For Wrestlers, ‘Weight Cutting’ Has Psychological Effects

For collegiate wrestlers, rapid reductions in body mass over a few days before a match can adversely affect psychological function, suggests a study in the April issue of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, official research journal of the National Strength and Conditioning Association. The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health.

The study finds that rapid mass reduction—or “weight cutting”—leads to increased confusion, although not to reduced strength. “In a sport which requires split-second decision making, a higher state of confusion and tension can detrimentally affect the wrestler’s performance,” according to the study by Risto H.J. Marttinen, M.A., and colleagues of California State University, Fullerton.

Dropping Weight Rapidly Leads to Decreased Psychological Performance
The researchers studied the physical and psychological effects of weight cutting in a group of 16 collegiate wrestlers. Ten days before a competitive meet, the wrestlers were weighed, completed a brief mood rating scale, and underwent strength tests (grip strength and lower body power). They were then allowed to “self-select” their desired amount of weight loss before the match—using methods such as exercise, calorie restriction, and fluid deprivation.

The wrestlers were weighed again in the days leading up to the meet, and the psychological and strength tests were repeated on the day of the match. The researchers looked for changes in psychological functioning and strength related to pre-match weight loss.

The wrestlers reduced their body mass by up to eight percent; the average weight loss was about six pounds. Despite having ten days to prepare, the wrestlers lost almost all of the weight in the two days before the match.

Wrestlers who lost the most body mass—four percent or more—had significantly higher levels of confusion on the day of the match. Other psychological factors were unchanged. Confusion was not increased for wrestlers who reduced their mass by less than four percent.

Regardless of mass reduction, there were no changes in grip strength or lower-body power. Thus wrestlers who choose to lose large amounts of weight in the few days before a match “might suffer decrements in aspects of psychological functioning without affecting grip strength or lower body power,” the researchers write.

To gain a competitive edge in their weight class, wrestlers commonly try to reduce their mass before a meet. Against medical recommendations, many wrestlers choose to drop weight in the day or two before a match, rather than more gradually. There are mixed data on how such rapid weight loss affects psychological and physical performance in competitive wrestlers.

Under NCAA rules, wrestlers are permitted to reduce their weight by up to 1.5 percent per week. However, because of the time between weigh-ins, many wrestlers are able to lose weight more rapidly while maintaining a weekly average of less than 1.5 percent. (Certain rapid weight loss methods such as saunas, rubber suits, and diuretics are outlawed.)

The new study suggests that rapid weight loss in the days before a match can lead to increased confusion in wrestlers. While the results show no change in grip strength or lower body power, other important physical factors—such as aerobic capacity and endurance, agility, and speed—might be affected. Marttinen and colleagues conclude, “Coaches, certified athletic trainers, and strength and conditioning professionals should be cognizant of their wrestlers’ weight loss state to safely and effectively coordinate practices, rehabilitation, and competition.”

About The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research
The editorial mission of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (JSCR) is to advance the knowledge about strength and conditioning through research. A unique aspect of this journal is that it includes recommendations for the practical use of research findings. While the journal name identifies strength and conditioning as separate entities, strength is considered a part of conditioning. The journal wishes to promote the publication of peer-reviewed manuscripts which add to our understanding of conditioning and sport through applied exercise science. The JSCR is the official research journal of the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

About the National Strength and Conditioning Association
The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) is an international nonprofit educational association founded in 1978. The NSCA develops and presents the most advanced information regarding strength training and conditioning practices and injury prevention. Central to its mission, the NSCA bridges the gap between the scientist in the laboratory and the practitioner in the field. By working to find practical applications for new research findings in the strength and conditioning field, the Association fosters the development of strength training and conditioning as a discipline and as a profession.

About Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (LWW) is a leading international publisher for healthcare professionals and students with nearly 300 periodicals and 1,500 books in more than 100 disciplines publishing under the LWW brand, as well as content-based sites and online corporate and customer services.

LWW is part of Wolters Kluwer Health, a leading global provider of information, business intelligence and point-of-care solutions for the healthcare industry. Wolters Kluwer Health is part of Wolters Kluwer, a market-leading global information services company with 2010 annual revenues of €3.5 billion ($4.7 billion).

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