Cutting weight and the effects it may or may not have on your performance is a topic of constant debate in the sport of wrestling.
Some coaches, parents, and wrestlers are for it. Others are adamantly against it.
However, I’d venture to say that most of the arguments are based on hearsay and personal experience.
So rather than write a post on my opinions on cutting weight, I’d rather present you with quick breakdowns of the most relevant research and let you form your own opinions.
Of course, this blog is always open to discussion. So after you read the studies, please feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions you may have.
A Season of Wrestling and Weight Loss by Adolescent Wrestlers: Effect on Anaerobic Arm Power
“The purpose of this study was to examine anaerobic power, skinfold estimates of relative body fat and body weight on adolescent wrestlers during a wrestling season.”
15 high school wrestlers from Southside High School in Muncie, Indiana volunteered. All were within 4 months of turning or having just turned 16.
They were tested four times throughout the year:
1. Preseason on October 13.
2. Early Season on December 7 and 14.
3. Late Season on January 13.
Note- The October and January testing was used to measure and compare the longitudinal effects of a season of weight loss and its effects on performance. The two dates in December were used to measure and compare the short term effects.
On December 7 the wrestlers were categorized as “rested” and did not have to make weight. December 14 fell on a day before a weigh-in following a weeks worth of practice.
It was also noted that a regular weight training program was not followed during the season.
The wrestlers lost, on average, 8.4 pounds to make weight. A little over 5.5 pounds was lost between October 13 and December 7. The rest was dehydrated off within a 24-hour period.
Additionally, a 5% reduction in body weight and a 3% reduction in fat-free mass (muscle) was measured between October 13 and January 13.
Weight Loss On Power Output
No change was observed in anaerobic power between the dates of December 7 and 14. The researchers were interested in measuring the wrestlers when they had officially reached their weight class. However, they were unable to do so because the match was set to occur between 30-60 minutes after weigh-ins.
Additionally, no changes were measured between October 13 and January 13.
The researchers were surprised that there wasn’t an increase, due to the anaerobic demands of wrestling. However, they did mention that most research has suggested that an increase in power is usually associated with an increase in muscle mass. This would obviously be counterproductive for wrestlers trying to make weight.
The first thing I’d like to bring up (which is a reoccurring issue in nearly all of the studies below)- is the fat free mass (muscle) lost in this study.
3% in 3 months!
Additionally, the researchers were surprised that power output didn’t increase due to the demands of wrestling. They felt that the drop in muscle mass may be the cause of this.
Based on this, I think it’s safe to say that if muscle was better maintained during the season then power output would have a much better chance of increasing.
Another thing that was noted was that there was no difference in power output between December 7 and 14. However, according to the study, the majority of the weight (5.5 of 8.4 pounds on average) had already been lost. That means that the wrestlers were only dehydrating a little less than 3 pounds that week to make weight (not a lot).
That is probably the reason behind statistically insignificant differences between the power output tests.
The reason I bring this up is because I don’t want someone to misinterpret this study and think power doesn’t suffer from cutting weight.
Park, S.H., J. Roemmich, C. Horswill. A season of wrestling and weight loss by adolescent wrestlers: Effect on anaerobic arm power. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Volume 4, Number 1, pp 1-4. 1990.
Longitudinal Assessment of Anthropometric Growth in High School Wrestlers
“…the purposes of the present longitudinal study were to examine yearly changes in anthropometric dimensions in high school wrestlers and compare these dimensions with those of national representative examples of adolescent males.”
67 high school wrestlers from Class-A schools in Nebraska.
Bodyweight, height, and 13 anthropometric (7 diameters and 6 circumference) measurements were taken on each of the wrestlers prior to the start of 3 consecutive seasons.
Summary Of Findings
The results were found to be consistent when compared to a larger cross-sectional study on a national sample of adolescent males (which compared 477). There were few differences in the anthropometric measurements between the two studies.
However, the researchers do bring up a good point in that they were measuring and comparing using age as the means of comparison and not “maturation status.” They feel this may produce different results.
“The present findings suggest that high school wrestling, which typically involves repeated bouts of weight cycling, does not affect anthropometric growth.”
This study didn’t specifically cover performance and weight cutting. However, I thought everyone who reads this site would find it interesting because cutting weight and stunting growth is a big concern.
In all honesty, although this study is from 1997, I think it’s still relevant today. This is especially true if you look at what the average high school aged male eats (typically a bunch of crap).
I’d venture to guess that missing a couple bowls of sugary cereal or a few slices of pizza at lunch a couple times a week can’t be hurting the overall development of the average teenage guy.
Housch, T., T. Evetovich, J. Stout, D. Housch, G. Johnson, M. Briese, S. Perry. Longitudinal assessment of anthropometric growth in high school wrestlers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 11(3), 159-162. 1997.
Sport-Seasonal Changes in Body Composition, Strength, and Power of College Wrestlers
“The purpose of the present study was to investigate the effects of weight fluctuation on body composition, muscular strength, and anaerobic power in college wrestlers on 3 occasions during a 1-year period. They were compared to a control group of college wrestlers who did not report weight fluctuations throughout the season.”
25 wrestlers who competed during the 1996-97 season at Division 1 Appalachian State University.
14 were classified as “weight cyclers” (those who cut at least 3.5% of their body weight). 11 were in the control group who did not cut weight. The 14 who cut weight wrestled at least 75% of the varsity matches scheduled for that season.
Wrestlers were tested at the end of September. This was 2 weeks after the first practice and 6 weeks before the first competition (no one was really cutting weight at this point).
They were tested again midseason (end of January). This was 4 days after a competition and 1 week before the next.
They were tested the third time at the end of April. This was 6 weeks after the end of the season.
Body weight for weight cutters was 6% lower at midseason than at the start of the season.
Fat mass lost was consistent between both weight cutters and non-weight cutters.
Fat free mass (muscle) loss was significantly higher in weight cutters. In fact, 4.6 pounds of the 10.7 pounds, that was lost on average with weight cutters, was muscle.
All wrestlers were able to maintain their strength and power throughout the season. This was attributed to the resistance training program the team followed throughout the year. Unfortunately, no mention was made of the type of training program.
“We have concluded that college wrestlers who fluctuate their body weight throughout the competitive season lose a significant amount of fat free mass without a concomitant decrease in isometric strength or anaerobic power. …In any case, coaches, strength and conditioning specialists, athletic trainers, and physicians need to counsel these athletes on effective nutritional, training, and weight loss strategies that will minimize losses in FFM, maximize losses in body fat, and at the same time promote increases in muscular strength and power throughout the season.”
This is another study that reveals a significant amount of fat free mass being lost during a wrestling season, this time at the Divsion 1 level.
The wrestlers in this study were able to maintain strength and power throughout the season. This was attributed to the implementation of an in-season resistance training program.
By the way if you’re looking for a few tips on effective nutritional and weight loss strategies that will help minimize the loss of muscle during the season read Wrestling Nutrition.
Utter, A., M. Stone, H. O’Bryant, R. Summinski, B. Ward. Sport-seasonal changes in body composition, strength, and power of college wrestlers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 12(4), 266-271. 1998.
Effects Of A Competitive Wrestling Season On Body Composition, Strength, And Power In NCAA Division 3 College Wrestlers
“The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of a competitive wrestling season on body composition, muscular strength, and muscular power in NCAA Division 3 college wrestlers.”
10 wrestlers from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh with a minimum of 7 years experience volunteered.
This was a 2 year study. Therefore, 6 wrestlers were studied the first year and 4 were studied the second year.
3 testing periods were used.
The first was in late October. It was approximately 4 weeks before the start of the competitive season.
The second was in late January. It was 5 days after a dual meet and 5 days before the next match.
The third was in late March/early April. It was at least 4 weeks after the last match of the season.
Tests for muscular strength were measured by a 1 rep max squat and bench press. The next day power was tested using a power clean, seated med ball put, and a vertical jump.
Statistically significant losses in both the squat and bench press were found midseason when compared to both pre and post-season.
However, no significant differences existed between any of the 3 power tests.
All of the wrestlers were encouraged to follow a strength training program during the season. However, they all admitted that by mid-December they were no longer lifting.
Usually the tests used for studies like this are isokinetic machines (which allow for the programming and control of the speed), Wingate upper body arm bike tests (essentially a 30-second all out sprint on an arm bike), and other tests that are not available to most coaches.
What I like about this study is that the lifts that were tested are commonly used in strength and power programs.
Again, much like in the studies above, power was found to be maintained while strength decreased.
**Note that once again power was maintained, but not increased. Power is a function of strength (and the speed at which you can apply it) and this study indicates that strength significantly decreases during the season. So it leads me to suspect that if strength were better maintained that power would stand a better chance of increasing during the season.
Although I didn’t mention it above, it is worth mentioning- the researchers found no statistically significant differences in weight or fat free mass during any of the 3 testing periods (the wrestlers in this study did not cut weight).
So even though the wrestlers in this study were adequately nourished throughout the season, strength still dropped significantly.
In summary, I think the following are the “take home” points for this study:
1. These wrestlers didn’t cut weight.
2. They stopped lifting by December.
3. Strength was significantly lower by mid-season testing while power was maintained.
Schmidt, D. C. Piencikowski, R. Vandervest. Effects of a competitive wrestling season on body composition, strength, and power in national collegiate athletic association division III college wrestlers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 19(3), 505-508. 2005.
The Effect of a Competitive Wrestling Season on Body Weight, Hydration, and Muscular Performance in Collegiate Wrestlers
“The purpose of the present investigation was to examine the effects in a collegiate wrestling season on body weight, hydration, and muscular performance.”
12 Division 1 wrestlers from Oklahoma State University (from the 2005-2006 national championship season) volunteered.
A mid-season test was performed (although it wasn’t specified at what time) and a post-season test was performed 3 weeks after the National Championships.
All of the wrestlers followed a 3-day a week circuit training lifting schedule.
Bodyweight increased 6.9% only 3 weeks after the conclusion of the season.
There was no significant difference in hydration (1.024 mid-season vs. 1.022 post-season).
Peak torque (PT) and PT to bodyweight showed a significant increase post-season compared to mid-season.
“While sport-specific training is useful in most sports, wrestlers most likely obtain sufficient aerobic and anaerobic conditioning through practices and individual weight loss workouts.”
“Perhaps the strength and conditioning program should solely aim to maintain strength during the course of a season.”
The summary points above speak for themselves.
Some other things I’d like to point out are as follows (from the “Findings” section):
1. These guys were, on average, cutting some serious weight as noted by the 6.9% increase in weight only 3 weeks after the NCAA tournament. Keep in mind that their hydration level really didn’t change from the mid-season test to the post-season test.
2. Even with the dramatic increase in bodyweight post-season, the peak torque to bodyweight ratio was still significantly higher post-season than it was in-season. This is probably one of the primary pieces of data used to formulate the 2 conclusions above.
Buford, T., S. Rossi, D. Smith, M. O’Brien, C. Pickering. The effect of a competitive wrestling season on body weight, hydration, and muscular performance in collegiate wrestlers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 20(3), 689-692. 2006.
Effects of Self-Selected Mass Loss on Performance and Mood in Collegiate Wrestlers
“…the purpose of this study was to determine the effects of self-selected mass loss on lower body power, upper body strength, and mood immediately before a meaningful competition.”
16 Division 1 wrestlers agreed to participate.
The study required the wrestlers to have at least 3 months of regular training (from the way I read it, it sounds like pre-season workouts).
Testing was conducted 10, 6, 2, and 0 days before an intra-squad match (perhaps a wrestle-off).
The physical tests were measured at Day 10 and Day 0 after weighing in. Wrestlers were also weighed on Days 6 and 2.
4 of the wrestlers lost 0-1.9% of their bodyweight. 6 lost 2.0-3.9% of their bodyweight. 6 lost 4.0+%.
There were three conclusions drawn from this study. First, rapid weight loss significantly increased confusion. This led researchers to suggest that this may be a factor that results in a decrease in performance in wrestlers who rapidly cut weight.
Second, rapid weight loss does not affect lower body power (as measured by a Wingate test on a stationary bike) or grip strength (using a grip dynamometer).
The third and much less surprising was that most of the weight that was lost occurred during the last 2 days.
I was honestly a bit surprised to find that there wasn’t a significant decrease in power. There were 6 wrestlers who lost more than 4% of their bodyweight.
Buford, T., S. Rossi, D. Smith, M. O’Brien, C. Pickering. Effects of self-selected mass loss on performance and mood in collegiate wrestlers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 25(4), 1010-1015. 2011.
The Physiological Basis of Wrestling: Implications for Conditioning Programs
This wasn’t a study, but rather a paper written by one of the top researchers in the world, William Kraemer. While it’s on the subject of conditioning, it had a relevant section dealing with weight loss that I’d like to share:
“Athletes in their freshman and sophomore years of high school may adversely affect their growth patterns at a time when puberty is just beginning, especially if restricted caloric intake is used in combination with progressive resistance training, whereby muscle breakdown occurs at a greater rate compared with muscle synthesis.”
Keep in mind that this is not consistent with the findings of the 2nd study I cite above.
“Thus the performance team (ie head coach, sports-medicine professional, strength and conditioning coach) must carefully determine the ideal weight class each year for the young athlete rather than suggest that a wrestler participate at the lowest possible weight class.”
Kraemer, W., J. Vescovi, P. Dixon. The physiological basis of wrestling: implications for conditioning programs. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 10-15. April 2004.
My Thoughts As A Whole
The first thing I found consistent among a couple of the studies was the significant loss in muscle throughout the season. I really think a more regimented lifting and eating plan can help to better address this.
The other thing I’d like to bring to your consideration is this- while power was maintained in every study, it’s important to keep in mind how it’s measured.
A Wingate test is simply an all out 30-second sprint on either a bike or arm bike. It’s commonly used to measure power in athletes. It’s an easy-to-implement test.
However, while power, according to a Wingate test, isn’t decreasing from cutting weight, let’s keep in mind what you may have to do after making weight…
Are you simply looking to be able to maintain power output over the course of 30-seconds?
Or are you looking to perform at your highest level for 6 (and maybe more) minutes?
So while the above research suggests power output is not negatively affected by cutting weight, remember that your performance on the mat may be. Therefore, be as strategic as possible when cutting.
Listen, cutting weight is a part of wrestling. There’s no way around it.
And while there may be a lot of people against it, it’s going to happen.
So rather than fight it, instead, educate yourself on how to do it better so that it has the smallest possible impact on your performance.