Wrestlers recommended to not cut weight

January 28, 2020 — by Brandon Wang and Tiffany Wang

In 1997, three college wrestlers died in the span of six weeks, all during “strenuous weight-loss workouts,” according to The New York Times. They were trying to lose weight, in hopes of dropping into a lower weight class. In the 30 years since, various wrestling bodies have tried to cut down or eliminate extreme weight cutting.

Wrestlers are split into weight classes: the under-106 pound range, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 220, and the 220-285 pound range. Pairing wrestlers only with others in the same weight class makes the matches fairer. However, the weight-class system also encourages wrestlers to lose weight and drop to lower weight classes.

“The best advantage you can get is if you drop weight and go to a lower bracket,” senior and wrestling captain Robbie Bilic said. “You'll be against lighter people and therefore have an advantage against that weight class.”

This makes losing weight an attractive goal for wrestlers, though emotionally and physically unhealthy if done so extremely quickly, a practice known as “weight cutting.”’

“If you don’t know what you’re doing it’s easy to burn yourself,” wrestling coach Taylor Wilson said. “I knew this guy who went from 140 pounds to 119 in less than a week, and by the end of the season he mentally burnt himself out because he was losing too much weight.”

If the wrestlers are close to a lower weight class, sometimes they choose to lose the weight needed to drop. Since water retention can sometimes be responsible for added weight, wrestlers often try to sweat the water out.

“One of the things we did last year was we piled on layers and layers of hoodies and curled up in little balls in the wrestling room,” senior wrestler Nico Sabato said. “We turned on the heaters so we were all sweating in these little cocoons and losing sweat weight.”

Since cutting water leads to dehydration, individuals are more prone to higher blood pressure, heart palpitations and can make them weaker during matches.

Saboto said that he felt pressure to lose the weight he had gained over the summer after not being able to work out due to a wrist injury. 

“I felt like I needed to weight cut really hard to get to this weight class and I did it the way we’re not supposed to,” Sabato said. “I fasted for a week and drank ample amounts of water, and then for the final day cut water as well. I have to note though that my coach told me very, very specifically not to do this for wrestling, so it was entirely my personal choice.”

Sabato said that as a result of the weight cutting, he ended up in a lot of physical pain and became physically sick, which has made him vow to forgo such measures in the future.

Weight cutting that aims to cut fat as well as water can lead to an unhealthily low body fat percentage, causing a plethora of both mental problems, such as brain fog — an inability to focus and remember clearly — as well as physical problems, such as poor balance and difficulty recovering from injuries.

Weight cutting can also lead to increased mental pressures, as well as physical stress on the body caused by undereating and weight loss. For female wrestlers, cutting weight can also disrupt their periods, stopping menstruation for months and leading to hormonal imbalance. 

Starting in the 2006-7 season, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), which governs high school sports at the national level, implemented new rules to combat weight cutting. Among these reforms was a mandate that hydration levels (where lower measurements indicated better hydration) needed to be below 1.025. 

It also implemented a lower bound on the permitted body fat percentage and a weight management system that restricts weight loss during the season to at most 1.5 pounds per week. For many, the norm is that extreme amounts of weight will be cut right before an upcoming match, but this system of setting a maximum amount of weight loss per week encourages wrestlers to lose weight through exercise and good eating, rather than fasting or dehydration.

Although many wrestlers still do it, Wilson said that weight cutting was not actually necessary to make weight classes or improve, losing weight healthily through diets and exercise is enough.

“I’ve actually had a kid who went from 152 to 126, no dieting, nothing, just working out hard,” Wilson said. “Wrestling is one of those sports where if you put in the work, it’s easy to lose the weight.”

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