Cutting Weight – Is It Worth It?
By Steve Fraser
Cutting weight for a wrestler is a personal decision. For some wrestlers
cutting a few pounds makes them feel leaner, stronger, faster & mentally
tougher. For others, cutting weight can make them feel slower, weaker and not as
sharp. The big question is “How does cutting weight make you feel?”
My sophomore year at Hazel Park High School I suffered what I thought was the
greatest curse of wrestling: cutting weight. Cutting weight was always an
accepted part of wrestling and is based on the theory that a wrestler will have
a physical edge if he cuts some weight and drops down to wrestle a person
without as much muscle mass.
I weighed 165 pounds that fall when I played on the football team, and I was
hoping to wrestle at 155 pounds. But that didn’t happen. After one or two
matches, the wrestler who weighed 145 pounds came up to my division and beat me.
If I wanted to wrestle for the varsity team, I would have to wrestle at 145
pounds, 20 pounds below my normal, healthy weight. The experience was the worst
I ever had in wrestling. But it was also the most enlightening.
I hated every waking moment of it. When I was cutting weight, I spent the entire
day thinking of what I would like to be eating. Everything I did, everything I
saw, reminded me of food. Watching television advertisements about food made me
ravenous. I even dreamt about food. I dreamt about strawberry shortcakes and
I didn’t starve myself every single day. Like many wrestlers who competed below
their normal weight, I gorged myself immediately after a meet. Then, the next
day, I started fasting again. What did I eat during that week long fast? Almost
nothing. I skipped breakfast, had a grapefruit or an orange for lunch, and had
another grapefruit and maybe a couple of poached eggs for dinner. It drove my
mother crazy. “Oh, surely you can have a little salad,” she’d say. But I just
couldn’t eat anything. I couldn’t drink much, either. Just a few sips of water.
Meanwhile, the practices I had loved so much became torture. I frequently would
go into the hot wrestling room looking like a mummy, dressed in one or two
shirts, a plastic sweat suit and a thick cotton sweat suit over the plastics. If
I had a lot of weight to lose on a given day, I might also pull my hood up, put
a wool hat on over the hood, and wear gloves or socks over my hands. After 10
minutes of calisthenics, I was mentally exhausted. The pain I felt was
compounded by the bitter knowledge that after all this work I couldn’t even look
forward to going home to a well-deserved meal.
You might wonder how I could have been physically and mentally sharp at the end
of a week of starving and suffering. Well I wasn’t. I wasn’t sharp at all. But I
fasted because that was the accepted practice in wrestling, and I believed it
was the right thing for me to do. My coach, Robert Morrill, hadn’t pushed me
into dropping 20 pounds. He had left the decision up to me.
I ended up having a very ordinary year. My overall record was 8 victories, 9
losses, and 1 tie. My big successes were that I made the varsity team and I made
weight for each of my matches. But as a wrestler I was only average. I beat the
below-average wrestlers, not the good ones, and finished fourth in the
Southeastern Michigan Association League. I was sick during the district
championships and couldn’t wrestle, but it really didn’t matter. I wouldn’t have
advanced to the regionals anyway. The guys who beat me during the regular season
would have beaten me in the district championships, too.
My experience cutting weight taught me several things. First it taught me that a
hungry, dehydrated wrestler probably isn’t going to do any better at a lower
weight than his normal weight. Second, it has taught me that the fasting
wrestler doesn’t just lose his strength. He destroys his attitude as well. At a
time when he should be trying to learn everything he can about technique and
strategy, his main goal becomes making weight each day or losing a certain
number of pounds.
I also learned that cutting weight can also have a negative effect in other
areas of your life as well. Good nutrition is vital to daily performance, and
going to school or work without breakfast is one of the worst ways to begin the
Finally, there was one last discovery I made. The conventional wisdom in
wrestling suggested that by dropping down a weight division, I should have been
able to outclass the little wimps who weren’t as strong as I was. But surprise
--- I learned that all weight classes had good wrestlers, and to beat the good
wrestlers I needed to become a good wrestler.
Of course, it’s hard to tell a kid not to cut weight. Sometimes wrestlers have
to learn for themselves. And I must say I learned a lot from the experience. I
learned that I would never cut too much weight again. I also learned to
appreciate food, because I found out how painful it is to starve.
I should mention here that cutting weight is not bad in all cases. If a wrestler
is 20 pounds overweight, he should make an effort to lose that fat, provided he
still takes in the proteins and nutrients he needs to stay healthy.
But a lot of kids who go out for wrestling are already lean, the way I was, and
I would never advise them to cut anything over a few pounds. My advice to those
wrestlers is that they wrestle at or around their normal weight. If they can’t
make the team at their normal weight, I would advise them to move up a weight
class before they consider moving down a weight class. I probably should have
gone up to the 167 pound division my sophomore year instead of suffering through
the season at 145 pounds. I might have surprised myself and found that I was
quicker than the wrestlers who were a few pounds heavier than I.
I proved my theory correct during my junior year in high school, when another
high school coach, Masaaki Hatta, convinced me to wrestle in the 185-pound
division while weighing only 170 pounds. I went into my practices feeling
wonderful. My goals were to improve and have fun, both of which I did. And while
I was going all out in those practices, the wrestlers who were cutting weight
were walking around with their chins hanging down to the floor, sweating, tired
and mentally exhausted.
I also proved I could win. I remember so well the time we wrestled Southfield
High School. I weighed about 170 pounds at the time, and as I was standing in
the weigh-in line in my skivvies, Southfield’s 185 pound wrestler, a cocky kid,
looked around and asked in a loud voice, “Who’s the 185 pounder?”
“I am,” I said shyly.
He looked at me and said with a chuckle, “You’re 185 pounds? You’re kind of
small aren’t you?”
“Yeah.” I said. “Kind of.”
Well that was the last time he laughed at me because that night in our match I
beat the living tar out of him. I was beating him 18-3 (I gave him 3 escapes)
before I pinned him.
To become a great wrestler you need to learn the techniques, tactics &
strategies of the sport. Then condition your mind & body to be able to execute
those techniques, tactics & strategies. Body weight differences, especially when
slight, are of little importance in my opinion. I am totally convince that this
attitude I had about not cutting too much weight was one of the main reasons I
wrestled as long as I did. I loved this sport and I don’t think I would have
loved it if I had cut too much weight.
I encourage all wrestlers to take a hard look at weight cutting, especially
excessive weight cutting. Ask yourself, “How does it make me feel?” If you are
cutting too much you will know it. Your mind and body will tell you so.
Remember…having fun with the sport plays a big role in succeeding with the
sport. In the big picture, life is pretty short. If you are not having fun, the
answer to the question “Is it worth it?” should become very clear.
See you at the top!