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John Jesse’s Wisdom on Strength and Conditioning

In 1974, a book entitled Wrestling Physical Conditioning Encyclopedia was published. This book was written by a man named John Jesse.

Conditioning coach Vernon Gambetta writes, “You are probably asking who is John Jesse? John Jesse was an expert on strength training, injury prevention and rehabilitation from Southern California.”

I never knew of this book’s existence until recently even though it’s obviously been around a long time. I came across it while surfing the internet and researching wrestling conditioning.

I borrowed a copy from the public library and found it really fascinating. John Jesse’s book doesn’t seem that outdated even though it was published 38 years ago. He really knew a lot about strength and conditioning.

So, what did he know?

Year-Round Training

Jesse emphasizes the importance of continuity in training. Continuous year-round physical training is imperative if a wrestler wishes to be successful. When discussing the importance of continuity he points out that, “Repeated efforts are required for the formation of conditioned-reflexes in the nervous system required for the development of great skill.”

A wrestler needs to train continuously the entire calendar year. However, Jesse recognizes the importance of breaking down the yearly training into cycles. Jesse divides the year-round training into four cycles.

The Four Cycles

 

  • Transition (Active Rest) Cycle – a period of one month immediately following the competitive season
  • Basic (Foundation) Cycle – a period of five months divided into three stages
  • Principal (Specific Preparation) Cycle – a period of two months
  • Competitive – generally a period of four months

 

Jesse advises to take one week totally off immediately following the season and then begin the transition cycle. However, you are not to engage in any wrestling or skills work during the transition cycle. During that cycle one should abstain from any wrestling, but you need to begin training for strength, endurance, and flexibly again. If you take too long of a break the physical attributes you’ve gained will begin to dissipate.

I’m sure that most of you have learned about the concept of periodization. Well, as you can see, that’s exactly what John Jesse is writing about.

In this current age, periodization is still used. Periodization is basically just planning your training. Dr. Fred Hatfield (a.k.a. Dr. Squat) is a big advocate of periodization. In an article entitled The Simplicity of Periodicity he writes of the “tremendous value of short-term periodization in your training.”

Moreover, he adds, “As your competition draws nearer and nearer, your training objectives change, and therefore your training methods change commensurably.”

Sports scientist Tudor Bompa has said, “We either have periodization or chaos.”

John Jesse writes something very similar in his book. He states, “Without a long-range training plan the athlete’s training can easily degenerate into chaos.”

Jesse knew what he was talking about.

Do you think champion wrestlers only work out during wrestling season? Do you think they train in some haphazard fashion? No! They train year-round with a well developed plan in mind just like John Jesse advocated and strength and conditioning experts still advocate.

Individuality and Specificity

Regarding individuality Jesses writes, “Training is an individual problem. All individuals react differently to the same training load.

Further, he states, that “No athlete should base his training plan on that used by some champion or outstanding athlete particularly as to the intensity of training loads.”

For instance, a high school wrestler may not be able to tolerate the training load that a college wrestler handles during a training year. You may not be able to train with the same load or intensity that Dan Gable or John Smith used while training.

According to Dr Fred Hatfield, there are seven laws of training that most sports scientists subscribe to. One of those laws is the law of individual differences. According to Hatfield, “We all have different abilities and weaknesses, and we all respond differently (to a degree) to any given system of training. These differences should be taken into consideration when designing your training program.”

Jesse knew the importance of individuality just as coaches do now and you should too.

Regarding specificity Jesse writes, “This principle maintains that training and its effects is specific to the muscle cells, organs and movements of the body in the development of either strength, endurance, flexibility or skill.”

Further, he states, “The specificity principle is of particular importance to the wrestler who requires various types of strength and endurance in order to excel in competition.”

Another of the seven laws of training is the specificity principle. According to Hatfield, “You’ll get stronger at squats by doing squats as opposed to leg presses, and you’ll get greater endurance for the marathon by running long distances than you will by (say) cycling long distances.”

A closely related law is the SAID principle: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands.

You are a wrestler. Therefore, you must wrestle to improve at wrestling. You must also train for the demands of wrestling. You are not a marathoner so do not train like one. Wrestling is an anaerobic sport requiring strength, power, endurance, and many other abilities. So, train accordingly.

John Jesse knew the importance of specificity. Now you do too.

Supremacy of Strength

Jesse states, “The importance of strength in wrestling competition as the primary source of human power is frequently underestimated by coaches and wrestler alike. Strength underlies all other factors when one considers the total functioning of the body. Without sufficient strength other factors such as endurance, flexibility, agility, and skill cannot be used effectively.”

Similarly, performance coach Kelly Baggett states, “Maximum strength is the backbone upon which all other strength qualities lie. You’ll hear me talk a lot about being fast and the importance of speed, power, reactive ability etc. All of these qualities of strength are very important, but truthfully, unless you have enough raw horsepower in your engine you won’t be going anywhere or doing anything in a hurry!”

You may be interested in plyometrics, circuit training, and other modes of conditioning. However, one of your first priorities should be building a good strength base.

All-Round Strength

In Wrestling Physical Conditioning Encyclopedia, all-round strength or total body strength is discussed. A wrestler wants his total body to work in a harmonious manner as a well-coordinated whole unit.

Some exercises recommended for the development of all-round strength include the one arm get-up, two arm get-up, dumbbell clean and jerk, barbell clean and jerk, barbell push press, barbell jerk press, deadlift, one hand swing, two hand swing, high pull to chest, and dead hang clean.

It’s interesting to note that the one arm and two arm get-ups and the one hand and two hand swings are illustrated using dumbbells. These exercises are Yoga Classes For Everyday Athletes popular choices now for athletes using kettlebells. The get-up is usually called the Turkish get-up. The Turkish get-up is hailed as a fantastic all-round strength and conditioning exercise. In addition, the Turkish get-up is endorsed because it requires all the muscles

of the body to work together in order to accomplish the labor.

Kettlebell swings are considered the foundation kettlebell exercise and are said to burn fat, build strength, and enhance cardiovascular fitness.

His book doesn’t mention kettlebells, but John Jesse knew the importance of all-round strength.

Strength Endurance

John writes, “The type of endurance that is in general overlooked in the conditioning of wrestlers is strength endurance. It is perhaps the most important basic physical quality a wrestler should develop.”

He suggests that one way of building strength endurance is to pick two exercises and do 4 sets of each. You do one set with 30, 50, 70, and 80 percent of your 1RM respectively. You would do this during the Principal (Specific Preparation) Cycle.

Some current strength and conditioning coaches may argue that Jesse’s routine is more suited to building muscular endurance than strength endurance.

The point is that John Jesse knew that after acquiring strength a wrestler needed to convert that strength into strength that he could use repeatedly over the duration of a match.

Trainer and coach Ross Enamait states, “Strength endurance is defined as the ability to effectively maintain muscular functioning under work conditions of long duration. Strength endurance is a vital strength quality for any combat athlete. Power and speed are useless without the stamina necessary to apply these physical attributes throughout the contest.”

Similarly, strength and conditioning specialist Matt Wiggins writes about strength often being the most beneficial when you can take advantage of that strength over an extended period of time. He prefers to build strength endurance by using heavy weights and shortened rest periods.

Others prefer to do circuits using dumbbells or kettlebells combined with bodyweight exercises.

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