General Guidelines- Prepare your child for contact and lifelong body health.
Warning! Driven wrestling parents won’t think that this is enough. I disagree. My goal with this is to protect a kid’s body and have them ready for serious competition around puberty. Disguise the workouts as fun or competition with friends. Under 10 boys love to compete against Dad. At some point friends and teammates replace Dad as prime competition.
Under 6-7 years old
Horse play with dad. Running and jumping around the house. Introduce tumbling. Bird Dog and Curl ups will begin to help coordinate and strengthen the core and back. I don’t believe that weights are needed or healthy. Walking lunges with an overhead reach and squats, without weight can also be very useful in developing the body.
All pre-puberty strength training should be very low reps and striving for perfect form. Form meaning body position and correct muscle activation.
8-10 Years old
Start at the novice level at a local wrestling club. Keep tumbling and gymnastic training going. Introduce very light weights and low reps. Light weights being 5%-10% of body weight. We are trying to teach exercise form that will last a lifetime. Poor habits now will cause problems down the road, believe me! I try to work from the ground up. Strengthen the foot, ankles, legs, hips, back, shoulders and neck. It can be very hard for a parent to see how the muscles of their kid are moving and performing. It can be worth your money to seek professional help. That said there is very little research into training pre-puberty kid’s bodies. They are very different from adult bodies.
Beginners guide: walking lunges, goblet squats, around the worlds, deadlift, goat bellies, drive the car. Do the positions without weight until mastered, then slowly add very light weights. The deadlift can work up to a higher percentage of body weight 25%. I don’t do more than 10 reps with any exercise. Perfect form is the goal. Work on speed and coordination with box jumps, squat jumps and planks through a speed ladder. Planks without proper form can cause shoulder blade winging. Arms back superman’s can be a good progression too. Bounce a physio ball and take shots underneath it. This will help build speed and the dynamic movement helps strengthen the core . Cranking out 50 hand grippers or squats isn’t good for your child’s body or mind at this age. Non-weighted exercises: one-foot hop, squat jumps, front bridge, hang bar (hold for 3-5 seconds, with shoulders screwed down into sockets), front and back handspring progression, pop ups, pogos and maybe shoulder rolls. Battle ropes can be fun competition between two wrestlers. Keep up on the bird-dog, curl ups or stir the pot and side planks. Note if you notice a range of motion loss in your child’s body, stop. The technique isn’t correct. Fix the technique and start dynamic and static stretching. 10-15 minutes long is a good start. Medicine balls can be introduced. They can be very fun for boys to bounce and pass to each other and slam.
10-13 Years Old (Going into puberty)
Increase the number of exercises and weights slightly. I’m still looking for perfect form, not high reps with form breakdown. Cheating in workout form bleeds into cheating in wrestling technique and or wrestling in positions that are bad for the body and lead to injuries. With the average kid I don’t do more than four sets of five reps. Besides the deadlift I don’t go past 30-40% of body weight. It can take more than a week for the skeleton to recover from deadlifting full body weight at this age. On top of that spinal compression is a serious cause of back pain for grownups. Don’t start this process in your kid. Remember we can’t build big strong muscles without the hormones released by puberty so don’t think that you can do something that nature doesn’t intend without problems. I’ve seen lots of dads over work their young wrestlers with disastrous consequences. When the boys were older, numerous injuries forced them to stop competing. The average 12-year-old boy that is benching, squatting or deadlifting heavy weights may have lifelong problems. Introduce a lightweight kettlebell workout. Rope climbing and peg boards are fun ways to build strength and competitive mindset among friends. Keep up with gymnastics tumbling. I don’t do more than 30 minutes plus some fun mixed in keeps the boys interested. Working out with friends helps keep your wrestler motivated and competitive.
Puberty and up
Once through puberty your kid should be on a dynamic weight lifting program. Keep up the dynamic gymnastic movements. Kettlebells and Olympic styles are much better than power lifting styles for wrestling. Cross Fit can be fun and interesting but has a very high rate of injury.
Even though salaries have gone up, most school associated strength training coaches are terrible, even at the D1 level. I’m not kidding. Even if your kid loves his school trainer it is worth your while to find and consult with a specialist. The last thing we want is a former wrestler that is in chronic pain. Believe me when I tell you that this is a very common occurrence. So, your high school will likely have a dedicated strength coach but beware, you should consult a professional athletic trainer to develop a strength training plan that is customized for your wrestler and the form necessary for life long body health. This could cost a lot of money but consider how much you pay for them to go to a top wrestling club. This is money well spent.
Lastly the kettlebell weight swing when done properly is the single best exercise that I’ve seen for wrestlers and MMA fighters. Even football players need this. Mentally and physically it’s like being in a match or fight. Goblet squats, deadlifts, Turkish get ups, goat bellies all strengthen areas that traditionally are ignored. Kettlebells are also great for grip strength.
Good luck, keep your kid healthy and write with questions.