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High School Wrestling: Cardio Options for Conditioning

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Is wrestling a six minute match like running a marathon? no Is Wrestling a Six Minute Match Similar to a 5K? No, again. Sometimes wrestlers run a lot to condition themselves for wrestling, only to find themselves “gassed” before the match is even halfway over. So what is a wrestler supposed to do? I’m going to discuss some cardio options related to wrestling conditioning.

First, wrestling is primarily an anaerobic sport. Anaerobic means “without oxygen”. Wrestling relies primarily on the ATP-PC and glycolysis energy systems. The ATP-PC power system provides power for up to about ten seconds of exercise. Imagine a track and field athlete sprinting 100 meters. The Glycolytic Energy System provides energy for exercises lasting approximately ten seconds to two minutes. Imagine a wrestling match where you control your opponent for a while and then explosively shoot for a takedown. There are multiple explosive outbursts in a wrestling match. Wrestling is practically 100%anaerobic Exercise. In contrast, running a marathon is about 98% solidaerobic Exercise. So why train like a marathon runner when you’re a wrestler?

Some trainers believe that LSD (long, slow running) builds an aerobic base. It is believed that baseline aerobic training enhances the anaerobic work that follows later in the conditioning program. Other coaches dispute this notion. Some trainers believe that steady-state cardio, like jogging, can rid the body of waste products and speed recovery after intense strength training. Other coaches also dispute this idea. Trainers who don’t favor steady-state cardio usually prefer some type of HIIT (high-intensity interval training). HIIT usually involves periods of high intensity alternating with periods of lower intensity. For example, you could sprint for thirty seconds and jog for thirty seconds for a period of time.

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Some potential benefits of steady state cardio:

  • Build an aerobic base that will improve your anaerobic training later
  • Increase your working capacity (i.e. build a bigger gas tank, as Matt Wiggins would say)
  • Removal of waste products from the body after intense strength training
  • Rapid recovery after intense strength training

Some potential downsides to steady state cardio:

  • Steady state cardio trains slow-twitch muscle fibers (as a wrestler, you want more fast-twitch muscle fibers responsible for strength, power, and speed)
  • Increased cortisol production, which can cause muscle wasting
  • Overuse injuries (e.g. to the knees)
  • Can be time consuming

Some potential benefits of HIIT:

  • Tends to develop fast-twitch muscle fibers
  • Anaerobic training can develop aerobicallyand anaerobic abilities
  • Less duration/less time consuming

Some potential downsides of HIIT:

  • Can lead to CNS burnout (i.e. overtraining)
  • Can lead to excess anaerobic work if you also do strength training and do a lot of hard wrestling (which in turn leads to overtraining)

Types of cardio to consider:

  • Steady state or LSD (long, slow distance)
  • HIIT
  • Tabatas (another form of HIIT that has become very popular)
  • HOC (i.e. High Octane Cardio – combining running with bodyweight or dumbbell exercises)
  • sprints
  • hill sprints
  • Circuit training (e.g. Working Class Cardio by Matt Wiggins – no running required)

Things to note:

  • Trainer Ian King has found success with athletes where he has eliminated cardio conditioning from their workouts entirely
  • as dr Fred Hatfield was put in charge of boxer Evander Holyfield’s physical conditioning prior to his fight with Buster Douglas in 1990, he dropped all street work (distance running) from Evander’s conditioning program
  • Wrestling is primarily an anaerobic (ie without oxygen) sport
  • Steady state cardio can be good for recovery
  • Steady-state cardio can be good when you’re “out of shape.”
  • If you’re strength training and wrestling hard in practice, don’t overdo the interval training
  • Steady-state cardio can help increase your work capacity (eg, building a larger gas tank)

As you can see, cardiovascular training for wrestling is complicated. You might want to run a little longer in the off-season and switch to interval training at the start of the season. Find out about the different cardio conditioning options available to you.

Let me leave you with a reminder – a wrestling match is not like a marathon.

Thanks to Tharin Schwinefus

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