Keeping a Close Eye on Wrestler’s Weight

Skinfold Measurements Make Sure Athletes Are Not Getting Too Thin

While wrestling requires a lot of physical strength, some athletes fixate not on adding muscle, but on losing weight. Wrestling is the one sport in high school where weight matters and some athletes take extreme measures to meet their desired goal. That philosophy is not healthy since reducing food and water intake can cause dehydration, reduced regulation of body temperature, kidney failure and chronic fatigue.

To combat the issue, the WIAA began a mandatory weight control program in the early 1990s for Wisconsin high school wrestlers. The program establishes a healthy minimum weight for each wrestler by using skinfold measurements. Each male wrestler must maintain at least 7 percent body fat and female wrestlers need to maintain 12 percent body fat. It is not recommended athletes get down to those percentages – those are just the lowest they can go. With parental permission, they can go down an additional 2 percent.

Prior to a skinfold measurement being taken, the WIAA requires the wrestler to be hydrated, using a urine specific gravity test to prove this. The results must be approved before the wrestler can undergo a skinfold test.

Skinfold measurements are taken to determine each athlete’s body fat. Using a device called a caliper, the skin and fat tissue are pulled away from the muscle and measured at three designated sites for males and two designated sites for women. Two measurements are taken at each site and averaged. That number is then plugged into a formula taking into account the person’s age and gender to estimate his body fat.

Schools use a WIAA certified skinfold measurer for their wrestling program to make sure athletes maintain a healthy weight. Measurers are annually re-certified by WIAA and are an approved medical provider and not just anyone can take the measurements. It is important students realize that taking extreme methods to “make weight” is not good for their health. They may think it is an advantage to wrestle at a lower weight, but that lower weight comes at a cost since being underweight leads to a loss in strength.

Once the skinfold measurements are complete, athletes are limited to an average weight loss of 1.5 percent of their body weight per week. A season-long weight loss plan will be used to guide the students through the season and detail at what weight classes a wrestler may participate in based on their official weigh-in. Coaches still need to carefully track their athletes’ weights to make sure they qualify for their weight class before competitions and that their weight loss is in line with the season-long plan.

The weight rules for wrestling that schools have in place are designed to control the rate of an athlete’s weight loss and how much overall weight can be lost. When wrestlers lose too much weight too quickly, they are at increased risk for developing health problems related to extreme weight loss or being underweight. Wrestlers need to understand a healthy diet is necessary to fuel their athletic activities and should not feel pressure from parents or coaches about losing a lot of weight.

Melissa (MJ) Johnston is a licensed athletic trainer with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care and provides services to students at Berlin High School.