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The Role of Interval Training For High School Wrestlers

A few months ago, after talking a bit with Tim Kettenring about the role of conditioning, I signed on for his Coach's Conditioning Cohort with fellow coach Missy Mitchell-McBeth (you should definitely look into it). I'll admit, I used to think I knew a lot about conditioning, and how to apply it. I'm glad I took the step, because it's made things make much more sense when it comes to training one of the larger demographics of athletes I have: wrestlers.

Now, after going through a few months of this program, and starting to dive into creating specific adaptations in conditioning and how to apply it. I've discussed more on the plyometric side of training for wrestlers, but I want to shed some light on conditioning principles.

A standard wrestling circle is no smaller than 28 feet in diameter, though most High Schools will wrestle on a 30-32 foot diameter circle. A standard period is two minutes each, with 00:30-1:00 between periods. Additionally, depending on a wrestler's style or tactics, there can be frequent out of bounds which create a brief 00:05-00:15 second window in the action of a period. This factors are key when it comes to training using intervals or tempos to train for wrestling.

When we look at implementing conditioning for this, we want to understand how beneficial Heart Rate recovery can be. Essentially, we want wrestlers to be able to go from a high percentage of their Max Heart Rate (MHR) to a low percentage of their Max Heart Rate very quickly. This allow them to stay fresher longer throughout a match, and allows them to switch energy systems more quickly to hold on to precious glycogen and creatine stores for faster actions or scrambles.

This is where interval training comes in very handy.

I do want to present one thing to consider before fully adopting only this style of training for your wrestler(s), in how many wrestlers through weight-cutting endeavors will usually have a pretty high aerobic base already. They log a ton of miles on the treadmill, airbike, and stairmaster at approximate Zone 2 levels if they're actively cutting weight throughout the year. If not, doing some targetted Zone 2 work prior to starting tempos is a good idea.

If we have an aerobic base built up, tempos or intervals can be very beneficial to building a wrestler's ability to recover during matches.

The first method, which I learned a lot about from Tim and Missy, was the use of extensive tempos. Essentially, these are moderate RPE bouts of several minutes at a time followed by a short period of rest. If you have a Heart Rate monitor, you're aiming for about 80% of a MHR or close to it during the bouts, and then utilizing a rest period to let the heart rate recover to a low level. I won't discuss the specific adaptations from a cellular or systemic level, as I'm rusty on these and still learning about those myself, but I will shed a light on the skill component of this. There's a skill to dropping your heart rate, and it's deeply connected to breathing. Using these extensive tempo style of intervals can be a great method for teaching wrestlers to breath to get the heart rate under control. This is key for matches where the out of bounds is infrequent, and there's little chance of a win by fall or technical fall.

An example of heart rate response of a 5x4:00 with 1:00 rest intervals

These tempos may look like 2:00-4:00 of work at an RPE 7 (or heart rate around 80% of MHR), with 00:30-1:30, performed for multiple sets. Over time you could also do a Heart Rate based recovery, which I learned more about from Tim and Missy, allowing recovery to reach a certain low threshold before starting the next set. Though this would really be the most beneficial if the time to recovery is consistently under 1:00.

The second method I've learned more about, and has inherent value to the wrestling population is intensive tempos, or short bursts of high output movement with higher rest intervals. These short bursts are similar to scrambles, or neutral positions where shots, defenses, or takedown attempts are frequently being made. They can also be beneficial for those who utilize the out of bounds line to control match pace and tempo, taking action out of bounds to reset the match back to the middle of the mat.

An example of HR response during intensive tempos at 00:15 of work, with 00:45 rest. Repeated for 4x5 reps w/ 3:00 rest between sets

These tempos, which should be introduced a little closer to the start of season, can be utilized in a format of 00:10-00:20 of work with 00:40-00:50 seconds of rest. Multiple reps of this can be performed, with some longer rest intervals to be completed after multiple reps of an intensive tempo.

Now, we can dive more into this application in later blogs (granted, this is dependent on if I remember to write them), but from an initial viewpoint as a former wrestler and wrestling these conditioning implementations can have a high value to wrestlers as a whole. Again, if they don't have an aerobic base built up, it would be most beneficial spending a few weeks doing some form of targetted Zone 2 aerobic work to prepare the body to recover during interval bouts. But as season approaches and coaches complain about being "out of shape," using these style of tempos and conditioning methods may give some wrestlers a leg up come match days.

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