How to Train for Strength and Power

Hail to the Dinosaurs!

Nearly 40 years I was on a wrestling mat in Indianapolis, Indiana, in the opening period of a freestyle match.

My opponent and I were on our feet, locked up, working for an opening. I had my right hand on the back of his neck and my left hand on his upper arm right above the elbow. He had the same grip on me.

I pulled down on his neck and he pulled back – and then bulled forward.

As he did, I pulled him close, twisted to the side and hit a powerful hip throw combined with a hard leg sweep. For a fraction of a second I was balanced on my left leg, with my right leg sweeping backward, shooting him high into the air.

He went up five feet in the air, his body turned from vertical to horizontal in the blink of an eye – and then he hit the mat, flat on his back, with me landing on top for an instant pin.

Yesterday’s post about Henry Whittenberg’s training program for wrestling got me to thinking about that throw.

It was a perfect example of the kind of total body strength and explosive power you need for championship wrestling – or for martial arts – or for football – or any combat sport.

How do you build that kind of strength and power?

You do it the way Henry Whittenberg did – and remember, he won a Gold Medal in freestyle wrestling at the Olympics. You can’t do better than that!

1. Use barbells and dumbbells for the majority of your strength and power training. They give you the biggest bang for your buck.

1a. Pull-ups, push-ups and rope climbing are great for wrestlers. Most coaches have their wrestlers do plenty of bodyweight exercises before and after their mat work.

2. Stand on your feet for 90 percent of your training. Note that Henry Whittenberg did standing presses, not seated presses – squats, not leg presses – and barbell bent-over rowing, not lat machine pulldowns.

3. Use basic, compound exercises. Squats, presses, deadlifts, rowing, etc. They worked for Henry Whittenberg, and they’ll work for you.

3a. If you know how to do power cleans, power snatches, push presses and jerks, then work them into your program.

4. Train your legs, hips and lower back. That’s where your power comes from. Do NOT fall into the common trap of working your upper body and ignoring your lower body. Think about that hip throw and leg sweep. Perfect move – instant pin – and I sure as heck didn’t do it with arm strength.

4a. Wrestling is all about coordinated effort and total body power. So train that way. Forget about the isolation movements and bodybuilding stuff.

4b. Heavy curls are a strength movement, not an isolation movement. If you’ve ever done HEAVY curls, you understand what I mean.

5. Note that Whittenberg trained three primary exercises and one of them was – that’s right – squats! He knew the importance of leg, hip and lower back strength!

6. A little bit of strength training goes a LONG way – and leaves you plenty of time for mat work and drilling. How many times do you have to drill a move in practice before you can make it work in a match? The answer is – MANY TIMES!

7. Train your neck. That hip toss started when I pulled my opponent’s head down and forward. If his neck had been stronger, it wouldn’t have been as easy.

8. Train your grip. Note that the throw started when I had my hands on my opponent – and yes, I was holding him tight. When a good wrestler grabs you, you KNOW you’ve been grabbed.

8a. Thick bar work is great for the grip – so are heavy-duty grippers like these:

8b. Strong thumbs! Do plenty of pinch grip work!

9. You can’t be strong and powerful if you run out of gas – so do plenty of cardio work, and plenty of mat work. You need to be able to go full-speed for the entire match.

10. Sandbags, sandbags, sandbags – they offer endless possibilities for wrestlers.

If you missed it, take a look at yesterday’s post with Henry Whittenberg’s complete (and very effective) training program. It’s posted on the Dinosaur Training Blog, so scroll down for it after you finish this post.)

And of course, take a look at my various training books and training courses at the Dinosaur bookstore. They cover effective strength and power training in detail:

As always, thanks for reading. Have a great day and a great weekend. And if you train today, do it Dino style: hard, heavy and serious.

Yours in strength,

Brooks Kubik

P.S. Never, ever wrestle a guy who trains this way – unless YOU train the very same way! For more information, grab a copy of Dinosaur Training: Lost Secrets of Strength and Development: