And it had to change, and fast.
Hence the era of alpha testing, guidelines to reduce rapid weight reduction, and elimination of dangerous rapid weight-loss methods such as saunas and sauna suits.
Now every athlete at the high school as well as college level, must undergo alpha testing, a process designed to determine the lowest weight class an athlete can safely compete at.
Alpha testing is conducted in this order:
- hydration test first to determine if the wrestler is safely hydrated (concept being that you have safely descended to your current weight)
- weigh in
- body fat percentage measured (often with calipers such as those in the picture above)
After this procedure, based on the current weight and current body fat percentage, the lowest allowable weight class is determined by calculating what the athlete's body weight would be at 7%. They are then allowed to descend to that weight by losing no more than 1 1/2% of their body weight per week. If the wrestler, when being measured, is already at or below 7% body fat, they are already at their lowest allowable weight and cannot get to a lower weight class.
But with good intentions comes the sharp stick of reality.
They decide what weight class to compete in, weigh in at the testing site no higher than that weight (an athlete wanting to compete at 113 would weigh in no higher than 113 lbs.)...often employing unhealthy, unsafe methods to get there. They make scratch weight one time, wrestle up for most of the year, and crash down for tournament time.
- Encourage athletes to cut weight drastically and make weight too early
- Allow athletes to compete only once at their weight during the season
- Change the rules at the end of the year, encouraging massive weight cutting
they change the rules.
Allow night before weigh-ins...thereby encouraging athletes to drop as much weight as they can...and in effect, punishing those who manage their weight and wrestle close to their weight class.
Scary and definitely harmful to the body.
If you don't think high school wrestlers (and even younger athletes) do something similar, then you haven't been up close to see it but its out there.
Last year I went to Fargo. One athlete stands out to me...
He spent hours...and I mean probably 5 hours...working out to get back down to weight. Years ago, one of my trainees, wrestling at 103 (before the weight classes changed) ended up in the placement round at state...against a kid who weighed over 130 lbs.
We lost. Our opponent defaulted out to 6th place...but got to be a state placer by skirting the rules.
Makes you wonder if we have learned nothing from 1997.
At state tournament time, they are encouraged, due to the current rules, to suck down hard and then gain as much weight as possible for the next day's matches. They can do so because of the amount of recovery time built into the system.
Does this sound healthy to you?
First, require the same rules at the end of the year as the beginning. Weigh-ins for sectional, district and state should be between one and two hours, but no more than 2 hours, prior to competition. In addition, weigh-ins should take place every day of competition.
Don't tell me it can't be done, I know better. While the current system might be easier to administrate, it needs to change for the sake of the athletes, and it is doable.
Secondly, employ the 50/50 rule...or some variation of it. Regardless, athletes should be competing, or at least weighing in, at their weight class, more than twice in order to compete there at the end of the year.
Third - and I know this won't happen - either do away with alpha testing or fix it. This is a federation issue that trickles down to the state.
I don't have a solution for fixing it, but having athletes crash down to scratch weight early in the season is not healthy and needs to change. Governing bodies of wrestling will not do away with it, because it is their CYA assurance that they are keeping athletes safe...which they are not...but it keeps them legal.
But this system is flawed.
If you employed the first two rules, you wouldn't need the alpha testing at all. Athletes who couldn't compete an hour after weigh-ins, would change weight classes.
Nobody likes to lose and feel like crap in doing so.
- Have a body fat assessment done independently in early fall so you know what weight you can get to in a healthy manner.
- Be smarter than the state, start reducing in the fall. Instead of crashing down to your given weight class, take the 1 1/2% rule and apply it, starting in September if need be.
- Weigh in for alphas at or below scratch weight (if you are going 106, weigh 106 or below). Follow some of the smart guidelines out there regarding hydration. Get under your weight class, and a few hours before the test, drink a couple pounds of water weight so you are hydrated.
- If you work out in advance of, and the same day as the alpha test, you are likely to register a lower body fat. Keep that in mind if you are not planning on making scratch weight at alphas.
- Follow my weight management guide to stay as healthy as possible during the season while working out.
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