Before he burst upon the professional wrestling scene as one of the greatest in-ring performers of his generation, Kurt Angle acquired a Hall-of-Fame amateur wrestling resume that included three consecutive trips to the finals of the NCAA Championships, two NCAA Heavyweight Championships, a FILA World Championship, and a gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games.
Although it has been many years since Olympic triumph capped off Kurt’s amateur career, he realizes there are several elements to his training and general approach to wrestling that would be of tremendous benefit to any young wrestlers looking to follow in his footsteps. As such, Kurt has provided us with a list of five things he thinks every wrestler needs to know, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better person to take wrestling advice from. It’s true.
1. You probably shouldn’t cut weight
For most wrestlers, last-minute weight cuts in order to qualify for their desired weight divisions are a regular part of the process. Well, it wasn’t something Kurt was interested in doing. For Kurt, there was nothing about the weight-cutting process that gave him an advantage, and he felt it was wiser to wrestle in a higher weight division and forego the agony of torturing himself to make a lighter weight class. Kurt wrestled up in weight ever since he was in high school, and you can’t argue with the results; he was the first wrestler to win the NCAA Division 1 heavyweight championship – a division that had a weight limit of 275 pounds at that time – while he weighed fewer than 200 pounds.
“I never cut weight, and I had a lot of success doing that because I never ran out of energy,” Kurt said. “If I was going to cut weight, I was going to get mopped up by my partner because I didn’t have the energy to get through a practice, and there’s no way to get better like that. So, I looked at it like I’d rather wrestle up a weight class so that I could feel better and train better, and get the most out of practice every day. I didn’t want to be one of these miserable guys lying around on the mat in sweats every day getting beaten up by their partners just to lose weight. It didn’t make any sense to me.”
2. You should decide what kind of wrestler you want to be
Wrestlers have a decision to make as far as whether or not they want to be freestyle wrestlers or Greco Roman wrestlers, and the two worlds are more different than most people realize. According to Kurt, your personal temperament, your preferred style of attack and defense, and your control over your body position are all factors you should consider when determining which version of wrestling you want to focus on. In fact one of the reasons Kurt decided not to focus on Greco Roman wrestling was because he didn’t have the patience to do it at a high level.
“In Greco Roman wrestling there was a lot of upper-body time out, and I’d always end up looking for a big throw, and that would get me in trouble,” Kurt admitted. “I did that in high school, and I decided I was going to stick with collegiate wrestling and freestyle wrestling. Are you active? Do you like to leg attack? Do you like someone attacking your legs? That’s what you need to look at to help you decide what type of wrestling you want to do. Personally, I liked for someone to attack my legs because when I lower the boom on them, I’m scoring. I also had great explosion in my hips. But if you’re a great position wrestler and have the ability to throw people, you might want to go to the upper-body scene and not have your legs attacked.”
3. You should train until you’re exhausted… and THEN start training
One of the most shocking things you’ll hear from Kurt is that he didn’t really consider himself to be a great wrestler. The way he won his matches was by pushing his opponents to the point where they were worn out and broken down, and then, as Kurt says, “They were putty in my hands.” In order to give himself this advantage over all of his opponents, Kurt only started his regular training after he’d already exercised himself to the point of exhaustion. Not only did this give him an edge that his more skilled opponents couldn’t counter, but it also gave Kurt a psychological edge by recognizing just how much fatigue he was able to endure.
“Not a lot of wrestlers have the heart to do this, but you have to learn how to think and do things when you’re completely exhausted and you want to quit,” Kurt insisted. “You have to learn how to get through that psychological point in a wrestling match where fatigue doesn’t phase you, and the only way you can get used to that is by taking your body to the brink of exhaustion while continuing to train as hard as you can. Now are you chancing injury? Yeah, but you’re also chancing injury every time you go out there and compete.”
4.You should train to be effective and not to look good
Wrestlers expose more skin than most other athletes, and this often brings pressure to look physically impressive. Unfortunately, many of the exercises that build the biggest muscles are purely superficial and don’t contribute anything to a wrestler’s performance. Kurt encourages all wrestlers to emphasize the lifts that translate to dominance on the mat. After all, it isn’t a bodybuilding competition, and looking good doesn’t make losing feel any better.
“I lifted for strength and for explosion,” Kurt explained. “I did power cleans, deadlifts and squats. I did the things I had to do that would make me a better wrestler. There are so many new exercises that would help, but you need to do the basics are that get your hips and back to be strong, and that comes from power cleans, squats and deadlifts. There’s no replacement for that. At the same time, since MMA has become popular, a lot of the exercises they’ve done have transitioned over the wrestling, and all of those movements are beneficial, too.”
5. Your wrestling ability will help you with other sports
Many of Kurt’s biggest fans would still be surprised to hear the wrestling legend also excelled on the gridiron as an All-State linebacker. Although the training Kurt did during the three months of the year he dedicated to football did little to benefit his wrestling performance, Kurt attributes the overwhelming majority of his football success to the skills he developed while training to wrestle.
“My explosiveness really helped me,” Kurt said. “A lot of the skill-position players will tell you basketball helps, but if you’re a lineman or a linebacker, or even a fullback, the explosiveness from wrestling really helps. When I played in high school football, my wrestling helped me a lot more than if I would’ve played something like basketball. My explosiveness off the whistle and getting in there to go up against linemen and being able to manhandle them definitely came from my wrestling.”
Kurt Angle’s Exhaustion Sets:
Note: These workouts are listed as an example of Kurt’s regular training regimen during the peak of his career, at which point he would train for six to eight hours every day. These workouts are listed for the sole purpose of inspiring young wrestlers to develop conditioning like Kurt Angle’s over time, and should be seen as an ultimate training goal rather than a regular training suggestion. Workouts like these should not even be attempted before an athlete is physically capable of enduring an insane amount of physical fatigue.
1. A six-mile run in under 40 minutes, followed immediately by thirty 200-yard hill sprints, fifteen of which should be done with a training partner on your back.
2. Fifty 100-yard sprints on the football field, followed by 60 minutes of wrestling with a fresh opponent swapped in every two minutes.
3. Start off by doing squats to failure with 135 pounds with two minutes rest afterward. Follow that with squats to failure with 225 pounds to with another two minutes of rest afterward. Next, do squats to failure with 315 pounds followed by a final two minutes of rest. Finally, finish it off by doing squats to failure with 405 pounds. Then do your regular circuit of power cleans and deadlifts. But, wait… there’s more! The workout is over once you complete jump squats to failure with 80-pound dumbbells.
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