Single Leg Training For Wrestlers
Wrestling is a unique sport with some very unique demands in terms of strength, mobility, and conditioning. It's highly versatile, and very abnormal in terms of how athletes move and create shapes in the sport. The more I train wrestlers, the more I realize how much wrestlers need to be very strong on a single leg if they want to be successful on the mat.
Now, I know many who will point out how athletes in general need to be strong on a single leg, but if you watch wrestling at all, you'll see what I mean. A wrestler shoots, driving off one leg and raising their opponents leg in the air. As a defense, the opposing wrestling sprawls out, does the splits, or in some cases finds themselves hopping around on one foot to avoid getting it swept out from under them.
Shots, shot defenses, and even top and bottom work depend on being strong on a single leg. The more we understand this, the more we can train wrestlers to have targeted single leg strength which transfers to the mat.
When we look at training single leg strength, the exercises we do will not vary much from other athletes. From a squatting perspective, we need to hit some Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats (RFESS; also called Bulgarian Split Squats), Front Foot Elevated Split Squats (FFESS), Reverse Lunges, Forward Lunges, and Lateral Lunges. When we look at hinging movements, we will look at Single Leg Romanian Deadlifts (SLRDL's) and Offset Romanian Deadlifts (Off-Set RDL's).
These are not different for many other sports, but wrestlers can use these to target specific strengths but loading them strategically and carefully throughout the year to build up a robust strength. To understand how to do this well, we need to consider some key positions when determining which variations to load and how to load them. Wrestlers tend to fall into two types of stances: squattier stances with significant degrees of flexion at the hip/knee/ankle, and bent over stances which have significant hip flexion and lesser degrees of knee/ankle flexion.
For wrestlers with squattier stances, loading exercises such as RFESS and FFESS with suspended implements like Dumbbells or Kettlebells can pitch the torso into a more hinged position and gain a little hamstring and posterior chain development. Many of these wrestlers utilize the squattier stance because they already have stronger quads and can adjust positions to rely on deeper knee flexion to maintain positions, so increasing posterior chain strength by pitching the torso forward allows them to fill in the gaps. For those who use bent over stances, using a barbell or kettlebells in the Front Rack or Zercher positions can help them bias more quad strength. These wrestlers generally have fairly strong posterior chains (especially spinal erectors), so biasing positions which force more vertical torsos allows them to target the legs more directly.
The same would also go for hinging motions, but for a slightly different reason. Squattier stanced wrestlers will want to utilize Dumbbell or Kettlebells for SLRDL's or Offset RDL's because they will be weaker in stabilizing in more hinged positions. They often don't need as much as load initially to build strength. Those who wrestle with more bent over stances will benefit from utilizing barbell loaded variations since they will likely have a little bit more strength or stability there anyway.
Now, we can utilize these for main lifts and for more general strength work. For accessory work or targeted strength work, varying how we load can then help us build robust strengths. When we contralaterally load a movement, which places the load in the opposite hand as the working leg, we bias internal rotation of the working leg. When we ipsilaterally load it, or place the load in the same hand as the working leg, then we bias external rotation. We want to, for the sake of building robust strength and to reduce the risk for injury, diversify the loading patterns across cycles and phases of training to build stability for both internal and external rotation at the hip.
Now, you may want to bias specific loading strategies in the following means:
For wrestlers whose knees cave inward during squatting or hinging motions, utilize ipsilateral loads more frequently at the onset of training.
For wrestlers who seem to lose balance and teeter towards the outside edge of their foot during squatting or hinging motions, utilize contralateral loads more frequently at the onset of training.
These few loading strategies will help build more robust skills and strengths.
Now, we could dive into a list of sets and reps for each of these, but this will depend on goal. Personally, we use pretty basic set and rep patterns during specific phases. At the beginning of the off-season we'll do hypertrophy based sets and reps of 3-5 sets of 6-10 reps per leg. As we transition closer to season we'll complete 4-6 sets of 3-5 reps per leg with heavier loads. As we get closer to season, the power work will also be basic, but will include more single leg plyometrics over doing single leg lifts on velocity or some form of contrast method.
Looking for some extra guidance throughout the off-season? Check out Strong Future Wrestling, a complete off-season training program filled with a community of other wrestlers pursuing excellence next season. With monthly Zoom calls, a program delivered straight to your phone, and the ability to get feedback and guidance in the gym, this off-season can be the best one yet in preparation for next season.