10 Best Core Exercises for Wrestling (Beginner to Advanced)
A strong core is essential for wrestling, and honestly, for any athlete of any sport. A strong core helps transfer power, aids in balance and provides stability. All are important qualities to almost every movement on the wrestling mat, so developing a strong core should be a massive priority for every wrestler.
In this article, I’m going to give you my 10 favorite core exercises for wrestling to help maximize your performance on the mat.
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Core Exercises For Wrestling
I’m going to list all 10 exercises from the most beginner-friendly up to the most advanced. So, whether you’re a complete beginner or an elite-level wrestler, you should be able to find a few exercises to challenge you and help you improve.
I’m not going to list crunches, because I think we’re all too familiar with those. Instead, I’m going to give you another simple body weight core exercise that is one of my favorites – Toe Touches. Like crunches, Toes Touches are easy to learn and simple to do.
Having to hold your legs vertically in the air forces the lower abs to be engaged making them slightly harder than regular crunches.
But, the reason I really like Toe Touches for wrestlers is it gives insight into hamstring flexibility. Athletes with really tight hamstrings will struggle to get into a proper position and will struggle even more to maintain it.
If this sounds familiar then it’s time to start addressing those hammys.
- Lay flat on your back with your legs perpendicular to the floor (legs straight up in the air).
- From this position, keep your chin off of your chest, keep your arms straight and raise your upper body toward your feet.
- Touch your toes (or at least reach as high up your shins as you can) with your fingers and return to the starting position.
- Repeat the exercise until your set is complete.
Athletes with tight hamstrings may find it hard to keep their legs straight up in the air through the duration of the exercise. Work to keep legs straight and vertical as much as possible.
Keep hands relatively close to the shins throughout the movement. Swinging the arms toward the head at the bottom causes momentum which takes away from the quality of the movement.
There are so many reasons that I love programming Planks for athletes, especially wrestlers.
First, it teaches and reinforces what it means to brace your core. Knowing how to properly, and effectively, brace your core is so important not only in the weight room but on the mat as well.
Second, holding a plank can sometimes be as mentally challenging as it is physically challenging. I think anytime you can introduce situations (safely!) that get athletes out of their comfort zone and force them to strain is beneficial.
Finally, planks are extremely versatile. You can add weight or time to make them more challenging. You can switch to a side plank to incorporate more obliques and they also work great as a competition to finish a workout.
- Start on the ground on your stomach.
- Assume a push-up like position on your elbows and toes. Elbows should be directly under the shoulders.
- Position your body in a straight line from the shoulders through the hips, knees and ankles.
- Brace the core tight. (As if you’re going to be punched in the stomach)
- Do not let the body slouch to the ground nor push the hips up high in the air.
- Hold for the designated amount of time.
The biggest mistake that I see with Front Planks is athletes holding the position, but not properly keeping the core engaged and just allowing the torso to slouch. So, while they are technically up on their elbows and toes, all they’re really doing is straining the low back.
The other mistake I see is the exact opposite and that is athletes shooting their butts into the air, resembling more of a Down Dog position.
The difference between the two is the second, having your butt too high, is easier to notice and corrected more often. However, letting the body slouch during a plank is often allowed to pass as ‘good form’ when it is not.
Half Kneeling Cable Chop
Cable Chops force you to brace your core while moving a weight diagonally across the body. Being able to brace and stabilize against external forces (like your opponent) is critical in wrestling.
- Cable Machine
- Core Abdominals (Rectus Femoris, Obliques Externus Abdominus)
- Shoulders (Anterior Delt)
- Latissimus Dorsi
- Attach a cable attachment* and slide the pin to the top of the cable machine.
- Assume a kneeling position about a foot and a half away from the machine (may vary depending on what the machine will allow)
- The knee toward the machine should be up and the knee away from the machine should be on the floor.
- Start with both arms straight out in front, one on each side of the rope or bar.
- Allow the weight to slowly pull your arms up and to the side about a foot, keeping your arms relatively straight.
- Now, brace the core and pull the cable diagonally down across your body.
- Do not twist or turn or significantly bend the arms (a slight bend in the arm is okay).
- Control the eccentric portion of the movement back to the start and repeat.
- Once all reps are complete, switch to the other side.
*This movement is best done with either the rope attachment with the rope slid all the way over to one side or a straight bar attachment with the cable attached to one side.
Keep the torso upright during the movement. If you find yourself (or your athletes) leaning to one side or the other it’s probably an indication that the weight is too heavy. Lighten the weight being used and focus on maintaining that upright position.
Do not rotate through the torso. The goal here is to maintain a braced core and upright body position as you pull the weight across your body.
Seated Med Ball Twist
Seated Med Ball Twists are a staple in my wrestling programming. It’s a simple exercise, but the movement – bracing and rotating – is incredibly transferrable to the mat.
If you want a slightly more advanced version, have a partner stand a few feet to your side and throw the ball back and forth to them.
- Medicine Ball
- Start by grabbing a medicine ball and taking a seat on the floor.
- Slightly bend the knees and raise your feet roughly six inches off the floor.
- Start by rotating your torso to the left and lightly tapping the med ball against the ground.
- Now turn your shoulders and rotate your torso to the right and, again, lightly tap the ball against the ground.
- Keep legs mostly still and maintain the feet off the floor throughout the movement.
- Continue rotating back and forth until all reps are completed.
Coaching Points (Common Mistakes)
The biggest mistake I see with my athletes when doing Seated Med Ball Twists is moving the ball back and forth primarily with their arms instead of rotating through the core. The focus should be on the rotation. The ball touching the ground is simply an added bonus to the movement.
Speaking of the ball touching the ground – there is no need to bang the ball off the ground as hard as possible for each rep. Stay in control of the movement and the med ball and lightly tap it on the ground.
Med Ball Side Slam
The first medicine ball movement is the Med Ball Side Slam. I love this exercise for wrestlers because it involves bracing, rotation and generating power all in one movement.
- Medicine Ball
- Grab a medicine ball and stand tall with feet roughly shoulder-width apart.
- Reach the medicine ball high overhead.
- Using the core, pull the body down – hinging forward at the hips – while simultaneously rotating to one side.
- Follow through with the arms and release the ball. The ball should hit the ground just to the outside of the feet.
- Let the ball slam into the ground, catch it off the bounce and repeat (alternating back and forth to each side) for the designated number of reps.
First and foremost, test how ‘bouncy’ your medicine ball is before starting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen athletes almost have their faces smashed by a medicine ball bouncing much harder and rebounding much faster off the ground than they were anticipating.
The biggest mistake I see with Med Ball Side Slams is athletes not utilizing the core and simply throwing the ball down with their arms. The bulk of the force should be generated by aggressively using the core to hinge forward. If done correctly, it should almost (and actually might) lift your feet up off the floor.
Med Ball Side Toss
Med Ball Side Toss is a rotational core exercise utilizing a medicine ball that is fantastic for developing rotational power.
I love Med Ball throwing movements like Slams and Side Tosses because of how dynamic they are and how much power players are able to generate. Definitely beats laying on the ground and doing crunches every day.
- Medicine Ball
- 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. Once all reps are completed switch sides.
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 way back off of the wall. If you have a soft Dynamax-type medicine ball then you can stand much closer as the bounce off the wall will be much less.
Stir The Pot
Stir the Pot is a sneaky hard core exercise that challenges your ability to stay braced and stabilized as your arms shift around on a stability ball.
I love this exercise for wrestlers because being able to stay braced and stabile as your opponent is constantly shifting and changing their position is so critical in wrestling.
- Stability Ball (also sometimes called a Physio Ball)
- Start on your knees with the Stability Ball directly in front of you.
- Place your forearms on the ball and clasp your hands together.
- Now slowly lift up off of your knees, balancing yourself with your forearms on the ball and toes on the ground.
- You should now basically be in plank position, but with your forearms on a stability ball instead of the ground.
- Now work your hands into small circles. This should simulate, you guessed it, stirring a pot with a big wooden spoon.
- Work clockwise until all reps are completed and then switch and go counter-clockwise as well.
- Once all reps are completed lower back down to your knees.
Take your time getting properly set up! If you’ve never done this exercise before it can be surprising just how hard it is to balance yourself on a stability ball in this manner let alone shift in circles.
Make SMALL circles. Trying to go too big with your circles is a good way to end up lying on your back.
Too often when players think about doing ‘core work’ they only think of working their abs. However, low back work is just as important, but it’s often either overlooked or just ignored.
Hyperextensions are one of the best movements you can do in a weight room to focus on building a strong low back. Hypers will also work the glutes and hamstrings as well.
If you don’t have access to a Glute Ham Machine, you can try either Supermans or Back Crunches. Both also work the low back and require no equipment.
- Glute-Ham Raise Machine
- First, you are going to want to get the glute-ham raise machine adjusted to the correct length.
- I recommend adjusting the machine so that your hip crease is at the end of the padding of the machine.
- Locking your feet in, facing the ground, keep a neutral spine by focusing your eyes on the floor below.
- Take in a deep breath, brace the abdomen, and keep your hands on the handles until you are ready to perform the eccentric movement.
- Once ready, take your hands off the handles, extend your body, keep your arms at your side, and control your body down until your torso is about perpendicular to the floor.
- Pause for 1 second in the bottom of the position to maintain stiffness in the muscles before coming back up.
- After 1 second of the isometric hold, pull yourself back parallel to the floor, engaging the glutes, hamstrings, and low back, while also keeping stiffness in the abdomen and upper back.
Hyperextensions are surprisingly easy to mess up. One of the easiest ways to make a mistake is going down too fast and “whipping” yourself back to the starting position. As with any exercise, the setup, initial breath before eccentric movement, maintaining control, pausing, and breathing out during concentric contraction are important.
It is important for the lifter to maintain a neutral spine, maintaining tension in the abdomen and upper back. Remember to breathe in and hold the breath during eccentric (lowering your body) and breathe out as you perform the concentric movement (bringing your body back up).
Hanging Straight Leg Raises
Hanging ab exercises like Hanging Straight Leg Raises are some of my absolute favorite core exercises.
Not only are they very challenging ab movements, but they also provide extra benefits as well. They’re a great way to sneak grip strength into your workout and many also work the shoulders, back and biceps as well.
- Pull-Up Bar – Ideally a stand-alone pull-up bar or one connected to a squat rack although any sturdy object you can hang from will technically work.
- Abdominal Core Muscles (Rectus Femoris, Obliques Externus Abdominus)
- Quadriceps, Rectus Femoris
- Tensor Fasciae Latae (TFL)
- Back and Forearms
- Find yourself a pull-up bar and grip the bar with an overhand grip.
- Engage your lats so your body doesn’t go limp once you begin to hang.
- Now hang from the bar and keeping your legs straight, drive them up to hip height (or slightly above hip height).
- Finally, actively lower your legs back to the starting position – don’t allow the legs to just swing down.
- Repeat until all reps are completed.
The biggest issue that most of my athletes run into when doing Hanging Straight Leg Raises (or any hanging ab exercise for that matter) is how to keep from swinging out of control.
To keep from swinging, you have to actively lower your legs back down. If you ‘let your legs go’ and just allow gravity to take over you’ll completely lose control of the movement. Timing and rhythm are also both important for Leg Raises and you can’t achieve either if you’re not in control of your legs throughout the movement.
By far the hardest core exercise listed here are Windshield Wipers. It is the ultimate in core strength and stabilization. And, not only do they require tremendous ab strength, but they also demand a strong grip and back as well.
If you’ve reached the point where you can rep out Windshield Wipers, you should feel really good about your core strength. (If you want a slightly easier version, try Floor Windshield Wipers)
- Pull-Up Bar – Ideally one connected to a squat rack (or a stand-alone pull-up bar) although any sturdy object you can hang from will technically work.
- Abdominal Core Muscles (Rectus Femoris, Obliques Externus Abdominus)
- Quadriceps, Rectus Femoris
- Tensor Fasciae Latae (TFL)
- Secondarily: Back, Biceps and Forearms
- Find yourself a pull-up bar and grip the bar with an overhand grip
- Engage your lats so your body doesn’t go limp once you begin to hang from the bar.
- Now hang from the bar with a slight flex at the elbow
- Keeping the legs straight, flex the core and lift the legs up until your toes touch the pull-up bar.
- From this position rotate your feet to the left about two to two and a half feet.
- Now swing them back to the top and over to the right about the same distance.
- Continue to rotate back and forth from the left to the right and back until all reps are completed (or until a break is needed to reset)
As mentioned at the top of this guide, this is an extremely challenging ab exercise. I would highly suggest mastering other hanging ab exercises like Hanging Leg Raises before beginning to attempt Windshield Wipers.
Because you’re almost hanging upside down while doing Windshield Wipers, the grip plays an extremely critical role. If you ever feel you’re struggling with your grip AT ALL, you should stop your set immediately.
Are these the only 10 core exercises that I like to use with wrestlers? Absolutely not. There are dozens of core exercises to choose from so there is no need to get in a rut of doing the same movements over and over again all the time.
You also don’t have to limit yourself to just bodyweight abs, like crunches and sit-ups, either. Grab a medicine ball or find a pull-up bar and add some variety (and difficulty) to your core routine.
Finally, don’t forget about that posterior chain! Exercises like Hyperextensions, Supermans or even Back Crunches can help strengthen your low back – an important part of your core.