Weight Cutting in Wrestling: Prevalence, Risks, and Side Effects

In the world of competitive wrestling, athletes are required to compete in specific weight classes, making weight management a crucial aspect of their training and preparation. To achieve the desired weight for their respective classes, wrestlers often resort to a practice known as weight cutting. Weight cutting on the surface appears harmless however in many instances it can involve drastic measures, including extreme dieting, dehydration, and other methods to temporarily reduce an athlete's weight just before a competition. While weight cutting is deeply ingrained in the sport, it comes with significant prevalence, risks, and side effects that warrant critical examination.

Weight cutting is a widespread practice in wrestling, particularly at the high school, college, and professional levels. Wrestlers manipulate their body weight to meet the specific requirements of their weight class, believing that being at the upper end of a weight class provides them with a competitive advantage. This practice is deeply ingrained in the wrestling culture, and the prevalence is driven by the desire to compete at an optimal weight and gain an edge over opponents. The methods used for weight cutting vary and can be quite extreme. Common techniques include caloric restriction, excessive exercise, and dehydration. These methods may lead to rapid weight loss, but they come with a host of physical and psychological risks. Weight cutting poses several immediate and long-term risks to wrestlers:

Dehydration: Dehydrating the body is a common method used to shed pounds quickly. Wrestlers may resort to sweating off water weight in saunas, steam rooms, or through intense exercise. This can lead to severe dehydration, impairing physical and cognitive functions and increasing the risk of heat-related illnesses. During persistent bouts of dehydration, it has been shown that the brain is the first organ to lose water and the last to fully rehydrate. 

Nutritional Deficiencies: Restrictive diets can result in nutrient deficiencies, affecting overall health. Wrestlers may deprive themselves of essential nutrients, leading to fatigue, muscle weakness, and reduced endurance.

Muscle Loss: Drastic weight cutting often leads to muscle loss, which can negatively impact performance and strength. This is counterproductive to the athlete's goals of achieving peak physical condition.

Disordered Eating: The constant cycle of gaining and losing weight can lead to disordered eating habits, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia, or binge-eating disorder. These disorders have severe physical and psychological consequences.

Decreased Performance: In the short term, weight cutting can lead to decreased performance due to the physical toll it takes on the body. Dehydration and malnutrition can impair an athlete's strength, agility, and mental acuity.

Increased Injury Risk: The weakened state of a dehydrated body increases the risk of injuries, as the body is less resilient and less capable of rapid recovery.

While the immediate risks of weight cutting are concerning, the long-term consequences cannot be overlooked. Wrestlers who engage in chronic weight cutting may experience persistent health problems. Weight cutting during adolescence can potentially stunt growth, as it interferes with the normal developmental process in young athletes. Additionally, calorie restriction can lead to hormonal imbalances, affecting reproductive health and bone density, potentially leading to conditions like osteoporosis. The mental stress associated with chronic weight cutting can result in long-lasting psychological issues, such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.

Weight cutting remains a prevalent and ingrained practice in the sport of wrestling. While it may offer short-term advantages in terms of weight management and competitive edge, the risks and side effects associated with this practice are substantial and demand careful consideration. Fortunately, wrestlers, coaches and governing bodies have worked together to develop alternative methods for weight management that prioritize the health and well-being of athletes. Limitations have been placed on the amount of weight wrestlers can cut in an effort to protect athletes from extreme cutting measures. Ensuring that wrestlers compete at a weight that reflects their natural, healthy condition is essential for the longevity and safety of the sport and its participants.



Written By: Andrew J. Nasr, PT, DPT, Ph.D.(c). Andrew J. Nasr is an orthopaedic and sports physical therapist and has reached candidacy for a Ph.D. in Applied Clinical Research. His research focuses on advanced imaging techniques to investigate alterations in skeletal muscles following musculoskeletal injury.


Back to blog