Training: Weight Loss - An Athlete's Perspective

During the past few years, the deaths of three U.S. university wrestlers has caused considerable concern in wrestling circles over the common practice of weight loss for competition. University of Michigan wrestler Jeff Reese, Wisoncosin-Lacrosse wrestler Joseph LaRossa and Campbell University's Billy Jack Saylor all died from complications arising from losing weight prior to competition.

The practice of wrestlers dehydrating themselves to make a certain weight class has been around as long as can be remembered, yet no one that I consulted has ever heard a of a wrestler dying until the three US cases. These deaths have deeply saddened us all and raise many questions regarding weight control and appropriate weight loss practices. This responsibility lies, primarily, in the hands of coaches.

First of all, I truly believe that rapid weight loss does not belong in age group wrestling. Young wrestlers who are still learning how to wrestle should not be dehydrating themselves to make a weight class, but rather, should focus their energy on developing their wrestling techniques, learning how to compete, and enjoying the sport of wrestling. As wrestlers advance to the junior age class (20 and under), where weight classes are farther apart, athletes become more experienced and some weight loss may be well managed. These young athletes need to be educated on proper weight control. Coaches must stress proper nutrition, help monitor their athletes' weight on a daily basis and keep tabs on their wrestlers' body fat percentages.

The first step towards weight control should come as athletes begin to get themselves in competitive shape. As wrestlers step up their training, their body fat level should begin to drop. Most well conditioned athletes reduce their body fat percentages from 3 to 8 percent (12 to 15 percent for females). The best method of reducing body fat is running. As a competition nears, wrestlers may increase their running duration by adding a couple of longer, slower runs to their weekly routine strictly for weight control.

The wrestler should now get their normal body weight into an "acceptable range" for their desired weight class. This "acceptable range" will vary depending on the wrestler. For example a 54 kg wrestler will likely want to get their weight to within 3 kg of their class whereas a 97 kg wrestler may aim to get their normal weight within 5 kg of their class. This phase of weight loss requires that extra attention be paid to a proper diet. The wrestler should begin to monitor food intake ensuring a proper balanced diet and plenty of fluids, but also start to cut out excess and empty calories. A wrestler's desired weight should stabilize within a few kilograms of their weight class two days prior to the competition. The remaining weight should be "cut" in the final hours leading up to to the weigh-in and should be the only time that the wrestler feels any effects of dehydration.

Weight loss can become both harmful to one's performance and dangerous to one's health when wrestlers take short cuts in their weight control program. Coaches need to ensure that their athletes are in top physical shape before they engage in cutting weight. Through constant monitoring, athletes and their coaches, can prevent any excessive last minute weight loss. Tests can also be employed to guarantee that wrestlers are competing in categories nearest their ideal body weight. With proper education and monitoring from coaches, weight control can be done safely while allowing wrestlers to perform at their highest levels. Ultimately, both wrestlers and coaches should keep in mind that cutting weight is intended to help competitors compete at their optimum weight class and not to be an overwhelming practice which detracts from peak performance or puts a wrestler's health at risk.

Author: Justin Abdou is the assistant coach of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada and the Athlete's Representative for the Canadian Amateur Wrestling Association. He is currently preparing for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney Australia.

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About The Author
A 2000 Olympian, Justin Abdou is the assistant coach of Simon Fraser University and the Athlete's Representative for the Canadian Amateur Wrestling Association.


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