Make Your Time on the Mat Count

(Ben Askren Wearing RUDIS)

Marysville, OH- Ben Askren, one of the most dominant and recognizable figures in wrestling, has dedicated himself to elevating the next generation of wrestlers for over a decade through the Askren Wrestling Academy (AWA). AWA is one of the most competitive wrestling schools in the country, so when it comes to training, Askren offers valuable insights. Askren was 4x NCAA Finalist, 2x Champion and won multiple Hodge Trophy awards. He capped his amateur career by making the 2008 Olympic Team before transitioning to a highly successful MMA career. His influence on the sport continues to grow through his academy and its commitment to helping young wrestlers achieve their goals.


(Ben Teaches a Group of Wrestlers)


Askren recognizes the desire for wrestlers to go hard in practice and, if they aren't seeing their desired outcome, to go even harder. However, there is a physical limit, and constantly trying to give more in training is not always beneficial for bettering your wrestling skills.


"At some point, there are diminishing returns; it can cause injury, it can cause burnout," shared Askren. The key that Askren focuses on is, "How do we make the most out of our time in the gym?"


The core issue, according to Askren, is a training philosophy based on the idea that more is better, with wrestlers pushing themselves to the limit on drills that aren't enhancing their skills. Askren explains it simply,


“If I told you to run 20 miles a day, would you feel like you worked really hard? and the answer is yes. But did you actually get better at wrestling? and the answer is no.”


To address this problem, Askren advocates for a more targeted and purposeful approach to training. He suggests that wrestlers should allocate a specific amount of time to physical training rather than randomly engaging in activities that don't contribute to skill improvement. He believes that the key is spending quality time in functional wrestling positions to fully grasp the nuances of the sport.


Negative Effects of Overtraining


Frequent Injuries

When wrestlers push themselves beyond their physical limits, their bodies can break down, leading to muscle strains, joint injuries, and other physical setbacks. These injuries not only sideline wrestlers but can also have long-term consequences.



The constant physical and mental stress without adequate recovery time can lead to emotional exhaustion, a lack of motivation, and a decrease in the enjoyment of the sport.


Diminishing Returns

Paradoxically, overtraining can lead to diminishing returns. Wrestlers may invest a lot of time and effort into training, but the results may not match the input. This can be frustrating and demoralizing, as they fail to see the expected improvements in their performance.


Positive Effects of Functional Training


Enhanced Skill Development

Functional training focuses on exercises and drills directly related to an athlete's sport. This targeted approach helps athletes develop specific skills and techniques required for their chosen discipline, optimizing their training time.


Reduced Risk of Injury

Functional training also includes injury prevention exercises. By strengthening the muscles and joints used during sport-specific movements, wrestlers can reduce the risk of common sports-related injuries.


Improved Performance

Functional training not only enhances specific skills but also improves overall athletic performance. Athletes become better equipped to execute the essential movements and strategies required, leading to more successful outcomes and achievements.


Mind-Body Connection

Functional training often includes mental visualization and focus on specific movements. This helps wrestlers develop a strong mind-body connection, allowing them to react more effectively to changing situations during competition.


Efficient Use of Time

Wrestlers who engage in functional training allocate their time more effectively. Instead of mindlessly going through generic workouts, they focus on exercises and drills directly contributing to their improvement, allowing for more balance between training with rest and recovery.



(Ben Teaches a Group of Wrestlers)


Another concept that Askren focuses on is visualization and the power of thought. While it can't replace physical training, mental preparation, and visualization can enhance the mind-muscle connection and overall performance.


"This sport is hard. There are so many nuances, there are so many different positions, and if you are thinking about how the positions all work and how they go together, that’s going to be hugely beneficial to you being a better wrestler." 


Askren shared the validity of his advice by referencing a 12-week study. The study involved three groups. A-Group performed physical exercises, the B-Group only mentally performed these exercises, and the C-Group, the control group, did neither. The results showed that the B-Group, which only mentally performed the exercises, achieved significant strength gains compared to the C-Group, who did nothing to prepare. This supports the importance of mental visualization in enhancing athletic performance. Askren went on,


"Just thinking about the wrestling positions can start to build neurological pathways to make yourself able to do those positions."


By dedicating extensive time to thinking about wrestling positions, strategies, and physical exercises, wrestlers can expand their skills while reducing the physical exertion required. This balanced approach can be particularly beneficial for elite athletes concerned about overtraining. By prioritizing functional training and avoiding overtraining, wrestlers can maximize their potential while safeguarding their physical and mental well-being.


Wrestlers should focus on specific, purposeful training methods and incorporate mental visualization to enhance performance. "If you have that feeling of, ‘Oh I can never do enough.’ you need to know that yes, there is a limit. You need to make the most of your time in the gym and then off the mat … think about all the things that are going to make you better at wrestling.” By adopting a more balanced and thoughtful approach to training, wrestlers can reduce the risk of injuries, burnout, and diminishing returns, ultimately improving their skills and performance on the wrestling mat.



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