COLUMBIA — MU junior Raymond Jordan sat on a stationary bike at the end of wrestling practice, furiously pumping his legs and arms. With coaches by his side shouting at him to pedal faster, Raymond’s face glistened with sweat and he let out a scream while pushing himself as hard as he could.
As he finished his bike workout, Jordan’s muscles relaxed and his chest heaved in and out while he gasped for air. He had pushed his body to its limits. With only one more day until a break from practices, he had this luxury.
With three weeks between their final match against Iowa State and the Big 12 Championships on March 8, the Missouri wrestling team has adjusted its practice schedule, allowing the wrestlers to remain healthy while still practicing intensely.
Before the Big 12 Championships, Missouri coach Brian Smith decided the team would practice two days in a row and then take a day off for recovery. This differed from past years when the team would train six consecutive days and then have one day off.
“It’s helped our bodies recover so we can train more,” senior Tyler McCormick, who wrestles at 133 pounds, said. “We can train harder on our two days on.”
That was Smith’s goal.
“The NCAA allows us six days of practice, but I think that’s a waste at this point,” he said. “We’ve been training since September pretty hard and now we’re giving them rest every third day. Not only are we cutting back days of practice but time of practice so they are fresher and fresher. When they come in, they are more focused.”
When the Tigers began training in September, practices lasted near 100 minutes. By the time the Big 12 Championships arrive, practices will finish in closer to 60 minutes.
With six months of hard training behind them, it is important to keep the wrestlers healthy. Smith saw this firsthand in 2007.
“Last year at this time we were exhausted,” he said. “We were just hoping to field a team. It wasn’t our healthiest team. We were run down, and we won’t be run down this year.”
Last year Missouri also competed six times in February, compared to four times this year. In 2007, Smith added two nonconference opponents to end the season, but did not this year.
“I wanted to shorten the season, so we didn’t wrestle as many dates this year,” Smith said. “What used to happen is that we would wrestle before the high school state tournament, after the tournament and then the next week. By the time we got out of it we had two weeks until the Big 12 tournament and guys were exhausted.”
By giving his team more recovery time, Smith said they would not be as fatigued.
However, this does not mean practices are any easier.
Since the Tigers’ last match against Iowa State on Feb. 17, the team has done two-a-days when they practice.
At a recent early-morning practice, the wrestlers broke off into pairs, matching each of the starters with a non-starter. This allowed Smith and his assistants to roam the practice room and help the wrestlers correct individual weaknesses.
By the end of the 60-minute workout, McCormick’s hair was clumped and stringy from sweat, and sophomore Max Askren’s gray t-shirt had darkened a few shades.
Then three wrestlers at a time climbed on the stationary bikes for a seven-minute workout, which is the same length as a match. After pedaling at a steady pace, they made the transition into a sprint for short intervals, simulating a quick outburst of action in a match.
Smith said that the new schedule allows his athletes to train harder because they know a break is just days away.
“You want people focused on wrestling with a higher level of intensity, and they should be doing it every day, but it’s easier to get right now when they know they aren’t going through the grind six days in a row,” Smith said.
The days off help the wrestlers in a couple of different ways.
First, it allows them to take care of their bodies. McCormick likes to go to the practice facility for stretching or rehab for any injuries he has. Askren prefers to use a hot tub or sauna the night before a day off.
“That just really helps loosen you up,” Askren said.
Massages are also scheduled for the 10 starters early in the week before the Big 12 Championship.
Second, it allows them to unwind. During a long season, it is hard to find time to relax. McCormick and Askren both said that they do things they don’t normally have time for, such as watch movies and just hang out with friends.
Askren said he would prefer to wrestle every day because he loves the sport, but that he likes having three weeks to prepare.
However, he does have one suggestion for Smith.
“They should have been getting us more massages,” Askren said with a laugh and a smile.