When I first graduated from college and was starting out as a personal trainer, I got a call from my old wrestling coach asking if I'd be willing to work with my old high school's wrestling team in the weight room. I was young and ambitious, and jumped into the role immediately. Over the years, this role morphed from being the weight room guy, to eventually being an Assistant Coach and Head Women's Team coach. I'm thankful for this shift, as it taught me a lot more about the sport and gave me an outsider's "inside view" of the sport.
As I relearned and then retaught skills, I started looking more into the demands each skill presented and how to improve training for them. Especially when it came to the speed aspect of the sport and what it takes to quickly setup and execute takedowns, I started to change my view of how plyometric work could be applied to improve and individual's capacity to execute fundamental shots and skills.
When we look at strength in the context of sports, it isn't absolute strength which plays the biggest role, it's Rate of Force Development (RFD). Wrestling is no different.
It used to be common to try to coach the "false step" or Plyo-Step out of athletes. We thought it made them slower, but most coaches have learned the Plyo-Step to be an effective tool for maximizing RFD and the Stretch Shortening Cycle. And the more we analyze setups and common takedowns in wrestling, the more we see these attributes arise as well.
For those who aren't familiar with takedowns in wrestling such as single legs, double legs, and ankle picks, these things rely on wrestlers closing/creating spaces or angles in order to position themselves which allows them to score. One of the more common methods of closing/creating spaces is to circle away from the side you wish to go to. So if I want to take a shot on the left leg of my opponent, I'd want to circle away from it in order to get them to step it closer. However, once they take the step which opens up a shot, I'd need to be able to get to it quickly enough to execute the takedown. This motion, when viewed from a coach's corner, is simply a Plyo-Step in the Frontal Plane.
So how do we train for this?
The first thing we need to do is introduce series of low level plyometric progressions. Low Pogo Jumps, Single Leg Low Pogo Jumps, and lateral versions of each of these. In particular, we like to use forward or lateral moving versions of these progressions in yardage amounts. The smaller the forces absorbed and produced often means the larger the rep counts, so for newer athletes we often do them in 2-4 sets of 5-10yards. We also may do line versions (side-to-side, forward-backward) for 2-4 sets of 15-20 reps.
After we introduce the concepts of low level plyometrics, we usually incorporate higher force expressions of plyometrics on either side of the stretch shortening cycle (SSC). This is usually our snap downs, single leg snap downs, depth drops, and single leg depth drops for the eccentric component of the SSC. We compliment them on alternating days with concentric based movements such as broad jumps, box jumps, or kneeling jumps.
After we've worked on lower level plyometrics, and developed some qualities on either side of the SSC, we start to incorporate increased intensity movements such as hurdle hops, rebounding broad jumps, and general bounding variations. The big component we need to consider for why we would want to incorporate this, is how wrestlers are often loading up more than just their own body weight for these movements. They are decelerating their own body weight and the weight of their opponent as they make these movements. The greater ability they have to absorb forces and reapply them, the greater we can aid in their ability to make shots on the mat.
After we've gone through basic progressions of plyometrics, we then look at accentuating the eccentric loads of them, and then creating complex plyometric patterns. This may look like doing Accentuated Eccentricly Loaded Broad Jumps or Box Jumps. Then our complex movements start to blend some of these together, such as doing a Kneeling Jump Into a Box Jump, or a depth drop into a lateral bound. The increased change of direction derived from these movements then can be applied onto the mat as wrestlers change direction, vertical position (changing levels), and follow through on shots.
Now, if you're planning it out, then the timing of this article may make more sense. Seasons for most high school athletes starts November 1, giving about 16 weeks of time to progress into these movements prior to season starting. Here's how you could progress this over time.
July: 3-4 weeks of low level plyos, increasing from 50-100 ground contacts over the span of 4 weeks.
August: Alternate between the eccentric and concentric components of the SSC for 3-4 weeks.
September: Accentuating Eccentric Loads (AEL) movements for 3-4 weeks
October: Special Plyos and multi-directional progressions ranging from change of vertical position, lateral position, and horizontal position.
With a lot of time left before season, we can develop the specific qualities needed to maximize takedowns and scoring opportunities at the beginning of the season.