I first learned bodyweight exercises and calisthenics in gym class in elementary school. In gym class, we mainly did push-ups, sit-ups, and jumping jacks. I think we may have also learned to do burpees and mountain climbers. Our P.E. teacher even had us do bear crawls occasionally.
When I was a high school wrestler, we used bodyweight exercises and calisthenics as part of our warm-up and for conditioning purposes. We did push-ups, sit-ups, and jumping jacks as part of our warm-up. Occasionally we would get into a big circle and do calisthenics at the end of practice. We would go around the circle with each wrestler picking an exercise to do. In other practices, we would do a countdown. A countdown involved doing 10 reps of push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, burpees, and laps around the wrestling room. Then we would do nine reps of each exercise. Then we would do eight reps of each exercise and so on until we had finished the complete countdown.
We did many wind sprints in the wrestling room and in the adjoining gym. Occasionally we did something called hit ’ems. We would run in place until our coach yelled, “Hit it!” Then we would drop flat on our stomachs and bounce back up as quickly as possible. I remember getting to lead this exercise myself once. Sometimes I would give us a rest while running in place and other times I would do a fast succession of hit ’ems immediately after we had just returned to our feet.
Some people make some rather large claims when it comes to bodyweight exercises. Some claim that bodyweight exercises are superior to lifting weights. Some believe the opposite. Some simply believe that resistance is resistance and that neither option is better than the other is when it comes to strength and conditioning. I think bodyweight exercises can certainly play a part in your overall wrestling conditioning.
Matt Furey wrote a popular book entitled Combat Conditioning explaining the benefits of bodyweight training. Matt Furey is a former Division 2 NCAA Wrestling Champion and a Shuai Chiao Kung Fu World Champion. Therefore, it may be a good idea to read what he has to say on the subject of bodyweight training. He claims that bodyweight training is more functional (i.e. strength you can use). He reminds his reader to consider how much stronger and more flexible animals are when compared to humans. He also mentions how his mentor, wrestling legend Karl Gotch, told him that dancers have the strongest legs in the world. Dancers usually do bodyweight-only squats. Matt has many exercises and routines in his book, but he calls his three favorite exercises the Royal Court.
Matt Furey’s Royal Court:
- Hindu squats
- Hindu push-ups
- Back bridge (if you are a wrestler I assume you already do some back bridging in practice every day)
Videos and descriptions of theses exercises are easily found with a simple online search.
Pavel Tsatsouline is a former Spetsnaz (Russian Special Forces) physical training instructor. He lives in the U.S. now and trains members of the U.S. military and law enforcement. He wrote a book called The Naked Warrior discussing his views on bodyweight training. He believes that bodyweight training can be beneficial when weights are not available. He mentions the strength and muscularity of gymnasts as an example of the value of bodyweight exercise. Most of us have seen how well built gymnasts are. Have you ever seen a gymnast do a planche? Have you ever seen a gymnast do an Iron Cross? They don’t lift weights and yet are incredibly strong. Christopher Sommer wrote an interesting article entitled Building an Olympic Body through Bodyweight Conditioning that you might be able to locate through an online search.
Three of Pavel’s Favorite Bodyweight Exercises:
- One-legged squats (a.k.a. pistols)
- One-armed push-ups
Pavel doesn’t believe in doing sets of endless reps. He suggests making an exercise harder by manipulating the leverage involved. For instance, push-ups done with your feet elevated are harder than regular push-ups. Pavel also believes in Greasing the Groove (GTG). This involves doing a few reps several times throughout the day. Always leave a rep in the bank. Don’t work to failure. You could do push-ups several times a day, but for only a few reps at any given workout. Pavel believes in doing “ladders” as well. For example, you do a push-up and then rest a second. You stay in position and then you do two push-ups and rest two seconds. You keep going up the ladder until the reps start getting difficult. Then do another ladder.
Some of Pavel’s articles are easily found online.
Marcus Fisher Marcus Fisher advises MMA (mixed martial arts) athletes and grapplers on conditioning. He notes that some very successful fighters and wrestlers have used primarily bodyweight training instead of weight training. He doesn’t claim that bodyweight training is superior or that weight training is ineffective, but he believes bodyweight exercises can definitely be of benefit. He likes bodyweight workouts because they train the body to function as a single unit. Similar to Matt Furey, Marcus finds bodyweight training to be more functional.
Articles by Marcus Fisher are easily found online.
Advantages of Bodyweight Training:
- Some trainers claim it builds more functional strength
- Can be done almost anywhere
- Requires no weights or machines
Disadvantages of Bodyweight Training:
- May be hard to continually add resistance to some exercises
- Building a strong posterior chain is difficult with bodyweight-only routines
Bodyweight Exercises to Consider:
- Hindu squats
- One-legged squats (pistols)
- Plyo push-ups
- Hindu push-ups
- Dive bomber push-ups
- One armed push-ups
- Hand stand push-ups
- Leg raises
- Jumping jacks
- Seal jacks
- Shuffle jacks
- Mountain climbers
- Standing broad jump
- Slalom jumps
- Hill sprints
- Bear crawls
Special Note on Burpees
Many trainers believe that burpees are the best bodyweight exercise an athlete can do. According to Ross Enamait, “Burpees will condition your entire body. This exercise will develop strength, explosive power, and anaerobic endurance.” Burpees can also be combined with push-ups or pull-ups and other variations.
Matt Wiggins has a program called Working Class Cardio that utilizes burpees, jumping jacks, and other bodyweight exercises. The circuits used in his program also use dumbbells and medicine balls. He claims burpees can you give you a great aerobic workout and are extremely versatile. Matt is a bit of a burpee fanatic.
Conclusion: do burpees!
Bodyweight training is not magical. Weight lifting can and should be a part of your overall conditioning program. However, bodyweight training can definitely be a great complement to your conditioning program. Bodyweight exercises and calisthenics aren’t just for gym class and warming up. Try to include some bodyweight exercises in your training and see if your conditioning and your wrestling performance improve.