For years, the seemingly unspoken and taboo topic of wrestling that brings stories of success but also physical deterioration and potentially dangerous practices, however, modern knowledge has shone light on the topic.
February 11, 2019
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Athletes of all different sports are familiar with the sacrifices and training it takes in order to best prepare for their upcoming matches, but few have to go so far as to drop a significant amount of body mass to stay competitive in their sport, like wrestling.
Cutting weight is a standard practice that wrestlers take part in that entails fast weight loss prior to competition. However from this knowledge, many misconceptions about cutting weight in modern times have been dramatized according to Paly wrestling coach, Johnathon Kessler.
“I guess it’s a dark spot in our sport that people think that all these wrestlers are cutting a ton of weight and they’re not,” Kessler said.
The idea of cutting weight is simply to allow the wrestler to have an advantage over their opponent. For example, if there is a very strong opponent in one’s weight class they might cut to get into another less competitive weight class, making them naturally bigger and stronger than their opponent.
Additionally, the advantage of cutting weight might pose true within a team itself. On a high school varsity team, only one person is allowed to compete per allotted weight category, resulting in high school wrestlers cutting weight to secure their spot on the team, something that the Paly wrestling team has had experience with. The most common solution for competing at the desired weight class is cutting.
“They want to be the guy or girl that’s competing in a varsity spot so I don’t see [eradication of cutting] happening,” Kessler said.
A couple hours before each match, wrestlers are weighed by officials to be categorized into a weight class. At the high school level, each team may only have one wrestler count toward the team score in each weight class, forcing wrestlers to gain or lose weight in order to partake in matches. To do so, they are advised to consult their coach first.
“They check in with us and they say ‘what should we put in our bodies? What’s the best food? How much can I drink tonight? How much can I eat in order to maintain that weight so I can weigh in the next day and be on weight?” Kessler said. “Because if you don’t make weight, then you can’t wrestle.”
In order to to make weight, Paly wrestlers participate in moderate practices of dropping weight such as the day before a meet, having a conditioning practice that entails sweating more than the average person.
However, cutting weight is not just a free-for-all. Paly wrestlers have to pass certification, which entails an approved process.
“At the beginning of the season right before weight certification [the wrestlers] might try to maintain weight, but are not really taking steps towards cutting weight,” Kessler said.
The way that Paly students cut weight is regulated through a series of physiological tests. The day of weight certification, the wrestlers have to take a hydration test in which their urine has to be at a certain hydration level, or they have to come back a different day to complete their certification process. From there, a wand is used to measure body fat in different locations. That information is then input into calculations to determine how low the wrestler can go in dropping weight.
“Everyday from the first day you weighed in the certification to the last day of competition, you have a specific amount of weight you can lose per day,” Kessler said. “So it’s not like you can drop all that weight in one day which is beneficial to the wrestler because it’s not that good to cut that much weight in a short period of time.”
It’s also crucial to Kessler that the parents are aware of the the cutting regiment that their child participates in, and that the wrestlers know the coaches are never requiring people to lose the weight.
“We’re not forcing anybody to drop any weight, but we can sometimes advise them to go down a weight class and do it the right way,” Kessler said. “And I’ll say [to the parents], ‘We think your child will do better at this weight and we think they’d have a varsity spot if they went to this weight so we always get parent consent.”
It’s important to Kessler that his wrestlers cut weight safely “so they can work hard and if they have to get that weight off, they get that weight off.”
Although more regulations and safety measures are being put in place to ensure the healthiest and most effective way for wrestlers to cut weight, the practice was not as dependable a few decades ago.
Paly Human Anatomy teacher Randy Scilingo wrestled all throughout high school and coached the Homestead High School wrestling team for nine years. Scilingo cut weight his senior year in high school, thinking it would help him perform the best he could in his final year.
According to Scilingo, cutting weight in high school gives wrestlers a massive competitive advantage.
“If you wrestle a guy with a frame of a 170 but wrestles 40’s, they still feel like a 170. It doesn’t matter what the scale says,” Scilingo said. “[Being in a lower weight class,] that seven pound difference; all of a sudden, I’m bullying people. Versus, they’re knocking me around [in a higher weight class].”
After the initial preseason, Scilingo continued to try to stay lean and cut even more weight. At the time, Scilingo felt stronger, but unhealthier.
“I had no doubt that I was stronger. No doubt I was more confident,” Scilingo said. “But what happens is when you do this for a year, I started to get sick pretty consistently and I didn’t finish well. In fact, I finished terribly.”
In Scilingo’s wrestling days, high school wrestlers were a lot more reckless with cutting weight and went to extreme lengths to get the biggest competitive edge possible. In his senior year, Scilingo used some of these tactics to shed off what little fat he had, and took some muscle in the process.
“I would run four miles, go to wrestling practice, and do weightlifting afterwards. And then have a bite of an apple and half a sandwich,” Scilingo said. “I could cut 30 pounds in three months and I was not fat [to begin with]. When you’re talking about losing 30 pounds, you’re talking about losing muscle and fat. We used to do stupid stuff like go to saunas; it’s illegal now. They made plastic sweat suits. If you’re working out in sweat suits in 100 degrees, you’re gonna lose a lot of water weight; and that’s unhealthy,” Scilingo said.
Wrestlers have also turned to supplements and drugs to lose more weight.
“People in desperate times, college wrestlers more than high school wrestlers, have done diuretics, meaning you’re pooping and peeing everything else. This is dangerous because you’re dehydrating yourself to the point where it’s not healthy,” Scilingo said.
Diuretics are used to increase the amount of water released when urinating. Instead of losing fat or muscle, losing weight can be achieved by getting rid of water and waste inside the body regularly.
Other than drugs, supplements are also used, one of them being creatine. Creatine is a naturally occurring substance in muscle cells that helps your muscles produce energy when weight-lifting or exercising. Weightlifters often take it pre-workout to get that boost of energy to lift more or heavier during their workout.
“Creatine gives you a little bit of extra energy during a [weight-lifting] set. That extra rep is small, but over time that rep makes you stronger,” Scilingo said. “Creatine draws more water than normal into your muscles. So if you’re already dehydrated [when cutting] and you take creatine, your heart can stop.”
Although creatine is still used, Scilingo believes that wrestlers are smarter about the usage. Wrestlers and their coaches are more aware of the dangerous effects and are more likely to continue drinking water while working out on creatine.
Overall, Scilingo believes his wrestling successes could have been achieved without cutting weight. The results were effective, but the success came with drawbacks.
“All of a sudden I have this success. It was worth cutting all this weight, but I was always angry and hostile because I was just unhappy and unhealthy, but I’m winning tournaments and seriously kicking butts,” Scilingo said. “Big picture, I probably would’ve done better if I wrestled my weight. I would’ve been healthy, strong and tougher at the end.”