Workouts for Wrestlers with Coach Carmen Bott

Wrestlers are some of the toughest athletes on the planet and require a unique approach strength and conditioning.  In today’s podcast, we talk with strength coach and professor, Carmen Bott, and discuss how she approaches working with her combat athletes.

In This Episode We Discuss:

  • The Demands of the Sport
  • Why Are Wrestler’s Unique?
  • Common Weak Links that Need to Be Addressed
  • Assessing Wrestlers to Determine Strengths and Weaknesses
  • Off Season Training Plans
  • How to Use Different Types of Workouts
  • Working Hard Versus Training Smart
  • and more!


Full Transcription of Our Podcast with Carmen Bott

Interview with Carmen Bott talking about her coaching methods for Wrestlers

Corey Beasley [00:00:01]: Hey guys, is Corey Beasley with fight camp conditioning. I’m on the phone with strength coach and Professor Carmen Bott, how you doing Carmen?

Carmen Bott [00:00:08]: I’m great Corey. Thank you. How are you?

Corey Beasley [00:00:11]: I’m doing awesome. Thanks so much for talking with us. I appreciate it. So guys Carmen is a strength coach up in Vancouver, BC, Canada and works with a lot of the top wrestlers, combat athletes that are up in that area. And today we really wanted to have her on and share her expertise with training wrestlers. I mean I know with wrestling there’s a lot of goods, there’s a lot of bads, there’s some of the toughest athletes that are out there no question. And we’re really looking forward to some of your guidance and just listening to some of your experiences and get some knowledge from you.

Carmen Bott [00:00:53]: Thank you. I am excited to share.

Corey Beasley [00:00:56]: Absolutely. So we’ll just jump right into it. I mean, when we’re talking about training wrestlers right now, probably for most of them it’s the off season. But they’re unique athletes, and they have certain demands that they have. And at least from my experience, what I’ve noticed is that a lot of people will just jump in and most people are just doing what they know. What they’ve had done to them in the past, what their coach did with them. And what typically happens is they end up in some kind of a mix of a bodybuilder program, powerlifting program, something along those lines. There’s some just crazy death circuit that the coach comes out with it trying to keep them healthy or just make them tough. But I mean, from your experience, when an athlete comes in and where do you typically start with them?

Carmen Bott [00:01:52]: Obviously first things first we need to test right? So we begin with some basic assessments and it doesn’t always have to be super fancy with a lab and white gloves and whatnot. It can be as simple as, Hey, how many pushups can you do in a minute? How long does it take you to run one and a half miles? Let’s look at your beat test. Have a look at that and I can convert that to a running velocity and prescribe a running program if that’s what I think they need, go in the gym and do some one arm strength testing if they have the skillset to do that pull up tests there’s lots of standardized tests out there and there is a lot of data for wrestlers that there could be more. So those of you listening and want to test athletes sharing data is going to be really key to progress this sport. Then the other half is going to practice talking to the coaches, learning about the sport and learning about your athletes. So when I start, about 50% of it is the testing. And the other half is figuring out more about the demand of the actual sport of and then how to integrate the training with all of their on mat training, their practices, their competitions, and varsity athletes will compete every single weekend. So 36 to 45 matches in a season. So there’s a lot to contend with from a management standpoint. So it’s a big ball of fun really.

Corey Beasley [00:03:22]: Now when you’re talking about testing, if a coach is loosening on a young athlete when do you kind of do that? What do you learn from it? I guess what are some of the benefits? Because it is time, I know a lot of these guys are like, Hey, just get on a mat, we’re going to do work. But what’s the main benefit that helps an athlete and a coach when they do testing?

Carmen Bott [00:03:46]: Well, it gives me a place to start from. And it also is an educational piece for the athletes so they can see, like look, this is where you are. This is where a world level senior, international athlete is that. And that’s, imagine maybe they’re in their first year of university so they’re still a junior athlete. So it gives them targets and it gives them something to work towards and it helps me good the meaning behind the training program. Otherwise they’re just going to the gym, lifting weights and doing exercises without really sort of much meaning behind it. And most of the wrestlers I’ve worked with love to wrestle, right? Like that’s what they want to be doing. And I get that. I’m definitely not a gym rat. I’ve always an athlete. So I’ve always preferred practices and games and competing. The training was just stuff I had to do to keep my body from falling apart I guess or maybe I’m still speaking about being older, but when I was younger, we did the training, the strength and conditioning to supplement the sport. So the testing piece, sure it gives me the coach or the head coach of the strength and conditioning coach some data. But there’s a huge educational piece to that for the athletes and then that way they can see, look at this is what the world level athletes can do. And we know with a sport like wrestling, and I’ve looked at every single piece of literature when I wrote the testing manual, there’s nothing I haven’t read. And the best wrestlers in the world are very strong pound for pound. So we know we need to get them there.

Corey Beasley [00:05:21]: Now, you kind of alluded to it a little bit, but you’d have done a tremendous amount of research as well, studying these athletes and understanding the demands of the sport. What are some of the key parts that you came out with or things that kind of really opened your eyes?

Carmen Bott [00:05:36]: I think the one thing that was really interesting was a flexibility piece when they looked at wrestlers across the board, different age groups in different levels. So ranking them sort of from a national level up to like a world level world, obviously being the higher ranking, that flexibility was something nobody could agree on using a sit and reach test is very much built around the athletes limb length and trunk links and things like that. So it didn’t tell us very much. So I would say confidently, we don’t know anything about flexibility. But in terms of a standardized testing protocol that using therapists to assessed sort of more of a joint by joint regional type of flexibility is really important. But we can’t even really predict any injuries around that. With the strength side of things there’s definitely great data out there on your main lifts. So your squats and your power cleans some on bench press. That’s debatable whether or not it’s a useful exercise with the amount of internal rotation that the humerus is under in the wrestling stance and in different sort of holding positions. So whether or not that transfers really well is debatable. And then when we look at fitness there are a whole bunch of different tests out there, like some of the Europeans use Wingate, so that’s like a 32nd biking test, which is really a two dimensional analysis. It doesn’t give us a lot of transferrable data on power and power endurance because it’s riding a bike. But it’s useful in that the test is reliable and valid. So we can get a peak power score. And we’ve noticed that again, the top athletes in the world have the highest levels of peak power and the least amount of drop off over that 30 seconds. So they’re not losing as much power as less trained athletes. So it is a relatively useful task, but a lot of coaches don’t have access to those tasks. So in the testing manual I wrote, I’ve put a few other tests that can be done without lab equipment where you can start to get an idea of their fitness levels. So across the board on all components of fitness the top wrestlers in the world tend to score in the higher percentiles, over and over again, especially in anaerobic power and strength.

Corey Beasley [00:08:07]: So they’ll do the testing you get kind of a good benchmark for where your athletes are currently at where they’re strong, where they’re weak, that type of stuff. From there, I mean, when you’re kind of putting a program together how do you kind of formulate that?

Carmen Bott [00:08:27]: For sure. I mean, first of all, you look at their competitive season and you look at their annual plan. When are they competing on a day in their quote unquote off season. So I start with sort of like super broad view and then I start working down towards what are their main competitions, what are we trying to really peak them forward to get them as fit as we can for, and peaking is an interesting word. We can talk about it at another time and then we work even further down to the week, the micro cycle, which that’s a fancy word for just like a week of training. And first thing I do is I fill out all their practices. So I say, okay, give me a practice schedule and then tell me which practices are your harder practices. So you’re doing a lot of live GOs and more competitive type drills. And then let’s look at the practices where you’re just doing technical work. And with my athletes, they do twice a week where it’s really a heavy technical focus for about an hour. And then they do three practices a week for about two hours that include a lot of live GOs. And within the three practices, one of them will be really hard where they’re just being crushed. And two of them will be more moderate and I’ll get that information from my athletes. So then from there I started to sprinkle in, okay, what am I going to do, strengths work because I know I need this much rest. When am I going to do off mat conditioning? Because I know I need this much rest. And I mean I’ve laid it all out in the wrestlers’ edge for the athletes so they don’t need to think about that. And I’ve taken all that guesswork out, but I based it on the experiences I’ve had and the number of practices I typically encounter with these athletes, which is daily practice. It just sort of ungulates between whether the focus is technical, which would be considered low intensity or if it’s more of a live vibe, wrestling practice and sparring, which would be considered high intensity. Does that answer your question?

Corey Beasley [00:10:18]: Absolutely. I think it’s just it’s good to understand that the varying intensities throughout the week there is a plan of attack a schedule that’s organized ahead of time. And then obviously now it’s your wrestlers. How much are you coordinating with the skill coaches or the head wrestling coaches?

Carmen Bott [00:10:39]: Well, for my top athletes, I get an email, a calendar with all their major comp, so I know when they’re competing at the world level. So that’s really important. And for the seniors, that’s about once every six weeks or so with those athletes, I’m not necessarily building the fitness qualities needed to meet the requirements of their match of their sport. At that point I’m really managing fatigue and making sure that there is really and healthiest possible. With the younger athletes it becomes a little bit more about development, like the development of all the physical qualities that they might need. So with the varsity collegiate level as well as a high school athlete, I know they’re going to compete weekends from middle of October to nationals for us, which are around the end of March. And then there’s some time off Christmas time. So if I know that my off season is May, June, July, August. So I’m designing about a 16 week off season plan. And then as we move into, or I may even go into September, it might be June, July, August, September. So it kind of depends. And then we into the actual season and then they’re in season program is just scaled down in terms of off mat volume. So we keep intensities nice and high, but we’re scaling down the volume so the athletes can manage their fatigue, they can cut weight. Because that’s going to deplete them, especially if they’re having to cut a fair amount of weight. Hopefully over the summer we’ve built such amazing aerobic powerhouses that their ability to cut the weight is quite easy for them. And my more elite athletes, they have no trouble cutting weight anymore once we hit certain levels on like a B test or a VO2 because they’re so fit from an aerobic standpoint that they just reduced their caloric intake by a certain amount as recommended by our team dietician, and they literally just lose the weight in a matter of a week it’s pretty simple, but that’s not always the case with the younger athletes it’s a lot of them and that’s okay. And sometimes going from high school to college the week off is change too. So I’ve got one girl that competes in high school at 44 kilos, she’s tiny, but then by the time she gets to university, she’s going to have to move up to 48. So she’s kind of excited because then she can start eating a little bit more.

Corey Beasley [00:13:09]: Well, you talked about it real briefly in that any last statement. But when you’re talking about different phases of training, different types of training throughout the year to develop different qualities that you need or want in that athlete how do the workouts differ? Because I know a lot of people, it’s just go hard and go home. No days off. They just want to kick ass every day. But that doesn’t always show up best for the athletes.

Carmen Bott [00:13:38]: No, I mean you can’t really, you go hard all the time. My argument is you’re not going hard period because you need to recover. I mean it’s science you might mentally be going hard and you’re really trying. But physiologically, if we were to measure nerve transmission or heart rate or something like that we may not actually be reaching those numbers and a blended heart rate response is sort of our first indication sometimes that people are actually over-trained. So the body will just say, I’m not going there today. So the way that we sort of build up the athlete is we need to make some trades we trade in some of this high intensity work for some extensive work, which is easier. The athletes are like, Oh, this isn’t so hard I have to ride the bike for 45 minutes doing these intervals without feeling like I can’t breathe, am I going to get fitter doing this stuff. And they do. And it’s an educational piece because they do love to work. I mean, one of the reasons why I love working with this population is because they have a huge thirst for work. And I’ll be honest, Corey, I’m the way I used to be like that as an athlete. And now I’m like that as a practitioner, I love to work, I love to learn and I can really relate to that mindset, but at the same time I have to educate them, okay, if we keep your heart rate a little lower, it’s actually going to feel with blood more. And if we can teach the heart to be a little bit more contractual and elastic, then we can actually score it more blood around every time. And I sort of back it up this way and teach them in a way that makes sense to them and talk to them about their physiology. So if we can build this future aerobic engine over a period of about eight weeks, that’s the general preparation phase. We’re going to sacrifice some intensity for that. But the beauty of it is that you recover super-fast. So in 24 hours, your recovery. Like I train the girls yesterday morning and I trained with them and we were all probably recovered eight, 10 hours later with good nutrition after a heavy aerobics session and having meaning, not intense, but just pretty high volume so that this the number of minutes we’re doing stuff for. And then from there what you’ll see in the programming is this sort of sneaky shift. From going from building this engine with lower intensity work, meaning heart rates, not super high with a quite a bit of volume. So lots of minutes to, okay, now we’re going to start to sprinkle in some intense work where I’m going to ask you to go 20 seconds as hard as you possibly can. And I mean it as hard as you can. So we’re not even going to worry about heart rate is a heart rate isn’t even going to match that speed there’s like a mismatch, right? So now I’m watching the athletes and I’m just making sure they’re going as hard as they can. But now we’re going to have an even longer rest period after that to recover so we can repeat it again and we can do update eight efforts of that. And that may not seem like a lot eight times, 20 seconds of you know, barely any work. But by the end of it, trust me, it’s good quality work. So as we’re shifting from general preparation into specific, getting close to the wrestling season, we’ve improved your aerobic endurance as a base. And then what we’ve done is we started to improve the enzymes that are needed to support the more high intense work. We’ve kind of covered everything off. And in the weight room it’s a little different. We do high volume, lower intensity lifting. So you’re basically going to finish every set feeling like you probably could have done three or four more reps. I’m not going to give you a ton of rest between sets maybe just a couple of minutes. But I’m going to make you do like five sets of squats, something like that. And the first couple of sets, you’ll definitely feel like you can do three or four more. And then by the fifth set you’ll be like, yeah, I’m really glad that’s over you’re going to be for sore, especially when you’re not used to this, it’s normal, you’ll be sore because it’s a lot of volume five times five is actually 25 and so we calculate the volume and then as we move towards the specific prep and we start going heavier. Now you might only have one rep left in the bank, but you’re only doing three reps per set or two reps per set and you’re still doing the five sets. But now five times three is 15 so your volume is way lower, but your intensity is way higher for that particular session or particular focal point. So we basically shift from this like high volume work, low intensity into higher intensity, lower volume work generally over the off season, but the whole time we’re trying to maintain flexibility, mobility, neck strength and trunk strength because I’m really big on that stuff all the time. And that stuff doesn’t really require a ton of energy. It does a bit, but we would call extensive work so it can be done quite frequently during the week and kind of keep hammering at it.

Corey Beasley [00:18:52]: Now is that stuff that you spray go in is as warm up cool down type stuff or how does it work?

Carmen Bott [00:18:58]:
 Yeah, the athlete will follow a dynamic warm-up and then some ground-based joint mobility exercises which sort of unlock the hips and the thoracic spine to the mid back because for arrest or they need to be able to dissociate their lower quadrant so their lower body from their upper body. So basically as all wrestlers that are listening know you’re providing might go one direction and your hips are going to go the other way, especially if you’re actually on the mat and you’re fighting your opponent laying down. So we work a lot on that mobility in both those movements. And then from there they do the workout and then we might finish with some static stretching at the end where there’s some videos for that too. Then at the end of the workout I’ve built in the trunk and a trunk meaning core. So a lot of people, you guys were core training. I’m actually, I use the word trunk. So the whole midsection of your body, there’s going to be a whole bunch of exercises that you need to be doing for that area as well as supplementing your big lifts. So even though you’re going to get some trunk work, doing dead lifts and doing squats when you’re learning and you’re developing, you’re still need to do extra. It’s not until you can, if you can squat three times your body weight probably put the money on you that your trunks pretty strong. But I’m going to make the assumption that most of the people fall in. These programs are not quite there yet and that’s okay. So we’ve given them some extra drills that they need to do to help them.

Corey Beasley [00:20:36]: Now you have been kind of alluding to it, but for a lot of people that are listening a lot of them have absolutely no idea, but you have developed an off season training called the wrestlers edge. And obviously that’s a pretty exciting thing. You put a lot of work and effort into it. But give everybody a little too sense of what that’s all about?

Carmen Bott [00:21:00]: Thanks Corey. I really just want to reach more people and help these athletes take the guesswork out of their programming some of these kids are, they’re going to school like high school or college battling their subjects or balancing I’m always thinking about wrestling. There you go. So bouncing their subjects, their schoolwork, they’ve got their coaches teaching them all kinds of great technique, which they need to learn and refine. And then they got to do all this off mat stuff. And you know what, I’ve talked to so many high school coaches that have said to me, I don’t know how to do this stuff properly. And I thought, you know what, I think I can help you. I think I can feel this niche or fill this void and take that guesswork out. So literally when these athletes download the program, the conditioning programs and the strength and power programs, it’s all spelled out there for them and hopefully, it’s clear enough so that way they can just insert it into their week and continue on without sort of losing a stride or losing a step. And there’s enough information there where they feel empowered, they feel educated, they feel confident and competent to continue to train and to make it to the next level because that’s what separates the good from the great good wrestlers are really great on the mat and they’re really technical. All the athletes I’ve ever trained and now compete at the world level and the Olympic level, do it all. And that’s the difference.

Corey Beasley [00:22:31]: Well guys, I’ll definitely put links and stuff like that so you guys can get access and check out and learn more about that program. Carmen, thanks a ton for sharing there’s a lot of great information, just a lot of a very simple but powerful bits that you’re sharing with us that I think a lot of people can benefit from. So I appreciate it.

Carmen Bott [00:22:53]: Thank you so much, Corey. Thanks for listening today to you guys. I really appreciate it and hopefully people can benefit from this. That’s my goal.

Corey Beasley [00:23:02]: Absolutely. Well, thanks so much, guys have an awesome week. We’ll talk to you guys soon.