The Effects of Weight Management in Wrestling
When considering athletic performance there are many external factors that can be attributed to sub-par performance. Many athletes can hold to common factors of stress, sports anxiety, and simply not being properly prepared for competition. However, there is a specific group of athletes that have other factors that can lead to poor performance, that few other athletes can. When speaking about wrestling regardless of style or gender, these athletes all have to deal with a problem that few others have to. Weight-management has become a large element of modern-day wrestling. As the sport evolved, wrestling at a lower weight class, where an athlete could potentially be bigger, faster, stronger has become more important than simply living a normal lifestyle. While many wrestlers adopt this lifestyle of cutting weight and losing significant weight throughout the week in order to compete, there are physical and psychological implications that can affect their performance. Within this paper, our goal is to gather a better understanding of how a wrestler’s performance can be affected by their weight-cut.
Review of the Literature
During a typical season, wrestlers can find themselves dedicating workouts specifically to managing their weight. Some wrestlers choose to use rapid weight loss techniques or RWL (Viveiros, 2015). These techniques are designed to sweat out as much water weight as possible in a short duration of time. Typically, wrestlers will run, bike, hard drill, or even use saunas to sweat as much as possible. The problem when using these techniques is during a typical wrestling season, wrestlers can find themselves using multiple times a week to make weight for ten minutes. After a wrestler goes through a period of time in which they solely focus on removing as much weight as they can from the body, many negative side effects can occur. In a group of young Brazilians who competed in a wrestling tournament, symptoms such as fatigue, cramps, headaches, and irritability are common (Viveiros, 2015). If a wrestler feels these symptoms before a competition, a wrestler can develop a bad head space before the competition. When feeling fatigued or irritable, an athlete may change their day to day lifestyle in order to accommodate their headspace. This can then lead to an increase in stress and anxiety leading up to the performance, as change may not always lead to better performance.
The effects of weight cutting, especially in wrestling, are dependent on how extreme the measures are, as well as the duration of maintaining the lower amount of weight over time. In an effort to negate the negative effects of weight cutting, supplements such as fish oil have been used. However, the result of these products have little to no effect when it comes to reducing things such as inflammation, a common side effect of weight cutting. (Brown, 2009). As a result, this leads to athletes taking these supplements for no benefit. Oftentimes, coaches are the ones to suggest and encourage use of them.
Unfortunately, these RWL techniques can have some extreme negative side that have placed concern amongst the wrestling community. There are plenty of cases of wrestler’s having to be hospitalized as a cause of rapid weight loss. While this has placed concern from health care professionals and has even put weight management protocols, the negatives don’t end just at the hospital. There are cases of wrestlers who attempted to rapidly lose so much weight, that they have then gone into cardiac arrest, and have passed away. Among three cases in 1997, three different wrestlers had died while attempting to lose approximately fifteen percent of their body weight within a month, and even attempting to lose fifteen pounds in twelve hours (Center, 1998). In doing this, each wrestler would pass before making it to the competition scale. As a result of this, there are some protocols that have been made in order to test the lowest possible weight and athlete can go while doing so in a healthy manner, yet these protocols are not entirely the solution to RWL techniques being implemented into the lives of wrestlers
However, there are manageable weight cuts that are found to not hinder an athlete's performance. A study done one seven wrestlers and three judo athletes, was able to find a key factor in how to make weight-cutting both safe and non-impactful on performance. There were two weight loss time periods that each athlete would go through, one being a healthy caloric restriction and the other being the typical fluid loss method used by many wrestlers (Fogelholm, 1993). With both of these methods in mind, it was found that any athlete that didn’t exceed greater than five percent of total weight loss had not hinder in performance (Fogelholm, 1993). With this evidence, we can safely assume that while not exceeding more than five percent of weight change in a three week period, wrestlers can prevent any negative consequences of their weight management.
Implication for the Practitioner
Managing weight will always be a part of the sport of wrestling. To ensure that wrestlers are losing weight in a healthy fashion over time and not through dangerous methods, there must be an intervention. Coaches, being some of the most influential people in a wrestler’s decisions in the sport, can help their athletes by promoting healthy practices and behaviors, and monitor risky behavior they may show. The problem lies with properly educating coaches about what they should be recommending towards their wrestlers. In a survey given to all wrestling coaches in a midwestern state, 26% of the 205 coaches participating reported taking three or more exercise physiology classes. (Weissinger, 1993). In order for a coach to properly give their wrestlers advice about weight management, they must inform themselves over the topics of nutrition and healthy weight loss. Not only that, they need to correct dangerous behavior before it can lead to permanent damage. By having the correct education and proper monitoring of their athletes, coaches can ensure their safety and assist in moderate weight loss over time.
In the current era of wrestling, weight classes play a large role in the sport. When you join a team, the starting lineup can be anywhere from twenty-two in middle school, all the way down the ten starters for a college program. With the limited spots and the higher caliber of athletes as you progress in the sport, a hard decision must be made as to where a wrestler will force their body to go. Cutting weight will most likely always have a standing in the sport, as some coaches and wrestlers think it is the better decision to wrestle at a lower weight than they walk around at. With the current guidelines and organizations in place, the sport of wrestling has become safer as to the life risked when cutting weight, athletes need to consider how their weight loss can affect their performance. Dropping an excessive amount of weight can cause a wrestler to have poor physical reactions outside of the sport. In addition to outside of the sport, an athlete’s main priority should be their sports performance. Instead of dropping the excessive amount that may hinder their performance and cause negative side effects, an athlete should be endorsed to find a middle ground where they can feel bigger, faster, stronger while not actually preventing them from competing at their best. After all, why would any athlete want to train in such a grueling sport, just to leave a card off the table?
Brown, F., Mitchel, N., Ellison, M., Stewart, P. C., Al-Shanti, N., & Moss, A. (2009). The effect of w-3 on weight-loss and inflammation in the combat-sport of wrestling, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 41(5), 481–481. https://doi.org/10.1249/01.MSS.0000356017.24007.de.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (1998). Hyperthermia and dehydration-related deaths associated with intentional rapid weight loss in three collegiate wrestlers--North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Michigan, November-December 1997. Mmwr. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 47(6), 105–8.
Fogelholm, G. M., Koskinen, R., Laakso, J., Rankinen, T., & Ruokonen, I. (1993). Gradual and rapid weight loss: effects on nutrition and performance in male athletes. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 25(3), 371–7.
Viveiros, L., Moreira, A., Zourdos, M. C., Aoki, M. S., & Capitani, C. D. (2015). Pattern of weight loss of young female and male wrestlers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29(11), 3149–55. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000000968.
Weissinger, E., Housh, T. J., & Johnson, G. O. (1993). Coaches’ attitudes, knowledge, and practices concerning weight loss behaviors in high school wrestling. Pediatric Exercise Science, 5(2), 145–150. https://doi.org/10.1123/pes.5.2.145.Last Updated: 07/22/2022