Priming for Practice
Warming up for a wrestling practice should be different than warming up for cross country, basketball or a weight session. A warm-up should focus on reducing injury, increasing flexibility, improving performance, and be specific for that training session.
Stretching in a warm-up
A cloud of confusion exists over static stretching, dynamic stretching and their relationship with flexibility, power, and performance. Much of this confusion likely has to due with
2. Low quality data
3. Lack of scientific communication.
Traditionally, coaches and PE teachers start class with static stretching or light aerobic work and subsequently static stretching. People like to hold onto traditions and therefore, fall in love with “The way we’ve always done it!”. The second wave of confusion has likely come from studies reporting decrements in performance after performing static stretching. The good and bad aspects of static stretching studies is that they are easy to conduct and require minimal equipment. This has led to many novice researchers conducting studies on static stretching in poorly controlled environments and without much insight of the mechanisms changing performance following the static or dynamic warm-up. Understand, there is absolutely nothing wrong with undergraduate researchers performing these studies. In fact, my first study investigated static vs. dynamic warm-up and I commend those early researchers.
However, in 2011 a systematic review (publication covering over 100 well-designed studies) was published summarizing static stretching helps with chronic improvements in range of motion (flexibility), but when static stretching is too long in duration or too intense prior to practice or competition, decreases in muscle power (force x velocity) are observed. Therefore, if you want to static stretch prior to practice or competition keep it short and pain-free. If you want to improve flexibility over the long-term, the best time to static stretch is separated from wrestling practice or competition.
Dynamic stretching entails a controlled movement through an active range of motion (Fletcher 2010) and has been shown to improve speed (Gelen 2009), strength (Bacurau 2009), increase flexibility levels similar to static stretching (Beedle 2007) and increase muscle activity (Herda 2008).
Understand, the right duration of dynamic stretching is needed to elicit increases in performance (Hough 2009; Ryan 2014). This can break down to a 5 min jog, with 5-7 minutes of dynamic stretching. If implemented correctly, It is rare that performance decrements are experienced after dynamic stretching, so in this regard it is superior than static stretching. Dynamic stretching movements can include: sprint mechanic drills, active stretches, hurdle series, and calisthenics. It is this author’s freedom to express the potential sprint mechanic drills can serve a wrestling. Watch the start of Andre De Grasse or Justin Gatlin in the 100m dash (I purposefully did not include Usain Bolt because his start is very sloppy; however, he is able to dominant because he maintains his speed so well). The position and shin angles of these sprinters is similar to the position and shin angles of a leg attack. These sprinters are moving as fast as possible, wrestlers shoot leg attacks as fast as possible. See where I am going with this? There is much crossover from sprinting to wrestling, especially the acceleration portion of a sprint.
Post Activation Potentiation
Post activation potentiation (PAP) has been shown to improve explosiveness temporarily in highly-trained athletes but not in recreationally trained athletes (2003; 2005). Many sport scientists have supported PAP via vertical jump, force plate squat jump performance (2003), horizontal jump (1996), sprinting (2005) showing increases in velocity, force, and therefore power. PAP entails performing a near-maximal lift or maximal speed lift for 1 – 5 sets and 1 – 5 reps, waiting 5 – 20 minutes and then performing power/explosive movements. The window of post-activation may be open up to 4-6 hours as a study at the University of North Carolina (2012) found increases in power during an afternoon shot throw after a morning lifting session. Understand, PAP may be better applied to shorter more explosive practices; with longer breaks between drill bouts; while athletes with more fast-twitch muscle fibers (think Jordan Burroughs) might benefit more from a PAP induced warm-up vs. an entire lifting session.
The Post-Activation Potentiation Scientific Know-How:
Many ideas explaining PAP are hypothesized including: increased recruitment of motor neurons (2008), increased spinal cord reflex stimulation (1985;2000) increased sensitivity of muscle fibers neurotransmitters or action potential ions (2005; 1985) or possibly improved coordination (1996); however, the the exact mechanism is not known. The answer to PAP may take much time to answer because this mechanism likely occurs at molecular level and the funding for sports physiology is low.
To this researcher’s knowledge, PAP has not been tested in a wrestling context so the following information is only supported through other modes of training. However, in a study using D1 athletes at the University of Oregon (1996) horizontal jump performance improved after a dynamic warm-up combined with 5 sets of power snatch (68-77% of 1RM) resulted in increased horizontal jump performance. If there is any lab test most similar to wrestling, it is a horizontal jump. Therefore, coaches can use PAP as a warm-up for wrestling practices to improve explosiveness for each practice. Think, if each practice is a little more explosive due to a PAP warm-up, how much can that extra explosiveness add up over the course of a season? I do not know that answer, but I think the risk: reward ratio is certainly worth taking. Post-activation potentiation can also be applied before conditioning and explosive lift days. For example, if the conditioning session involves sprints with longer rest intervals or cycling sprints (2001) PAP has been shown to improve performance. Again, think if every sprint conditioning session has a little more power and therefore speed; how much can that add up over the course of a season?
How to use PAP
Before practice begins do a very short (4-6 minutes) dynamic warm-up with the team and go right into lifts to induce PAP. This would include: Squatting as fast as possible for 1 rep for 3 – 5 sets at 95% 1RM. In almost all the studies looking at PAP a minimum of 5 minutes rest is needed after the lift, any shorter timeframe than 5 minutes, fatigue will likely compromise performance.
Focus the first 6-12 minutes of practice on movements that reduce injury and improve flexibility and explosiveness. The first 5 minutes can be spent on light aerobic work to improve blood flow and musculo-skeletal tissue compliance. If you static stretch keep it short (>10 seconds/stretch & 2-4 minutes total stretching), pain-free, and involve multiple joints in one stretch. Dynamic stretching can be used to improve skill, speed, flexibility, and explosiveness; regardless of training age. Think about incorporating sprint mechanics into your warm-up. Using PAP in strong and highly trained athletes can be a tool to maximize and improve explosiveness. Final word, if you have found ways to warm-up for wrestling that improve performance USE IT! and spread the word! There are certainly aspects of performance that can elude scientists.