Sunday, December 16, 2012

Energy Systems - What we can learn from wrestlers cutting weight


There has been a great deal of discussion regarding energy systems and their application to strength and conditioning coaching.  I’ve had an interesting case in my facility over the past three months that I’d like to share.

I’ve had two wrestlers from our local high school team in training with me this fall and winter.  These are two kids wrestling adjacent weight classes, but getting to their weights have been divergent journeys.  The two athletes began training with me about 6 weeks prior to the start of wrestling season.  The lighter of the two wakes up every day within a pound of his weigh class at  a natural 5-6% body fat.  The heavier, has had to cut about 20 lbs to get to weight.  The process has required a very structured eating plan with workouts that have led to and average weight loss of two percent of body weight per week.  The two have participated side-by-side in team based training and condition since the beginning of the wrestling season with the only difference in training being the additional work the heavier wrestler has been putting in at my facility following practice 3 days a week and on weekends they’ve not been competing, or morning runs.  Additional workouts have averaged 4 per week.

When the two began training they were both power tested.  The testing protocol included a power at anaerobic threshold test using a SCIFIT Pro II ergometer and Zephyr Bio harness.  I also measure maximum 10 second power output, also using the SCIFIT Pro II.  Results of the test are collected using ViA Performance Systems  KeyMaster/PowerGraph Software.

The entry testing points included:

Lighter Wrestler Wt. 122 lbs
Peak Wattage  220 watts @ heart rate of 202
Anaerobic Threshold  150 watts @ Heart rate of 178

Heavier Wrestler Wt. 150 lbs
Peak Wattage 180 watts @ heart rate of 182
Anaerobic Threshold 160 watts @ heart rate of 166

The two wrestlers were re-tested during Christmas break.

Lighter Wrestler Wt. 122 lbs
Peak Wattage 230 @ heart rate of 195
Anaerobic Threshold 170 watts @ heart rate of 184

Heavier Wrestler Wt. 135
Peak Wattage 270 watts @ heart rate of 178
Anaerobic Threshold 240 watts @ heart rate of 167

testWtWattsHeart RateWattsHeart Rate


I believe there are two points that coaches need to glean from this example.  1.  If you were to only look at the absolute improvement numbers of the two athletes, it looks like one is out working the other.   This assumption is true, but the type of work being done is critical.  When you look that the energy system component portion of the improvement, both athletes saw around a 4% (10 watts) improvement of total energy output being contributed by high energy (anaerobic) sources.  This makes sense when you review the practice habits of wrestlers in general and in particularly this team.   Conditioning to this coach is wrestling live, intense intervals and sprinting.  And a nearly 5% improvement of energy output in 10 weeks of training is admirable.  

But the most impressive thing to learn is the potential that exists when athlete does focus on individual energy systems development.  The only difference in the two athletes training was the heavier wrestlers completion of additional low-level (aerobic) training sessions.  These sessions were either work load or heart rate limited.  When the wrestler was running the morning his was restricted to a heart rate limit of 160.  He would wear a heart rate monitor and brought it to me to download and make part of his record.  When he trained in my facility, his work loads were programmed to be at or below anaerobic threshold levels and heart rate tracked.  That sub-threshold training yielded a power improvement of  80 watts  which came from growth in the aerobic (sub-threshold) system.

Two athletes training side-by-side in practice.   One on borderline starvation (<1400 Kcal/day) diet.  But the athlete who is shrinking, is actually improving power to half again as much as when he started the program.

The new rules regarding weight loss in wrestling are good!  But they’re changing more than just weight loss practices.  We have to pay attention to what the weight loss practices of the past did for an athlete’s conditioning.  Wrestlers who used to cut big weight would do at least two additional workouts per day more than their at-weight team mates.  We would put on plastics and sweats in the morning and at night and do a “light” run or jump rope session.  We worked just hard enough to break a sweat, we thought we were just cutting weight.  What we didn’t know at the time was that we were building low level energy systems!  This is a major change in the sport and strength and conditioning coaches need to be cognisant of the entire training portfolio of an athlete.

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