When we step on the mat it’s one against one, but it takes a team of people to be able to step on the mat confidently.
Great training is often about the team around you.
The leap from having a team to creating a team
When I look back at my collegiate wrestling career, I realize I was recruited into a room full of incredible wrestlers and world class coaches. The facilities were amazing and the daily competition helped bring out the best in me.
As I transitioned to international wrestling I had to create my own team which is easier said than done. I was lucky to have Nittany Lion Wrestling Club Resident Athlete Program available to me. The NLWC provides access to great coaches; Cael and Cody Sanderson, Casey Cunningham, and other incredible athletes. Kendra, my wife and nutrition enforcer, and I made the decision to make our lives in State College and started building our team around this home base.
My first few years on the international scene were decent, but I wasn’t where I wanted to nor needed to be. I had a few good wins, but I wasn't able to string together the training or the results needed to be the best in the world. In past interviews I’ve talked about the struggles I had making 74kg and one point I considered retiring from wrestling. Thanks to an introduction by Coach Casey I added a new team member, which as a result helped restart my career.
The teacher / wrestler / triathlete / math wizard
In July of 2015, after my last international tour at 74kg, I decided that I would move up to 86kg. I was scheduled to wrestle in Spain, and then Armenia. This tour was shortly after a frustrating 3rd place finish at the 2015 World Team Trials. I was sitting on the plane about to depart for Spain when I had decided I was no longer going to make the grueling weight cut to 74kg, and I was going to make the 26 lb weight class jump to 86kg. When I returned stateside, I spoke with each one of my team members (coaches) about my decision and Coach Casey suggested I work with Coach (and highly regarded mathematician) Sam Calavitta, Owner and Director of Operations at The Treigning Lab. Coach Casey had worked with Coach Cal extensively and believed he could help me not only transition to the new weight, but thrive in it.
The best way to describe Coach Cal is... he’s the math teacher that can teach anyone and everyone loves him even if they’ve never taken one of his classes. He’s an accomplished wrestler, martial artist, and triathlete finishing 9 Ironman’s.
And he’s a genius when it comes to getting the most out of an athlete’s performance.
A couple of days in Cal’s lab
Last weekend, May 19th - May 21st, I flew to California to spend time with Coach Cal and work with some other athletes.
These weren’t just any athletes. It was TJ Dillashaw, Aaron Pico, and Juan Archuleta. TJ is a former UFC Bantamweight champion, and is scheduled for another title fight this summer. Many of us are familiar with Aaron as a wrestler, but he is poised to be the next MMA superstar! His first Bellator fight is scheduled June 24th in Madison Square Garden. Juan has been working with coach Cal the longest, has an MMA career record of 14-1 and holds 3 belts at 3 different weight classes. Bottom line, everyone is a freakin stud!
Coach Cal dialed up the tests and each of us did what we could to outdo each other. It was like three brothers trying to get their favorite uncle’s attention. Instead of silly tricks we punished ourselves as we did what Coach Cal instructed from running on a treadmill, to cycling, to sled pushes and pulls, to lifting, to eventually jumping in the pool and swimming.
Even though we were doing the same regimen, Coach Cal knows what he expects from us individually and which buttons to push to get the most out of us today, tomorrow, and in the future.
Those were some of the most punishing workouts I’ve done in a long time. They are much easier to do when you have like minded people around you. TJ, Juan, and Aaron are some of the nicest, hardest working people I’ve met on my journey. You get the sense that they use their past accomplishments as a reminder of what they can achieve and they use what they will accomplish as the motivation to put the work in every day.
A break in the weather
The weather in California was incredible. The break was when we left Cal’s Lab to go train at RVCA’s headquarters in Costa Mesa. It is an amazing facility with everything we needed. TJ, Aaron, and Juan worked on the striking and other MMA aspects while I and Coach Casey got some good wrestling in. It is a beautiful facility and hope to get back again soon.
During our “break” we also got to meet some cool companies while we were out and about. Virus Apparel and Purps drinks. Some great people with a focus on healthy, active lifestyles.
It’s pretty funny to think that the easiest part of the weekend workouts was wrestling.
The 18 month overnight success
You hear it all the time and I am living proof... There is no shortcut, it takes time and dedication and in fact for a while you may feel like you’re not improving at all. It took 18 months for me to experience the changes that Coach Cal helped create and every month I feel like I make more improvements.
I learned an important lesson, when you choose your team, you have to trust your team and the process. Most importantly, you have to do the work. In high school and college, I had someone watching over me making sure I did what was necessary, the structure was already set. As an international competitor the structure is suggested, I have to commit to the structure and self motivate to achieve my goals. If I don’t, there are a line of guys ready and willing to take my spot.
For the young athletes and competitors here’s some advice.
Do the work.
It’s not always enjoyable, but it’s always worth it.
I’ve experienced first hand that some of the busiest people in the world will offer to help and make time for you if you show that you will put in the effort. You may not always win, but you will always end up better than you were yesterday.
Thanks for reading!
The 2017 US Open recap
Heading into the US Open I often reminded myself that this is another opportunity for me to compete against the best wrestlers in USA. At this level everything has to be aligned from your training, conditioning, nutrition, and coaching. You have to have full confidence in your preparation to remove all of the "what ifs" and doubts. Over the past year I have regained the belief that I can wrestle with a lead, I can catch up when I'm down, and that I will always be more fresh than my opponent in the second period.
Gaining alignment at 86kg
Moving up a weight class was the right decision for my body. Making 74kg took a toll on me and I often felt like I was missing a little of that spark needed in the second period of matches.
The transition wasn't as simple as eat more and lift weights. I had to create specific plans for:
- nutrition - preparing my body to gain and maintain weight correctly
- conditioning - adjusting to a bigger frame and carrying more weight
- training - incorporating my style of wrestling for bigger, stronger opponents
In future posts I'll dive deeper into each area and provide what I eat, a sample of my conditioning and the style of techniques I use.
The US Open
I arrived in Vegas a few days before the tournament to get acclimated to the three hour time change. It may not sound like much, but in the semi-finals and finals I was wrestling at 10pm or later on my body clock. At home, I'm usually getting ready for bed.
My preparation included a visit to one of my favorite people, Ricky Lundell, Head Wrestling Coach at Bishop Gorman. He always emphasizes Cael's mantra of getting 1% better everyday. We had a great session of movement and wrestling plus it's always good to catch up with friends.
At this level, everyone you wrestle is tough. Anthony Cress, Chance McClure, Pat Downey, Nick Heflin and Richard Perry; each of these athletes has been wrestling for a long time and one mistake could cost you the match. My focus is always on constant movement and scoring and my goal is to put my opponent through hell. My conditioning coach Sam Calavitta at the Treigning Lab has prepared me for this grueling style of wrestling and it really helps open my attacks as the match goes on.
Throughout the tournament I felt good, but there were a couple of times in my semi-finals match with Nick Heflin when I got in some tough positions and gave up some exposure points. I was able to maintain my lead, but knew there are some things I needed to adjust. I worked with my coaches the next morning to evaluate what I need to improve on for the finals.
In my finals match against Richard Perry, I was able to keep out of the position that Nick put me in and secure my second US Open title. If you watch the match you’ll see that I scored on a shot to my right side, his left leg. This is not my normal side for a high crotch but I’m starting to see I can score from both sides which opens up even more possibilities.
Next up is Beat the Streets and then on to prepare for the World Team Trials in Lincoln, Nebraska. I’m looking forward to the opportunities to wrestle the best again!
You hear me say that I like to go out there and have fun. I know some people think I'm just saying this, but if you look at the opposite side of this, it makes more sense. If I didn't have fun and enjoy the challenge of improving and the challenge of competition there would be no point to the amount of work I put into wrestling. I could stay in good shape with about a quarter of the work and probably eat a little less clean more often.
My choice was to pursue wrestling at the highest level and this requires the ultimate commitment from me, my wife, and my coaches. This is my work. Some days are harder than others, but even on the hard days I find some enjoyment, something that I learn from and grow from.
Thanks for reading!
Congratulations to Rylee Molitor!
Rylee was selected as the winner of the red singlet I wore in the US Open.
There will be more giveaways throughout the year. My subscribers are automatically entered in every one!
I was a little late on this one...I was working on this while preparing for the US Open this past weekend. I meant to send it out earlier, but the days got away from me. This means you’ll also get my US Open recap in the next few days.
The 2017 NCAAs in one word… WOW!
It's taken me awhile to think about all that happened and put it down in a post. As you can imagine I was blown away by Penn State and if wrote anything before now I might have been biased.
Being back brings me back
Four years, that's how long ago it was since I last competed on the NCAA stage. Even though I didn't compete, I still got the same charge of energy. I was amped up the whole week leading up to the event. I know so many of these guys and their potential.
The best part is that March Matness always lives up to the hype and then exceeds it. Championship weekend is the opportunity for EVERY qualifying wrestler to put it all on the line. Throw the records out, throw history out and go give the best of yourself the moment that whistle blows. We saw some incredible performances and some unexpected results. We also saw my boys run off five in a row. I think my heart rate stayed in the red zone from the moment that Zain Retherford stepped on the mat until Bo Nickal had his hand raised. What a night and a season.
The big names did what they came to do. Kyle Snyder and J'den Cox are tough to beat on the international level let alone the collegiate level. They both showed they are two of the best in the world. It's amazing to know that these two athletes competed in the Olympics this past summer and THEN wrestled for NCAA titles. They showed that they were head and shoulders above their competition.
Kyle Snyder moves like a 133 pounder but is as strong as any heavyweight. Think about that for a minute and then it's clear why he is the World, Olympic and NCAA champion. I've learned so much from Kyle from his mindset to his work ethic to his incredible stance and motion. He will continue winning as long as he wants to wrestle.
J'den Cox is able to wrestle in space as well as anyone. His ability to score from anywhere is too much to handle at the collegiate level. It was also so much fun to watch him win in his hometown.
Darian Cruz put together a run that gets the crowd going. He was a 4 seed but few expected him to beat Thomas Gilman in the semis. He went after it and wrestled until the ref blew the whistle. Good things happen when you give it everything you got.
Cory Clark gave the Hawkeyes a tough fought win and Dean Heil continued on his winning ways by collecting his second title in a row.
Under the camera lights
For the first time, I was able to commentate live on air on ESPN. I understood Rick Bobby completely. I didn't know what to do with my hands! I have a deeper appreciation for how hard the job is. You need to provide insight on the wrestling without getting sucked into to being a fan. It is much tougher than it looks especially when your guys are on the mat.
Speaking of my guys being on the mat…
I need to get this out of the way real quick.
Five in a row
The team title was already locked up and now it was time for my guys to shine.
Zain Retherford, two undefeated seasons in a row and later awarded the Hodge. He is a punisher. If you are on bottom you will get turned and most likely pinned. I admit, I grimace when I see the pressure he puts on his opponents.
Jason Nolf, he will score and score some more. Once he learns your rhythm he adapts and racks up the points. He can create offense from distance and turn basic hand fighting into a quick two.
Vincenzo Joseph, I said it early in the evening of the event that he has incredibly strong hips. Imar went for an outside trip and Vincenzo capitalized on a tiny opening and stunned the crowd. We all knew he was capable of this type of performance, but in that moment against a seasoned, multi-time champ he had all of us going crazy! Watch and listen to the best play-by-play announcer in the business Ironhead Jeff Byers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snpDXum5bok
Mark Hall, true freshman, NCAA champion. There was quite a few opinions about pulling his redshirt, but as we all saw, he was ready. Through all the pressure and tight matches he kept his composure to get the wins.
Bo Nickal, he is dangerous from anywhere and everywhere. His finals match against 2x National Champ Gabe Dean showed that Bo can win in all types of situations. We get so used to the fireworks but it was impressive to see him go down early and grind away to a 4-3 win.
I'm asked all the time how does Coach Sanderson do it. If you look at the five champions you'll notice something, they all have a different style. One of the things that Coach does so well is he let's you be you. He refines your techniques and gets you mentally focused, but he doesn't try and make you wrestle like he did.
He also lets us have fun. The guys spend a lot of time in different, odd situations and learn to wrestle through them. Of course they work hard and being in elite condition is always important. But the part that I think that we all appreciate the most is Coach makes sure that we appreciate how much fun wrestling is.
My recap for World Cup 2017 in Iran
There was so much that happened leading up to the World Cup 2017 in Iran, it would be easy to lose focus or be discouraged. However, I’ve learned throughout my wrestling career how to turn potential distractions into positive outcomes.
Staying focused through adversity
Even after the travel bans, it was pretty easy for me to stay focused. I knew from the beginning, how badly I wanted to go wrestle that type of top-tier competition, so nothing was going to sway my decision very easily. Ultimately, I felt extremely confident that we were going to end up wrestling in Iran and I continued to prepare that week as if we were leaving to go compete.
The adversity while heading to compete in Iran, didn’t necessarily end there however. It took Frank Molinaro and I 54 hours of traveling to arrive in Kermanshah, which is where the World Cup was held. We arrived three days before competition, which gave us 3 workouts to allow our bodies to acclimate to the time change and get ready to compete in what the United World of Wrestling referred to as the “Pool of Death.”
The competitors in my pool consisted of Dato Marsagishvili, Georgia, who was a World and Olympic Bronze medalist (watch), Vladislav Valiev, Russia, who was a Jr. World Champion and just placed 3rd in the Yarigin (watch), Sharif Sharifov, Azerbaijan, who was a World and Olympic Champion and an Olympic Bronze medalist (watch), and Hassan Yazdani-Charati, Iran, who was the returning Olympic Gold Medalist at 74kg (watch).
I have felt a lot of people have doubted my ability to compete with that level of competition, and at this new weight class, so I was even more excited for this opportunity to test myself against the best guys in the world. While some might view that draw as adversity, I viewed it as an awesome opportunity.
Managing a crowd even when they’re cheering for your opponent
Iranians love their wrestlers and they showed up in force! Many people have asked me, “how I manage the crowds?” I have been exposed to wrestling in front of sold out crowds at Rec Hall dual meets, Big Tens, and NCAAs, so for me this was just another awesome opportunity to go out and do what I love to do. As the tournament progressed, I felt like the fans began to show me a lot more appreciation for and love for the way I was wrestling and scoring points.
Being able to wrestle after Jordan Burroughs was also really exciting. It was a pretty cool experience being able to wrestle right after the legend himself and seeing how excited the fans get for him. It really pumped me up and reminded me of the dual meet days at Penn State.
A few of you noticed I look a little different
Over the last six months I have really started focusing on and making my nutrition, strength, and conditioning a top priority in my training. I have realized more recently, that all of those areas have to gradually be progressed and I can’t just focus on one area, or another one will lack.
Something else that I feel really helped my conditioning, timing, and speed, actually started after I spent the summer watching and being around Kyle Snyder. Seeing how much he focused on stance and motion, and how it translated to his competition, is something that I began spending a great deal of time on before and after practice.
I have always had pretty good conditioning, but the time spent on my strength with the Treigning Lab has given me so much more confidence, and I feel like I am the most well-rounded I have ever been. So, looking back on my performances, it was promising to see all of the hard work paying off. I was able to maintain an intense pace throughout the second period, which was where I was able to gain an edge and wear down my opponents. It was awesome being able to cap off the trip with a pin against 2016 Olympic Champion, Hassan Yazdani when the team needed a win. I felt that match was a good indication of where my conditioning is right now, and I know that it is only going to continue to improve as I get ready for the U.S. Open and World Team Trials.
Overall, the World Cup was a great weekend. My goal this year was to get as many matches in as I could at 86kg, to really test myself and get international experience. So basically my schedule has been train, compete, recover, train, compete, recover, etc. I am looking forward to having some time back with NLWC, to really be able to focus on fine tuning and improving my wrestling skills, strength, and conditioning in preparation for the U.S. Open.
There are three keys to an international trip. Your training leading up to the event, your travel to the event, and what apparel you compete in.
Training - Getting ready for competition
My last competition was the World Clubs Cup where I went 3-1. Since then, I have been able to get very solid comprehensive training cycle. My training took place in 4 locations: (1) State College, PA with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club, (2) Illinois while visiting my wife's family, (3) California at the Treigning Lab - http://www.treigninglab.com/ -, and (4) at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO.
Many may not know that I suffered from back issues and lifting was difficult for me for most of my career. Since transitioning to 86kg, I have integrated many lifting phases, nutritional adjustments, and lifestyle changes with coach Sam Calavitta and the Treigning Lab. 1 year ago, I was not able to do a squat due to lingering back problems. During this strength Phase I was able to reach incredible 1 rep maxes in Squat (405), incline bench(315), and weighted pull up (150). The Calavitta family has been extremely supportive and helpful during my transition to 86kg. Sam Calavitta (coach Cal) and I speak on the phone weekly and formulate specific lifting and training plans to peak for events.
The main goal of this phase was to hit the 1 rep maxes before my national team training camp. This would not only allow for recovery for national team camp, this trip to Paris, but most importantly the World Cup in February. I am extremely excited to compete!
For the first time since the weight transition, I feel confident in my conditioning and wrestling ability at this weight class thanks to my great training partners, modified lifting plans, and my coaches. I’ll be sharing some of my strength and conditioning routines in future posts. In addition, I will also start to share my favorite techniques on HookSweep - https://www.hooksweep.com/magicman
Travel - Be comfortable
The rule of thumb when traveling to compete internationally is to give yourself a day of time zone adjustment for every hour your destination is ahead or behind of your training time zone. I compete in Paris, France on the 29th - https://unitedworldwrestling.org/event/paris-tournament-0 . Paris is 6 hours ahead of Pennsylvania, so we were scheduled to arrive in Paris on Monday the 23rd. However, Nico Megaludis and I were canceled out of State College on the 22nd , and had to drive to Williamsport about 1 hour 15 min drive away from State College, Pa. In Williamsport, we were delayed another 2 hours and missed our connecting flight from Philadelphia, Pa to Paris, France. Eventually, we made a connecting flight in Philadelphia and arrived in Paris.
When I travel, I am all about extreme comfort and recovery. Traveling can be very taxing on your body. Whether your travel is a few hour bus/car ride or a multi hour flight, it's important to know your body, your fatigue level, and recovery protocol.
I like to pick out my most comfortable or favorite articles of clothing starting with my shoes, socks, compression gear, sweatpants (I prefer joggers), shorts, t shirt, qtr zip or sweatshirt, headphones, and neck pillow.
When packing, I specifically lay out what I want to wear so I don't forget anything. My travel attire consists of Adidas, Lululemon, and Scrap Life - http://www.scraplife.com/. The plane or bus may be cold or it may be hot, so I like to prepare for both which is why I like to throw the shorts or joggers into my backpack and where the other on the plane. Compression is optional, however I have noticed a big difference since implementing them when I travel. There are a lot of option out there for compression, but I like the company Skins. They are expensive, but worth the investment due to their technology to help with recovery. When traveling long distances, your body and feet will swell. The compression socks will go up mid calf and will greatly reduce swelling, increase circulation, and minimize muscle soreness. If you want to take your compression and recovery to the next level, the Skins RY400 recovery tight will help reduce Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMs). When traveling domestic or flights under 3 hours, I will only wear the compression socks. When traveling overseas, I will double up and wear both the socks and tights.
Apparel - Dress for success
My wife hates when I pack, because, for me, packing consists of a long ordeal in which I pull out every article clothing I think I may need for my trip and a lay it on the bed. Next, I go through and pick out which shoes, socks, singlets, briefs, shorts, sweats, and shirts that I will wear on competition days. For this trip, it will be white Adidas Tech Fall wrestling shoes, Red White and Blue Adidas Socks, blue Cliff Keen Briefs, and Adidas wrestling singlets. These articles stay separate and I don't use them for training purpose. For me, it's a mental thing. It separates training from competing.
Next I lay out workout clothes for each day I will be training. I think in my head “ shoes, socks, briefs, singlet/shorts, and shirt.” That way I know I will have everything I need for my trip. If you're cutting weight, make sure to throw in your joggers , long sleeve shirts, sweatshirts, and any other things needed like jump rope, etc.One important tip: I make sure to have my competition clothes with me as carry on. If my luggage gets lost I’m still prepared step on the mat.
There should be a live stream of the event at United World Wide Wrestling