Winter sports are here are you ready?

By Clint McAlister, MA, ATC, CSCS University of Kansas Health System
Posted: April 3, 2019 - 10:22 AM

With the fall and winter approaching, athletes need to prepare their bodies for the demands of their sport. Hydration, acclimating to heat and strength and conditioning are often discussed. While these concepts are important for all sports, wrestlers need to do a number of things to help reduce their aches and pains and help them get a good start to their season.

Injuries to wrestlers often include minor acute injuries such as joint sprains – often to their fingers – to more chronic conditions like tendinitis or low back and neck pain. This is often due to an inflammatory response to overuse.

Unsafe weight loss has always been a traditional concern for wrestlers. This has led to many rules and regulations implemented to ensure kids are practicing safer weight loss methods and staying more hydrated today.

I’d like to discuss some of the more common and preventable injuries that occur in this sport.

Wrestling is a strenuous sport that requires daily practice sessions and training to stay in low-stance positions and maintain acceptable foot position. Wrestlers must keep their chest and hands low in their stance on defense as well. They are also often collar-tying with opponents or practice partners – snapping the head down to set up their shots.

These situations can often lead to neck pain, low-back pain or patellar tendon pain among other issues. In addition to all the work on their feet, when they wrestle on the mat their body is often in awkward positions. These positions can place abnormal stress on different parts of the body that don’t occur in other sports. This means injuries like knee ligament strains as well as neck, shoulder, low back or core muscle strains are common.

A well-rounded strength, conditioning and flexibility regimen is the best approach for any athlete. But sport-specific strength training can help reduce injuries. For example, a strengthening program specifically designed for wrestlers should also focus on functional core strength. These core exercises should include multidirectional exercises that work on all three planes of movement. Athletes can benefit from adding rotation to traditional exercises like squats and lunges to achieve this multiplane approach.

Strengthening in odd positions can also help reduce injuries. For example, single-leg squats with upper extremity reaches in three directions (medial, anterior and lateral) will strengthen the lower extremity with the knee/hip in various positions and will help prevent knee injuries. Body-weight squats with a twist can also help achieve this since the knee will be in all positions (varus, valgus and neutral).

Wrestlers should also focus on more pulling exercises. Upper back strength is important to help prevent chronic shoulder problems. Rows, scapular retraction exercises and pull ups are great exercises to strengthen the back and stabilize the shoulder. Shoulder stability can also be improved in numerous other ways with exercises like pushups on med balls and pushups with varying hand positions (wide, narrow, offset left hand, forward/right back, internally and externally rotated). Another great exercise for shoulder stability is maintaining a push up position while a partner pushes the body left/right and forward/backward.

Neck strength should also be addressed with neck flexion/extension exercises as well as lateral flexion. Resistance bands as well as manual resistance or exercises against gravity and bridging exercises can all be beneficial in improving neck strength.

Of course, getting reps and practice time in the actual sport itself is the best way to train and prepare the body for the demands a sport will place on it. Wrestlers getting on the mat in the off-season can greatly reduce the aches and pains they endure naturally when returning to the mat after a long off-season. Training stance and motion several minutes at a time on their own can also help prevent the low back pain and leg soreness many wrestlers experience in at the beginning of the season.

There are many great opportunities available to athletes to get mat time in and prepare for the upcoming season. Wrestling organizations offer monthly training and many clubs and schools offer open workout rooms.

The biggest mistake an athlete can make is to walk in to practice the first day untrained.

More about Clint McAlister

For more sports medicine articles and information on the Sports Medicine & Performance Center at the University of Kansas Health System, go to or follow @KUSportsMed on twitter.



The University of Kansas Hospital Sports Medicine Archive