High School / Collegiate Wrestling is one of the most highly-participated sports around the country, if not the world, with roots dating back to the original Olympic games. As they end their wrestling careers, many young athletes are left with a void that bodybuilding can quickly fill. In many cases, the discipline that leads to success in wrestling can crossover both directly and indirectly to bodybuilding. Many people argue that bodybuilding is ‘dying’ as a sport, but the reality is it has an industry / commercial / financial component surrounding it that amateur wrestling does not. Bodybuilding provides an alternative avenue for amateur wrestlers as they advance in their careers; potentially offering a near seamless transition for those who want to continue / advance their athletic pursuits, but unable make the Olympic team, and or don’t want their brains smashed fighting MMA.
It is rare for even the youngest of eventual bodybuilders to begin their athletic careers solely in physique sport (unless it’s a ‘Boy Tarzan’ situation, and their Dad’s stuffing them with Dbol.) Weight training from a young age has been shown to have some benefit, such as the development of the nervous system, but there are also major physical limitations that prevent youth from adding significant muscle mass for bodybuilding purposes(1). During this period it may be beneficial for young athletes to participate in other sports; especially wrestling, because almost all the skills taught, applied, and developed while wrestling, can later be carried on at a higher level or transferred into bodybuilding.
As athletes mature the growth limitations lessen, allowing often slow but quality development heading into their later teens. The movement patterns / muscular chains developed in wrestling are some of the most fundamental, and challenging to execute for bodybuilding applications, which gives a solid base for transitioning athletes from one sport to the other. Recently at an amateur powerlifting event, one of the best high school wrestling teams in the state (usually wins or runners-up) had a number of their athletes competing (after traveling 1.5 hours one way.) The average physical structure of this group was much closer to miniature versions of Aleksandr Karelin, than the doughy Rulon Gardner / failed offensive-linemen look. The heaviest one couldn’t have weighed over 160lbs, as they were getting out of the freestyle season (dieting for national tournaments,) but what they lacked in mass was more than made up for in potential. All of them had full abs, separated quads, moderate tricep / back development, as well as pretty decent totals!
Other skills, such as the cardio and dietary discipline needed for success in wrestling, are also well suited for bodybuilding. Most wrestlers find the cardio menial in comparison to the requirements of their sport, and they tend to be very familiar with caloric restrictions / using nutrition as a means of a performance enhancement. There are frequent cases of overtraining amongst wrestlers, which demonstrates the strong but often misdirected mental grit many have, that when properly guided allows them to do what it takes to succeed at the task at hand. Yet as individually driven as many wrestlers tend to be, after years of listening to coaches most have no issue executing a plan they trust. In many cases, a quality athlete will look at the challenges of dieting as part of the fun. This drive, combined with proper coaching can make a wrestler dangerous at any show they enter, though they may be new to the sport of bodybuilding.
Even bodybuilding coaches could benefit from developing this relationship with amatuer wrestling, as an increasing number of athletes seek to get the most out of their performance, and are realizing the value of nutritional coaching. Wrestling is infamous for its ‘weight cutting’ techniques, much of which is based in dated ‘broscience’, but these tactics are quickly going to the wayside. It wasn’t until recently fully encompassing programs were developed, which take an approach similar to those used by bodybuilders, but applied to wrestling.
These programs tend to focus on all aspects of performance, beyond just traditional practices; including weight training, cardio, and now personalized nutrition programs. Often, the guidelines can be based on similar dietary requirements to bodybuilding, with some slight alterations by a quality coach. As parents become increasingly educated, the demand for personalized programs to cut / gain weight as optimally as possible grows, which is adding to the potential pool of clientele for diet / contest coaches.
The early base of skills developed by quality wrestlers, gives them an advantageous start in the sport of bodybuilding. This is because they can easily develop the aesthetic ‘showy’ muscles via pretty basic movements such as curls, but already have a solid physical base and mental fortitude from years of training in their youth, which enables them to know what it feels like to push their personal limits, both mentally and physically. Wrestling and bodybuilding are individual sports, but require competition with others to gauge where an athlete stands overall. During their time on the bodybuilding stage or wrestling mat, the athlete is their sole representative, as there is no real ‘team’ dynamic (besides coaches paying off promoters / judges.) They consciously go to compete knowing they are going to be compared, and exposed for judgment by others, be it positive or negative.
The similar requirements for success in both wrestling and bodybuilding compliment each other well, not only physically and mentally, but systematically. This is because where one sport falls short organizationally, it is balanced by the other. Wrestling’s lack of a true professional outlet, or bodybuilding’s broken feeder system, may serve as a remedy to one another. People gripe about bodybuilding not being mainstream, but it has the potential to provide for those with some business savvy. Where bodybuilding falls short is in maximizing the pool of quality competitors to draw from; and this is where wrestling comes in, because the limitations wrestlers face due to little advancement opportunity, could potentially be resolved by developing the bridge between sports. This would benefit everyone as a result!