Cutting weight is an unfortunate reality of amateur wrestling.
Wrestlers bulk up and pack on as much strength and muscle as possible only to “cut” weight shortly before events so they can compete in lighter weight classes.
Ask any wrestling coach and they’ll tell you the same thing: There is a significant difference in a wrestler’s size and strength before the season starts compared to when it ends. So significant, in fact, that if you took a picture of them before and after, you would likely notice a difference in muscle mass and definition between the two snapshots.
When traditional cutting methods are used, the result isn’t just lost water weight. It’s often lost strength and muscle mass, as well. So the supposed “competitive edge” the wrestler thought they had by cutting down to compete in a lighter weight class may have turned into a liability, as they’ve often unknowingly cut their strength, as well.
In the offseason, wrestlers work hard in training programs and camps to not only get better at the technical aspects of the sport, but to improve their physical strength before the start of the season. During this time, most wrestlers usually consume a greater number of calories than they do in-season, because they’re not as focused on hitting a specific number on the scale in time for an upcoming match.
The problem arises when wrestlers try to drop too much weight too quickly. It usually starts in preseason when weight certs are a few weeks away and then continues all throughout the season.
For an athlete to build muscle when training, they need two things: an adequate amount of calories to fuel themselves throughout the day, and enough protein from their diet to put them into what’s called positive nitrogen balance, meaning there is enough protein and amino acids in their body to support muscle protein synthesis—in other words, to build muscle.
When one rapidly tries to drop weight, however, there’s a limited amount of calories and protein being consumed. This means the body has limited fuel to function, train and maintain strength. This results in the body going from a positive nitrogen balance to a negative balance, rendering it unable to preserve muscle mass. This often leads to the body cannibalizing its existing muscle mass to access protein. In other words, while wrestlers may be losing weight during their cuts, they’re likely losing muscle mass yet retaining body fat in the process. It’s pretty much the exact opposite of what most athletes want to accomplish when trying to lose weight.
So, how can wrestlers lose weight without impacting their strength?
By making weight loss a slow and consistent process, wrestlers should be able to get down to their goal before certs and matches without having to lose strength.
An easy way to accomplish this is to create a weight loss plan in the offseason by using the 1.5% rule. Any wrestler who’s dropping more than 1.5% of their total body weight each week is likely dropping lean mass instead of body fat. So by calculating a weight-loss plan that doesn’t lead to an athlete dropping more than 1.5% of their body weight each week, wrestlers can be ready for weigh-ins without sacrificing their strength in the process. To use the 1.5% rule, simply multiply the wrestler’s current weight by 0.015 to get the max weight loss that wrestler should be able to achieve in a given week.
As an example, a 155-pound wrestler’s max weight loss using the 1.5% rule would be a little over 2 pounds per week. If their goal was to get from 155 to 145, the minimum time it would take to lose those 10 pounds without losing significant amounts of strength in the process would be roughly five weeks.
By using the 1.5% rule and creating a weight loss plan around it in the offseason, wrestlers can effectively cut weight without getting weaker.
By reaching their goal weight in this manner, wrestlers can go into their season fueled and stronger than ever before. The result is healthier, stronger, more confident wrestlers. The focus can now be taken off of panicking to make weight and placed on building the skills needed to be dominant on the mat.