Upper Body Exercises for Wrestling

10 Best Upper Body Exercises for Wrestling (2023)

Having a strong and powerful upper body is extremely important for wrestling. Much of grappling is done with the upper body and wrestlers need to be strong, have sound muscular endurance and be able to brace through their core to express upper body power.

Comprehensive upper-body strength training will also help wrestlers be more resilient to injury. Shoulders in particular can experience extreme wear and tear through wrestling season and being able to stay healthy is the ultimate key to success.

Strength training for wrestling is not about getting jacked up like a bodybuilder. Training the upper body for wrestling should be about functionality that will directly carry over to the wrestling mat.

To be clear, functionality doesn’t mean standing on one leg on a balance ball doing a single-arm cable press while juggling tennis balls. What it does mean is utilizing compound exercises to develop strength and power to improve movement patterns seen in the sport.

I’ve worked 20 years as a Collegiate Strength Coach and in this article, I will be sharing my 10 favorite upper body exercises for wrestling, why I like each one and instructions on how to do them.

Wrestling Upper Body Exercises


Pull-ups might be the exercise that I use the most often when training wrestlers. The back and in particular the lats are so important for wrestling and no exercise develops back strength the way Pull-ups do.

I use Pull-ups at least once a week in my wrestling programming including all types of variations like Mountain Climber Pull-ups, Windshield Wiper Pull-ups, Towel Pull-ups and Rope Climbs (which are basically pull-ups).

Pro Tip: Use a towel draped over the pull-up bar to turn regular pull-ups into towel pull-ups. Jason Elkin, owner of Elkin Sports Performance, has trained multiple State Champions and NCAA All-Americans and towel pull-ups are one of his favorite exercises:

Pulling and grip strength is a huge component for the success of a wrestler in a match. The towel pull up will 100% help with both back and grip strength. The towel pull up can be inserted into your workout instead of a regular pull up one day or in addition to. I like to program the towel pull up in a superset with an exercise that has a pressing motion pressing (like Front Press).

How To

  • Approach the pull-up bar and grab the bar with a pronated grip (palms facing away).
  • Use a bench to get to the bar if it is too high.
  • Later in the article, I will talk about variations, alternatives, and modifications where the supinated (palms facing in) grip will be discussed.
  • Squeeze the bar and engage the core muscles and do not cross your legs.
  • Engage the upper back and pull up until your chin is over the bar.
  • Pause for 1 second with your chin over the bar.
  • Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.

Coaching Points

Take your time and master the pull-up. The benefits of doing sound pull-ups will pay dividends for your shoulder health and the potential to maximize your upper body strength.

Single Arm Snatch

Single Arm Dumbbell Snatch

I love explosive training with wrestlers and even though Single Arm Snatches are arguably a lower body hip extension movement, it’s close enough for me to sneak it in here.

Any exercise that you can train the hips through explosive triple extension is one that fits perfectly into a wrestling strength training program.


  • Select a dumbbell that is appropriate for your strength and experience level.
  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding the dumbbell in one hand, positioned between your legs.
  • Begin with a slight bend in the knees and hinge at the hips, lowering the dumbbell towards the ground.
  • Powerfully extend your hips and knees, pulling the dumbbell upwards in a straight line.
  • As the dumbbell ascends, begin to pull your elbow underneath it.
  • Fully extend your arm overhead, catching the dumbbell in a locked-out position.
  • Control the dumbbell back to the starting position, maintaining good posture.

Coaching Points

The dumbbell should travel close to the body all the up until it gets about head height, then rotate the elbow, drop the hips and catch. Don’t allow it to swing forward out away from the body.

The second technique flaw is not staying braced through the return of the dumbbell to the starting position, oftentimes from being in too big of a hurry to knock out reps. Letting the dumbbell, especially the heavier you get, yank the shoulder down at the bottom of the rep is asking for trouble.

Single Arm Dumbbell Bench

Single Arm Dumbbell Bench

For the record, I will have wrestlers do regular Bench Press, but I like the one arm version a little more. Single Arm Dumbbell Bench is an anti-rotational movement which means the core has to work to stabilize the body to keep it from rotating (and falling off the bench) while you press.

This utilization of the core with Bench Press is why I really like this movement for wrestlers.


  • Choose a dumbbell of appropriate weight and lie back on a flat bench.
  • Hold the dumbbell in one hand, extending the arm straight above your chest while the other arm is relaxed beside you.
  • Plant your feet firmly on the ground and engage your core to maintain stability.
  • Lower the dumbbell by bending the elbow, keeping it slightly angled towards your torso, until it’s just above chest level.
  • Push the dumbbell back to the starting position by extending the arm, ensuring your back remains flat on the bench.

Coaching Points

If you’re familiar with Dumbbell Bench Press but are new to this single-arm variation, you’ll probably be pretty surprised by just how much you need to brace your core to keep from literally rotating off the bench. For this reason, start light and then work your way up in weight.

Dumbbell Pullovers

Dumbbell Pullovers

I love Dumbbell Pullovers because of how closely they mimic the collar tie and snap down in wrestling. Being able to powerfully pull through with the Serratus Anterior and Lats is extremely important in being able to win these types of positions.

Pro Tip: The Cable Pulldown and Barbell Pullover are two other closely related exercises that can work well for this purpose.

How To

  • Lay on a bench with the top of your head all the way to the edge of the bench.
  • Make a diamond shape with your hands and place them on the inside of one of the heads of the dumbbell.
  • Press the dumbbell to arm’s length straight up over the chest.
  • Now, reach the dumbbell overhead (allow some bend in the elbow) until your hands are about even with the height of the bench.
  • Finally, pull the dumbbell back to the starting position.

Coaching Points

This exercise will give a deep stretch to the chest and triceps on the eccentric (lowering) phase of the lift. Stay slow and controlled and focus on the stretch followed by the strong contraction as you raise the dumbbell back to the start.

Turkish Get-up

An exercise that emphasizes mobility, stability and strength from awkward angles and positions? That sounds like an ideal movement for a wrestler and that is exactly what a Turkish GetUp is.

They can also be extremely taxing both cardiovascularly and from a muscular endurance standpoint when done for volume. Perfect for a finisher at the end of a strength training session.


  • Lie on your back with a kettlebell in your right hand, arm extended straight up towards the ceiling. Your right knee should be bent with the foot planted on the ground, while your left leg remains straight out and left arm angled at about 45 degrees from your body.
  • Push off with your right foot and roll onto your left elbow, keeping the kettlebell straight up. Ensure your eyes are on the kettlebell.
  • Transition from your left elbow to your left hand, pushing your torso up and keeping the kettlebell overhead.
  • Drive through your right foot and lift your hips off the ground, forming a bridge. Your left leg will be straight and off the ground at this point.
  • Take your left leg and sweep it back, placing the knee on the ground beneath your body. You should now be in a lunge position with your left knee on the ground and kettlebell still overhead.
  • Adjust your legs to come into a standing position, all the while keeping the kettlebell overhead.
  • Now, reverse the entire movement to come back to the starting position on the ground.

Common Mistakes

The most common mistake I see with the Turkish get-up is going too fast. To glean the full benefits of the movement, go slow, and take your time through each phase of the exercise.

Emphasize stabilization in the shoulder, glutes, and core. Keep the kettlebell locked out the entire time. If the elbow gets soft, you’re not stabilizing the shoulder, and maybe you’re going too heavy. In the bridge phase, pause, and squeeze the glutes and core. Emphasize locking in each phase.

Dumbbell Shrugs

Dumbbell Shrugs Rear View

Dumbbell Shrugs are on here because they are one of the most effective exercises for building strength and muscle mass to help protect the head and neck. This is an often overlooked, but very important part of any athlete’s strength training, especially wrestlers.

Depending on what equipment you have access to I would also include a 4-way neck machine and/or manual neck strengthening exercises as well.


  • Place feet hip-width apart, brace the core and stand tall
  • Now shrug up, visualizing touching your traps to your ears.
  • Do NOT ‘roll’ the shoulders. Shrug straight up and straight down.
  • Keep good posture. Do not let the shoulders slouch forward during the set.
  • Control the weight back down to the starting position.

Coaching Points

Shrugs already have a short range of motion. Don’t shorten the range of motion even further by grabbing more weight than you can properly lift.

Single Arm Farmer’s Walk

There are a couple of exercises on this list that are just as much a core exercise as an upper body exercise and there is a reason for that. Almost no movement is done in wrestling where the core isn’t an active participant and any upper body movement is only as strong as the core that can brace, stabilize and help transfer power.

Single Arm Farmer’s Walk, also known as a Suitcase Carry, is a unique core stability exercise that emphasizes stabilization in the frontal plane. As you walk, the core has to continuously work to stabilize an upright torso, not allowing the body to bend to one side.

As an added bonus, Single Arm Farmer’s Walks will also help develop grip strength – another important area of wrestling strength training.

How To

  • Grab a single kettlebell or dumbbell.
  • Brace the core and begin walking in a slow, controlled manner.
  • As you walk, focus on keeping the core braced and the shoulders and hips square and level.
  • Once you cover the assigned distance (or time), switch hands and repeat on the opposite side.

Coaching Points

You do not need to grab the heaviest kettlebell you can find. Find a weight that you can walk with and maintain proper form. Don’t rush through. Single Arm Farmer’s Walk can be done for time or for distance.

If going for distance, it should not be a speed walk to cover the ground as fast as possible. Stay under control and focus on form.


Athlete Doing Push-Ups

Push Ups get a bad wrap sometimes because they’re looked at as, well, too simple for advanced athletes. However, there are very few exercises that are as effective at building upper body strength as Push-ups.

Once you’re able to consistently crank out sets of 25 quality push-ups, there are multiple ways you can “advance” the push-up. Add a weight to the back or add a band for added resistance. Or, you can also try handstand push-ups.


  • Begin in a plank position, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and feet together or slightly apart. Your body should form a straight line from head to heels.
  • Bend your elbows, lowering your body towards the floor while maintaining a straight spine.
  • Get as close to the floor as possible without touching it with your chest.
  • Extend your elbows, pushing your body back to the starting position.

Coaching Points

Take your time and master the push-up. The benefits of doing sound push-ups will pay dividends for your shoulder health and the potential to maximize your upper body strength.

Keep the elbows at a 45-degree angle. For maximal chest, shoulder, and rotator cuff engagement, do not let the elbows flare out away from the middle. Also, do not let the elbow hug right next to the torso.

Renegade Rows

DB Renegade Row

Renegade Rows are the ultimate exercise for having to brace the core and then apply strength. They’re also a sneaky good exercise for shoulder stability because the opposite arm has to stabilize while the rowing is taking place.


  • Grab one dumbbell in each hand and assume a pushup position with feet about shoulder width apart.
  • Make sure the core is braced and row one dumbbell up.
  • Lower the dumbbell under control and return to the starting pushup position.
  • Alternate rowing each arm until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

Try to limit rotating the torso as much as possible. It’s natural to want to open the torso toward the side of the arm you’re rowing with – try to fight against this and stay as square as possible.

The wider your feet, the easier it is to stay balanced while you perform the movement. Try to keep feet about shoulder-width apart.

Medicine Ball Side Throws

Med Ball Side Toss
Photo Credit (Srdjan Randjelovic / shutterstock.com)

Like, Single Arm Farmer’s Walk, Med Ball Side Throws are as much a core exercise as an upper body one, but they’re just too important to leave off this list.

Rotational power is an important component of wrestling and Side Throws are as good of an exercise as there is for training rotational power.


  • Grab a medicine ball and stand perpendicular to a sturdy wall*.
  • Distance away from the wall will vary based upon the type of medicine ball you have**.
  • Stand in a good athletic position, feet shoulder width apart, hips and knees bent.
  • Begin by rotating away from the wall, reaching the medicine ball toward the back hip.
  • Now, aggressively rotate toward the wall, turning on the ball of the back foot, opening the hips toward the wall and releasing the ball into the wall.
  • Catch the ball off the ball, reset and repeat.

Coaching Points

The biggest mistake I see athletes make is using their arms (and not their hips) way too much to throw the ball. Power for the throw should primarily come from rotating the hips and torso and the arms should be secondary.

*If you have a partner, you can throw to each other instead of into a wall.

**The distance away from the wall will vary depending on what type of medicine ball you have. If you have a hard rubber medicine ball then be prepared for the ball to bounce a good ways back off of the wall.

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Final Thoughts

Obviously, these are not the only 10 upper body exercises that are effective for training wrestlers. There are dozens if not hundreds of exercises that can be used to develop upper body strength.

These are simply some of my favorites and ones that I use over and over again in my wrestling strength training programs.

More Links and Info

If you enjoyed this article, make sure to check out some of our other wrestling resources:

The Best Core Exercises for Wrestlers

My Favorite Bodyweight Exercises for Wrestlers

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