Weight cutting has been a major part of the sport of wrestling for many years. Wrestlers will cut weight in an attempt to gain a size or strength advantage over their opponents. But is weight cutting necessary in wrestling? Many of the nation’s top wrestlers don’t believe so. In addition, there are countless examples of NCAA wrestlers finding more success after moving up a weight class, or even multiple weight classes.
In 1998, Iowa’s Jeff McGinness won the NCAA title at 142 pounds as a senior after failing to place as a junior at 126 pounds. Oklahoma State’s Jordan Oliver moved up two weight classes for his senior season after losing in the NCAA finals as a junior at 133 pounds. As a senior, Oliver capped an undefeated season with an NCAA title at 149 pounds in 2013. The next year, Ohio State’s Nick Heflin became an NCAA finalist at 197 pounds after moving up two weight classes from 174 pounds where he placed fifth twice. Kyle Dake of Cornell won four NCAA titles between 2010-2013, moving up a weight class each year.
Last year, Penn State’s Mark Hall won an NCAA title as a true freshman at 174 pounds after winning a junior world title in freestyle at 163 pounds. While many viewed Hall as an undersized collegiate 174-pounder, weight was not something he chose to focus on.
“Cutting weight sucks,” Hall said shortly after winning his NCAA title. “It makes the season a long season. I think anyone who cuts weight could tell you the same thing. At the end of the day, as I’ve said before, it’s not about the size of the dog in the fight. It’s about the size of the fight in the dog.”
Some of America’s top freestyle wrestlers over the past decade, like Olympians Jordan Burroughs and Ben Askren, have spoken openly about weight cutting.
“Just because you cut a lot of weight doesn’t mean you will be really good,” Burroughs wrote in his blog. “It probably actually means you will be really weak. Dropping pounds doesn’t equal success. I’m not suggesting you go up and eat like a pig. However, I don’t encourage cutting from 120 to 106, when you could feel awesome at 113. You have to find a weight class where you feel comfortable. By comfortable I mean a weight where you don’t have to skip any meals, although you still have to eat smart.”
Askren echoed a similar sentiment.
“Cutting weight is a shortcut and a short-term fix,” wrote Askren. “Kids that are in season on a high school team or any other for that fact should concern themselves with becoming better wrestlers. Not the biggest people at their weight classes’ competition. If they spent the energy on technique they would become better wrestlers throughout the season. If they were better wresters they would not have to cut as much weight. If they were more intelligent with their game plans, they would be able to weather the storm of bigger, stronger wrestlers that can’t handle the second or third period. My goal as a coach is to send the right message.”
Jordan Holm, a multiple-time World Team member in Greco-Roman, also believes there is too much emphasis put on weight cutting in wrestling.
“I think there’s an overemphasis on the importance of cutting weight and how you will perform, especially in younger age groups,” said Holm. “I really think as you get up to the senior level, all that washes out and people just get the attitude, ‘I don’t care what weight you are. I’m going to compete and wrestle you.’ So that’s kind of the approach I’ve developed as I’ve gotten into the senior level.”
Retired Greco-Roman wrestler Justin Ruiz, a world bronze medalist, traveled the world to compete in international wrestling events. He noticed that wrestlers from other countries would often times wrestle up a weight class for most of the year, sometimes dropping for the world championships or a continental championship, or just competing in the weight class closest to what they weighed naturally.
“Instead of trying to kill themselves and stay down in a weight class that wasn’t realistic for them, they would just do more strength training in an attempt to get stronger for their new weight class,” Ruiz wrote in his blog. “I imagine that rarely do youth, and high school coaches consider having their athletes just move up weight classes. You’ve got to be brave to wrestle up. At first, it is a challenge to wrestle bigger and stronger opponents. However, you will make the adjustments. Also, if you’re being diligent in your strength training, you will get stronger. The body will respond.”
Ruiz believes parents play a key role by being a positive example and ensuring that wrestlers are educated on proper nutrition
“The most helpful thing that a parent can do to help change the paradigm of needing to cut weight is to educate their child about proper nutrition,” wrote Ruiz. “The parent can also help their child by working with their child. If you want your child to do things a certain way, show them how. Your example will be the greatest teacher that they will ever have. You can help them lose weight the right way by doing it yourself. You can help them with getting stronger by doing it yourself. You will feel better and your kids will respect you more for it. There are too many kids that quit wrestling too early because of bad weight cuts. The sport is hard enough without trying to do it while starving.”
Sometimes wrestlers are put in a position to drop to a lower weight class to make the team.
“When they get to high school there is going to be a certain amount of weight cutting for a kid to make a team, and I understand that part,” said legendary wrestling coach Jeff Buxton. “And there are times when as a coach I’m talking kids out of one weight class and trying to move them up to another weight class because I think they can be a little bit healthier and be a lot more productive and certainly make practices a lot more fun because they’re not sitting there cutting weight through practice. There is a place for it. Obviously, if you’re on a real competitive team and you’re trying to make the team, sometimes you have to lose a little weight that you don’t want to lose. But if kids are eating healthy and maintaining good diets they can really help themselves out being better athletes instead of concentrating on the weight cut.”
Buxton says he doesn’t believe in weight cutting in the “early years” of a wrestler’s career. Nationally renowned youth wrestling coach youth wrestling coach Mike Krause doesn’t either.
“If you’re a little kid and you’re like a pound over and have to skip a lunch or something, that’s not going to kill you,” Krause told MatBoss. “That’s OK. But we’ve all seen this … Johnny is four pounds over. He weighs 60 pounds. That’s like me cutting 20 pounds. I’m not a doctor, but my opinion is once you go through puberty and actually have some bulk on you, then you can start cutting a little weight. Don’t take the fun out of the sport.”