What Is Iowa Style Wrestling?

Unbeaten Dan Gable, right, of Iowa State, grapples with Minnesota’s Gary Pelcl during NCAA wrestling championships at McGaw Hall in Evanston, Ill. on March 27, 1970. Gable pinned Pelcl and is unbeaten through high school and college compettion which includes 179 victories with 106 pins.(AP Photo/FJ)

Whenever Iowa wrestling is a topic of conversation you will often hear people talk about “Iowa Style”. This is a concept that has not been well defined and often can mean different things to different people. In this article we will dig into the history of “Iowa Style”, what it means and see if it still exists today.

What Is Iowa Style Wrestling?

Iowa Style wrestling is a style which was developed by legendary coach/competitor Dan Gable. Iowa Style is characterised by relentless aggression where the wrestler attempts to score as many points as possible in a dominant fashion. Iowa style preaches intensity and conditioning over technique and finesse.

As a wrestler Dan Gable was known for his unlimited cardio and endurance. Gable was famous for putting himself through hours and hours of gruelling training everyday. While his teammates and opponents were resting Gable was out running or on the mat shadow wrestling.

Gable personally believed that the fitter and tougher wrestler would always come out on top and win the match. Gable was convinced that by being hyper aggressive during a match, scoring as much as possible and setting a pace that the other wrestler couldn’t match then victory would be guaranteed.

This is what formed his personal training methodology which he then transposed onto his athletes while coaching at Iowa. By transforming his Iowa wrestlers into tough, in your face aggressive and incredibly fit scoring machines Gable created a distinct style of wrestling known as “Iowa Style”.

What Are The Characteristics Of Iowa Style Wrestling?

Iowa Style wrestling is characterised by high pace, high amount of takedown attempts, wrestling face to hard, powerful clubbing collar ties, exploding out of bottom as quickly as possible, riding hard on top and being brutal looking for turns and pins.

Iowa Style is less a technical style but more a mental style of wrestling. Gable wanted his wrestlers to be incredibly dominant, aggressive and wrestle an extremely high pace. Gable wanted his wrestlers to impose their will on the competition and dominate them.

Iowa Style is not about finishing single legs a particular way or a fancy bottom escape move. It is all about getting wrestlers to constantly attack, increase the intensity of the match and completely dominate all aspects of the competition.

If you want to look at the Iowa Style in action then go check out any of the Brands brothers’ matches. They immediately started attacking from the first whistle. They were incredibly physical, pushing, pulling and clubbing their opponents. They were in the face of their opponents the whole match, wrestling a crazy high pace and never taking a backward step.

Do You Have To Be From Iowa To Wrestle Iowa Style?

Wrestlers from across the world can wrestle Iowa Style. As long as you follow the guidelines set out by Dan Gable you can wrestle the Iowa Style. To learn the Iowa Style it is best to train under one of Dan Gable’s former athletes. Currently, the Brands brothers are the best Iowa Style coaches.

When people first hear of Iowa Style wrestling they assume that you have to be from Iowa to wrestle that way. This could not be further from the truth.

The Iowa Style is not some secret style that can only be learned by living in Dan Gable’s barn or sneaking into Iowa’s practices.

As long as you embrace Gable’s philosophy of being hyper aggressive, wrestling at an extremely high intensity and always trying to dominate and overwhelm your opponent then you can wrestle Iowa Style.

Why Is The Iowa Style Effective?

The Iowa Style is effective because many wrestlers can not handle the high pace and aggressiveness of the style. Good wrestlers can quickly become mediocre when they become tired and are forced on the back foot.

Dealing with a hyper aggressive wrestler is challenging especially when you are not used to facing wrestlers who use this strategy. 

An aggressive Iowa Style wrestler forces you to react and doesn’t give you time to set your position and plan your attacks. This can throw off your rhythm and make it hard to set up your takedowns.

An Iowa Style wrestler constantly forces you on the backfoot which places you at risk of giving up stall calls in folkstyle or step out points in freestyle. It is also much harder for a wrestler to score when they are being pushed backwards. Most takedown techniques are not effective when an athlete is backing away.

The pace that Iowa Style wrestlers wrestle at is often too high for other wrestlers. A wrestler may think they are in great shape only to find themselves exhausted after the first period after having to defend 10 takedown attempts by an Iowa Style wrestler.

A tired wrestler is much easier to defeat than a fresh wrestler. Many wrestlers will quit late in matches when they become exhausted. Iowa Style wrestlers are masters at getting late pins in matches when their opponents can’t handle the intensity any longer and want off the mat.

The Iowa Style of wrestling also catches many wrestlers off guard. A lot of wrestlers are used to a feeling out period where both wrestlers will start the match slowly and assess each other’s strengths and weaknesses. This is not the case when you face an Iowa Style wrestler, who will immediately start attacking from the first whistle.

If a wrestler is not prepared for this early barrage of attacks they can be caught out of position and give up an early takedown or even a pin. Many wrestlers have been overwhelmed in the first minute by Iowa Style wrestlers.

What Are The Problems With  Iowa Style Wrestling?

The main problem with Iowa Style wrestling is the lack of focus on technical development. Wrestling requires expert technique. Toughness and endurance are important but without technique you won’t beat high level wrestlers. 

The main critique of Iowa Style wrestling is that strength and conditioning is over emphasized while technical development is neglected.

It doesn’t matter if you are the strongest and fittest athlete in the world if you have no wrestling technique you will be easily defeated. While, of course, even the greatest wrestling technicians also require a level of strength and endurance it is not nearly important as technical prowess.

Wrestlers who have large technical deficiencies would be better served by focusing on improving their technique than running sprints or lifting weights. These general training sessions are not going to make a big impact on their performance but improving technique will.

Cardio and strength only win wrestling matches when they are combined with high level wrestling technique. 

How many people in the world could beat Sadulaev if he stopped training for 6 months and just sat on his couch, 5? Maybe 10? Even with no cardio Sadulaev would be a favourite over nearly every wrestler in the world because of his expert technique.

The other problem with Iowa Style is the tendency for over training. A fundamental philosophy of the style is more work = better results. Gable thought that training 2 hours everyday was great but training 3 hours was even better.

While high level wrestlers do need to train a lot to improve and maintain their condition it gets to a point where increasing training volume and intensity has a negative impact on performance.

Petrov, the famed Bulgarian wrestling coach who produced a lot of scientific literature on wrestling, came to the conclusion that ideally wrestlers should train 6 days a week with each session lasting 2 hours.

Iowa wrestlers were known for burning out at a young age due to their over training that destroyed their bodies and left many of them overdosed on the sport. Gable famously retired from wrestling in his early 20s.


Iowa Style wrestling was invented by all time great wrestler and coach Dan Gable. The style is based on Gable’s own view of wrestling and is characterised by a highly aggressive and attacking style where athletes push the pace and attempt to dominate their opponent.

The Iowa Style is highly effective at overwhelming wrestlers who can’t handle the intensity and aggressiveness. Iowa Style has been criticised for its lack of focus on technical development and its propensity for over training. 

If you want to learn the Iowa Style your best bet is to train with the Brands brothers at the University of Iowa where the two Gable disciples still employ many of his methods when training the latest group of Iowa wrestling stars.

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