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The Modern Day Functional Grappler

The Modern Day Functional Grappler

Robert Verdell
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Every time I look at old photos of catch wrestlers of the past, I immediately want to drop down and do 500 push ups, press a keg over my head, pump out 1000 squats and do one-handed cleans with a 200lb barbell. Those were real men! As a kid, I read about these men in libraries, encyclopedias, wrestling magazines and old weightlifting magazines. No sooner as I finished reading about these men, I was in my backyard swinging a heavy sledge hammer, pressing logs over my head and rolling big boulders.

I was a farm boy. My daily life was not so different than the men I read about. My father was the son of a sharecropper and the great grandson of a slave. He pushed my brother and I to do farm work most grown men would strain to complete. But that was his way. The way it "had to be" in his day. The only way he knew. Even though my brother and I hated it at the time, we took a quiet pride in doing task like carrying heavy "slop" buckets in each hand a 100 yards or so to feed the pigs or throwing bails of hay around that were about as big as we were.

Our classmates wondered why we were so much stronger than the rest of the kids. Weight training wasn't trendy back then. But "Evel Knievel" toy motorcycles were (if you don't know what I'm talking about, then God Bless your youth) and so were Matchbox race sets, little green Army men, and Tonka trucks. Yet, my brother and I didn't spend as much time playing with them as we spent lifting, reaching, plowing, stretching, pushing and pulling laboring on the farm.

What does this have to do with old-time grapplers? Well, what my brother and I did as a kid was nothing compared to the daily lives of most of the men back then. If we want warmth on a cold night, all we have to do is turn a knob or flip a switch. They had to walk through the woods, cut a tree down, chop it up, carry the logs back home and make a fire...more or less.

The routines of their daily lives carved an excellent foundation for them to mold their bodies with training sessions that would cripple the average wrestler today.

My father told me his father would get angry anytime he saw him sitting down for more than a few minutes. So, he made up more work for him to do. Today, the modern grappler doesn't spend a lot of time in their daily lives lifting, pulling, pushing, reaching overhead or walking long distances. On the contrary, we spend most of the time off the mat and out of the gym...sitting. Sitting in cars, sitting at desk, sitting at computers, sitting in front of televisions and sitting at tables. But we do walk. We walk to our cars, to our riding lawnmowers, to the garage for our leaf blowers and in the malls and parking lots.

Yet, we want to take these sedentary bodies on the mat and in the gym and do similar training rituals as men who had full active functional daily lives?

So what's the big deal? Well, the big deal is if we want to carry "Catch" into the future we have to find ways to "condition our bodies to be conditioned". We can rush on the mat and rush into hardcore training routines, but we'll only find ourselves rushing to the doctor. It could be a "bad" knee, a "bad" shoulder, a "bad" hip, or neck or back. It doesn't matter. In most case, the injury will be non-impact and due to a structural imbalance.

It works like this. You have a structural imbalance, born from a sedentary lifestyle (like it or not, 2006 technology makes must of us sedentary) or training imbalance (imbalanced muscle compensation or strength to flexibility ratio or simply you are making your body do something it's not prepared to do), you get injured, you can't exercise, you can't train and your contributions to "Catch" diminish.

What can we do? First, we have to look at what we want to do. We want to be able to wrestle as much as we can...injury free!

Most of us have jobs or go to school or both. We are not training for a world championship or planning on defending a title at MSG. A few of us might consider competing, but until then what do you do? Train modestly and ...injury free.

The best we can hope for is to be "the best we can, where we are, with the time and resources we have".

Mat time is something most of us have little power over sometimes. We have jobs, families, girlfriends and sometimes we don't have a lot places to train that fits our schedule or even preferences. Yet, we do have 30-45 minutes during each and every day we can set aside to or pry away from our busy, but mostly sedentary lives. It doesn't have to be one chunk of time. It could be 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there and 20 minutes some other place. Often, people think just because they don't have a clear hour or so to drive to the gym or workout at home, they should do nothing.

If you are in a situation where you find yourself sitting a lot, know that your pelvis is most likely tilted forward. This lays the groundwork for hip, knee, shoulder, neck, and even ankle problems, along with the obvious back problem.

To counteract this, go to the "bridge"! Just find a spot on the floor and bridge up to your shoulders (neck if you wish, but you don't have to) . Don't hold it, but move it. Do 10-20 slow reps, articulating your spine up and down. Also, "wall-walking" backarches can be done, focusing on pushing your hips forward as you arch. All of these back bending movements are also gates to an energy drug-free boost.

Also, the sitters tend to have rounded shoulders. A recipe for neck and back problems. The solution...Scap Push-ups. Scap, meaning scapula. Get in a push up position, keep your elbows locked and just squeeze your shoulder blades or scapula together and apart 20-40 times. You can also do shoulder rolls, while sitting at your desk or even driving.

We also need spinal rotation. 20-40 spinal twist should do the trick, with or without a broomstick or towel.

We need hip mobility the most as grapplers. The flat-footed squat and lunge is a simple way to release some tension there. Between classes, during a class, at a meeting or on a break, just simple squat down as deep as you can flat-footed. Try to build up to 3-5 minutes a day in this position.

Many of our knee problems stem from tight quadriceps. As you stand waiting for a class or on a break, just stand tall and flex one leg back, bring your heel to your butt. Remember stand straight and push your hip forward. Hold it for at least a minute. While you are on the floor doing your bridging, is a good time to stretch your hamstrings. We all know the basic hamstring stretch. Just keep your hips on the floor. While you are still on the floor, you can do ankle circles and point and flex with your ankles. You should do 40-60 a day.

Elbows and wrist are often overlooked. It's an insane shame in the "catch" community as much as the Top/double wristlock are used. This is simple and can be done while you sit at the computer or walking to and from anywhere. Just do circles with your wrist and figure eights. You can tell yourself, "Everytime I walk to my car or away from my car, I'm going to do elbow circles. Watch boxers and NHB fighters before a fight. They are warming up their elbows.

Again, while sitting at a desk or computer or even in your car, you can do neck rolls and "Stevie Wonder's"(roll your head around like Stevie) You might hear noises that will scare you, but don't be alarmed. If you hear something, that means you need to be doing it.

Spinal curls...not crunches. With your feet on the floor, just curl your upper body up slowly and back down slowly. 3 seconds up...pause for 3 seconds...3seconds down. 25-50 of these and you are a studd! Don't hold your breath or strain your neck. Hands by your side.

So, you have about 16 waking hours to do less than 10 exercises that will take less than 2 minutes a piece.

Aspects or all could also be done as a warm-up. For a quick "cool-down" after your normal workout or wrestling just use the Hindu push's top and bottom position. Hold the top position for 1-2 minutes and the bottom position for 1-2 minutes.

This type of "functional fitness" will keep you on the mat and on the mat is where you need to be to carry the "Catch" legacy forward.

But remember, this takes priority over your running, your hindus or kettle bell or clubbell work. This will enable you to do the above safely and more effectively. You have to be "conditioned to be conditioned".

I want to wrestled until I'm a 100 years old. I'm almost half-way there. I'll be 40 in a month. I don't want to break any lifting records, any push-up or hindu squat records. I just want to wrestle and I want to do it without any burdens of non-impact injuries. I speak from experience.

We are not wrestling for a temporary moment in the spotlight. We don't have to abuse our bodies now, for temporary satisfaction today, only to be immobile tomorrow. We are wrestling for the future, so we have to be wrestling in the future. Therefore, we must be smart today. I want to move like Fujiwara when I'm in my 50s and 60s. I want to move like Judo's Mifune in his 70s. For some reasons us westerns have missed something Easterners have mastered. You don't see many western wresters moving with grace in their 60s and 70s. Dan Gable, Larry Hartsell and countless others succomb to hip replacement surgeries. Billy Wicks and Gene Lebell move pretty well, but there are only a few. Let's change that.

For resources on "Functional fitness" see:

Warrior Wellness, Intu-Flow, Flow-Fit by Scott Sonnon

Magnificent Mobility by Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson

Health through Motion by the Egoscue Method

Developing Functional Flexibility and warm-ups for All athletes by Chris Doyle

Super Joints by Pavel