I had also taken this opportunity to join the wrestling team. Having lost 20lbs between my freshman and sophomore year, the only thing I had going for me in football (my size) was now lost, whereas the journey that got me there meant that my strength and conditioning were coming along nicely, and I felt that these would be more beneficial in a weight class based sport. Additionally, having years of what I thought was martial arts experience (Tae Kwon Do), I thought some of my skills would transfer over to the other sport.
Apparently no one had ever shown me this video
Wrestling was an immediate lesson in sport specificity and limited carryover. I was running miles and miles a day prior to wrestling. At one point, I had calculated that I ran 8 miles a day, every day, on top of weight training and martial arts, yet the first time I wrestled, I gassed hard. Wrestling was an entirely different animal, and the only way to get better at it was to wrestle more. But that is what I set out to do, and both on and off season diligently brought up my strength and conditioning.
On the topic of getting better at wrestling, my total lack of coordination shone through, as I definitely had no natural talent at wrestling. I was terrible at it. However, due to my dedication to lifting and conditioning, I was at least able to be in better shape than many others, both on my team and at meets/tournaments. It basically boiled down to a strategy of holding on for dear life until the third round, at which point the other guy was gassed while I still had energy and strength, so I could finally manhandle them into a pin. It was great when I could get this to work, but defending long enough until the third round was the challenge.
Pictured: My coach explaining to me that, if I was a better wrestler, I wouldn't have to look like this every match
One of the other valuable lessons I learned from wrestling was in time management. Practices ran for 3 hours, and started a half hour after school ended. Even though I was getting a lot of exercise from wrestling, I learned early in the season that, if I didn’t continue lifting, my strength would regress. This meant that, as soon as school ended, I would immediately change into my workout clothes and hit the school weight room to get in my lifting before 3 hours of wrestling practice. It was exhausting, and most likely counter-productive to becoming a good wrestler, but I learned that, if I wanted something bad enough, I’d make sacrifices for it. It also meant that I spent the majority of my time in school doing the homework for the next day so that, when I got home from practice, I could eat a decent meal and relax/get a good amount of sleep rather than sacrificing recovery. Time management was crucial, and it was all about becoming creative with it.
Also, the words “overtraining” never once entered my mind. How could you possibly over train? You needed to train longer and harder than the other guy if you wanted to beat him, that was just a fact, and the guys taking breaks because they didn’t want to “overtrain” were considered weak.
Additionally, wrestling taught me how to train on minimal food and some great tricks for cutting weight which paid off later in my powerlifting/strongman competitions. The idea never crossed my mind that I could let my performance suffer simply because of how I was eating. I was thankful for every meal I ate in season, but also knew not to expect it. Again, a valuable lesson in mind over matter, knowing that the body is capable of way more than we give ourselves credit for.
If I had to do it all over again I’d make some changes. I’d be a lot smarter in the weight room, and stick with some abbreviated training of squats, deads, dips, presses, chins and rows in season (low volume, high intensity, focusing on maximal strength) while letting my wrestling training take care of my conditioning work. In the off season, I’d hit the assistance work and volume harder while also ramping up my GPP. I think smarter movement selection in general would have gone a long way in making me a physically dominant wrestler, even if I did not have the skills to back it up.
Basically, something like this
IN SEASON (2-3 days a week, alternate each day)
Dumbbell row 4x10-12
Front squats 3x5
Overhead (push) press 3x5
And something more like 5/3/1 or WS4SB in the off season.
Ultimately, wrestling was a very positive experience for me. It was crucial in making me mentally tough, teaching me the value of outworking my opposition to compensate for a lack of skills, helping me continue to develop a very strong work capacity, and allowed me to get a better understanding of bodyweight manipulation.
In my next installment, I will discuss my foray into college/MMA