High School Wrestling: Cardio Options for Conditioning

Is wrestling a six minute match similar to running a marathon? No. Is wrestling a six minute match similar to running a 5K? No, again. Sometimes wrestlers do a lot of running to condition themselves for wrestling only to find themselves “gassed” before the match is even half over. So, what is a wrestler to do? I will discuss some cardio options in regards to wrestling conditioning.

First, wrestling is primarily an anaerobic sport. Anaerobic means “without oxygen.” Wrestling relies mostly on the ATP-PC and Glycolytic energy systems. The ATP-PC energy system supplies energy for up to approximately ten seconds of exercise. Imagine a track athlete sprinting for 100 meters. The Glycolytic energy system supplies energy for exercise lasting from 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 several explosive bursts in a wrestling match. Wrestling is virtually 100%anaerobic exercise. In contrast, running a marathon is approximately 98%aerobic exercise. So, why train like a marathon runner if you’re a wrestler?

Some trainers believe that LSD (long, slow distance running) builds an aerobic base. Aerobic base training is believed to enhance the anaerobic work that will follow later on in the conditioning program. Other trainers dispute this notion. Some trainers believe that steady state cardio like jogging can clear the body of waste products and speed recovery after intense strength training. Other trainers dispute this notion as well. Trainers that don’t favor steady state cardio usually favor some type of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). HIIT usually involves periods of high intensity activity alternating with periods of lower intensity activity. For instance, one might alternate sprinting for thirty seconds and jogging for thirty seconds for a designated period of time.

Some Potential Benefits of Steady State Cardio:

  • Build an aerobic base which will enhance your anaerobic exercise later on
  • Increase your work capacity (i.e. build a bigger gas tank, as Matt Wiggins would say)
  • Removal of waste products from the body after intense strength training
  • Speed recovery after intense strength training

Some Potential Drawbacks of Steady State Cardio:

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

Some Potential Benefits of HIIT:

  • Tends to develop fast-twitch muscle fibers
  • Anaerobic training can develop aerobicand anaerobic capabilities
  • Shorter duration/less time consuming

Some Potential Drawbacks of HIIT:

  • May lead to CNS burnout (i.e. overtraining)
  • May lead to an excess of anaerobic work if you’re also strength training and doing a lot of hard wrestling (again leading 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 involved)

Points to Consider:

  • Trainer Ian King has had success with athletes in which he dropped cardio conditioning from their training entirely
  • When 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 roadwork (long, slow distance running) from Evander’s conditioning program
  • Wrestling is primarily an anaerobic (i.e. without oxygen) sport
  • Steady state cardio may be good for recovery
  • Steady state cardio may be good if you are “out of shape”
  • If you are strength training and wrestling hard in practice, then don’t overdo interval training
  • Steady state cardio may help increase your work capacity (i.e. build a bigger gas tank)

As you can see, cardiovascular training for wrestling is complicated. You may want to do some longer running in the off season and switch to interval training when the season begins. Educate yourself about the different cardio conditioning options available to you.

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