Preparing for Wrestling Weight Certification

Preparing for Wrestling Weight Certification by Alan C. Utter Ph.D., M.P.H., FACSM

It is well known that wrestlers often attempt to lose weight rapidly to gain a perceived competitive advantage over their opponent. An effective weight management program is designed to assist in avoiding potentially harmful weight loss practices utilized to achieve a specific weight class and at the same time promote optimal performance. A successful weight management program should consist of the following three essential components:

  1. Establishment of a healthy minimal wrestling body weight through body composition and hydration assessment.
  2. Development of a sound, gradual, and safe weight loss plan which includes nutritional education if weight loss is desired.
  3. Development of a nutritional educational program that is directed to the coach, individual wrestler, and parents.

One of the key elements of weight certification is that all wrestlers should establish a healthy minimal wrestling body weight through body composition and hydration assessment. Please note that a calculated minimal wrestling weight does not equate to an optimal wrestling weight for performance. For example, our research has demonstrated that in N = 811 Division I collegiate wrestlers who qualified to compete in the NCAA Championships we found their average body fat values to be 9.5% when their minimal wrestling weight was calculated at 5% body fat. This indicates that the minimal wrestling weight is simply a recommendation and that the majority of the best collegiate wrestlers in the country wrestle above the calculated minimal wrestling weight.

Wrestlers have been known for losing large amounts of weight over a short period of time believing that this process will increase their chance for success in an upcoming match. I can speak from experience because there was a time when I would lose as much as 10-15 pounds 1-2 days prior to a collegiate match through excessive sweating or dehydration. At the time I thought that “weight cutting” would give me a competitive advantage over my opponent, but have since learned that “weight cutting” if anything hindered my performance and at times jeopardized my health. The weight loss techniques that I engaged in resulted in a significant loss of water, electrolytes, and energy reserves from my body all of which could not be completely replenished after weigh-in and therefore my performance suffered. One should understand that a body weight reduction as small as 2% of body weight can result in significant negative effects on muscular endurance and wrestling performance.

In addition, by engaging in “weight cutting” throughout the season wrestlers can lose a significant amount of muscle mass which directly results in a loss of strength. Our research has shown that wrestlers who cycled their body weight throughout the season lost an average 5 pounds of muscle mass when compared to wrestlers that did not cycle their weight throughout the season.  Therefore, by establishing a healthy minimal wrestling prior to the first practice and an accompanying sound, gradual, and safe weight loss plan will prevent large unhealthy weight cuts, make it easier maintain your competitive weight over the course of the season, and ultimately lead to improved performance during competition.

The first step in determining a minimal wrestling weight is to assess the wrestler’s percent body fat using an acceptable method. A wrestler’s body is composed of fat tissue as well as lean tissue which includes muscle, bone, and water. The best way to lose weight and not impair your performance is to lose fat tissue and maintain muscle mass. Prior to the body composition and weight assessment it is required to test the wrestler to ensure that they are properly hydrated. In order to obtain an accurate body composition the wrestler must be in a hydrated state. Urine specific gravity has been selected as the most practical, cost-efficient measure of hydration. If the wrestler does not pass the urine specific gravity test they will be encouraged to drink plenty of fluids and return no earlier than 24 hours in a hydrated state for a retest. Therefore, it is recommended to show up to the weight certification assessment well-hydrated by drinking sufficient fluid in the hours before testing.

It is important to remember that specific questions regarding the dates, procedures, and guidelines for the body composition and hydration assessment and subsequent determination of minimal competing weight should be directed to your individual state high school association.

Alan C. Utter Ph.D., M.P.H., FACSM
Professor of Health and Exercise Science
Appalachian State University, Boone, NC

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