order such that tests for a lower- or upper-body muscle group were not performed consecutively (i.e., a lower-body muscle group test was always preceded by an upper-body muscle group and vice versa).

The data for the field tests were obtained for 5 times in the year 2010 when the field tests were performed. The field tests were performed in May, July, September, November, and December at national team training camps. All wrestlers performed the field tests at all time points unless they were injured or at a competition. The best performance of each test was used for data analysis. The field tests were a 3,200-m run, 400-m run, deadlift, deep squat, prone rowing, power clean, and hold and squat. For both laboratory and field tests, hydration, diet, and sleep patterns were not controlled. The same standardized instructions were given to all athletes before all laboratory and field tests.

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Subjects

Written informed consent was obtained from each subject before the start of the study, which was consistent with the human subject policy of the American College of Sports Medicine and approved by the local institutional ethics committee (China Institute of Sport Science, China). Subjects were informed about the procedures and purposes of the study, and the possible risks and benefits associated with study participation before participating in the study. Twenty-five elite female wrestlers, as defined above, were recruited while they were training with the national team in preparation for international tournaments in 2010. They were 8, 5, 5, and 7 wrestlers in the 48-, 55-, 63-, and 72-kg weight classes, respectively. All subjects were medal winners at various national and international wrestling tournaments. Before participating in the study, all subjects were examined by the team physician for any contraindications for participation in the testing included in the study.

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Maximal Oxygen Consumption (V[Combining Dot Above]O2max)

All subjects performed a graded exercise treadmill (Erich Jaeger Treadmill E6, Hoechberg, Germany) test to determine the maximal oxygen consumption (V[Combining Dot Above]O2max) using a breath-by-breath monitoring system (Oxycon Champion, Jaeger, Germany). The equipment was calibrated as described by the manufacturer before each testing session in the morning and afternoon. After a warm-up (15 minutes of self-controlled low-intensity running), the exercise test commenced at a speed of 8 km·h−1 followed by increases of 0.8 km·h−1 until 16 km·h−1, thereafter the grade was increased in 1.0% increments each minute until the subject reached voluntary exhaustion. Heart rate values were collected continuously throughout the test using a Polar Vantage heart rate monitor (Polar, Kempele, Finland). The criteria for V[Combining Dot Above]O2max attainment were respiratory exchange ratio greater than 1.1 and change rate of V[Combining Dot Above]O2 in the past 30-second interval less than 5% or 100 ml·min−1. Fingertip blood samples for blood lactate analysis (YSI 1500; Yellow Springs Instruments; Yellow Springs, OH, USA) were obtained 4 minutes after the end of the test. The blood lactate analyzer was calibrated as described by the manufacturer before each 15 samples analyzed.

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30-Second Wingate Test

The Wingate test was performed using a cycle ergometer (Monark 894E, Monark Exercise AB, Vansbro, Sweden). The resistance used during the test was 0.080 × body mass (3). A warm-up preceded the test consisting of voluntary running on a treadmill followed by voluntary bicycle pedaling for 2–4 minutes against a light resistance. During the cycling warm-up, 2–3 short 4- to 8-second sprints were performed. After the warm-up, a 3- to 5-minute rest was allowed before beginning the Wingate test. Before the 30 seconds of maximal cycling, subjects accelerated their pedaling velocity against no resistance for 5 seconds to achieve maximal pedaling velocity. The resistance used for testing was then added and the 30-second test began. During the entire 30 seconds of the test, the wrestlers pedaled as fast. Peak anaerobic power, anaerobic capacity, and fatigue index (peak power minus minimum power divided by peak power) were calculated using software supplied by the manufacturer (Monark 894E, version 2.2). Fingertip blood samples for blood lactate analysis (YSI 1500; Yellow Springs Instruments) were taken 6, 8, and 10 minutes after the test. All samples were analyzed, and the highest blood lactate of the 3 samples was used in the statistical analyses. The lactate analyzer was calibrated as described above in the Maximal Oxygen Consumption portion of the Methods section.

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Isokinetic Strength Measurements

Isokinetic tests were performed using standard equipment (Isomed 2000; D.R. Ferstl GmbH, Hemau, Germany). The isokinetic dynamometer was calibrated as described by the manufacturer before each testing session in the morning and afternoon. Subjects were instructed to stretch the musculature to be tested before being positioned for each test. Positioning and stabilization of the subject for each test followed the recommendations of the isokinetic equipment manufacturer. Before a test of a specific joint, a standard joint-specific warm-up procedure was followed consisting of 3 submaximal repetitions and 3 maximal repetitions using the testing movement and velocities. Data collection began 2 minutes after the specific joint warm-up. Two minutes of rest was also allowed between tests performed of the same movement at different velocities.

Isokinetic torque of knee extension, and elbow flexion and extension was determined at 2 velocities (60 and 240°·s−1); shoulder flexion and extension torque was determined at 2 velocities (60 and 180°·s−1); and back flexion and extension torque was determined at 60°·s−1. Four reciprocal concentric and eccentric repetitions of each isokinetic movement at each test velocity were performed. Peak torque for both flexion and extension of each movement was determined as the greatest of the 4 repetitions performed. All the tests were performed by the same technician. Verbal encouragement was provided during the tests.

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Knee Extension/Flexion

Knee extension and flexion testing was performed in an upright seated position. Seat position was adjusted so that the axis of rotation of the knee was aligned with the axis of rotation of the dynamometer, using the lateral femoral epicondyle as an anatomical landmark. The distal border of the pad at the end of lever arm was placed 5 cm proximal of the epicondyle of the lateral malleolus and secured with a strap around the lower leg. Athletes were stabilized in the seated position by using straps around the thigh, pelvis, and chest. The range of motion of the knee joint was 90–0°. Gravity correction was performed as described by the manufacturer to reduce the effect of limb and adapter mass on torque production.

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Shoulder Extension/Flexion

Shoulder extension and flexion testing was performed in an upright seated position. Athletes were stabilized in the chair by using straps around the waist and a strap running diagonally from the hip side of the shoulder being tested to the opposite shoulder that was not being tested. The axis of rotation of the shoulder being tested was aligned with the axis of rotation of the dynamometer. For shoulder extension/flexion, range of motion was set as 55–150°. Gravity correction was performed as described by the manufacturer to reduce the effect of limb and adapter mass on torque production.

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Elbow Extension/Flexion

Elbow flexion and extension testing was performed in an upright seated position. Seat position was adjusted to ensure the axis of rotation of the elbow being tested was aligned with the axis of rotation of the dynamometer. Athletes were stabilized in the chair by using straps around the shoulder, chest, and waist. The range of motion of the elbow joint was 40–150°. Gravity correction was performed as described by the manufacturer to reduce the effect of limb and adapter mass on torque production.

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Back Extension/Flexion

Back extension and flexion testing was performed in an upright seated position. Athletes were stabilized in the chair by using a padded chest plate and pads that held the lower legs against the chair. Range of motion was set from −30° flexion to +30° extension.

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Field Tests

The 3,200 m-run and 400-m sprint were used as field tests to evaluate the aerobic and anaerobic capacity of the subjects, respectively. These tests were performed on a standard 400-m track on separate days. After a standardized 30-minute warm-up period (low-intensity running, several acceleration runs, and stretching exercises), the subjects undertook the 400-m or 3,200-m running tests. Five minutes after the warm-up, subjects were instructed to begin from a stationary start position, with their preferred foot forward on a line marked on the track and started the test on the command “Runners take your mark, get set, go.” The total time to complete the run was recorded by stopwatch. The time used for statistical analyses for these tests was the best of the 5 tests performed during the year 2010.

On a different day of the week than either of the run tests, the 1 repetition maximal strength tests were performed. Before the maximal strength tests, the same 30-minute warm-up that preceded the run test was performed. The Olympic style deadlift, deep back squat, prone rowing, power clean from the floor, and hold and squat were selected to evaluate maximal muscle strength because they are commonly performed in training by Chinese female wrestlers. A brief description of each exercise is given below. All exercises were performed using an Olympic standard free weight barbell and weight plates. The 1 repetition maximum (1RM) for each of the above exercises was determined in a counterbalanced order using standardized testing protocols. Each subject was carefully instructed to perform each concentric phase of the 1RM attempts in an explosive manner. Strong verbal encouragement was provided during all 1RM testing to motivate the athletes to give a maximal effort. Because these exercises are commonly performed by the wrestlers, each athlete had an estimate of the 1RM for each exercise. The weight for the first 1RM attempt was 10 kg less than the estimated maximum weight. In the second and third 1RM attempts, resistance was increased, if needed, approximately 5 kg. For the fourth and fifth 1RM attempts, resistance was increased, if needed, approximately 2.5 kg. Generally, the maximum weight was obtained within five 1RM attempts or less. Approximately 1 minute of rest was allowed between 1RM attempts of the same exercise, and approximately 3 minutes was allowed between 1RM determinations of different exercises. The 1RM used in statistical analyses was the highest 1RM of each exercise 5 tests performed during the year 2010.

All exercises were performed using standard exercise technique. Briefly, the Olympic style deadlift starting position was the barbell resting on the floor and gripping the barbell with both hands using an overhand grip. The hands were approximately shoulder width apart and the feet approximately hip width apart. An attempt was considered successful if the athlete lifted the barbell to a full upright standing position and the back was extended.

The deep back squat starting position was standing upright with the barbell resting on the spines of scapulae; feet approximately shoulder width apart and the hands gasping the barbell wider than shoulder width apart. A repetition was considered successful if in the eccentric phase of a repetition, a knee angle of less than 45° was achieved, and the concentric phase of a repetition ended in a full upright position.

Prone rowing was performed lying prone on an elevated bench with both hands grasping a barbell using an overhand grip and the arms fully extended grasping a barbell with the hands shoulder width apart. A repetition was considered successful if during the concentric phase of a repetition by flexing the elbow and shoulder the barbell touched the bench. The barbell was then lowered to the starting position.

The starting position of the power clean from the floor was grasping a barbell resting on the floor with an overhand grip with the hands and feet approximately shoulder width apart. Shoulders were over the barbell and the torso upright. A repetition was considered successful if the barbell was caught after the pull at shoulder height with the knees reaching no less than a 90° angle.

The hold and squat is a unique exercise. The barbell is resting on the floor. To achieve the starting position, the athlete flexes at the knees and hips and places their upper arm under the barbell so that the barbell is cradled at the elbow joints. This results in a very deep squat position. A repetition is considered successful if from the starting position in the concentric phase of a repetition the athlete extends the knees, hips, and back and achieves a full upright position.

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Statistical Analyses

All analyses were conducted with a statistical software package (SPSS version 13.0; SPSS, Chicago, IL). Data are presented as the mean ± SD. The comparisons of physiological parameters between the 4 weight categories were analyzed by a one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA). If an ANOVA showed that a significant difference was present, the least significant difference post hoc test was used to determine between which groups significant differences existed. Regression analysis was performed using Pearson's coefficient between the absolute and the relative V[Combining Dot Above]O2max and the time for 3,200 m; the Wingate absolute and relative of peak anaerobic power and mean power and the time for 400 m. The level of significance for all statistical tests was set at p < 0.05.

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Results

Results are presented in Tables 1–7. For all tables, the 4 Olympic weight classifications of 48, 55, 63, and 72 kg are used. However, at the world championships, there are 7 weight classifications of 48, 51, 55, 59, 63, 67, and 72 kg. In the case of a wrestler placing in the top 3 at a world championship, their test results were placed in the closest Olympic weight class.

Table 1

Table 1

Table 2-a

Table 2-a

Table 2-b

Table 2-b

Table 3-a

Table 3-a

Table 3-b

Table 3-b

Table 3-c

Table 3-c

Table 4-a

Table 4-a

Table 4-b

Table 4-b

Table 4-c

Table 4-c

Table 5-a

Table 5-a

Table 5-b

Table 5-b

Table 5-c

Table 5-c

Table 6

Table 6

Table 7-a

Table 7-a

Table 7-b

Table 7-b

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Aerobic Capacity

Table 1 shows the results of the 3,200 m and V[Combining Dot Above]O2max tests. The absolute V[Combining Dot Above]O2max (in milliliters per minute) of the 48-kg weight class was significantly lower than that of the 55-kg (p = 0.007), 63-kg (p = 0.000), and 72-kg (p = 0.000) weight classes and that of the 55-kg weight class was significantly lower than that of the 63-kg (p = 0.034) and 72-kg (p = 0.002) weight classes. Although V[Combining Dot Above]O2max (in milliliters per minute) of the 72-kg weight class was higher than that of the 63-kg weight class, it did not attain significance (p = 0.171). The relative V[Combining Dot Above]O2max (in milliliters per kilograms per minute) was not significantly different between the 48-kg, 55-kg, and 63-kg weight classes, but that of the 72-kg weight class was significantly lower than the other 3 categories (p = 0.002, 0.018, and 0.046, respectively). The absolute V[Combining Dot Above]O2max (in milliliters per minute) of the gold medalist of the 11th National Games of the People's Republic of China in the 63-kg weight class was the highest for the weight category and higher than that of the mean weight class value. Although the relative V[Combining Dot Above]O2max values (in milliliters per kilograms per minute) of the 48 and 55 kg gold medalists were similar to the mean value of their weight category, the absolute V[Combining Dot Above]O2max (in milliliters per minute) of 72 kg gold medalist at the 2004 Olympic Games was the lowest in their weight category. The V[Combining Dot Above]O2max (in milliliters per kilograms per minute) of the gold medalist at the 2005 world championships was lowest in her category, and the value of the 2004 Olympic Games gold medalist was also near the lowest value in her respective weight category. Maximal heart rate and maximal blood lactic acid were not significantly different among the 4 categories.

The 3,200 m times were not significantly different between the 4 weight categories. The gold medalist of the 11th National Games of the People's Republic of China at the 48 and 55 kg weight classes had the highest value for their respective weight categories, but the 63 and 72 kg gold medalist had the lowest value in their weight category. The 3,200 m time was significantly correlated with relative V[Combining Dot Above]O2max (in milliliters per kilograms per minute) (r = −0.701, p = 0.024). The gold medalists in 2009 in the 11th National Games of the People's Republic of China and the Olympic and World Championship medalists wrestlers showed no consistent pattern of having the best score in the 3,200-m run or the V[Combining Dot Above]O2max test.

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Anaerobic Power

Table 2 depicts the results of the Wingate test. Mean maximal peak power (W) increased gradually with weight class (value in 72 > 63 > 55 > 48 kg). The 48-kg weight class mean was significantly lower than that of the 55-kg (p = 0.014), 63-kg (p = 0.000), and 72-kg (p = 0.000) weight classes. The 55-kg weight class mean was significantly lower than that of the 63-kg (p = 0.027) and 72-kg (p = 0.000) weight classes. The 72-kg weight class mean was higher than that of the 63-kg weight class, but the difference did not reach significance (p = 0.068). Mean maximal peak power relative to body mass (in Watts per kilogram) was not significantly different between any of the weight classes.

Mean power (W) had a trend similar to maximal peak power (W) in that the mean increased with increasing weight class, but the only significance differences were that the 72 kg category value was significantly higher than the 48-kg (p = 0.012) and 55-kg (p = 0.010) weight classes. Mean peak power relative to body mass (in Watts per kilogram), fatigue index (%), maximal blood lactate, and 400 m time all demonstrated no significant differences between weight categories. The time for 400 m was significantly correlated with maximal peak power (in Watts per kilogram) (r = −0.804, p = 0.016). The gold medalist in 2009 in the 11th National Games of the People's Republic of China and the Olympic and World Championship medalists wrestlers showed no consistent pattern of having the best score in measures of anaerobic power or capacity, but the gold medalist of the 2004 Olympic Games had the highest 30-second mean power in her weight category.

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Isokinetic Torque

The mean shoulder absolute value for left extension at 60°·s−1 of the 48 kg category was significantly lower than that of the 55 kg (p = 0.034), 63 kg (p = 0.001), and 72 kg (p = 0.012) categories (Table 3). The right extension absolute value at 60°·s−1 of the 48 kg category was lower than that of the 63 kg (p = 0.030) and 72 kg (p = 0.003) categories. Shoulder relative torque values were not significantly different among weight categories. Although not consistently shown, the majority of the gold medalists in 2009 at the 11th National Games of the People's Republic of China shoulder torque at 60°·s−1 showed greater values than the mean of their weight category. This was especially apparent for shoulder flexion for both the absolute and the relative values.

The mean elbow absolute value for left flexion at 240°·s−1 of the 63 kg category was significantly higher than that of the 48 kg (p = 0.000), 55 kg (p = 0.004), and 72 kg (p = 0.005) categories, and for right absolute elbow flexion at 240°·s−1, the mean of the 63 kg category was significantly greater than that of the 48 kg (p = 0.004) and 72 kg (p = 0.048) weight classes. Mean left elbow absolute extension at 240°·s−1 of the 63 kg category was significantly greater than that of the 48 kg (p = 0.001) and 72 kg (p = 0.005) categories, and for right elbow absolute extension at 240°·s−1, the mean of the 48 kg category was significantly lower than that of the 55 kg (p = 0.005) and 63 kg (p = 0.046) categories.

The mean elbow relative value for left flexion at 240°·s−1 of the 72 kg category was significantly less than that of the 63 kg (p = 0.007) category. The mean elbow relative value for left extension at 240°·s−1 of the 72 kg category was significantly less than that of the 48 kg (p = 0.002), 55 kg (p = 0.002), and 63 kg (p = 0.001) categories, and for relative right extension at 240°·s−1, the mean of 55 kg category was greater than that of the 63 kg (p = 0.033) and 72 kg (p = 0.018) categories.

The mean knee absolute value for right flexion at 60°·s−1 of the 48 kg category was significantly lower than that of the 55 kg (p = 0.031), 63 kg (p = 0.001), and 72 kg (p = 0.000), and the mean of the 55 kg was lower than that of the 72 kg (p = 0.005) category. For right knee absolute extension at 60°·s−1, the mean 48 kg category was significantly less than that of the 63 kg (p = 0.000) and 72 kg (p = 0.000) categories, and the mean of the 55 kg category was significantly less than that of the 63 kg (p = 0.017) and 72 kg (0.009) categories. Mean right knee absolute extension at 240°·s−1 of the 48 kg category was significantly less than that of the 63 kg (p = 0.000) and 72 kg (p = 0.001) categories, and the mean of the 55 kg category was less than that of the 63 kg (p = 0.007) and 72 kg (p = 0.049) categories. Mean left knee absolute flexion at 240°·s−1 of the 48 kg category was less than that of the 63 kg (p = 0.004) category, and the mean right knee absolute flexion at 240°·s−1 of the 48 kg category was less than that of the 63 kg (p = 0.002) and 72 kg (p = 0.007) categories. The mean torque knee relative values were not significant different among the 4 categories.

The back flexion absolute mean of the 72 kg category was significantly greater than that of the 48 kg (p = 0.000), 55 kg (p = 0.002), and 63 kg (p = 0.035) categories, and the mean of the 48 kg category was also significantly less than that of the 55 kg (p = 0.013) and 63 kg (p = 0.001) categories. The mean absolute back extension of the 48 kg category was less than that of the 63 kg (p = 0.041) and 72 kg (p = 0.001) categories. Relative means for back extension and flexion were not significantly differences between weight categories.

The gold medalists of the 11th National Games of the People's Republic of China for some indices demonstrated the greatest isokinetic torque for their weight category, but this was not shown for all weight categories. For example, the gold medalist at 55 kg had the highest relative isokinetic shoulder torques for left and right flexion at 60 and 180°·s−1, and right extension at 60°·s−1. The 55 kg gold medalist also had the greatest torques for their weight class for elbow left and right flexion at 60°·s−1, and right elbow flexion at 240°·s−1, as well as the greatest torque for trunk extension at 60°·s−1.

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Maximal Strength Indices

The absolute mean for the deadlift of the 72 kg category was significantly greater than that of the 48 kg (p = 0.002), 55 kg (p = 0.042), and 63 kg (p = 0.028) categories, and for prone rowing, the absolute mean of the 48 kg category was significantly less than that of the 55 kg (p = 0.020), 63 kg (p = 0.007), and 72 kg (p = 0.005) categories. The relative mean for deep squat of the 48 kg category was significantly greater than that of the 63 kg (p = 0.020) and 72 kg (p = 0.007) categories, and for prone rowing, the relative mean of the 72 kg category was significantly less than that of the 48 kg (p = 0.002) and 55 kg (p = 0.005) categories.

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Discussion

The initial hypothesis that measures of maximal isokinetic torque, maximal strength, and anaerobic power, but not aerobic endurance and V[Combining Dot Above]O2max, would differentiate between more successful and less successful elite Chinese female wrestlers was in part supported. Generally, the Olympic and World Championship medalists had the best value or were at the upper end of a measure's range for the strength and power measures, whereas the same athletes did not demonstrate a test result that was consistently at the upper end of the range for measures of aerobic ability. The gold medalists at the 11th National Games of the People's Republic of China did not show a consistent pattern of having a test result that was at the upper end of the range for a measure for either tests of strength and power or aerobic ability indicates that strength and power, but not aerobic ability, differentiate between very successful female wrestlers and less successful female wrestlers, although all wrestlers were successful in that they had placed third or higher at the Chinese national championships.

The main findings of the present study were (a) V[Combining Dot Above]O2max (in milliliters per minute) increased gradually with weight categories (value in 72 > 63 > 55 > 48 kg), but the relative V[Combining Dot Above]O2max (in milliliters per kilograms per minute) value of the 72 kg category was lower than the other 3 categories. (b) Wingate maximal peak power (W) and mean power (W) increased gradually with weight categories (value in 72 > 63 > 55 > 48 kg), but the values relative to body mass were not significantly different between weight categories. (c) Most of the shoulder and elbow absolute and relative isokinetic torques were not significantly different between weight categories. (d) Most of the knee and back absolute isokinetic torques increased gradually with weight categories (value in 72 > 63 > 55 > 48 kg), but the relative body mass torques were not significantly different between weight categories. (e) Most of the absolute strength indices (1RM) in specific exercises increased gradually with weight categories, but the values relative to body mass had the opposite trend.

Aerobic capacity or V[Combining Dot Above]O2max has been considered relevant to wrestler performance. It has been reported that the relative V[Combining Dot Above]O2max of national and international male wrestlers is 53–56 ml·kg−1·min−1 (6). The elite female wrestlers in our study had relative V[Combining Dot Above]O2max values ranging from 41.70 to 55.60 ml·kg−1·min−1. When weight categories were compared, there was a general decrease in relative aerobic power (in milliliters per kilograms per minute) as weight category increased, with the heavyweights (72 kg) presenting a lower mean value compared with the other 3 weight classes. The relative V[Combining Dot Above]O2max of the gold medalist at the Chinese national championships compared with other wrestlers in their weight class varied. For example, in the 63 kg category, the gold medalist had the highest value, whereas in the 72 kg category, the gold medalist had the lowest value in their weight category. However, the relative V[Combining Dot Above]O2max of the Olympic or world champion medalists in a weight category were always at the upper end or greatest value for a weight category.

Running 3,200 m is often used to train endurance capacity of the Chinese female wrestling team, and as might be hypothesized, 3,200 m time was significantly correlated with relative V[Combining Dot Above]O2max (in milliliters per kilograms per minute). Similar to relative V[Combining Dot Above]O2max (in milliliters per kilograms per minute), 3,200-m run time tended to increase with weight category, but no significant difference was shown between categories. The 3,200-m run time of the Chinese national champions compared with their weight category varied substantially. Runtime of the lightest 2 weight categories of the Chinese national champions and Olympic or world champion medalists were at the upper end of the value for a weight category, but the values of the heaviest 2 categories of the Chinese national champions and Olympic or world champion medalists were at the lower end for a weight category. Wrestling is a sport consisting of high-intensity efforts interspersed with brief periods of mild- to moderate-intensity work or rest as an athlete attempts to maintain physical control over their opponent (5). It has been hypothesized that a higher aerobic capacity should allow athletes to maintain higher intensity activity during the match, delay the accumulation of metabolites associated with fatigue processes (e.g., H+ and Pi), and improve the recovery process between 2 consecutive matches (8). Collectively, the above indicates aerobic metabolism is important as a basic requirement for female wrestlers to achieve good performance, but our results indicate that it is may not be a major determinant of success in all weight classes, which is similar to male wrestlers (6).

International wrestling rules encourage maneuvers that require both absolute whole-body strength and power as well as an isometric strength component. To be effective, wrestling techniques should be applied with accuracy, within a good “window of opportunity,” with high strength, velocity, and power. Therefore, decisive wrestling actions might be mainly dependent on anaerobic metabolism. This is illustrated by postmatch blood lactate concentrations of freestyle and Greco-Roman male wrestlers ranging from 16 to 19 mmol·L−1 (1,7). The Wingate bicycle ergometer test was used in the present study and is commonly used to evaluate the maximum anaerobic ability of wrestlers (6). In the present study, 400 m time was also used to evaluate anaerobic metabolism of elite female wrestlers and is commonly performed in training by Chinese female wrestlers. Blood lactate after the Wingate tests indicates good anaerobic ability (9.41–10.9 mmol·L−1) but was not as high as that reported for male wrestlers after a match (1,7). In wrestling, opponents are matched by body mass and presumably power. This is supported by the Wingate absolute maximal peak power increasing in the present study as weight category increased, but peak power relative to body mass showed no significant difference between weight categories. However, it is possible for opponents at the same weight class to differ in relative power as shown by the Wingate test's range in peak power, mean peak power, and peak power relative to body mass in the present study. Power is needed by wrestlers to perform the maneuvers that lead to control of the opponent. It has been reported that anaerobic power may help to differentiate between successful and less successful male wrestlers (6) and female wrestlers (10). Significant differences in absolute anaerobic leg power and relative anaerobic power of the arms and legs also exist between elite high school wrestlers and less successful peers (2). Female wrestlers with experience at least 1 international tournament have greater arm Wingate mean and peak power than those who have not competed in an international tournament (10). The premise that increased power differentiates between wrestlers of different ability is not generally supported by the present data as the gold medalists at the Chinese national games Wingate absolute peak power, peak power relative to body mass and fatigue index, and 400 m times were not consistently at the upper end of the range for these variables. However, the Olympic and World Championship medalists' test results were always at the upper end or the best value for these measures.

Strength is the maximum ability to generate force independent of time and distance of movement (6). Maximal strength can be defined as the maximal torque that a muscle or a muscle group can generate at a specified velocity (8). In our study, the shoulder, elbow, knee, and trunk isokinetic strength were selected for testing because all wrestling techniques need the coordinated involvement of these 4 body parts, and these 4 parts are prone to injury in female wrestlers (4). In general, successful male wrestlers show higher dynamic and isokinetic strength than unsuccessful wrestlers (6). This conclusion is generally supported by the current study in that the Olympic and World Championship medalists typically had the highest absolute and relative isokinetic torque values for their respective weight category. Contradictory to this, the gold medalists at the Chinese national championships showed a great deal of variability concerning these same variables relative to their respective weight category.

The 1RM test has been used for both evaluating and prescribing strength training (8). The 5 exercises for which 1RM testing was performed are frequently used in training by the Chinese female wrestling team. Bench press is a reflection of upper-body strength of the pectoralis major, deltoid, and triceps muscle groups. Prone rowing involves the trapezius, latissimus dorsi, deltoid, and biceps muscle groups. The hold and squat and deep squat mainly reflect the strength of the lower limbs and trunk, although the deadlift involves mainly the hamstring and lower back muscle groups. Collectively, the above exercises test the maximal strength (1RM) of all the major muscle groups. The power clean requires power development by the extensor muscles of the legs and trunk, and by the deltoid and latissimus dorsi muscle groups. Thus, this exercise tests total body power, which is needed for success of many wrestling techniques. Similar to the isokinetic data, the highest 1RM value for any weight category was generally demonstrated by an Olympic or World Championship medalist. However, the gold medalist of the Chinese national games demonstrated some variability relative to their respective weight class in 1RM ability. The present data generally support previous data for 1RM bench press, 1RM back squat, and maximal grip strength being significantly greater in female wrestlers with experience in at least 1 international tournament compared with wrestlers with no international tournament experience, indicating that more experienced successful wrestlers are stronger than less successful wrestlers (10).

Individual physiological profiles can help wrestlers and coaches to individualize the training program to minimize physiological weaknesses and develop wrestling strategies to take advantage of an individual wrestler's strengths (9). For example, a wrestler with a low fatigue index may take a defensive stand at the start of the match, tire out her opponent early in the match, and make moves to score points later in the match. In contrast, if an athlete knows that she can produce relatively high-power output early in a match but may fatigue very quickly, she may choose to attack early in the match, although a wrestler with higher trunk strength might be more reliant on the gut wrench technique. Additionally, physiological profile testing allows technique-related strength training to become more effective, and the athlete receives feedback and becomes aware of his/her own physiological strengths and weaknesses (6). Collectively, the data indicate that no physiological ability determines female wrestling success individually, but that successful wrestlers demonstrate a variety of physiological profiles. However, generally, the strength and power of the Olympic and World Championship medalists were at the upper end of a measure's range while measures of aerobic ability were not. This indicates that strength and power, but not aerobic ability, differentiate between very successful female wrestlers and less successful female wrestlers.

A strength of the present study was the high caliber of all the female wrestlers included as all had placed at least as high an third place at the Chinese national championships with most of the wrestlers having competed at the international level, including Olympic and World Championship medalists. Although the overall high caliber of the athletes included in the study allows the test results to reflect those of elite athletes, it may limit the ability of a measure to differentiate between wrestlers of varying ability because of the homogeneity of the wrestlers in the study. There are limitations of the current study. Physiological measures fluctuate, so the data collected in this study may not be the best performance possible by a wrestler. However, using the best field test, performance of 5 during the year 2010 should have minimized this effect on the field test performances. The sample size is small; however, as the level of athlete increases because there are fewer and fewer athletes at increasingly higher levels, this is unavoidable. The indices included in the physiological profile are not comprehensive, and some important variables not included in the present study might reflect the characteristics needed for success of female wrestlers.

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Practical Applications

The present study provides the physiological characteristics of national and international caliber female wrestlers. The data indicate female wrestling is not dependent on 1 physiological characteristic, but that a variety of physiological profiles can result in success. However, in many of the measures related to anaerobic and strength characteristics, the very successful wrestlers (Olympic and World Championship medalists) were at the upper end of the range for a measure or showed the highest value relative to their weight category, whereas for measures of aerobic ability the very successful female wrestlers did not consistently demonstrate a test value at the upper end of the range for their weight category. This indicates that measures of strength and power, but not aerobic ability, differentiate between very successful and less successful female wrestlers. The data presented can be compared with other female wrestlers to help determine individual weakness and help design training programs that will aid wrestling success.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by grants from China Institute of Sport Science (10-06) and by grants from General Administration of Sports of China (09-23). We thanks Baoxin Feng, Wenyuan Shang, Shuiqing Hu, Piwang Zong, Weiying Zhang, and Yixiang Mi for the V[Combining Dot Above]O2max, 30-second Wingate test, and isokinetic strength measurements. There are no professional relationships with companies or manufactures, and there is no conflict of interest. The results of the present study do not constitute endorsement of the product by the authors or the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

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References

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Keywords:

freestyle wrestling; aerobic capacity; anaerobic capacity; muscle strength

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