Weight loss and wrestling

WHEELING — After the deaths of three collegiate wrestlers in the 1990s due to extreme Yo! Yo! Dieting, the NCAA and the National Federation of High School Associations (NFHS) made it their mission to drastically improve their weight management programs to eliminate all unhealthy dietary practices.

As a wrestling aficionado, I want to share with you the history of weight management over the years. In the 1960s when I wrestled competitively, we had outstanding wrestling coaches, but they had no national guidelines for us regarding weight reduction. Thus, we used every unsavory and unhealthy method to lose weight. We knew no better as scholastic wrestlers back then.

The most unsafe weight-reduction method we incorporated years ago is referred to as Yo! Yo! Dieting. It involves a wrestler “binge eating” for a couple of days, and then fasting (or starving himself) for days to get back down to his wrestling weight. The practice has prolonged effects on wrestlers, both physically and psychologically. As adults, many of them are now over weight due to excessive eating or they developed eating disorders.

When I was a high school and middle school wrestling coach for nearly 25 years, we mat mentors were required to utilize the Certified Minimum Weight Class Permit Forms to determine each wrestler’s lowest weight class as decided by a doctor. However, the wrestler’s parents had the final say.

For example: If the doctor recommended the wrestler could compete at the 106-pound weight class, but the parents wanted their child to wrestle no lower than the 113-pound weight class – that’s where he competed and no lower.

The wrestler then had to weigh-in at his Certified Minimum Weight Class — 50-percent of his weigh-ins throughout the course of the season. This rule was put into place to assist in eliminating Yo! Yo! Dieting.

The present weight management program was instituted in 2006 under the auspices of the NFHS. Its components are explained as follows.

Today, a wrestler is assessed with skinfold measurements and a urine analysis to test if there is any dehydration in determining his Certified Minimum Weight Class. The new procedure also includes gradual, healthy weight loss to reach the wrestler’s Certified Minimum Weight Class at his Alpha Date – the day he is allowed to wrestle at that weight class.

Furthermore, starting on the wrestler’s Alpha Date, he must weigh-in at his Certified Minimum Weight Class 50-percent of his weigh-ins throughout the remainder of the season. This rule was again put into practice to assist in eliminating Yo! Yo! Dieting.

With the historical perspective of the evolution of weight management programs throughout the years in mind, let us now consider the phenomenon of “weigh-outs.”

Some might ask: “What are weigh-outs?” Well, they are the exact opposite of weigh-ins.

Weigh-ins occur before competition each day of a wrestling event: be it a single-day dual meet or multiple-day dual meet and/or individual tournament. In fact, the NFHS National Wrestling Rules Committee continues to stress that all high school wrestling events in the country are to conduct weigh-ins only.

On the other hand, weigh-outs occur in multiple-day wrestling competitions. They are conducted after the participants are done wrestling each day. Let’s now consider a three-day wrestling tournament that begins on Thursday.

Of course, the wrestlers weigh-in Thursday prior to the day’s competition.

After competing, they would weigh-out Thursday night for Friday’s resumption of wrestling. Then after competition has completed on Friday, the wrestlers would weigh-out that evening for Saturday’s final wrestling rounds. This is where the weight management concern arises.

Weigh-outs the night before the final day of wrestling most certainly allow Yo! Yo! Dieting to occur. Why? Well, before competition begins on Saturday morning, the vast majority of those wrestlers competing will be quite over weight. And those wrestlers who make it to the final session Saturday evening are very often 10 to 15 pounds over their weight class.

Furthermore, these same wrestlers still will be eating that Sunday following the competition. Of course, the wrestlers will return to practice on Monday extremely over weight; thus, begins their fasting (starving) to get down to weight for the next meet.

Without a doubt, the preceding scenario is a vivid example of Yo! Yo! Dieting. And it is why the NFHS does not permit weigh-outs in wrestling during interscholastic competitions.

By following the weight management guidelines of the NFHS, endorsed by the National Wrestling Coaches Association, we are protecting our wrestlers from unhealthy, weight-reduction practices. The weigh-out procedure in wrestling definitely defeats the purpose of the research-based, NFHS weight management program to put a stop to Yo! Yo! Dieting.

(Editor’s Note: Bill Welker, EdD, has more than 60 years of experience as a former interscholastic state champion and collegiate wrestler, successful coach, award-winning official, and a nationally renowned wrestling author. He was a member of the NFHS National Wrestling Rules Committee from 2012 to 2015.