What You Have to Know About Pre-Season Training

As a coach, athlete, and even as a parent, it is important to be informed on the proper way to train leading up to a season of competition. Does pre-season training get an athlete in shape? Create a foundation? Or is it not necessary in the least? Strength coach Paul Godinez gives the run-down on how to create a great pre-season training environment.

by Paul Godinez

Pre-season 101

As a Strength Coach, pre-season training is the most important and final phase of development and focus. It is most useful for hardening and sharpening an athlete’s readiness to meet the goals they made for the upcoming season.

I really shy away from the term “sport-specific” anymore; but if there is a phase of the training paradigm that will include more sport-similar training, it’s in the preseason. Workloads are shaped around time in motion, and time of motion. Time in motion is focused around fitness and body angles for the duration of 4-5 matches, or whatever the season plan of competition requires (depending on sport). For example, work the metabolic conditioning at intervals that mimic matches; or “wind” (for us old timers). Conversely, we must also train movements to work at explosive levels, which is the time of motion. Developing the neuromuscular engines in angles that match up to levels and peak power capabilities. An example for this type of work would be Olympic lifts and plyometrics.

Preseason training myths

Preseason is typically a short block of time before the competition starts. Too often athletes are pushed more than necessary during this period. There isn’t much time to build before it becomes more important to refine sport skills, and dive into competition. The cost of trying to accomplish too much during preseason can put some athletes at risk for early season fatigue injury, which could nag all season long.

Creating a pre-season plan

A preseason plan needs to be based on the overall model of training that an athlete invested during the offseason. Planned progression, and mindful post-season, off-season, pre-season, and in-season development is the key. The efficiency of a preseason training model depends primarily on how fit and active an athlete remains throughout the year. This is why having a number of different sports and activities throughout the year will help maintain strength and flexibility, in a variety of ways. This helps keep the body AND mind fresh, ready, and wanting to grind.


A good round number is about 6 weeks. For myself, I like a 7 week prep. This includes a 3 week heavy work phase, an active recovery week, and a 3 week shift to more wrestling specific: explosive, bodyweight, and match fitness.

Work Focus for the Coach

Wrestling provides a genuine challenge in developing a strength and conditioning plan. I tend to recommend more bike, or elliptical work for the lower amplitude CV (cardiovascular) work, and short sprints (<10sec) mixed with movement during recovery, which is built progressively into match duration context. The intent with the bike and elliptical is that they are biomechanically different from the demands of the mat, while still training the oxygen delivery systems in the body. If that type of equipment isn't available, by all means, get out and run. Another great low amplitude activity would be hilly hikes.

Essentially we want to train at lower intensities without having the work adversely affect performance. Point being, you don't get fast by running slow, so doing something different that works the same energy systems while offering diverse, non-specific challenges. Wrestling is, hopefully, more prominent at this phase, so mat time needs to be implemented. Strength work over the 7 weeks goes from max weight variations, to max power output, and high velocity/explosiveness. For instance, heavy squats and deadlifts (3-4 rep max) to jump training and Olympic-style lifts (cleans, snatch, etc).

For the Athlete

Injury mitigation (repair, replace, recover) will hopefully be dealt with in the off-season, when there's no rush to heal or rush to return to competition. So the athlete's mantra should be to wring as much out of every workout, with an equal dose of intensity on the other 2 sides of the Training Triangle; Recovery and Nutrition. Mostly, have a plan for meeting goals, trust in it, and yourself, explicitly. Execute it to the highest degree possible so that the focus is solely on maximizing the return on the wrestler's investment of time, sweat, and emotion.

Sample Week 

I subscribe to an ideal set up of the multi phase preseason plan. In the 1st phase, I focus on building and maintaining the last bit max weight goals for standard lifts like squats, deadlifts, Rows, Floor Press, etc. I still have athletes "reaching," or overloading, a small percentage of workouts on the high repetition side of the plan. In the 2nd phase, a greater emphasis on explosive and relative speed and power development emerges as the drivers of the work. Olympic-style lifts, cleans, snatches, med ball throws, vert & broad jumps. A sample outline for a week would go as follows:

Workout Exercises

     Workout #1       Squat variations (Front, Back, Zercher), Floor Press, Bent Over Rows, Dips & Pull Ups

     Workout #2        Hang Cleans, Push Jerks, Med Ball Passes, Wall Slams

     Workout #3        Squat, High Pull, Dead Lift, 1 Leg Broad Jump (2 foot land), Suspension Presses (CrossCore),

                  upper body Med Ball work, and The Mauler; a 40 rep Push & Pull complex performed on an  

                  set interval, or a or close to a 1:1 or 1:.75 work:rest ratio

Paul Godinez is the Strength Coach for the University of the Cumberlands Women’s Wrestling Team (Go Pats!!), and Owner/Director of Integrated Speed & Strength Development; a human performance, post-rehab training, and facility design program in Highlands Ranch, CO.

With over 35 years of experience working with teams and individuals, Paul has worked with NFL, NBA, MLB, and Olympic and World Championship caliber athletes in myriad sports. He provides school strength & fitness programs for a number of sports, University, High School & Club Level. Paul has also served as State & Regional Director for the NSCA (Nat’l Strength and Conditioning Association), is certified by USA Weightlifting, and is a USA Wrestling Bronze Level coach.

Preparing for Nationals

Preparing for a national tournament takes focus, and if you have more than one major tournament each year, you will have to have a good training plan. A training plan is comprised of phases that take you through increases and decreases in volume and intensity to help an athlete peak their conditioning. Each phase below is about two weeks, but allows you to customize the time. As individualized as preparing for a national tournament is, following a general principle helps create a rhythm your body can follow. Push past comfort zones to create physical and mental changes, build on those changes, and then recover for competition. This brief overview gives you the flexibility to work within your time frame to prepare you to compete at your best.

4-5 weeks out

Starting four to five weeks away from the competition, the training volume needs to increase. Repetitions in the weight room should be 8-10, and you should have a difficult time completing the last reps. Your runs or conditioning workouts should be longer, and occur 2-3 times per week. Conditioning in this phase is very important in order to create physiological changes and to increase intensity. Aim to better your times and use the clock as a way to challenge yourself, especially when working out on your own. This is often common, as national competitions are post-season and not everyone continues towards this endeavor. Wrestling room workouts should consist of longer combat goes, and a lot of focus on individual areas. This is the time to add in the extra repetitions and drills after practice. Make sure you have a plan of action for offense, defense, and on the mat wrestling. I recommend 2 techniques or positions to highlight in each area. You will be fatigued during this phase, so its important to be pushing fluids and eating right. Athletes are often more susceptible to illness and injury during this time due to the consistent breaking down of muscle tissues. Listen to your body and adjust as needed. 

2-3 weeks out

All workouts should begin tapering down in volume. Runs should be shorter, no more than 15 minutes. Focus on intervals and even short sprint workouts. In the weight room, reps should be 4-6 and focus on increasing strength and power. When you get to the wrestling room for training, it's time to treat each live go as if you are in competition. Keep score. Put yourself in the national finals mentally and make the match go your way. Practice should be hard and every drill you execute is a reflection of how you will make it happen at nationals. Technique focus areas should still be worked on, but be sure to have these areas built into drilling time. Extra work should be short and sweet. Since you are reducing volume, this is not the time to spend an extra hour after practices working on focus areas. Increase your recovery: cold or hot tub, icing, stretching, mental recovery, plenty of water (you should be pushing the water constantly in this phase) and good fueling foods. 

1 week out

When you get to that week before competition, be confident in the hard work you've put in. It's time to rest and put the finishing touches on your preparation. Your running pace should decrease, and little if any work in the weight room needs to occur. In the wrestling room, practices should be around an hour and focus on active movement, technique, and drills. In the beginning of the week, short (30 seconds- 1 minute) live goes will keep you sharp and ready. If you have weight to manage, be sure that you are drinking plenty of water up to 24 hour hours before weigh-ins. If you need further support, speak with your coach or make a plan with a nutritionist well in advance so weight is not an issue. Create a plan so you have the snacks you need for competition, your gear, and a journal to record your experiences. If you are traveling to competition, make sure you have your gear in your carry on. Get excited to compete!