Running & Wrestling: Like Oil and Water?

I have this very special file on my computer that is titled "Master Programs" and inside are all the important tidbits of information that have helped define SAPT's training approach and the template variations we have created. Looking through it is like taking a trip through time, as I remember where I was and who I was working with when each variation was put through its paces. There are a number of sub-folders with names like: 400m Training, Agility, Assessment, Healthy Knees, Intensity Tools, Nutrition, PL/WL (that's powerlifting and weightlifting), and Sport Specific. Within the Sport Specific folder I found an old document I put together in 2007 where I polled a number of other active D1 strength coaches regarding their approach to conditioning (specifically running) and wrestling.

To give this a bit of context, SAPT was in its infancy... I think the company was like 2 months old, and I had somehow convinced a high school wrestling coach to let me take his team through a 6-week pre-season training (thanks, Jack).

At one point we touched on the idea of running and wrestling. My stance was (and still is) that long distance running would actually do more harm than good for a wrestler. WELL, let me tell you this was not well received by the guys. So, in case I was crazy, I polled these other coaches. Here were their responses:

What’s the deal with running?

Responses from a variety of collegiate coaches…

“The majority of the AU wrestling conditioning is done on mat. The running is predominantly sprint work on the track at distances of approximately 30m, 60m and 100m. The long distance runs are primarily for recovery or for dropping weight. You need to explain that to those parents as best you can. Maybe you can use this to help you: "Due to the previously discussed increased risk of injury during periods of fatigue (30), designing the injury prevention program to incorporate metabolic system training proves essential. Specific to wrestling are activities that require high levels of anaerobic power and muscular endurance (8, 22, 54). Over the course of a 2-minute period, an explosive attack occurs approximately every 6 to 10 seconds (35). Simulating the metabolic needs of practice and competition is best accomplished through interval training (33). Intervals involving periods of intense resistance exercise, running, or biking interspersed with periods of relative rest should be considered the ideal training method to achieve physiological responses similar to wrestling. If possible, injured athletes should continue conditioning programs that also mimic the physiological needs of practice and competition (Table 3) to prepare for return to competition after adequate healing occurs."


Terry L. Grindstaff PT, ATC, CSCS, *D and David H. Potach PT, MS, CSCS, *D;, NSCA-CPT, *D. 2006: Prevention of Common Wrestling Injuries. Strength and Conditioning Journal: Vol. 28, No. 4, pp. 20–28.

Or check this article out:

Zsolt Murlasits MS, CSCS. 2004: Special Considerations for Designing Wrestling-Specific Resistance-Training Programs. Strength and Conditioning Journal: Vol. 26, No. 3, pp. 46–50.”

Email response from Jason Riddell, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at American University

“LSD for wrestlers depends on why they're doing it.  For performance gains it's worthless, it's like having your sprinters do it for greater speed improvement.  But, for improved aerobic capacity to aid in match recovery it has a small place, and I think there are much better ways to improve this capacity rather than going on long slow runs or staying on a bike for a long time, so I would say on occasion it may be okay but not as a regular activity.  Last, and probably the one most wrestlers use as their excuse for wanting to do LSD is for weight loss, cutting weight.

There are a lot of variables to this debate, LSD or no LSD?

LSD has been proven to cause:

Decrease in strength and power

Decrease in anaerobic power

Decrease in muscle mass

Last time I checked wrestling relies pretty heavily on all three of those, and a decrease in them will ultimately cause a decrease in match performance.

I prefer the Tabata method of HIIT (high intensity interval training) and this is what we had our wrestlers doing.  But, there were always those guys that went on the LSD runs to cut weight.

I hope this answers your question.

Give my best to Handy.

I look forward to meeting you some day.  Feel free to come down and visit when you have time.


Email response from Greg Warner, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at JMU

“First of all, thanks for being an avid reader of Elite.  Funny you asked this question, b/c we just had this conversation with our wrestling coaches.  They were all about these long distance runs and once we finally explained it to them in a way they could understand, it clicked!

Here’s how we explained it.  You know how wrestlers get “heavy leg” syndrome?  Well, that’s due to lactic acid build-up.  The more that they are trained at lactate threshold, the better their bodies will get at getting rid of and recycling the lactic acid.  Running long distance is aerobic.  It won’t help them at all when they are in the third period and their muscles are “heavy” or filled with lactic acid.  Some longer recovery runs are beneficial on days in between hard workouts or hard practices.  We typically do a “2 minute/ 3 minute routine”.  Two minutes of running (either done on a football field where they have to make a certain number of yards or on a treadmill at a certain speed…. Heavy weights and light weights are different, of course), then 3 minutes of recovery (walking).  This is the longest running we will do with almost any of our athletes.  They do need to have some aerobic training, but not 5 miles straight, know what I mean?  Most of our training is done in shorter intervals (30-60 seconds).

I hope that helps to explain it.  Once we explained it in terms that the coaches could understand (they understood “heavy leg syndrome” not lactic acid build-up), then it made sense to them and they were more open to changes.

Let me know if you have any more questions.”

Email response from Julia Ledewski, Assistant Director of Sports Performance at New York University at Buffalo

“Ok, here is my advice......GOOD LUCK!!!  Seriously, this is a tough battle to fight, and one that I think very few can win.  Why, because they have been doing it for so long that they are convinced it works.....yet too close-minded to acknowledge that there might be a better way.  Also, as I have learned since coming to UTEP, people in athletics really don't like change.....even though if you don't change you will never get better.  If you have Jason Feruggia's book, "Tap Out!!!", he gives an excellent description that may help you fairly early on in the book.

#1.  I remember when I was wrestling in high school that we did distance runs for the first couple weeks of training, but after that never ran anything that lasted more than 2 minutes.  And, these were sprints.  How long is a period in wrestling?.....2 minutes.  We also had one of the best wrestling teams in Missouri.  In fact, after I left they won the state championship 3 years in row.  They also place in the top 6 nearly every year.  Several of the guys I wrestled with went on to wrestle at the D1 level.  In fact, one guy competed at the international level and was expected to go to the Olympics, but had a few distractions.  In high school, you don't get to recruit your athletes, instead you have to train the ones you have.  For me, that's enough evidence to say that wrestlers don't need to run long distances to be good.

But, to play devil's advocate, what did nearly all of us do on our own after practice?  We went for a long distance run.  But, that was more to keep our weight down than to stay in shape.

#2.  If you walked into a wrestling meet, and had to bet on one of two wrestlers, which one would you bet on?  One wrestler looks like a marathon runner....thin, frail, no muscular development, and slow.  The other looks like a sprinter.....lean, hard, muscular, fast, explosive.  Knowing nothing else, except what you see, which one would you bet on?.........Here's a hint, most high caliber wrestlers have more similar characteristics of sprinters than marathon runners.

#3.  Running long distances requires you to be slow.  Why would a wrestler want to be slow?  Sprinting requires you to be fast.  Don't wrestlers need to be fast and explosive?

#4.  They might like this arguement.  Have the athlete run six 400 m sprints at a challenging pace (1 min 35 sec or less) with only 5 minutes rest, then on a separate day have them do a 1.5 mile run at their normal distance pace.  Then, ask them which is harder and requires more mental toughness?  If they are being honest with you, and running hard on the 400s, the answer should be obvious.  By the way, which one is more similar in energy demands to a wrestling meet?  In high school a period lasts 2 minutes, and there are 3 periods per match.  Furthermore, I would be willing to bet that you could increase the distance run to 3 miles and it would still not be as hard as the 400s.  *(The time I listed is what one of my soccer girls ran her 480 yd sprints in, so it may need adjusted for a male athlete who is only running 400 meters).

#5.  You can try explaining the energy systems to them, but I don't think you will get very far doing this.  They will not understand, nor do they want to understand science.  Even if they say or they think they believe in science, their "honest" opinion is that there is no science in athletics.  The only thing they will see is results.  And, some are sold on hard work, but carry it WAY TOO FAR in that they will actually tear their athletes to pieces before backing off.  These are the people that blame losing on not working hard enough, so that after a loss they kill their athletes in workouts so they are too tired to perform in the next match, and lose again.......from here it is a downward spiral.  Again, it all comes down to results that they see (W-L).  If you do your running, and they win, you are a genius and they will be sold on your ideas.  If they lose, it will be your fault and they will never buy into your ideas, regardless of whether you are right or wrong.

I saw the Thinker's response.  That arguement will go nowhere with the people you are dealing with.

All the weights on our racks are in kilos, so I don't bother to do the math on anything I don't think is close to a PR.  Also, if I do want to do the math, seeing it in kilos first distracts me from the depressing number of pounds I am lifting, in that doing the math is so fun that it takes the focus off what I actually did.  By the way, how can you say "stay" strong when you know how much I am lifting?  Shouldn't you be saying "get" strong, instead?

yes, it is depressing,


Email response from David Adamson, Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at University Texas at El Paso

“Thinker: How much value (or lack of) do long slow distance runs bring to the table of conditioning for wrestlers? I'm trying to dispell myths among parents and athletes... running seems to be a VERY hot button for them! Thanks so much for your help!

Hello Sarah, Let's consider this from a physiological perspective:?? Long slow runs are certainly a viable means of developing oxidative capacity; and running in general provides a great deal of latitude in terms of how it may be manipulated (intensity, duration) in order to develop a multitude of capacities (developing cardiac power, pushing the anaerobic threshold, developing speed strength, sprint speed, speed endurance, etc).??The question, however, is: is long slow running the optimal means of developing oxidative power for the wrestler???Sarah, the answer is no.?? The oxidative power may much more effectively be developed via the performance of exercises that also develop the local strength endurance of the muscles of the legs, trunk, arms, and shoulder girdle.??These exercises may be performed with the most rudimentary of apparatus (bodyweight calisthenic/gymnastic, barbells, dumbbells, med balls, kettlebells, etc)??The key, however, is that the exercises are performed via the appropriate method (such as circuit or serial), the appropriate resistance, for the appropriate durations, and at the appropriate speed of movement to yield the targeted adaptations (in this case oxidative power). A heart rate monitor is an exceptional tool for regulating such a form of exercise.??In regards to developing oxidative power, most of the literature suggests that heart rate zones 60-70% of the maximum are ideal for recovery purposes and at the higher end (70-80%) you will begin to develop the power of the oxidative system. At you progress into the 70th percentile you are still beneath the anaerobic threshold and continuing to develop the power of the oxidative system. ??So, essentially, any form of exercise beneath the anaerobic threshold (which must ultimately be quantified in the laboratory or with technology like the Omega Wave) is stimulating the oxidative process (the lower the intensity the more the restorative the stimulus- the higher the intensity the more developmental the stimulus to the power of the oxidative system)??Specificity to sport is then imparted via the exercises performed and the work/rest intervals.”

Response from Pitt Performance Department

I have to say, it was pretty cool getting such thoughtful responses from so many of my mentors at the time. The take-away here is whether you are a wrestler or not, you should always examine the reason(s) why you are doing the conditioning you are doing. Is it actually helping you gain a performance improvement? Or is it actually hindering your peak? SAPT's tremendous coaches can, of course, help you reach that peak.

Q&A: Strength training vs. conditioning

During the season, I have 2 days scheduled in the weight room.  For the time in the wrestling room, should I not have them do any sandbag work?  Should it all be "conditioning"?  What's the difference between strength training and conditioning??

I'll start by answering the last question and then work my way backwards - What's the difference between strength training and conditioning?

The simple answer is that pretty much everything can be considered conditioning (even strength training). It all depends on how you are combining the movements and planning the work to rest ratios.

Specifically for wrestling (and all of the combat sports) I would absolutely suggest utilizing the sandbags along with body weight resistance. After all, the conditioning required for wrestling deals completely with one wrestler being able to manipulate another wrestler's body weight during a specific time frame. So, focusing 1 or 2 days a week (of the three set aside for conditioning) on weighted conditioning series/circuits would be completely appropriate.

Here is a sample 3-min circuit:

1. Sandbag Zercher Squat x :25 (:05 given as rest/exercise transition time)

2. Up/Down to Broad Jump x :25 (:05 rest)

3. Sandbag Overhead Carry x :55 (:05 rest)

4. Jump Pullups x :25 (:05 rest)

5. Tiger Crawl x :30

Repeat 2-5 times.

Another tip I can offer when planning your team's conditioning: look specifically to the nature of the sport FIRST and then design specific training around the work to rest ratios that naturally occur in the sport. As an example, when I've trained fighters in the past, I have used isometric holds (like the bottom of a pushup) as "rest." But, it's important to note that you have to lead your athletes to this level first! Rest can occur as literally rest OR it can occur with other movements that are easier than the main movements and thus allow the athlete to recover before the next intense bout.

Hope this helps a little bit!