About Matthew Wernikoff

Sports Performance Coach | Wrestling Coach | Personal Trainer

Lacrosse Strength Training- Preventing Ankle and Lower Leg Injuries

Lacrosse Training- Preventing Ankle and Lower Leg Injuries (Part I of a 3 Part Series)

by Matthew Wernikoff, Sports Performance Coach, Champion Athletes

Lacrosse Strength TrainingI am often get asked by parents if Lacrosse is a dangerous sport and if their children are at undue risk of injury by playing Lacrosse.  While Lacrosse is the fastest growing team sport in the United States, the NCAA has studied it extensively and found no basis to put Lacrosse in the same league as Rugby or Football.  While it is listed as a full contact sport, the majority of injuries to Lacrosse players are lower leg injuries with broken bones and spinal cord injuries very rare.  The fear comes from a lack of knowledge about the sport; previously lacrosse was primarily an East Coast and Canadian sport, however, with its recent rise in popularity it is quickly becoming one of the most popular sport for children all across the country.  

With the rise in popularity also comes an increase in reported injuries.  But this is a fairly logical progression, more players equals more injuries.  Knowing what these common injuries are and what you can do to prevent them is key to ensuring you or your children have a long and successful Lacrosse season and career.  For all or my lacrosse athletes I put together a program that aims to prevent injuries from occurring in the first place.  In this three part series we will look at the three most common types of injuries, their causes and what you can do to prevent them.

lacrosse strength training ankle injury Lacrosse Strength Training Injury Prevention Part I: Ankle and Lower Leg Injuries 

Ankle Injuries:

Ankle injuries account for 21% of reported injuries in female lacrosse players and 16% of male players.  Why are injuries to ankles so common in scholastic age lacrosse players?  The most likely causes are due to:

  • Lacrosse requires a great deal of stopping, changing directions, pivoting and explosive movements.  These types of movements place a great deal of stress on the ankle and the associated muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the ankle.
  • Conditioning: On average a middie may run between 1.5 and 3 miles, although games of 4 to 5 miles is not uncommon.  Average sprints for players can cover between 3o and 50 yards at a time.  The fatigue from running can not only lead to muscle weakness it can also lead to mental fatigue making players less focused to dangers such as stepping on someone’s foot or proper bracing from checks and hits from other players.
  • Flexibility: Flexibility is something that many programs and coaches only have a a small amount of time to focus on.  With limited time for practices and scrimmages this aspect of training is often one of the most rushed or overlooked aspects of training.  Players with a limited Range of Motion (ROM) are more susceptible to injuries when they are required to change directions suddenly or pushed beyond the normal ROM during the course of a game or practice.

Other Common Lower Body Injuries:

  • Shin Splints: These can be debilitating in some cases and are primarily caused from poor flexibility of the Tibialis Anterior muscle and overtraining.
  • Planter Fasciitis: Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the thick tissue on the bottom of the foot. This tissue is called the plantar fascia. It connects the heel bone to the toes and creates the arch of the foot.  Planter Fasciitis can be extremely painful, particularly for an athlete who has to cut or move laterally.  In young athletes it is most commonly caused due to poor flexibility in the Achilles Tendon.  It can also be caused by shoes or cleats that are too small or tight.
  • Turf Toe: This very painful injury can happen when your shoes or cleats are too small, your cleats grab the turf more than they are supposed to, or another player falls into the calf area of your leg from behind when your toe is planted in the ground and it hyper-extends the joint of the toe.

Lacrosse Check

Exercises to Prevent Lacrosse Injuries: Lacrosse Strength Training Done Right

  • Stretching: Dynamic and Static.  Dynamic stretches should be done at the start of a training session or practice and static stretching should be done after practices during your cool down.  A cooling down period after any exercise program or practice is very important to increasing and maintaining flexibility.  There are many dynamic stretches out there and a good training program for lacrosse players should include movements that closely mimic the stresses of the game; lateral lunges and plyo-metric movements that require direction changes and angles will help prevent injuries.
  • Plyo-metric exercises: With all of our Lacrosse players we make sure to include a great deal of plyo-metric exercises.  Here is a sample video from, CSCS, Jay Dyer, demonstrating some important exercises for Lacrosse players.
  • Conditioning: Athletes should incorporate long distance running as well as interval sprint training into their conditioning program.  You should run 2-4 miles for time 2-3 times a week in the off season, with 1-2 days of sprints per week.  Sprints should be of no more than 50 yards and you should make sure to give yourself enough recovery time between sets.  In season you should cut down your long distance running (outside of practice workouts) to 1-2 times a week and increase sprint workouts to 2-3 times a week.  Many of our athletes prefer to train in the Champion Athletes Hypoxic Chamber in season rather than run outside or on a track.  For more information about our Hypoxic Chamber Training Program Click Here.
  • Proper hydration and nutrition has been shown to decrease recovery time, improve endurance and aid in flexibility.  To learn more about Champion Athletes Nutrition Programs and the benefits of Nutrition Programs in General click here.

The biggest thing we tell all of our athletes and parents is preventing these injuries is much easier and takes far less time than treating them and recovering from them.  Wearing proper fitting shoes, getting the proper conditioning work and outside training and maintaining proper hydration and eating well are far easier than the alternative.  For more information about our training programs you can check out our sports performance page or contact us here.

And if you do get injured don’t forget that our specialists can help you recover faster and come back stronger than before!

Nothing like a competition to fuel the fire

Me and some of my wrestlers hanging out between matches

Me and some of my wrestlers hanging out between matches

This past weekend I traveled with the Apex “North” team to the Bison Duals.  The past week or two I have been struggling to stay motivated with my own training…sure I’ve lost nearly 37lbs in 3 months but my body is a wreck.  Training twice a day plus lifting, cardio and work has put its tole on my body.  My neck has been bothering me for weeks and the tenonitis in my elbow and wrists sends shooting pain down my arms if I grab something the wrong way…or if I’m grabbed the wrong way.

The team before the start of the tournament

The team before the start of the tournament

Constantly tired, I was beginning to question competing again, especially at a weight I haven’t been down to since the 7th grade, 16 years ago.  But then a funny thing happened, I got to hang out with some of the kids I’ve been working with for years and coach/watch them compete in PA.  I found myself emotionally attached to the outcomes of their matches, pumped up when they pulled off a big win, frustrated and dejected after a crushing loss.  I began to re-evaluate my own emotions and I began to remember why I have been pushing myself and why I want to compete in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in the first place.

My last tournament was NAGA where I took 3rd in my first blue belt tournament.

My last tournament was NAGA where I took 3rd in my first blue belt tournament.

I’ve decided to enter into this months Grapplers Quest as a warm-up.  I’ll enter in the 189lb weight division and then from there its onto the Boston Open in August and the American Nationals in California at 181.5lbs.  I’ll just have to continue to adapt to the injuries and the grueling workouts and not let it distract me from my focus.

Matthew DiGiovanni- NYU Wrestling

Matt Digiovanni“I began wrestling in the second grade and have continued through high school onto the Division 3 collegiate level.  Going into my junior year I will be captain for NYU. In middle school when I decided to get serious with wrestling I joined Apex Wrestling Club.  Here my skill set improved and I gained great wrestling knowledge. However, it was not till I began strength training with Mat Wernikoff, at Champion Athletes, that I saw drastic improvements in my wrestling. Before training with Mat I had had two knee surgeries and lower back problems. Mat focused on the weak areas of my body, strengthening them to prevent further injury and properly balance my body. During my junior season I wrestled at 135 and felt a great strength advantage over most of my opponents. Seeing my drastic strength improvement I increase my strength training with Mat going into my senior year.

Throughout my senior year I wrestled at 145 and never felt like any opponent out muscled me. Two years into college and I still train with Mat every summer and ever chance I get when I am home. I feel that strength is one of the key components to a successful wrestling career. Technique can only get you so far when your opponent can out muscle your every move. Training with Mat gave me the confidence and made me believe that no one was working harder than me and that I was just as strong if not stronger than the top competition in the state.

Seeing my success with Mat, my brother, Tom, has also begun training with him. In the past year Thomas results have been unbelievable. Just last year he was wrestling 85lb, in one year he has grown to a rock solid 105. Mat tailors lifting and nutrition needs to each specific wrestler, or athlete to maximize their performance and achieve their specific goals.  Training with Mat has had a greatly positive impact on my career.”

-Matthew DiGiovanni- 2X NJ State Qualifier, Starter for NYU Wrestling Team

Nathan Bueno

Nathan Bueno“Since coming to Champion Athletes, there has been many changes in the way I train.  Matt Wernikoff focuses on all the small details that will get you better.  In 2 short months here at Champion Athletes, I have made massive strength gains and my conditioning is getting better withe very session.  What I really like is all the individual attention we athletes are provided.

Also, the facility is great.  There is an array or weights, machines and benches along with a 44 yard turf track,and a Hypoxi Chamber.  I feel like this equipment sets Champion Athletes apart from other training facilities.  I am looking forward to training here on my journey to become a state champion.”

-Nathan Bueno, Becton-Wallington High School, 3X NJ State Qualifier

Nathan does both wrestling privates and sports performance training with Matthew Wernikoff.

Clock Wrestling


by Matthew Wernikoff

After deciding not to return as Woodlands High School’s Head Wrestling Coach I began working with my best friend and mentor, Tod Giles, at his club Wrestling Dynamics.  Togther we grew the club and I was privledged to have learned many things from him.  He had an intellectual approach to the sport of wrestling the was uncanny.

Many of my wrestlers often ask me why I emphasize creating angle so much and why I insist they learn to attack from these angles.  Below is a copy of an article Tod published shortly before his death on a system he called “clock wrestling” and why angles are so important:

Clock Wrestling 


“For years I have always heard coaches tell the athletes to create angles and attack their opponent. In my own competitive years I thought… wow, I wonder what angle I need to be at?

Shortly into my career as a wrestler I moved into coaching by working at camps and clinics in the summer and year round. In juggling helping others while helping myself, I determined that time was of the essence in preparing athletes for competition. And if it was all about TIME, then so too must the attack angle be about TIME. I developed the concept of “Clock Work Wrestling.” Clock Work Wrestling states that “wrestling exists in the face of a clock,” and each athlete should view that face of the clock with your opponent always in the center and you always at 6 o’clock. This clock is dynamic and always moving so, inevitably, the opponent is trying to keep you at 6 as he is strong and balanced when he has you there.

Attacking straight on, while it is a tough and admirable trait, will ultimately tire us out and leave us with few points to speak of. Moving to our left or right and attacking almost immediately (if not sooner) with a powerful attack, on the other hand, will show its benefits almost immediately.

What has become increasingly easier for me to convey is the fact that, after I examined countless hours of video of both myself and my athletes while coaching at West Point years ago, I found that attacking between 5 and 7 o’clock garnered less than a 15% success rate. Not very efficient. Attacking from 4-5 o’clock and from 7-8 o’clock more than doubled the scoring proficiency to about 40%. As you would imagine the rate of effectiveness when attacking from 3-4 and 8-9 o’clock was markedly higher and exceeded 85%.

So, to this I say, the angles are the way to go… don’t try to get to any degrees…or break out your old dusty protractor… that’s way too complicated. Get yourself inside of 5 and outside of 7 for starters and when you get there… go for what you know! DO NOT HESITATE! For in the smallest fraction of a second, your opponent will have you back at 6 o’clock and unable to attack with the vigor of a champion.” –Tod Giles

Tod Giles Biography Brief:

Boston University Athletic Hall of Fame Inductee – 1999 Rockland County Hall of Fame Inductee – 2000 SILVER CERTIFIED – USAW Wrestling National Coaches Education Program Coaching Experience Varsity Coach Clarkstown South HS – 2002 – 2004 Head Coach USMA – West Point 1998 -2000 Assistant Coach USMA – West Point 1996 -1998 Volunteer Assistant Coach Georgia State University – 1994 -1995 Assistant Boston University – 1984 – 1985, 1991 – 1994 10 years experience coaching youth clubs 23 year instructor for Carl Adams World Class Wrestling School International Wrestling Experience National Team Member 1989, 90, 91, 93, 94, 95, 96 & 97 Two Time Olympic Team Alternate, 1988 & 1996 Freestyle Military World Champion – 1988 Collegiate Wrestling Experience – Boston University All-American (1st Ever at BU) – 105-13–1 Record 4 time New England Conference Champion – 4 time NCAA Qualifier

Wrestling and the Bench Press

Nathan Bueno, NJ Wrestling State Qualifier and long time Champion Athlete performing the bench press.

By Matthew Wernikoff

Nathan Bueno, NJ Wrestling State Qualifier and long time Champion Athlete performing the bench press.

Nathan Bueno, NJ Wrestling State Qualifier and long time Champion Athlete performing the bench press.

I often hear coaches tell their athletes that they shouldn’t bench press.  They tell their athletes that wrestling is a “pull” sport and benching is for “press” sports such as football.  They also argue that since you never want to be on your back in wrestling you shouldn’t perform a lift that you have to perform from your back.

Wrestling is not only a pull sport!  When you are trying to establish inside tie or collar tie position you are going to need to be able to push your opponent.  Any time you are trying to hold your position on bottom, push back into your opponent when they are on top and trying to break you down you are going to need to have a strong chest to do this.  When the same coach who told you not to bench also tells you to get your arm in front of you when your opponent is trying to run an arm bar, maybe you should turn to him and say, “I can’t you told me not to bench!”  I could go on and on about the many different positions that require you to have a strong chest but I don’t want to bore anyone.  It is true that wrestling is primarily a pull sport but the split is probably 60-70% pull vs 30-40% push so clearly you need to have a strong chest and triceps in order to be able to compete effectively.

Here are some training tips for building up your chest for wrestling:

  1. Keep your reps high, 8-12 or even 16 reps!
    1. Low reps build bulky slow muscle, not good for wrestling.
    2. Lower reps can put a lot of stress on your shoulders and rotator cuffs.  Protect your shoulders by not doing anything lower than 6-8 reps and controlling the bar during the negative range of motion.  You also don’t want to come any closer than 1-2 inches from your chest.  Never bounce the bar off your chest!
    3. Its more important to be able to explosively, efficiently and repeatedly move your weight class as many times as possible than it is to bench 300lbs.  If you wrestle 145, even if your opponent is cutting 10lbs you shouldn’t be facing anyone over 155.  So which would you rather do?  Be able to push him with a 300lbs of force a few times and then be exhausted or be able to repeatedly push him around for 6 minutes straight?  That’s why it’s better to be able to bench 155 16 or more times for 3 sets in a short period of time (with good technique and safely.)
  2. Train incline bench!
    1. If you look at a wrestling stand and extend your arms parallel to the ground you see that this angle more closely resembles the angle of incline bench instead of flat bench.
    2. It’s important to have a balanced chest and work both your upper and lower pecs.  Imbalances lead to instabilities and injuries.
  3. Use dumbbells and train unilaterally!
    1. When you only use a barbell you might not notice if one side of your body is weaker than the other.
    2. You activate more stabilizing muscles when you use a dumbbell.
    3. When you are wrestling you are not always using both arms in the same way.  One might be pushing while another is pulling or just holding position.
  4. Always use a spotter!
    1. Make sure you have an educated, focused and strong spotter.
    2. When doing dumbbell work always get spotted at the wrists.  Your elbows can bend quickly when you reach fatigue and you don’t want a weight coming down on your face!
  5. Bench works more than just your chest and triceps.

When you bench properly your posterior chain (lower back, hips, glutes, hamstrings) is engaged as is your lats and shoulders.  Here is a  great video I found on the proper form for benching technique, spotting and the muscles involved:

Benching is not only important for wrestling it is important for having a balanced body and ensuring you stay injury free!

As always consult your physician and an experienced trainer before starting any exercise program!

Why Football Players Should Wrestle: Part II


Why Football Players Should Wrestle: Part II

By Matthew Wernikoff and Dan Wernikoff

In Part I of “Why Football Players Should Wrestle’ I discussed physical, mental, and physiological attributes that benefit football players who participate in the sport of wrestling. In this section I will discuss some of these skills in greater detail.  The conditioning and strength requirements for wrestling greatly benefit football players in a variety of ways.  Wrestling’s emphasis on the development of anaerobic conditioning, core strength and explosiveness can only improve performance on the football field.

Energy System and how they relate to football and wrestling

There are three “energy systems” used by the human body: ATP/Anaerobic-alactic, Anaerobic-lactic and Aerobic.  First, the Aerobic System is an energy system which requires oxygen to be supplied to the muscles.  This system is used for exercise that lasts over one minute and is the hardest to exhaust.

Second, the Anaerobic-alactic system provides energy to the body during high-intensity short-burst activities lasting less than ten seconds.  This is sometimes referred to as the “start-up” energy that is stored in your muscles in the form of ATP.  Under most conditions, these energy stores are returned to normal levels after two to three minutes of rest.

Third, the Anaerobic-lactic system produces energy “without” oxygen and is used during periods of intense exercise or physical exertion.  This system produces lactic acid, which leads to muscle fatigue and decreased performance by athletes.  In an untrained athlete it can take more than one hour for lactic acid levels to return to normal.  Since the body uses Anaerobic-lactic energy system for activities lasting from ten seconds to two minutes it is beneficial for athletes who participate in a short burst sports to train this system.

According to a Wall Street Journal study and article written by David Biderman, the average amount of play time (time the ball is actually in play) in an NFL game was approximately eleven minutes and thirty seconds. [i]  Biderman sites a 1912 report by a University of Indiana professor in which the average amount of play time is recorded at thirteen minutes and sixteen seconds in a college game.  A Professional Football Researchers Association member recorded the average play time in an NFL game to be thirteen minutes and thirty seconds.  I unofficially recorded the playing time during five televised high school football games and found an average of ten minutes and forty-eight seconds in the shortened game lengths when compared to NFL games.  At an average of one hundred and twenty plays per game (offense and defense for both teams) I calculated that the average playing time is somewhere between 5.4 seconds and 6.75 seconds.  With rest between plays averaging a little more than thirty seconds, and plays averaging less than 10 seconds, it is clear that we can count aerobic conditioning out as the primary energy source.

A regulation wrestling match consists of three periods, each of which is two minutes.  In tournaments, matches are often shortened to a 1min-2min-2min format or even 1 ½, 1 ½, 1 ½,.  While it is nearly impossible to quantify the time it takes for a series of wrestling moves due to difference in weight classes, experience, and techniques, it is commonly accepted that the average “play” in wrestling takes place over ten to twenty seconds.  While “scrambles” can occur in lengths exceeding this, wrestling mostly occurs in small bursts of intense action with twenty to thirty seconds of less intense efforts.  Clearly, wrestling is an Anaerobic-alactic and Anaerobic-lactic sport.

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Why Football Players Should Wrestle

Jeff Velez

By Matthew Wernikoff

Recently I was asked by a parent whether or not his son should continue to wrestle.  A Junior, for a good football program in NY, he was already receiving several scholarship offers from Division I football programs.  The father felt that his son benefited from wrestling but the son felt that he should just focus on the sport he was going to play in college.  The father asked me to outline the benefits of wrestling for football players and attempt to “prove” to his son that his scholarship offers would only increase if he continued to wrestle his last two seasons.  I happily agreed as there is no doubt that wrestling greatly benefits football players on all levels.

Wrestling School NJ: Mike Stoops 150x150 Why Football Players Should Wrestle

“I love wrestlers; they are tough and make great Football players.” –Mike Stoops National Championship Football Coach at Oklahoma University.

Physical Skills

Wrestling is one of the most physically demanding sports that any athlete can partake in.  It is a total body sport requiring athletes to be flexible, strong, explosive, agile; to have a great sense of balance; and have the level of conditioning that rivals any other endurance sport.  Wrestlers, through the course of their training and competition, are often subject to physical discomfort and pain at a level that far exceeds most sports.  These skills benefit football players at all levels, from the ability to move laterally, keep a man in front of you and close the distance quickly, to driving a 225lb running back into the ground and forcing the fumble.  There is no doubt that a wrestler’s physical-ness is a skill set desired by all coaches.

“Wrestlers make coaching football easy, they have balance, coordination, and as a staff we know they are tough.”  -Tom Osborne College Hall of Fame Coach for the University of Nebraska.

Wrestling School NJ: Stephen Neal Wrestler 150x150 Why Football Players Should Wrestle

Mental Skills

Weight management, the discipline to maintain a healthy diet for 6 months or more out of the year, the drive to give a 100% every practice, and the drive it takes to wake up early everyday to get an extra run in are just some of the mental skills that it takes to be a successful wrestler.  But none compare to the mental toughness it takes to walk out on a mat, alone with no teammates to help you win and take on an opponent one on one.  Nothing compares to that feeling; whether  you have a broken finger, bruised ribs, strained or torn knee ligament, a wrestler knows that for 6 minutes nothing else matters but putting his opponent on his back and getting his hand raised in the end.  What football coach wouldn’t want an athlete on their team that is always going to give them 100%  An athlete that they never have to tell, “hit the weight room,” or “you should get extra laps in after practice?”  A true wrestler always wants to be the first to arrive and the last to leave.  A wrestler is self reliant and will never blame his teammates for his loss.  Wrestlers are mentally tough.

“I draft wrestlers because they are tough, I’ve never had a problem with a wrestler.” –Joe Gibbs Hall of Fame Football Coach.

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