There are multiple goals to creating a successful wrestling training session, including planning for a workout that is effective while remaining time efficient, motivating, and safe (5). Few sports have both the level of risk coupled with the need for explosive power over a short bout length than wrestling (4,5). The unique nature of grappling sports includes the need to score points with direct resistance from a live moving body. Athletes are forced to move in an explosive manner and without regard for an opponent. Sport-specific resistance training is vital to success in grappling sports (4). Finding the correct match of appropriate strength and conditioning activities that parallel the motor demands of the sport while also maintaining the health of grappler is a challenging task (5).
The purpose of this article is to introduce the use of resistance bands and other training equipment to improve explosive power in key positions for scoring in wrestling. These include the use of a tethered resistance system to improve the initial explosive movement of the takedown from a standing position (Figure 1a and 1b). Further, this article includes the use of resistance bands as a means to improve explosive power from the partier (bottom) position and help folkstyle wrestlers score quickly from the bottom and avoid giving up points to wrestlers who have mastered the top position. The drills found in this article are flexible enough to meet the needs of young grapplers, lighter weight classes, or heavier weights.
Resistance bands have been used in therapy rooms and by power lifters as a means to train muscles at their strongest points for several decades. Further, adding resistance using bands is believed to be beneficial in the development of explosive power during basic lifts, such as the squat (1,7). This article proposes that these same benefits can be achieved in a more dynamic drill setting and with far more specific skill development. The use of sport-specific training techniques is not new, and leading sources advocate for use of sport-specific task constraints to increase performance (6).
STANDING POSITION DRILLS
Drills that allow for the integration of the desired muscle groups are ideal for developing sport-specific skill. For example, the use of tethered sleds to help sprinters increase stride length is a useful training drill (6). The same can be true in other sports where the ability to accelerate and cover more ground in less time is desired. A wrestling takedown is a very specific skill that requires the development of balance, speed, and explosive power from the standing position.
To assist wrestlers in the development of their initial step toward a takedown, Figure 1 shows a setup to create resistance for a blast double-leg takedown. The sled is tethered to the wrestler using a band of appropriate resistance. The band has to provide enough resistance to force the athlete to use leg and hip drive to overcome the initial band tension while moving the sled after the penetration step is complete. The sled moves after the band has been stretched to afford completion of the takedown and avoid pulling the wrestler backward during the final movements. A proper band weight allows for an initial resistance that impedes the wrestler's progress but also allows for some movement during the level change of the takedown. An ideal sled weight is one that challenges the wrestler to move at maximum speed and requires use of the large muscles of the hips and legs. A safety recommendation is to use a safety sleeve to secure the sled to the athlete in the event that the band breaks. Further, all bands should be inspected before use for tears or cracks. Any band that is damaged should be replaced to avoid potential injury from a sudden release of band tension. Although any band and sled weight will resist the initial movement in comparison with a wrestler doing a takedown without resistance, increasing the weight with the proper band tension will force the wrestler to commit a full-body effort to overcome the sled's mass. Further, it is critical to identify a band resistance that does not compromise the wrestler's ability to execute the movements using proper form. Too much band tension will impede the early footwork and potentially force the wrestler to adapt using a movement pattern that will not generalize to a competition setting. It is recommended that this drill be done on a mat and with a long enough tether so that the wrestler is not at risk falling back into the sled.
With practice using the setup found in Figure 1, the wrestler will learn to create force early in the penetration step for the takedown rather than try to pull the sled later after contact is made with the dummy. Plate weight depends on the explosive power of the athlete and also the skill level in relation to footwork. This drill is intended for experienced wrestlers who have mastered basic footwork and need to develop the initial explosive power required at the higher levels of wrestling to get into scoring position against an opponent. This is particularly true at the heavier weight classes where a slow attack results in the wrestler winding up under an opponent. Heavier wrestlers can use as much as 50 kg of band tension along with 80 kg of plate weight, whereas lighter wrestlers may require bands and plate weight of considerably less resistance. All wrestlers should begin with lighter weights as they experiment with the proper footwork and develop the confidence in the apparatus. It is highly recommended to not forgo technique and specifically focus on using resistance that allows for acceleration through the takedown (dummy) rather than allowing wrestlers to determine maximum strength for the drill.
The set up found in Figure 1 should be used with 3 to 5 repetitions and focus on taxing the short-term energy systems (6). Another example of how to use this exercise is to plan for the use of the tethered sled during different times in a practice. For example, if the desire is to facilitate a powerful explosive takedown movement in an overtime period or after multiple matches (as is the case in a tournament), then using the 3 to 5 repetitions at the end of practice or after planned periods of aerobic activities is recommended. An important consideration is the recovery time needed between repetitions regardless of when the drill is used in practice. For explosive movements, some studies suggest that at least 20 seconds are needed between repetitions in training sessions to allow for the body to recover enough to maintain power and force output (3).
Once the initial blast double movements are mastered, a coach may desire a more dynamic takedown drill over the one depicted in Figure 1. By replacing the sled with a partner, the resistance bands can be used as the wrestler moves in a more dynamic manner. The specific goal of the person holding the band is to follow and resist any initial takedown movements (Figure 2a and 2b). This more dynamic set up also allows for some training of aerobic systems while controlling for the amount of resistance as the athlete tires. The use of a partner over the sled also allows the wrestler to vary the technique and recover more quickly, including the use of multiple attacks and those that do not require the forward knee to touch the mat. Specifically, any initial takedown movements, fakes, or attack combinations can be practiced using the Figure 2 setup and partner rather than the takedown dummy. The partner can also move more dynamically during the drill and create a more authentic takedown context. Further, initial footwork into various takedowns from grips, such as under hooks or wrist grabs, is possible using a partner to resist rather than the tethered sled. The band tension should be lighter than the earlier tethered drill to ensure safe separation between the wrestler and his partner holding the resistance band. In this drill, time can be used (rather than repetitions) such as a 60-second overtime period to train situational wrestling.
Another recommended variation for conditioning purposes is to use resistance bands while “shadow wrestling” (without an opponent to takedown) (Figure 2). This can be done in a linear fashion or in different directions while the band is placed in different places on the wrestler to simulate the desired resistance. For example, the band can be placed higher (shoulders and back of neck while facing a partner) to allow the wrestler to resist being pulled down and off balance. This will further develop the postural muscles to resist being bent over in a position that is susceptible to bigger throws in freestyle or Greco-Roman wrestling. Again, care has to be taken to identify the appropriate band tension to train the athlete while allowing for good posture. If the athlete cannot maintain posture without losing balance, the band tension is too heavy and a lighter band should be used until strength and endurance are developed. The goals for drills can be more aerobic in nature to help develop technique related to footwork and posture over the course of a match or more anaerobic to create explosive movements during specific tactical situations on the mat.
BOTTOM POSITION DRILLS
Escapes from the bottom require power, and for some heavy weights, it is very difficult to simulate enough resistance to challenge the wrestler during practice. The drill found in Figure 3a and 3b demonstrates a means to allow multiple partners to challenge a wrestler attempting to escape from the bottom position in folk style wrestling. The ability to move a wrestler's mass as quickly as possible is vital to a successful stand up and score from the bottom position in wrestling (5). Figure 3 shows two 2 wrestlers holding the ends of the same resistance band that is connected (using a vinyl lifting belt) to a wrestler who then executes a stand up on command. The effectiveness of the drill is based on how well the coach matches the band tension to the athlete. Lighter wrestlers can start with bands that provide 20 or 30 kg of resistance, whereas heaver college wrestlers should be able to stand up with a band that exceeds 100 kg. In this drill, bands can be combined and the number of partners increased (to as many as 4) to ensure that each wrestler is challenged during the stand up. Some teaching points are to make sure that the wrestler's hips come under the shoulders and over the feet in a solid stand up position. The wrestler in Figure 3 is demonstrating ideal position and hand placement to break an opponent's grip to avoid being returned to the mat in a match. Once the initial movement is mastered, the partners holding the bands can pull in different directions to force the wrestler to maintain balance during the stand up.
The use of resistance bands to constrain the bottom wrestler can be modified as seen in Figure 4. In this drill, the partners use 2 different bands to simulate forward pressure and create some resistance to the hips. The green front band found in Figure 4 is stiffer than the purple band held by the back wrestler. This allows for the partners to provide resistance that is similar to a live wrestling match. The heavier band in the front forces the bottom wrestler to fight pressure that is pulling weight to his hands. Most breakdowns and fundamentals associated with the top position are to keep the bottom person's weight on his hands, and for this reason, the emphasis is for the front partner to pull (with the heavier band) and resist the wrestler from getting to his feet. The back band is used to force the bottom wrestler to “pay attention” to his hips. By pulling to one side or the other, the back partner can help the band holder in the front keep the pressure on the wrestler's hands. Again, care has to be taken to match band tension to the strength and skill of the wrestler. Too heavy a band will make it impossible for the bottom wrestler to get up to his feet. The use of too heavy a band in the rear provides an unrealistic task constraint because a top wrestler will not be able to pull his opponent in 2 directions with equal leverage.
The above drills take into account the biomechanical and energy demands of wrestling related to short-term energy and aerobic conditioning. Further, a coach can manipulate the drills to take into account the 3-minute periods with intermittent bursts of energy required for successful wrestling (5). Other factors such as the order of drills or length of intervals can be manipulated to suit various workout goals and help wrestlers tolerate factors related to fatigue. Further, these drills can be used in a circuit format where wrestlers are working in groups of 3. Other activities, such as kettle bell swings, medicine ball activities, and core work, can be used to help simulate the conditioning demands of wrestling along with the drills found in this article (5).
BENEFITS OF USING BANDS
The use of resistance bands provides multiple benefits. First, wrestlers have to work in groups, which allows for some rest of the sport-specific muscles needed for the execution of the drill while also allowing for partners to engage physical activity while providing resistance. All wrestlers are active at the same time during these drills, which is not possible in many traditional strength training exercises. Further, the explosive nature of many techniques requires a coach to find suitable alternatives for the biggest and most explosive wrestlers to avoid injuring younger or less skilled teammates. The full effort required to take an opponent down or get off the bottom is hard to drill safely when mismatches occur as a result of size and experience. These drills are a safer alternative that can help stimulate the desired intensity without increasing the risk to partners trying to create the appropriate drill resistance. The most important benefit of using resistance bands is that many techniques in wrestling require a buildup of momentum and more specifically the ability to finish a technique or as in the case of a takedown, “blast through” your opponent. Research has supported that training with bands may have an advantage over other types of resistance training in helping athletes recruit a greater numbers of fast twitch muscle fibers, resulting in more power (1,2). These sport-specific examples require all wrestlers to pay attention to the specific techniques of the skill while benefiting from the principles associated with resistance training (6).
Without a doubt, the use of resistance and overload principles help athletes improve. Conditioning and also motor learning aspects of training can be facilitated using bands and simulating situations where explosive power and force are needed. This article offers a few suggestions for using resistance bands to help wrestlers in 2 key positions where power and force are required to execute techniques. Resistance bands offer an avenue for wrestlers to train and continue to improve without actual live wrestling. Further strength and power gains are possible using these functional activities when coaches are unable to devote time to the weight room.
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