Wrestling: How to Keep Ideal Weight and Skin Health for Best Performance
How can I determine an appropriate wrestling weight? Is it OK to cut weight, and if so, how much is too much?
While there are often no easy answers or simple formulas to determine an appropriate wrestling weight, some standards can help the decision-making process:
- One can use a growth curve, which plots height and weight in comparison to age-matched individuals and also to past individual measures of height and weight. Can help determine if a desired weight "falls out" of the expected growth trajectory.
- The body mass index (BMI), which measures weight in regards to height, may help determine an appropriate body weight for a particular individual at a given age. Be aware that more muscular individuals may have an artificially high BMI, so this might not be the most accurate measurement in certain athletic individuals
- Another measure of body proportion called body fat percentage can help determine an appropriate wrestling weight though it historically has been used more to assess if an individual has cut too much weight. There are several methods for this measurement (calipers, bioelectric impedance, and water immersion) and a physician can help decide the most beneficial measurement, if needed, for a particular athlete. The California Interscholastic Federation now requires bioelectric impedance monitoring to determine appropriate pre-season weight class selections for high school wrestlers.
Once a wrestler is in season, authorities do not advocate more than a 2-3 pound drop in body weight when cutting weight for a match or meet. Good evidence tells us that a reduction greater than 2-3 pounds brings about dehydration and depletion of body energy sources that place the individual at greater risk for fatigue and injury. Many wrestlers know too well that after cutting a large amount of weight, they were not able to wrestle as effectively and many also report difficulties with concentration and schoolwork. This is particularly important in younger athletes who are going through key phases in physical growth and development.
When attempting to cut weight, use caution with any weight loss medication. Serious health issues can develop due to the use of these items, especially in growing athletes. If in doubt, consult with a sports medicine physician.
Frequent weight cycling (losing and gaining weight) can affect the immune system and make the athlete more at risk for respiratory illnesses and infections. This can be a major problem at the end of the winter season when many major meets take place.
How can we reduce common wrestling skin infections?
Due to close contact with mats and other athletes, wrestlers frequently contract skin diseases such as ring worm (aka tinea gladitorum), herpes, impetigo, and other infections. Not only are these a concern to the individual athlete, but they can easily spread to team members and opponents, thus officials routinely check the skin before large meets. To help prevent the disappointment of disqualification, the following recommendations may help:
- Wrestling mats should be cleansed with appropriate cleansing solution both before and after meets and practices.
- Wrestlers should shower after meets or competition and use a good anti-bacterial soap.
- Wrestlers should not share any personal care or grooming items (brushes, towels, razors, soaps, etc).
- In the ideal world, the athlete should shower before leaving the gym or school and have wrestling clothing cleansed on a daily basis.
- Coaches and parents should do frequent skin checks, and athletes should feel comfortable reporting any skin issues.
- Any athlete with skin concerns should be immediately removed from participation and evaluated by qualified medical personnel. This is particularly important early in the season to prevent spread to the entire team and a resultant season-long struggle with skin issues. Once appropriate treatment has begun, cover any areas of skin concern when returning to participation by using tape or a bandage which can do the trick in most cases.
What other wrestling safety tips do you have?
Good neck strengthening and stretching exercises can help prevent spine injuries, ask a sports medicine speciaist for good recommendations. Shoulder strengthening is also important for many of the holds and techniques used on the mat. Mouth guards are essential to reduce dental/mouth trauma so demand that wrestlers wear mouth protection for all practices and meets.