Monday, May 27, 2013


Assistant Strength Coach University of Michigan
Originally posted on on December 8, 1999

When I took over the University of Michigan Wrestling strength program I was shocked. I have been involved with sports ranging from football to gymnastics and I thought I had seen some of the toughest athletes the sporting world had to offer.

The intensity and dedication to the sport of college wrestling is another level. The practices these guys go through would crush the most hard core athletes. Not only is wrestling a grueling sport physically, it is one of the most mentally challenging sports I have ever been involved with.

The challenge I had was to try to come up with a strength program that would produce physical gains, as well as challenge the athletes psychologically. The thing that made it difficult is that wrestlers are some of the most overtrained athletes in the world. Constantly monitoring their weight, competing and training at a breakneck pace, and performing well in the classroom were all factors I had to take into consideration.

Lifting sessions were to take place at 6:30 AM after about 45 minutes of hard conditioning. As if it wasn't hard enough to get college kids motivated to train hard at 6:30 in the morning they were crushed from an intense running session!

I don't know how many of you reading this have been blessed with the opportunity to train a collegiate wrestler, but you will not find an athlete who is more in tune with their body. Most of these kids know what they have to do to be in peak physical condition. I decided to give them the opportunity to make some choices on their own instead of force feeding them exercises. Here is a typical day in the weight room with Michigan Wrestling:

Manual Neck - we always train our neck. If you have ever seen a wrestling match you know why this is a main point of emphasis.

Any Shrug - whether they choose dumbbells, barbells or machine shrugs, I don't care. Just train HARD.

Any Shoulder - pick any shoulder exercise you want. You MUST get 20 reps. I try to get them to pick a weight that they can get for 10 hard reps and try to get 20 unassisted reps. It may take 2 or 3 attempts to get to 20.

Chin ups - a set of 20 rep chin ups. Now if you have ever told an athlete to do a high rep set of an exercise the first thing that breaks down is form. NOT AT MICHIGAN! Every rep starts form a dead hang, no swinging of the legs, you must pause at the top for a full second in order for the rep to count. The athlete does as many perfect reps as possible, and continues until he gets 20 unassisted reps.

Hammer Flat Bench - Using a double progression you must get at least 8 reps. Once we get to 10 reps the weight goes up. One set, a few forced reps until momentary muscular failure is achieved.

Rope Climb - 4 sets. We have the benefit of having 2, 15 foot ropes hanging from the ceiling in our wrestling room. Climb until you touch the ceiling, that's 1. Some of our kids can climb using no feet, while our heavier guys need an extra pair of feet to get to the top. But they all GET IT DONE!

Hammer Incline - one set must get at least 8 reps. Once they get 10 weight gets jacked up.

Straight Bar Curls - by this time their grip is pretty fried. Wrestling comes down to grip.

Rope-a-Dope - we use a 40 foot tug of war rope. Standing in a good athletic position you must pull your partner the length of the rope, TWICE. If their grip wasn't fried before....I think I smell smoke. This is a great exercise for core strength.

Ground Base Push/Pull - again concentrating on core strength. We usually vary the reps but during the season we use higher reps with heavy weight to make the workout a little more metabolically challenging.

Dips - 20 rep set. Concentrate on perfect form, one second pause on the top and bottom of the movement. Do it the hard way!

Any Bicep - 20 reps, last upper body exercise.....finish strong!

We have now concluded the upper body portion of our program. Our leg routine is very brief and intense.

Hammer Leg Press - 30 reps. We don't do many forced reps, but concentrate on perfect form.

Wall Sit - I like this exercise because it is hell on the psyche. Upper thigh parallel to the floor, feet shoulder width apart. I like to get a little bit of inner thigh involved by having them touch their knees together. The key to wall sit is to get them IMMEDIATELY on the wall from the leg press.

Blocks - I have a nice collection of about a dozen pieces of 2 by 4s. They are cut into about 6 inch long blocks. I have the kids get on all fours similar to a bear crawl position. With their hands on the blocks they must push the blocks the length of the hallway. Down the hall and back is one, they must do 6.

Calves - we usually just do these on the Hammer leg press. 20 reps to finish off a nicely roasted pair of legs.

This workout takes about 30-40 minutes. Each athlete pairs up and one partner goes through the entire workout before his partner.

I could not ask for a better group of athletes to work with. Our kids are dedicated and highly motivated which makes my job easy.


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