Should Wrestlers Bench Press?

Gr 85kg 1/8: Davit CHAKVETADZE (RUS) df. Kristoffer Zakarias BERG (SWE) by VPO1, 5-2

If you are a young wrestler looking to get an advantage over your competition you immediately start thinking about what types of exercises you can do off the wrestling mats to increase your athletic ability. As bench press is one of the most popular strength exercises you have probably thought about adding it to your wrestling training regime, but should you?

Should wrestlers bench press?

Wrestlers should not bench press. Bench press has little to no cross over to wrestling as the sport does not focus on pressing and maximal strength. Wrestlers should focus on pulling exercises such as pull ups and rope climbing and explosive movements such as plyometrics and jump training.

Only in America is bench press popular among wrestlers. Strength coaches in America have been heavily influenced by powerlifting and are often lazy when designing programs. Instead of creating sports specific programs they will just have all of their athletes performing bench press, squat and deadlift.

 One American wrestler who is particularly fond of bench pressing is Kyle Snyder. Snyder the 2016 Olympic Gold medalist reportedly has a huge bench press of 200kg (440 pounds). 

International wrestlers rarely if ever perform bench press. If you look at the wrestling powerhouse nations of the former Soviet Union particularly Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan they still for the most part follow the Soviet methodology of training. In this methodology little emphasis is put on weightlifting and bench press is rarely performed.

Usually how strength training is structured under the Soviet system is at the end of training athletes will perform a quick strength workout. Typically, it will involve a few sets of dips, rope climbs, pull ups and some different ab exercises. Some athletes will do a few kettlebell exercises and occasionally some Olympic weightlifting, however this is much less common.

Wrestlers training under the Soviet system are not squatting, deadlifting or bench pressing. These exercises are viewed as being too taxing on the body and not having enough cross over to wrestling. Coaches recommend pull ups, dips, rope climbs and different forms of sit ups as the best exercises for wrestlers.

Wrestling coaches from the former Soviet countries do not obsess over strength training nearly as much as their American counterparts. The training is largely informal and athletes are left to train themselves. 

If bench pressing was such an effective exercise for wrestling you would have expected that Soviet sports scientists would have identified it. If by chance they missed this amazing exercise you then would have expected American wrestlers who regularly bench press to have such great international success.

This has not happened and in wrestling matches between Americans and Russians the Russian athletes certainly don’t look to be at a strength disadvantage.

The Russian mentality about lifting weights and bench pressing in general is nicely summed in an interview with freestyle wrestling Olympic Gold medalist and multiple time world champion Abdulrashid Bulachevich Sadulaev.

Q: Snyder can do 200kg bench press. What can you do? What do you do for physical preparation?

 A: (laughs). I think weights and so on will not help, may be even be bad for him. I will not praise myself as I have nothing to praise myself about. But we will see how much these weights help him, I mostly focus on wrestling and technique and otherwise just ropes and chinups, etc..standard exercises for every athlete.

 Q: But you seem powerful and explosive, so you must be doing something?

 A: Well, since childhood, I was gifted with natural power, and because of that I did not work much on weights. I think if I do too much weights, I will not be as mobile as I am now.

As you can see Sadulaev follows the Soviet system of wrestling training, where specific wrestling training is the major focus and then basic bodyweight exercises such as pull ups and rope climbing are used as accessories for physical preparation.

What Exercises Should Wrestlers Perform?

Wrestlers should model their training after the most successful wrestling region in the world Dagestan and Ossetia in Southern Russia. These two areas do very little weightlifting and do no heavy weightlifting. Instead they perform pull ups, dips, rope climbs, push ups and different types of sit ups.

Dagestan and Ossetia are both tiny republics in Russia. Dagestan has around 2 million people while North and South Ossetia combined have only 500,000. Despite these tiny populations these two regions absolutely dominate freestyle wrestling and consistently produce world and olympic champions.

I think if you are trying to improve your wrestling it is wise to copy a training system that has proven itself the most effective in producing world class wrestlers.

If you want to train like they do in Dagestan or Ossetia then train wrestling 6 days a week for 1.5 hours each session and then at the end of your wrestling training perform your bodyweight strengthening exercises.

Perform 5 sets of rope climbs, dips, pull ups and different variations of sit ups. You can add weight to the movements to make them more challenging. You should perform these exercises at least 3 times a week.

Occasionally you can mix up your training and perform some kettlebell movements or some light weightlifting exercises if you become bored. Sometimes Russian wrestlers will incorporate these lifts into their routine but only far away from competition season and they use light weight and only do it every now and then.

The vast majority of your wrestling should be focused on specific training where you are developing your technique and specific wrestling strength through live wrestling and other wrestling related drills. 

The world’s best strength and conditioning routine is not going to turn you into a champion wrestler. This is only going to happen through thousands of hours of specific wrestling training.

An exercise like the bench press is going to at best have a neutral effect on a wrestler’s performance and may in fact inhabit performance if it is performed too often resulting in reduced mobility and speed.

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