Wrestling has long been associated with weight cutting. Stories of wrestlers starving themselves, surviving on lettuce and locking themselves in the sauna for hours are wrestling folklore. Why do wrestlers put themselves through this?
Why Do Wrestlers Cut Weight?
Wrestlers have to cut weight because the sport has weight classes, if you weigh over the limit you will not be able to wrestle. Many wrestlers compete in a class below their natural weight, starving and dehydrating themselves before weigh in as they believe the extra weight will give them an advantage.
Wrestlers do not have to actually cut weight. They are free to compete at any weight class they choose. For example if they naturally weigh 140 pounds they can compete in the 145 pound weight class and eat and drink as they please in the lead up to their competition.
However, most wrestlers do choose to cut weight because size is such an advantage in wrestling especially if you are competing against a wrestler who is weight cutting.
Take the above example of the 140 pound wrestler who wrestles at 145 pounds. If he competes against a wrestler who cuts weight from 152 pounds he is giving up 12 pounds. This places him at a significant strength and power disadvantage. If you have wrestled someone larger than you are you will know how much harder it becomes to finish and defend takedowns, ride and escape bottom.
In search of an advantage our hypothetical 140 pound wrestler may opt to wrestle in the 132 pound class. Now he will have a big strength advantage when he wrestles opponents who don’t cut weight.
Once a wrestler chooses a particular weight class to compete in he must weigh in under the limit. If a wrestler misses weight even if he is only slightly over the limit he will not be allowed to wrestle. This forces wrestlers who have opted to compete in a weight class below their natural weight to consistently cut weight otherwise they will be sitting on the sidelines watching their teammates compete.
Why Is Weight Cutting Controversial In Wrestling?
Weight cutting is controversial in wrestling. Many kids and coaches do not know how to weight cut effectively and safely. Coaches will just tell kids to starve themselves, reduce water intake and throw them in a sauna. This has led to health complications and even a few deaths over the years.
There are many issues with weight cutting especially when children are doing it. Some believe even middle school kids should be cutting weight because the advantage is too big in competition not to be exploited. While others think high school kids should not weight cut at all or only cut a couple times a year for big tournaments.
Weight cutting can also affect physical development of children. Reducing calories while also increasing exercise intensity for extended periods of time can prevent children from reaching their physical potential. Children may not grow as tall as they would have if they didn’t cut weight excessively for prolonged periods of time. Extended weight cutting also can negatively impact muscle development in children.
Another factor young wrestlers need to consider when weight cutting is the impact it will have on your training. When wrestlers cut weight their work capacity takes a nosedive and they become weak and irritable. This often results in poor training room performance. A young wrestler who is trying to learn techniques and improve their fundamentals can not afford to sacrifice hundreds of good potential training sessions because of self imposed misery brought about by weight cutting.
Should Middle School Wrestlers Cut Weight?
Middle school wrestlers should not cut weight due to potential health risks and making the sport unenjoyable. They should compete at their natural weight. Wrestling competition at this age is just about learning and getting experience, winning by seeking a weight advantage should not be a major focus.
Middle school wrestlers should be feeling great and excited to wrestle at every tournament and training session, weight cutting will only ruin a young wrestler’s love of the sport. Not to mention the potential health risks that weight cutting can have on the development of a young person.
However, if a middle school wrestler is carrying excess weight they should improve their diet and slightly reduce calories to remove the extra fat. Removing the excess fat can boost wrestling performance without risking the athlete’s health. This should be done slowly so the young wrestler still feels great during training.
Should High School Wrestlers Cut Weight?
High school wrestlers should not regularly cut weight during the season. They should only cut weight a couple times a year for big tournaments such as Fargo, Super32 and other national tournaments. Weight cutting negatively affects training performance and can reduce physical development in children.
High school wrestlers are still developing physically. They should not be restricting calories and starving themselves on a regular basis. This can lead to high school kids not reaching their full height or limiting their muscularity. The body needs food to grow and during high school the body is going through a critical growth phase, by starving themselves wrestlers can mess up this phase of development.
High school wrestlers may think they have great technique and know everything about wrestling. The truth is that many need a lot of work on fundamentals and skill development. Wrestlers learn best when they are motivated, happy, healthy and strong. Weight cutting negatively affects all of these attributes resulting in wrestlers having poor training sessions and not improving their wrestling skills.
Instead of worrying about managing their weight every practice and feeling terrible while drilling, high school wrestlers should not weight cut and instead focus on getting better at wrestling. When they get to college and they find that their skills are way below some of their teammates they will wish they had focused more on technical development than weight cutting.
When it comes to big tournaments that take place a couple times a year high school wrestlers should consider conservative weight cuts. If a high school wrestler cuts weight sensibly a couple times a year the health risks are miniscule and they will likely only have a couple of poor training sessions.
These minor negatives are greatly outweighed by the huge potential performance benefits. If you go from wrestling kids who are bigger than you to now wrestling kids you have a weight advantage on you should see a big uptick in your performance. This could result in you achieving big time results at major tournaments and getting you on the radar of college coaches.
As long as high school wrestlers are only cutting weight 3 to 4 times the performance benefits outweigh the small health risks and the poor performance at a few training sessions.