Wrestling has a stigma about weight cutting, and often the wrestling community is perpetuating it ourselves. In my opinion, it is emphasized much too heavily and much too young. Through competing, coaching, and educating young wrestlers about the sport, I have observed that our young athletes are taught they might only be successful if they compete at a lower weight. The number of males and females I've spoken to who have decided not to continue their career onto a collegiate or international level, have mostly been due to burn out from weight cutting. When does it become impractical to maintain a weight class? Should our minds, bodies, technique, and love for the sport suffer? This post is meant to be a guide for young athletes to navigate the pressures they may be receiving to cut weight.
I'll Win More
It is easy to think when you are the bigger wrestler in a smaller weight class, you are guaranteed to win. Once you come to terms with the concept that we are never guaranteed anything in life, you may realize that your desire to cut weight is taking away from your focus. Wrestling takes full accountability on good nutrition, technique, conditioning, and mental strength. These are the factors that will contribute to your success on the mat and give you an edge over your competition. By relying on a weight cut to help you win, you are mistakenly putting all your eggs in the wrong basket.
I'll Look Better in My Singlet
I hear it over and over! From middle school, to senior level – "I look way better in my singlet when I cut to the lower weight!" As senior level women, we don't realize how much this mentality trickles down. We have so much to deal with as women; societal pressures, media pressures, self pressures. Being in the sport of wrestling is empowering and gives us the opportunity to do amazing things with our bodies. By putting emphasis on being a smaller size, we are not recognizing that the real reason we are in this sport is because we are capable of amazing things at the exact size we already are. That is the beauty of multiple weight classes! If you have a personal goal of changing your body composition, that is a very different concept from cutting weight and looking smaller only for a weigh-in. Weight cutting is not a long term approach to coping with how we feel in our own skin. Set goals for yourself that include increasing strength and good nutrition. Our bodies will make significant changes when we seek overall health, not when we cut weight for a season.
Making the Line Up
Making the team is important to every athlete. We may recognize a line up spot that could be made at a different weight, however it should not interfere with being your most healthy self.
Moving a weight class should be a decision made by you, your coaching staff, and your family.
It should be a well thought out decision and you shouldn't feel pressured. Your own health and longevity in the sport should be taken into consideration. The mental and physical well being of an athlete is always more valuable than the need to cut weight. If you are still feeling pressured, come up with a strategy that helps everyone involved understand your goals. Here are some questions you should be asking yourself:
1. Am I currently at a healthy weight? Should my goals include strength and nutrition to help change my body composition so I am competing at a healthier weight?
2. Do I have to starve myself each week in order to make the weight?
3. Can I seek the right professionals who can help me achieve and maintain this weight class in a healthy way?
4. What is my ratio of time spent on wrestling technique versus weight cutting? If the time and energy spent is mostly on the weight cut, this should be a tell-tale sign that your not spending enough time actually wrestling.
Remember, this is YOUR athletic career, no matter how far you take it. It is important for you to leave the sport with a positive out look and great memories. We want you to come back to the sport through coaching, supporting, or one day with your own children competing in wrestling!
My Experience with Weight Cutting
I was fortunate to have full support around me that did not encourage weight cutting. In high school, I changed weight classes each year to allow for natural growth as a teenager. As I got older, I made conscious decisions to not make excessive weight cuts because I wanted to compete for as long as possible and enjoy wrestling. I had seen too many examples around me of unhappy weight cutting wrestlers. I knew going into the 2012 Olympic Trials that I would have to make sacrifices and move to a higher weight class. It was more important for me to use the 2011 year to acclimate myself. Getting use to the bigger Olympic weight class became priority, instead of focusing on cutting weight in order to possibly make a world team at a smaller weight class. I had to center in on a future goal that was more important to me. I strongly believe this is what helped me stay competitive in the sport for so long, and allowed me to remain a happy athlete. With all the pressures, challenges, and emotions wrestling brings, adding years of weight cutting to my body could have led to less longevity.
The athletes I have worked with over the years have dealt with many different weight cutting pressures and scenarios. Once they decided not to cut weight, or had a strategic weight cutting game plan, they came back a happier and more successful athlete. They realized that great wrestlers are at every weight, and their focus on technique made them successful against those athletes. Have you heard the saying, "a happy fighter is a dangerous fighter?" The same applies here. The happier we are as wrestlers, spending productive hours training and not sucking down weight, the more dangerous we become on the mat.