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 banana splits.
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 day.
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!