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You can often tell the difference between a typical high school athlete and collegiate athlete just by the way they move. While the difference is more subtle between the collegiate athlete and a professional athlete, the difference is certainly there.
While watching wrestling matches and highlight reels from the Olympic games over the years, many wrestlers seemed to move effortlessly and quickly through space. Obviously, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Virtually no one makes it to the Olympics by accident, especially not if they expect to win a medal.
In a field of athletic wrestlers, I was particularly awestruck by 2004 Olympic champion Yandro Quintana. He moved unlike anything I had ever seen. In some instances, he almost looked like he was floating. In other instances, he could topple another Olympic-level athlete with just one arm.
“That’s a natural gift! You can’t coach that kind of thing.”
Many people see athleticism in a binary relationship. One or zero. You either have it or you don’t.
With all due respect, I disagree. Similarly to athleticism, can someone be naturally strong or fast? Definitely. Does that mean the rest of the population is screwed from reaching a very respectable level of athleticism? Absolutely not, but it’ll take specific, purposeful, and somewhat lengthy training to achieve this feat.
Let’s see what deconstructing this level of athleticism looks like and how we might recreate such a feat.
Core: Notice how Quintana’s back is completely straight the entire time. This is a serious display of unbelievable core strength. With a straight core, none of the force generated from your legs and arms is lost. In plain English, you’re using your entire body to execute a technique. Focusing on the upper body or lower body alone won’t get the job done. Your head, arms, core, hips, and legs need to all work together to generate world-class force.
Float: Quintana seems to float and glide across the wrestling mat in some of these exchanges. It almost seems as if he’s defying gravity. If you look closely, however, this “float” illusion happens particularly when Yandro is able to put his weight on his opponent. By putting as much of his weight on his opponent as possible, his legs are free to move around the opponent in a way that seems to defy gravity. That’s because his legs no longer need to support his bodyweight- his opponent is. Doing this takes serious core and pulling strength, but is certainly possible. Of course, doing this quickly with an opponent that is actively trying to score is particularly difficult and takes even more practice.
Footwork and Hips: Quintana also has fantastic footwork and makes good use of his fast-twitch muscles. Notice that his feet are almost always set to strike. His hips also position themselves accordingly so that he can generate explosive strength from any position. In particular, you can see this when he has to lower his level for a leg attack. His hips are underneath him, his core is straight, and his feet are moving. This isn’t easy, but can be worked on through technical practice.
Explosive use of entire body: None of these traits work (at the world class level) in isolation, and you can be sure that a high amount of strength work was also performed in order to achieve this result.
It’s also particularly important to note that technique should match style and body type.
Cuban wrestlers all seem to have a specific style: Maintain good position and attack in short bursts (patience with the attacks, but when you see an opening, you charge into it with full force). This takes advantage of the athleticism and explosiveness that they seem to train for. Quintana’s wrestling moves are moves that are particularly effective with explosiveness and athleticism, so we’ll briefly go over those.
Knee pick: Here, his two main points of contact are his right arm on the opponent’s head and left arm behind the opponent’s knee. As a subtle note, it also looks like his head is pushing into his opponent’s chest for even more forward pressure. Once he makes contact, he explodes forward.
Drop step head outside single: Here, he lowers his level to get past his opponent’s arms (without this, his opponent could simply block him and push him away). Notice how his hips are in perfect position to spring upwards and into his opponent.
Straight on shot: The outcome of this shot depends on whether the opponent is leading with his left or right leg. Regardless, a wrestling shot seems to be some combination of a fencing lunge and a football tackle. Notice here that the force is generated from the back foot driving forward.
Body lock: This fits into his arsenal because occasionally, opponents defend a leg attack by pulling an opponent’s arms off the legs. This sets up a body lock nicely. There are a few ways to use the body lock to bring an opponent to the mat, but Quintana uses the more explosive variations by attempting to lift the opponent straight off the ground.
Side step counter attacks (to either a leg attack or go behind): When an opponent attacks, Quintana circles around one side to either get behind the opponent or attack a leg. Both these maneuvers require footwork. This is also where you’ll see the “float” occur.
Applications to New Skills
So, how does this apply to learning a new technique or skill in general?
Athletes at the highest levels do a great job with using their entire body to generate either force or stability. A few examples:
Rick Torbett, author of “Better Basketball,” explains that shooting a free throw involves using the arms to aim and using the legs to generate force. Personally, I wouldn’t know. I can’t play basketball to save my life.
In a golf swing, using your arms only gets you so far. The golf swing involves turning the hips and shifting weight on the foot accordingly.
What does a runner do with his arms? That’s right, he swings the arm that’s opposite of the leg (when the right leg steps forward, the left arm goes forward at the same time).
Boxers with the most devastating punches set their feet in position and put their hips into the punch. The punch then becomes a full-body generation of force instead of just an upper body motion.
You can take what you’ve learned in this post and apply it to other skills. Happy learning!