When La Jolla High School’s wrestlers walked into the school gym on the first day of wrestling practice this season, most of them couldn’t believe their eyes.
They entered the wrestling area to find second-year coach Ryan Lennard showing off the new strength-and-conditioning equipment he had purchased for the team in the offseason, which included things like rubber resistance bands, medicine balls, balance balls and a weight rack on which the heaviest dumbbell weighed 15 pounds.
“When the kids originally walked in the room, they didn’t really know what to make of it,” Lennard recalled with a chuckle. “They were kind of laughing at it and making fun of me for having such light weights.”
But Lennard is confident in the new-fangled training approach, which he first learned through a personal trainer he worked with at a local gym. The theory behind it is that the majority of an athlete’s power is generated from his core muscles - all the exercises focus on balance and working those core muscles. And unlike traditional methods of athletic training, no exercise isolates just one muscle or muscle group.
The idea is that, by forcing athletes to balance their bodies in awkward positions, the effectiveness of light-weight training is increased. The goal of the training is less to build large, bulky muscles than it is to create lean muscles that pack a lot of power.
“As much as it is a strength-building type of training, it is also meant to build cardiovascular training as well,” Lennard said. “It’s kind of the best of both worlds wrapped up into one very short, very intense workout.”
It’s a long way from the bench presses and squats that La Jolla wrestlers of the past had been used to over the years.
At the end of every practice, Lennard puts his wrestlers through a 10-minute circuit training regimen, in which the athletes spend about a minute at each of 10 stations, with no rest between stations.
Lennard started his athletes on the new training at the beginning of the season, and expects that the system will be expanded to incorporate more exercises for more involved training in the offseason. He said he spent about $2,000 on the equipment.
Lennard, who wrestled at La Jolla High School and worked as an assistant coach for the Vikings before taking over the head coaching job last year, said the new method of training was something he had considered for some time. Where a football player might be able to get away with being a bit slower than his opponent off the line of scrimmage because he can overwhelm the guy across the line with his weight advantage, wrestlers are actually quite different.
Because they are constantly fighting for position and using nearly every muscle in their bodies, wrestlers must be strong, lean and quick in all situations. And because they are separated by weight class, extra bulk is not welcome.
“I consider wrestling the ultimate sport, in that you’re really combining all the different aspects of athleticism and being fit, and throwing it all into one sport,” Lennard said. “You look at all the different aspects - the speed, the power, agility, balance, flexibility and explosiveness, and it’s really all incorporated in this sport. In other sports, you might be able to get away with not having all of those aspects combined.
“In wrestling, you really have to be able to blend it all together - because in wrestling, it’s not always the strongest guy who’s going to win. It’s definitely always technique over strength, but if you can have technique and can be strong and flexible and mesh them all into one, that’s when you’re really successful.”
Lennard has seen his core strength and balance improve through this training program, and is hoping his athletes experience the same positive results.
He is also hoping to be able to look back at season’s end on some positive results, remember his wrestlers’ reactions from the beginning of the season, and be able to say to them, “I told you so.” “Oh yeah - I’d love to be able to do that,” Lennard said. “The kids are already starting to jump on the bandwagon. They can see how this type of functional training carries over much more so than anything you could ever do in a weight room with a bench press and a squat rack. They’re coming around to it, and they’re able to see the benefits, which is pretty cool to see as a coach.”