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Ultimate Wrestling Strength & Conditioning (With Program)

When it comes to combat sports, strength and conditioning training is most beneficial in wrestling. To succeed, you need the...

When it comes to combat sports, strength and conditioning training is most beneficial in wrestling. To succeed, you need the physical prowess to control and dominate an opponent of comparable stature and the mental toughness to not stop attacking until victory is achieved.

To give you an advantage in wrestling, I am providing you with the top workouts, exercises, and an analysis of the most critical physical metrics.

15 Best Strength & Conditioning Exercises For Wrestling

Shadow Wrestling

Mastering shadow wrestling requires diligent practice of the fundamentals during proper work-to-rest intervals. Many videos online demonstrate fundamental wrestling drills ideal for low- and high-intensity solo training.

Effective practice involves focusing on posture, movement, and offensive and defensive maneuvers in a planned or spontaneous sequence.

The intensity of your workout is determined by the physical adaptations and energy systems you want to target.

A slower pace with shorter rest times focuses predominantly on aerobic energy production, whereas a faster pace with longer rest periods increases anaerobic energy production.

If you can practice with a partner, you can improve your training by including partner drills, which allow for more direct application of techniques.

If you have a grappling dummy, use it to practice repeated takedown drills.

Rope Climbs

The rope climb is highly effective for wrestlers since it improves upper body strength, grip, and endurance.

This exercise develops the arms, shoulders, and back, providing a complete workout that is especially good for the physical demands of wrestling.

  1. Standing beneath the rope, reach up and grab it with both hands.
  2. Pull your body up using your arms and back, leaving your legs hanging. This is an upper-body-only exercise.
  3. Slide your hands one above the other as you ascend, keeping a firm grip on the rope.

Squats

The squat is widely regarded as the best lower-body exercise working the glutes and quadriceps, albeit its efficiency depends on back strength. There are numerous varieties, including back, front, and Zercher squats.

Your previous injuries, training phase, and personal comfort with the exercise will determine your choice. Personally, I like the front squat, and here's how it's done.

  1. Position yourself beneath the bar and place it across your shoulders. Choose between a clean grip (fingers under the bar) or a cross-armed grip (arms crossed over the bar) based on your wrist flexibility.
  2. Maintain high elbows to keep the bar on your shoulders. Lift the barbell from the rack and take a step back.
  3. Begin the squat by softly pushing your hips back, bending your knees, and lowering your body straight down. During the downward movement, keep your chest and elbows up.
  4. Your goal should be to squat as deeply as your flexibility allows, ideally until your butt touches the calves at their lowest point.

Trap Bar Deadlifts

The deadlift is a crucial lower-body exercise in wrestling training targeting the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and back while improving grip strength.

While I'm wary about incorporating heavy deadlifts into routines since they can be difficult to recover from, affecting subsequent wrestling performance, it's unquestionably a favorite among some wrestlers and, when done correctly, can considerably complement a training program.

Many wrestlers, however, suffer from lower back ailments, which deadlifting can exacerbate. I advise using the trap bar instead of a standard barbell since it reduces lower back strain, and the higher grips limit the range of motion. Here is the technique:

  1. Position yourself inside the trap bar with feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lower your hips and bend your knees to grab the trap bar handles, preferably the upper ones.
  3. Maintain a straight back, engage your lats, and remove any slack from the bar to generate pre-lift tension.
  4. Drive through your entire foot to raise the bar off the ground.
  5. Make sure your hips and chest lift at the same time. Once the bar has passed your knees, completely straighten your hips and knees until you are completely straight.

Power Clean

I love combining Olympic weightlifting exercises with wrestling training, but you don't have to focus on thе classic snatch and clean and jerk exercises. Instead, you can go for easier-to-learn weightlifting variations that can efficiently increase strength and power without learning difficult techniques.

The goal is to rapidly lift big weights, bridging the gap between resistance training and wrestling practice. Here's how to do it effectively:

  1. Position yourself so your weight is centered over the middle of your feet, your shoulders above the bar, and the barbell rests near your shin.
  2. Try to point your elbows outward while keeping a broad chest to engage your lats. Start the lift by pushing with your legs.
  3. Maintain a consistent back angle from your starting posture. As you lift, your knees should shift back slightly to make room for the barbell. Your hips and shoulders should rise at the same speed.
  4. After clearing the knees, the second phase of the lift (from knee to hip) involves accelerating up the bar to the triple extension position.
  5. To achieve a straighter path, continue to lean over the bar for as long as possible. The bar should travel up your upper thigh as you fully extend your hips, knees, and ankles with a strong shoulder shrug.
  6. While pulling the bar, at the same time, lower yourself under it. Your feet will slightly shift outward to catch the bar.
  7. Rapidly spin your elbows under the bar, catching it on your shoulders while keeping your elbows as high as possible.

Snatch High Pull

The snatch high pull is my favorite exercise in weight training for building a strong upper back. It requires a concentrated effort from the ground up, utilizing the hips and upper back muscles to propel the barbell upwards toward your chest.

This exercise is a comprehensive full-body strength builder for wrestlers, including a mat return movement similar to the power clean. Here is the technique:

  1. Get a snatch grip (straps are recommended) and set your starting position with a wide chest, engaged lats, and your head and eyes facing forward.
  2. Stand up and drive your legs into the ground. When completely upright, raise to your toes and perform a powerful shoulder shrug, lifting the barbell as high as possible, akin to an upright row.

Fat Bar Bench Press

While powerlifters excel in bench pressing, not all approaches may be appropriate for wrestling-specific training. Adopting specific characteristics, such as their setup and leg drive, is advantageous, but changing the grip breadth is recommended for wrestling-specific strength. Here's a step-by-step instructions:

  1. Position yourself on the bench so your feet are securely on the ground, and your head is behind the bar when you lie down. Use the bar to help you slide underneath, keeping your feet grounded until your eyes are squarely beneath the barbell. This pose will stretch your quads, which is important for leg engagement.
  2. Draw your shoulder blades together and squeeze your glutes to make a solid base. Hold the bar with a narrower grip, about shoulder-width apart. This contrasts with powerlifters' wider grip, which they exploit to limit the lifting range.
  3. Lift the bar off the rack with a pullover-like motion. Create tension in your legs as you pull the bar down to your chest, keeping your elbows at a 45-degree angle from your torso.
  4. For the lift, press the bar up with your arms while pushing with your legs to return to the starting position.

Push Press

The push press, derived from Olympic weightlifting, is essential to a wrestler's strength training regimen. It requires channeling strength from your legs to your hands and arms, similar to many wrestling takedowns. Here is how to do it:

  1. Begin by lifting the barbell into the front rack position, as in a front squat. Stand with your legs straight and your elbows slightly bent to achieve a more vertical forearm alignment, maintaining your chest up to maintain an upright posture.
  2. Begin the dip action by transferring your weight slightly toward your heels while maintaining complete foot contact with the ground. Imagine pulling a thread straight from your tailbone.
  3. Bend your knees outward, similar to a squatting motion. The dip should be shallow, comparable to a quarter squat, or slightly deeper, which you can alter based on feel.
  4. At the bottom of the dip, engage in a quick, powerful upward push. Push through your entire foot, ending with your legs completely straight and on your toes.
  5. Begin pushing up with your arms as the barbell lifts from your shoulders due to leg drive. Continue to thrust upward with your shoulders and arms as the bar moves overhead, maintaining your legs straight.
  6. Finish the lift with the barbell completely overhead and your head pushed forward for a secure lockout position.

Barbell Row

The barbell row is a powerful strength-building exercise that requires you to balance both your body weight and the weight of the barbell. Personally, I find this exercise difficult, but often, the most despised exercises produce the most significant benefits.

The dumbbell row is an excellent alternative to the barbell, especially when using big weights. Here's how to do a barbell row:

  1. To grasp the barbell, lean forward and bend the hips and knees. To engage the lats more effectively, bring your hands closer together.
  2. Draw the barbell towards your stomach while maintaining the elbows tucked to your sides. When you reach the peak of the movement, contract your shoulder blades.
  3. Gently lower the barbell to the ground while completely straightening your arms.

Towel Pull-Ups

Choosing towel pull-ups over the traditional type provides variety to your training. While not required, utilizing towels instead of a bar offers a unique challenge that focuses on hand, grip, and forearm strength, all of which are essential for wrestling in terms of good gripping and wrist control.

If you're new to towel pull-ups, start with a simple dead hang to develop your grip strength.

  1. Hang two hand towels over the pull-up bar. Use a single towel per hand
  2. Wrap your hands completely around the towel, ensuring that no portion of it hangs from your fingers.
  3. Begin by hanging to assess your grip strength. As you pull up, bring your elbows closer to your ribs and let your hands spin freely.
  4. Then, slowly lower yourself back down until your arms are fully extended.

Jump Squats

Jumps are a great alternative to standard weightlifting routines. It's simple to begin, and you may ramp up the intensity by adjusting the weight. You can use a barbell on your back or hold a trap bar or dumbbells at your side.

Jumps can help you improve your ability to quickly generate force, an essential skill for wrestling. Here's a guide for doing them:

  1. Place the barbell on your back, just as you would for a back squat. Bend the bar over your traps for a solid upper back and keep it in position for the jump.
  2. Begin by dropping into a shallow squat. The idea is to quickly transition from downward to upward movement (eccentric to concentric phase), which increases rapid force production.
  3. Use your entire foot to provide support and propel upwards using your leg strength.
  4. As you jump, keep pushing through your legs and extending your toes. As you leap, hold the bar tight against your traps. When landing, bend your knees to absorb the impact.

Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian Deadlift (RDL) is essential for anyone looking to strengthen their legs, particularly the hamstrings. It can be done with big loads, delivers a superb hamstring stretch, and efficiently strengthens the glutes and lower back. Unlike the regular deadlift, the RDL starts from the standing position.

To clarify, moving the weight off the floor does not constitute the first repetition of the RDL. Let's look at the proper technique for maximizing hamstring development.

  1. After lifting the weight, stand straight with a slight bend in your knees and your chest out. Engage your lats to hold the bar tight, imagine yourself squeezing something under your armpits.
  2. Begin the movement by arching your lower back, pushing your hips back, and moving your weight to your heels. You can maintain your chin tucked and glance down for a straight spine alignment or keep your head and eyes forward, whichever feels most comfortable.
  3. As you push your hips back, the bar should slide down your legs, leaving no gap between them. Maintain a consistent knee angle throughout.
  4. A common mistake is deciding when to stop the descent. When your hips are not going back, stop the downward motion. This is usually just above or below the kneecap. If the bar reaches your shins, you overload your lower back instead of working your hamstrings.
  5. Drive your hips forward to return to the starting position, then repeat the motion.

KB Swing

The Kettlebell swing is a dynamic hip extension exercise that results in a swift and intense stretch in the hamstrings and glutes as the kettlebell swings back, followed by a quick hip thrust to activate these muscles.

Even a light 16 kg kettlebell can engage the glutes similarly to hip thrusts with a load equivalent to a 10-repetition maximum.

This is the proper technique:

  1. Begin the kettlebell swing by pushing your hips back and bending your knees slightly. Then, thrust your hips forward, contracting your glutes powerfully.
  2. Maintain a relaxed arm position during the movement. The motion in your hips should determine the height of the kettlebell, not the shoulders lifting the weight.
  3. As the kettlebell swings back towards you, bend at the hips to bring it close to your body. Quickly convert the kettlebell's downward movement into an upward thrust.

Sandbag Carry

The bearhug carry, similar to sandbag loading, is a strenuous Strongman exercise that tests your whole body, from your hips to your hands. Regular practice of this workout can considerably improve your endurance. Here is the technique:

  1. Slide your hands underneath both sides when the sandbag is flat on the ground. To securely wrap your hands and forearms over the sandbag, you may need to roll it back and forth over each hand.
  2. Once your grip is secure, squat down to use as much leg power as possible when lifting the sandbag. As you rise up, you may need to move the sandbag slightly by giving a short hip bump and adjusting your hold.
  3. You can choose between the monkey, seatbelt, Gable, butterfly, or S grip according to what feels best.

Farmers Walk

The farmer's walk is a crucial part of any wrestling training regimen, known for its emphasis on grip strength and upper back conditioning. While farmer's handles are commonly used, kettlebells are also feasible. Here is the method:

  1. Position yourself like you would for a deadlift, with your selected weights on both sides. Lift the weights like a deadlift while standing fully upright.
  2. Before you start moving, make sure you're comfortable with the weight. Begin walking forward, taking short steps while keeping your core engaged.
  3. Continue until you reach your target distance or time, then carefully lower the weights to the ground.
  4. Avoid rounding the back. Work against the weight to maintain a straight and upright posture throughout the exercise.

Importance Of Strength & Conditioning For Wrestlers

The easiest method to demonstrate the significance of strength and conditioning for wrestlers is to compare elite and sub-elite wrestling competitors.

126 male wrestlers were divided into three categories: top elite, elite, and amateur, with the top elite winning medals at European and/or World Championships, elite wrestlers competing but not winning a medal, and amateurs not competing [1].

A comprehensive array of testing evaluated strength, power, and conditioning. Top elite wrestlers had a 12% higher aerobic capacity than amateurs, except lightweight wrestlers, who showed no significant difference.

During maximal cycling sprint tests, top wrestlers outperformed amateurs in terms of average and peak lower body power.

Elite wrestlers produced 12.5% and 7.5% more peak and average power production, respectively, but only in middleweight.

When comparing top elite and elite wrestlers, the distinctions were not obvious, implying that beyond a certain threshold of physical ability, top-tier wrestlers are distinguished by their technical and strategic talents.

It should be noted the amateurs in this study had less training experience than the elite wrestlers, which may account for their lesser physical talents.

However, these findings are based on a single study, and a wealth of additional information is available.

Wrestling Strength Elite vs. Non-Elite

A four-time World Senior Greco-Roman wrestling champion from Iran, participating in the 55 kg category, performed 30% more pull-ups and 8% more sit-ups than the national average, demonstrating his outstanding muscular endurance ability [2].

When adjusted for body weight, this wrestler displayed more strength in the back squat than national requirements, scoring 1.83 instead of 1.79. However, his bench press performance was marginally lower, at 1.39, compared to the national norm of 1.48 relative to body weight.

Elite Iranian junior wrestlers in the 55 kg weight class exhibited comparable strength, with averages of 1.9 and 1.4 for squat and bench press, respectively, when assessed against body weight [3].

Elite Iranian Junior wrestlers had better squat and bench press values than Division III American College wrestlers, indicating top-tier wrestlers may have more strength [4].

Furthermore, a study of elite Junior Turkish wrestlers examined strength differences between those who made the National Team for the World Championships and those who did not.

Instead of using standard dynamic movements such as squats and bench presses, this study assessed isometric grip, back, and leg strength [5]. Wrestlers chosen for the national squad had a 10% greater grip strength, 12% more back strength, and 7% better leg strength isometrically than non-selected wrestlers.

A 2015 study of senior wrestlers compared elite and sub-elite competitors [6].

Elite wrestlers had over eight years of experience and had competed in at least three international tournaments, whereas sub-elite wrestlers were national finalists who had never competed internationally.

Elite wrestlers performed more bench presses (1.1 vs. 0.9) and squats (1.4 vs. 1.1) proportional to their body weight than sub-elite wrestlers.

A 2011 study intended to uncover physical parameters predicting wrestling performance by comparing elite and amateur wrestlers across weight classes (lightweight, middleweight, heavyweight) [7].

Elite wrestlers had more lean mass and demonstrated 12-26% more squat and bench press strength than amateurs. Their maximum muscle power for these workouts was much higher, ranging from 14 to 30 percent more than amateurs.

Surprisingly, the primary difference in muscle strength and power was not age or training experience but lean body mass.

Top-level wrestlers displayed greater grip strength in the lightweight and middleweight categories, increasing by 6-19%, but this difference was not detected in the heavyweight class. Furthermore, elite wrestlers demonstrated a 7-20% increase in maximal back strength compared to amateurs.

It is obvious dynamic and isometric strength are critical for wrestling performance and should be prioritized in a wrestler's strength training plan.

Wrestling Conditioning Elite vs. Non-Elite

Aerobic and anaerobic performance were measured in elite Junior Iranian freestyle wrestlers, with lower body average power ranging from 330 to 620 Watts and aerobic capacity averaging 50 to 57 ml.kg-1min-1[3].

For context, top-level endurance athletes can have aerobic capacities of more than 70 ml.kg-1min-1 [8], while senior elite wrestlers frequently have average power outputs of around 836 Watts [9]. Exceptionally, certain athletes can produce power outputs of more than 1000 W!

Junior elite wrestlers frequently outperform elite taekwondo practitioners regarding average power relative to body weight, highlighting the importance of lower-body anaerobic strength in wrestling over striking-based combat sports [10].

Interestingly, these young elite wrestlers' lower body power outputs beat those of the German 4000m pursuit World Record holders from the 2000 Olympics [11].

Early research comparing elite and non-elite juvenile wrestlers in the United States found peak anaerobic power of the arms and legs, proportional to body weight, was a significant differentiator. In comparison, aerobic ability was not as important [13].

But how do top-tier senior wrestlers compare to their less experienced peers?

Elite Spanish wrestlers competing internationally showed 11% more peak power than their national-level peers [12]. However, elite wrestlers had only a slight edge in aerobic capacity over sub-elite rivals.

A comprehensive 2011 study of 92 wrestlers from five nations, grouped by experience level and body weight, stands out in this research field [14].

Elite wrestlers in this study had extensive experience and competed in major European and/or World Championships, while amateurs were national finalists.

Elite wrestlers in all weight classes performed better on the Wingate test in terms of absolute and relative upper-body average, as well as peak power.

The significant difference in anaerobic power could be ascribed to top wrestlers' 3-5% higher lean mass, which corresponds strongly with anaerobic peak and median power in such tests [15].

A more recent evaluation of 71 research publications, including 2,124 wrestlers, sought to uncover significant physiological features among wrestlers [16]. The key findings include:

  • Wrestlers' VO2max levels are comparable to those in karate, taekwondo, and amateur boxing, emphasizing the importance of a solid aerobic foundation.
  • A high level of aerobic capacity is essential for competitive wrestling.
  • Wrestlers have more anaerobic power than judo, amateur boxing, and karate athletes, but their aerobic capacity is comparable.
  • Elite wrestlers have more upper and lower-body anaerobic power and capacity than non-elites.
  • While a strong aerobic base is important, it is not the only aspect distinguishing elite from non-elite wrestlers.

According to the research, elite wrestling performance is defined by the ability to create high levels of anaerobic power and capacity. Improving this requires significant fat-free mass, muscular strength, and power. It should be addressed within a wrestling conditioning program.

Wrestling Off-Season Strength & Conditioning Program

Here’s an example wrestling strength and conditioning program designed to improve your ability to repeatedly scramble.

Get The Scrambler Strength & Conditioning Program Here.

Day 1

A1) Hanging Leg Raise 3 x 8

A2) Back Extension 3 x 10    

B1) Incline Bench 2 x 5 7 RPE

B2) Weighted Chin (No load if you can’t do reps at prescribed RPE) 2 x 8  7 RPE

C1) BB Jump Squat 4 x 5+5+5 w/ 5sec rest each + w/ 2 min rest between sets 30% Back Squat 1RM

Day 2

A1) Extra ROM Push-Up (add weight if necessary)  3 x 10  7 RPE

A2) Inverted Row (add weight if necessary) 3 x 10   7 RPE

B1) Fat Barbell Curl 2 x 8 7 RPE

B2) Triceps Pushdown 2 x 10 7 RPE

C1) BB Jump Squat 4 x 5+5+5 w/ 5sec rest each + w/ 2 min rest between sets 30% Back Squat 1RM

Should You Do Strength & Conditioning In-Season?

For both parents and "lazy" college wrestlers, not doing S&C during the season is one of the worst decisions they can make.

Strength training should never be stopped during the season. Your risk of injury will rise as the season goes on because you will get weaker and less fit.

If you compete at least once a week, you might not even need to do any additional conditioning, but weightlifting should remain a priority.

It could be once or twice a week depending on how often you wrestle. The following is a sample two day per week sample schedule for a wrestling strength program during the season:

Day 1

A1) Front Squat 3 x 3 @80% 1RM

B1) Fat Close Grip Bench Press 4 x 2 @83% 1RM

B2) Weighted Towel Pull-Up 4 x 5-6 @8 RPE

C1) Sandbag Carry 2 x 20-40m

Day 2

A1) Medicine Ball Scoop Toss 3 x 3

B1) Power Clean + Push Press 2 x 2+2, 1 x 2+1, 1 x 1+1

C1) DB Jump Squat 2 x 5 @10% bodyweight

C2) Explosive Incline Push-Up 2 x 5

Summary

Wrestling strength and conditioning do not have to be complicated. It's all about consistency and doing just enough to foster growth while keeping you healthy enough to wrestle. It's a tricky balancing act involving trial and error. 

For grappling strength and conditioning, see my program here.

References

  1. Demirkan, E., Koz, M., Kutlu, M., & Favre, M. (2015). Comparison of physical and physiological profiles in elite and amateur young wrestlers. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research29(7), 1876-1883.
  2. Mirzaei, B., Curby, D. G., Barbas, I., & Lotfi, N. (2011). Anthropometric and physical fitness traits of four-time World Greco-Roman wrestling champion in relation to national norms: A case study.
  3. Mirzaei, B., Curby, D. G., Rahmani-Nia, F., & Moghadasi, M. (2009). Physiological profile of elite Iranian junior freestyle wrestlers. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research23(8), 2339-2344.
  4. Schmidt, W. D., Piencikowski, C. L., & Vandervest, R. E. (2005). Effects of a competitive wrestling season on body composition, strength, and power in National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III college wrestlers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research19(3), 505.
  5. Demirkan, E., Ünver, R., Kutlu, M., & Mitat, K. O. Z. (2012). The comparison of physical and physiological characteristics of junior elite wrestlers. Beden E?itimi ve Spor Bilimleri Dergisi6(2), 138-144.
  6. Morán-Navarro, R., Valverde-Conesa, A., López-Gullón, J. M., la Cruz-Sánchez, D., & Pallarés, J. G. (2015). Can balance skills predict Olympic wrestling performance?. Journal of Sport & Health Research7(1).
  7. García-Pallarés, J., López-Gullón, J. M., Muriel, X., Díaz, A., & Izquierdo, M. (2011). Physical fitness factors to predict male Olympic wrestling performance. European journal of applied physiology111(8), 1747-1758.
  8. Hue, O., Gallais, D. L., Chollet, D., & Prefaut, C. (2000). Ventilatory threshold and maximal oxygen uptake in present triathletes. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology25(2), 102-113.
  9. Jakovljevi?, D. K., Eric, M., Jovanovic, G., Dimitric, G., Cupic, M. B., & Ponorac, N. (2018). Explosive muscle power assessment in elite athletes using wingate anaerobic test. Revista Brasileira de Medicina do Esporte24(2), 107-111.
  10. Lin, W. L., Yen, K. T., Lu, C. Y. D., Huang, Y. H., & Chang, C. K. (2006). Anaerobic capacity of elite Taiwanese Taekwondo athletes. Science & sports21(5), 291-293.
  11. SCHUMACHER, Y. O., & MUELLER, P. (2002). The 4000-m team pursuit cycling world record: theoretical and practical aspects. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise34(6), 1029-1036.
  12. Morán-Navarro, R., Valverde-Conesa, A., López-Gullón, J. M., la Cruz-Sánchez, D., & Pallarés, J. G. (2015). Can balance skills predict Olympic wrestling performance?. Journal of Sport & Health Research7(1).
  13. Horswill, C. A., Scott, J. R., & Galea, P. (1989). Comparison of maximum aerobic power, maximum anaerobic power, and skinfold thickness of elite and non-elite junior wrestlers. International Journal of Sports Medicine10(03), 165-168.
  14. García-Pallarés, J., López-Gullón, J. M., Muriel, X., Díaz, A., & Izquierdo, M. (2011). Physical fitness factors to predict male Olympic wrestling performance. European journal of applied physiology111(8), 1747-1758.
  15. Vardar, S. A., Tezel, S., Öztürk, L., & Kaya, O. (2007). The relationship between body composition and anaerobic performance of elite young wrestlers. Journal of sports science & medicine6(CSSI-2), 34.
  16. Chaabene, H., Negra, Y., Bouguezzi, R., Mkaouer, B., Franchini, E., Julio, U., & Hachana, Y. (2017). Physical and physiological attributes of wrestlers: an update. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research31(5), 1411-1442.