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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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