Shadow Wrestling: How, What, & Why Of Solo Wrestling Drills

October 19, 2021

Shadow wrestling is more than a way to drill technique. It is also a wrestling conditioning modality and a highly effective one at that. If you want to level up your wrestling fundamentals and conditioning simultaneously, then start shadow wrestling now!

Shadow wrestling is a form of solo drilling where you are performing wrestling techniques without a training partner.

It’s as simple as that. So, let’s run through if shadow wrestling is effective for wrestlers (and even BJJ) and the main benefits of these solo wrestling drills.

Is Shadow Wrestling Effective

I would class shadow wrestling as the most effective exercise you could do outside of normal wrestling training. And I’m not one to label something as best as it’s often dependent on the individual.

However, if I’m ranking conditioning modalities or use of time outside of wrestling class, this would be at number one. And you don’t even need extra wrestling equipment!

But if you’re wondering why, I’ve got 4 major benefits of shadow wrestling for you.

4 Major Benefits Of Shadow Wrestling

Retain & Perfect Techniques

Drill, drill, drill. While learning overarching concepts is important, you need to drill techniques over and over again so they become muscle memory and reactionary. As in, when you see an opening to shoot, you shoot. Not be standing there thinking about shooting before you do where it will be too late.

If you are a beginner, you can practice the basic techniques you’ve learned from class. If you learn some new stances or movements, you may not revisit them for a week so the techniques are easily lost. By shadow wrestling, you can practice them and keep new techniques fresh.

For more advanced wrestlers, shadow wrestling is going to hone your technique to perfection and improve the speed at which you can execute them. Not to mention, you are creating great habits.

Ingrain Good Habits

Wrestlers can develop poor habits especially when they aren’t practicing techniques or stances often enough. Sometimes it can come down to laziness or getting tired when training. For example, standing up tall and bouncing to “reset.” You’re basically signaling to your opponent you’re not ready to defend a shot.

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You can eliminate habits like this by shadow wresting. If you are aware this is you, you can make sure to consciously avoid doing this during your shadow drills and nail the wrestling fundamentals.

Specific Conditioning That Will Transfer To Grappling

Shadow Wrestling

There is a reason spending your training time cycling doesn’t help you run a marathon faster. And that is the lack of transfer. That is why you can run miles every week in your off-season, but when you get back on the mats, you feel like you haven’t trained at all.

Wrestling fitness is a beast of its own. Having to quickly change levels, push and pull opponents, and perform rapid changes of direction is vastly different than placing one foot in front of the other as you jog or sprint.

To paraphrase Russian sports scientist Yuri Verkhoshansky, the anaerobic threshold (the limit of the aerobic energy system before the anaerobic energy system starts to become the predominant supplier of energy) reflects the aerobic potential of the muscles involved in the work and it must stimulate the muscles in the same way as the competition exercise.

Meaning, while running or cycling trains the legs, it trains them in different muscular actions compared to wrestling. For example, running has little bending of the knees while cycling has no eccentric contractions.

That means the transfer to staying in a wrestling stance, having the stamina to be consistently moving side to side, and then making explosive shots or sprawls is minimal. Therefore, if you can perform your conditioning workouts with your wrestling techniques, you will find the greatest transfer to the mats.

Can Primarily Target Aerobic Or Anaerobic Energy Systems

While you can’t isolate energy systems as they all work together, you can manipulate intensity and work to rest ratios to emphasize certain energy systems and target certain adaptations.

For example, performing continuous shadow wrestling for 20-40 minutes while keeping your heart rate below 150 BPM will emphasize the aerobic energy system, increase the size of your heart chamber, develop blood vessels in the muscles being used, and increase the work capacity of your muscles.

These adaptations are vitally important as it improves the ability to deliver and use oxygen and enhances your ability to recover between high-intensity efforts like taking shots and scrambling. You can also perform high-intensity conditioning such as 2 x (6 x 60sec/90sec) of near-maximal shadow wrestling with 5-8 minutes of light movement between sets.

Here you are emphasizing the anaerobic lactic energy system and the ability to tolerate lactate and the associated by-products that build up as you dip into anaerobic energy production. Want to know what high-intensity shadow wrestling looks like? Check out Roman Bravo-Young below.

Visualization Of Opponents Offence

The final perk of solo wrestling drills is the ability to visualize what your opponent is doing and reacting to it in real-time. Running on the treadmill, while you can visualize yourself wrestling, doesn’t let you react and perform techniques based on what you imagine your opponent doing.

This visualization can cement the triggers that cause you to react with various techniques. For example, visualizing someone shooting after faking a snap down so you sprawl.

How To Shadow Wrestle Effectively

Effective shadow wrestling comes down to ruthlessly executing the fundamentals within your set work to rest ratios. Here are some videos with basic wrestling drills you can use for low and high-intensity solo wrestling drills.

Working on stances, footwork, and offensive and defensive techniques in a random or predetermined order is all you need. How fast you go will depend on the adaptations and energy systems you are targeting. Slower with less rest will emphasize aerobic energy production whereas faster with more rest will emphasize anaerobic energy production.

If you have a partner, you can level up your solo wrestling drills and perform partner drills that are even more specific as you are drilling the techniques. This video is a great example and you don’t even need mats. Just find some outdoor space with a friend.

When Should You Shadow Wrestle?

Shadow wrestling can be a great standalone training session. A solo wrestling drill workout can be used for the benefits mentioned above. However, shadow wrestling is the perfect warm-up to your wrestling class or even as a cool-down.

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About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.


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