Identifying Common Wrestling Injuries and Training Ideas to Reduce Those Risks
by Coach Alex Nigro
Wrestling is known as one of the oldest sports in human history. Why has it stood the test of time? Because there is nothing more instinctive than 2 opponents trying to best the other. While the sport has come a long way with softer mats instead of sand, head gear, and officials overseeing the match, the risk for injury is still there. Wresting is both a full contact and collision sport. Besides the mats there is little room for absorbing those contacts. Wrestling matches are 5-10 minutes of continuous action with maximal power, strength, agility, and stamina all being pushed to the limit. With these conditions, injuries are bound to happen. It is up to the strength and conditioning coach to identify what the athlete’s weaknesses are and how best to reduce their injury risk. This article will address how structured weight training and plyometric training help reduce these risks.
According to recent NCAA data wrestling injuries are 2nd behind football. Statistics from 2003-04 found that 5.7 injuries occur during practice and 25.8 occur during a competitive outing per every 1,000 “wrestling exposures.” High school injury rates were similar. Most of these injuries happened during the “neutral” position of a wrestling match that is when both wrestlers are in a standing position. Common types of injuries are sprains, strains, cartilage issues, and bruises. Being a full contact sport there is also great risk for spinal, cervical, and brain injury. It is up to the sports coaches and strength coaches to develop strategies that make wrestlers more resilient to the common injuries, and control the environment so to minimize the risk of the severe injuries. Less than 25% of measured wrestling injuries occurred in the 1st period, leading me to believe that fatigue and stamina play a role as a match or practice progresses.
So as a strength coach what I look to influence is getting the athletes strong in extremes of the joints/muscles end ranges, working on increasing the athlete’s explosiveness and ability to handle Ground Reaction Forces with the use of plyometric training, proprioceptive/kinetic awareness aka balance, lastly increasing their conditioning and work capacity so to delay fatigue and along with that injury.
Strength training is used to build more lean tissue, strength, as well as integrity and stability in the joints. The strength coach must emphasize proper technique and taking each exercise through a full range of motion. The coach must also look for movement and muscular imbalances as they will lead to inefficient movement quality.
Plyometric training such as jumps, hops, bounds, and other fast explosive movements should be used to not only improve the wrestler’s athletic capabilities but also reduce injury risk. Plyos also train the athlete to handle ground reaction forces. In physics the ground reaction force is the force exerted by the ground on a body in contact with it. So when a wrestler lands on a limb, foot or another part of the body, he must be able to absorb these forces in a short period of time then express that energy as he continues in a match. These forces are how ankle sprains, stress fractures, and chronic knee pain occur. A strength coach will include plyometric training in the wrestler’s program so that the athlete can learn to express their strength form the weights in an explosive, athletic manner.
Strength and conditioning programs should not just be looked at as increasing athletic performance, which is certainly a main goal but also preventing the sport’s common injuries and building resiliency in the athlete. Especially for such a demanding sport such as wrestling.
References: Grindstaff, T., D. Potach. Prevention of common wrestling injuries. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 28(4), 20-28. April 2006.