By Dr. Alan C. Utter
To address safety and health issues in high school wrestling, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) wrestling weight-management rule went into effect during the 2006-07 season.
As a result of three collegiate wrestlers dying during a five-week period in fall 1997 from complications caused by rapid weight loss, the NFHS and the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) spearheaded a massive educational initiative to deliver weight-management programs to all educational institutions in the United States that currently have or in the future may have a wrestling program. This educational program was designed to improve the health and performance of scholastic wrestlers throughout the country.
The rationale for developing a weight-management program is to help young wrestlers make proper decisions about diet, nutrition and in which weight class to compete.
In 1998, the NCAA implemented a wrestling weight-management program that currently serves as a clearinghouse for all collegiate wrestlers. Every high school wrestler who has intentions of wrestling in college is required by the NCAA to undergo a weight-management program.
Research studies completed from 1999 to 2004 at the NCAA Wrestling Championships demonstrated that the NCAA’s wrestling weight-management program was effective in reducing unhealthy weight-loss behaviors and promoting competitive equity. The NFHS’ wrestling weight-management program was implemented as the next logical step in promoting healthy weight-loss behaviors/practices.
The NFHS’ wrestling weight-management program was developed according to the following guiding principles:
1) Elimination of all weight-control practices that could potentially risk the health of the wrestler.
2) Focus on competition – not weight control.
3) Recommendations should be practical, enforceable and scientifically based.
It is well-known that wrestlers often attempt to lose weight rapidly to gain a perceived competitive advantage over their opponents.
There is ever-increasing information that documents the danger of excessive weight loss, losing weight too rapidly, and repeated cycling of weight gain and loss. These health hazards are especially problematic for physically immature bodies of younger and lighter wrestlers, which is where the majority of excesses occur.
Preliminary data from a few states demonstrate a decrease in these unhealthy practices when high school weight-management programs have been utilized. A 10-year review of such a program by one school showed an increase in wrestling participation and a significant decrease in abusive weight-loss practices. An effective weight-management program is designed to assist in avoiding potentially harmful weight-loss practices utilized to achieve a specific weight class and at the same time promote optimal performance. The NFHS’ wrestling weight-management program consists of the following three essential components:
1) Establishment of a healthy minimal wrestling body weight through body composition and hydration assessment.
2) Development of a sound, gradual and safe weight-loss plan that includes nutritional education if weight loss is desired.
3) Development of a nutritional educational program that is directed to the coach, individual wrestler and parents.
Establishing a healthy minimal wrestling weight and an accompanying sound, gradual and safe weight-loss plan will prevent large unhealthy weight loss, make it easier to maintain competitive weight over the course of the season, and ultimately lead to improved health and performance of the student-athlete.
A complete description of the NFHS’ wrestling weight-control program appears on page 10 of the 2007-08 NFHS Wrestling Rules Book.
Dr. Alan C. Utter is a professor of health and exercise science at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. He has conducted research and published many papers on weight-loss issues in wrestlers for the past 15 years. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the American College of Sports Medicine, and a member of the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. Utter can be contacted at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.