Cutting Weight, the Dark Side of WrestlingBloged in News and Information by Randy Lewis Wednesday November 2, 2005
Cutting weight, the dark side of wrestling. Almost everyone who has ever wrestled, with the exception of some heavyweights, has had to cut weight at some point in their careers. Many wrestlers, at all levels, have at times cut way more than they should have. At times in my career, I also fell into this category. Most wrestlers have their own “weight cutting stories,” and in this article I will regale you with a few of my own.
This article will not discuss the proper diet, nor will it discuss the correct way to slowly lose weight, but rather it will give you some of my insights and thoughts as to why myself and others cut weight, and how it affected both our mental and physical abilities. To me, cutting weight has always been the hardest part of wrestling, both physically, and especially mentally.
In high school, I wrestled at or near my natural weight, cutting only 3 or 4 pounds during my season. During the summers, for junior nationals, I would sometimes cut 7 or 8 pounds, but nothing that was too difficult. In college, and international competition, that would change dramatically. At times, I believe I cut too much weight, and when that happened, it took a mental and physical toll.
Throughtout my fifteen years wrestling and coaching with Dan Gable at the University of Iowa, coaches J Robinson and Dan Gable put me and others through thousands of very tough and very physical workouts. I was able to go through all of them, and never break mentally. However, when it came to cutting weight, it was a different story. I have seen the toughest wrestlers in the world break mentally from cutting too much weight. Cutting weight will always be a part of our sport, no matter what rules go into effect. I do like most of the new rules that help to cut down on the amount of weight that wrestlers lose.
In high school and college wrestling, weight cutting has changed dramatically because of the new rules. With colleges and high schools outlawing saunas and plastics, weighing in one hour before matches, and the new hydration rules, the amount of weight cutting, particularly by dehydration, has been significantly reduced. When I look back on my college career, I wish these new rules had been in place then. In college, I wrestled two years at 126 and two years at 134, with a five-hour weigh-in for duals and night-before weigh-ins for tournaments. If I were wrestling under today’s rules, I would have wrestled at 133 for two years and at 141 for two years, and that would have been seven pounds that I did not have to sweat off for every meet.
I find it interesting that while high school and colleges have made rules to eliminate or reduce weight cutting, in international wrestling, FILA has made rules that have forced some wrestlers to make a very difficult decision to cut even more weight than in the past. By dropping down to seven weight classes, and having only one weigh-in for tournaments, the night before, they are forcing some wrestlers to cut a ton of weight.
With only seven weight classes internationally, some great wrestlers have been forced to make a very difficult decision to either cut an extreme amount of weight, or to have to add considerable muscle mass, which I believe could lead to a sharp increase in the use of steroids.
I think wrestling has been a sport where steroid use has been kept to a minimum, but with only seven weight classes, a wrestler “caught” in between weight classes may make the decision to “juice” to move up a weight class, and that is more likely to happen with fewer weight classes, and too much weight between weight classes. It is my belief that FILA should go back to 10 weight classes for the world championships, and then go to 7 for the Olympics if necessary. FILA has no chance to reinstate weight classes at the Olympics if we don’t already have them for the world championships.
What I want to do in this article, is give some of my thoughts on weight cutting, both now and in the past, but before I do that, I would just like to share some “old school” weight cutting stories from the past, to give you the perspective that I am coming from.
Starting Easy. Getting Harder
When I first came to the University of Iowa, I had never really cut much weight. My freshman year, at the start of the season, I made the starting lineup at 126 pounds. The most I had ever weighed at the start of the season was 135 pounds, and at the beginning of the year in college, they give a three pound weight allowance. I was usually only one or two pounds over weight after every practice, making weight was very easy.
However, I was a growing boy, and as the season progressed, every week I kept getting bigger and bigger until the week before the Big Ten tournament I weighed 141 pounds. At the NCAA’s and at the Big Ten’s, you have to make scratch weight. All of a sudden, I was 15 pounds over. At the beginning of the year, I only had to cut 6 pounds, but at the end of the year I was wrestling at the same weight, but had to cut 15 pounds. I was not used to cutting weight, and it was very hard for me to make weight for both the Big Tens and the NCAA’s.
At the NCAA’s, after the second round, I was 7 1/2 pounds overweight. I had never cut more than 6 pounds in one workout. At the time, you could weigh-in either that night or the next morning. I had about 3 hours to make weight, which should have been plenty of time.
Sleeping with Gable
I worked out for about an hour and lost about five pounds, and then I mentally broke, and decided to make weight the next morning. I went and drank a quart of gatorade and showered up, thinking I’d just weigh in the next morning. I knew I had to avoid Gable and the other coaches, or they would make me make weight that night.
With about 45 minutes left to weigh-in, Gable found out I was planning on making weight the next morning and he quickly grabbed me and said your making weight tonight. He got me in the sauna, (he was in his street clothes) and got me doing all sorts of exercises. When time ran out, I was still 1/4 pound over the weight. I had to make weight the next morning, and Gable didn’t let me out of his sight, making me spend the night in his room.
I made weight the next morning and went on to place second that year in the NCAA’s. That would just be the first of many times I broke cutting weight. That summer, I would cut from 144 pounds down to 125.5 pounds to make the world team and wrestle in the world championships. Making weight that summer and the next year in college would prove to be very difficult, and very tough mentally. I probably broke mentally about four or five times that summer, and here are a couple of those stories.
Randy’s Mental Breakdown at the Drowning Pool
It was a hot, humid summer day in early July in Iowa City, about two weeks before the world team trials. I weighed 138.5 pounds before practice. That was 13 pounds over. Coach Gable was having a cookout at his house that night, with the team and friends and boosters all coming. Gable knew I was struggling with my weight, and he told me I couldn’t come to the party until I got my weight down to 130 pounds.
After going through the wrestling practice, I weighed 132 1/2. It was about 100 degrees out, and very humid, and I put on my plastics and went for a run around Iowa City’s Finkbine golf course. About half way around the course, I was really hot and really thirsty, and I broke mentally. I pulled off my plastics and the rest of my gear except for my shorts, and tried to cut back across the golf course to walk back to the gym. When I got by the clubhouse, I saw the swimming pool. I was so hot and thirsty, that I jumped into the pool to cool off. I was so thirsty, that I just stuck my head under water and drank what seemed like a gallon of pool water.
Only after I drank my fill, did I look up and realize that mounted on the wall was a drinking fountain, with ice-cold, clean drinking water. I never did make 130 that day, but Gable let me come to the cookout that night anyway. As I sipped on my first Miller Lite that night, it not only tasted great and was less filling, but a thought ran through my head. You know, that pool water tasted even better than this Miller Lite.
A few weeks later, out in Squaw Valley, California, I had to make scratch weight four days in a row, to make the world team. Making weight was so hard, that every day after I made weight I honestly didn’t even care if I won my matches. I remember vividly thinking, well if I lose I don’t have to make weight again. Somehow, I managed to make weight all four days, and when I faced 1976 Olympian Joe Corso on the final day, I had pinned all of my opponents up until then.
After struggling hard to make weight four days in a row, I went out and got pinned by Joe Corso in 12 seconds in the first match in a two out of three. I remember thinking, man, I cut all this weight for 4 straight days and then get pinned in 12 seconds. I thought no way did I lose all this weight and work so hard to be the alternate. After the last weigh-ins were over, it suddenly seemed very important again to win. That afternoon I went out and won 11-7 and then pinned Corso to make the team. I broke many times that summer, pulling off my sweats and dipping my head in pools and streams up in the mountains, but in the end it made me a lot mentally tougher. After that, I became a much better weight cutter, and I learned a few lessons from the King of the Cutter himself, Bruce Kinseth.
The King of the Cutters
My sophomore year in college, I wrestled over half my matches at 134 pounds, but the second half cut down to 126. It was a big cut for me, and Bruce Kinseth (incidentally the brother of NASCAR champion Matt Kenseth), the self proclaimed King of the Cutters took me under his wing and showed me how it was done. Kinseth was in phenomonal shape, and at 6 feet was very tall and skinny for a 150 pounder. I had never seen anyone who could sweat like Kinseth. He could easily lose ten pounds in just one hour. At the time, I could only lose five or six pounds in an hour. Bruce’s philosophy which he gave to me was “You can’t cut weight on an empty stomach.” What he meant by that was that he would rather be 12 over and full, than 10 over and hungry.
Bruce would come in to practice the day before a meet 11 or 12 pounds over, and he would work out for an hour and 15 minutes and get down to weight. Then he would go eat a big dinner and drink liquids and he would come back that night 10 or 11 pounds over again, work out and lose it all, and then show up 6-10 pounds over the next day about an hour before weigh-ins. He would lose the weight and then gain back between 10 and 13 pounds before his match that night five hours later. I could only do about half of that, and was amazed at Kinseth’s ability to lose and gain weight.
One day about two hours before weigh-ins, I was farther over than Kinseth. I was 6 1/2 over, and Bruce was five pounds over. I was all bummed out being so far over, and Kinseth said, “Lewboo, will it make you feel any better if I drink a couple pounds of water so I’m farther over than you?” I said “Yeah it would.” Bruce then went and drank two pounds of water, and got back on the scale. He was 7 pounds over. 35 minutes later, Bruce was on weight. It took me an hour and 20 minutes to lose my 6 1/2 pounds.
That year (1979) Bruce and I were selected to wrestle in the All-Star meet in Corvallis, Oregon. We had just wrestled in two duals meets that weekend at Michigan and Michigan State. Bruce and I both wrestled up a weight in bot of those duals. Afterwards, we drove to Chicago and were eating and drinking liquids the whole way. We then flew to Oregon and arrived on Sunday night. We were scheduled to weigh-in on Tuesday afternoon. They were giving a five pound weight allowance for the meet, and when we arrived in Oregon I weighed 143 pounds, and Bruce weighed 174 pounds.
Bruce was 19 pounds over the 5 pound allowance. He weighed more than the 167 pounders. Bruce’s body was full of liquids, and he lost 14 pounds in one workout. The next day, in the morning, Bruce and I worked out, I got down to 3 over, and Bruce got down to 2 over. We then had a big lunch, and went to practice later that afternoon. Bruce was 11 over, and I was 9 3/4 pounds over. Weigh-ins weren’t scheduled until noon on Tuesday, so I was in good shape.
However, all the other wrestlers were very close to weight, and they all wanted to weigh-in after practice, and not have to the next day. Bruce and I both agreed to it. Bruce worked out for an hour and 15 minutes, and made weight, losing 11 pounds. Less than 24 hours earlier he had been 19 pounds over. I lost my 9 3/4 pounds, but it took me 2 hours and 45 minutes, and I was hurting. Once again, Bruce had shown why he was called the King of the Cutters. Bruce and I both won the NCAA’s that year, and Bruce pinned everyone he wrestled at the Big Ten’s and the NCAA’s, earning the Outstanding Wrestler Award, along with a tremendous amount of respect. Three years later, Bruce would win the U.S. Open at 180.5 pounds, beating Dave Schultz in the finals.
Another big 150 pounder that Iowa had around that time was two-time NCAA champion Chuck Yagla, who once missed making weight at the U.S. Open at 149.5 pounds by a quarter of a pound. Chuck then wrestled at 163, and had to cut weight the second day of the tournament to make 163. He still won the tournament.
Why cut weight?
Most wrestlers cut weight because they don’t want to have to compete against bigger wrestlers. Some want to be that bigger wrestler. For most wrestlers, they cut to give themselves the best chance to win. Some do it for the team. Some do it to make the team, and some do it to avoid a specific opponent.
Troy Steiner was the defending NCAA champion his senior year at 142 pounds, and was undefeated and ranked number 1. For the team he cut down to 134 pounds so Lincoln Mclravy could come out of redshirt and cut to 142 pounds. Lincoln ended up winning the NCAA’s at 142, while Troy Steiner ended up third at 134, losing to Cary Kolat in the semifinals. The next year, Darryl Weber was Iowa’s 158 pounder for the first half of the season. Gable pulled Joe Williams out of redshirt, and Weber cut down to 142 to make the team and become an All-American. Two years later, Weber would win the NCAA’s at 167 pounds.
When I did cut weight in college, I wanted to keep my size and strength, and I tried to weigh as close to my normal weight by the time I stepped out on the mat to compete. Back under the old rules, I believe that as a team, Iowa had the advantage over other teams because we were able to recover and gain our size back faster than other teams. My sophomore year of college, I won the NCAA’s at 126 pounds, and when I wrestled in the finals I weighed 142 pounds. The next year, when I won at 134 pounds, I weighed 143 pounds before the finals.
For the mental aspect of cutting weight, wrestling against John Azevedo, I felt like I was a full weight class bigger than him when we stepped out on the mat. John had wrestled at 118 pounds the year before, and I just knew in my heart that I was going to be way too big for him. We were both in great shape, but I ended up wearing him out in the third period and won 20-14, because of my size. If I did cut weight, I wanted it to help my mental preparation, not hurt it.
Throughout my career, whenever I cut a lot of weight, I used to believe I could recover and win by being bigger, and stronger, which I talked about in my article ” Mind Games”, which I wrote last year. If I wasn’t cutting weight, I would use that to think that my opponent would be too sucked down to beat me. To me, cutting weight was mostly mental. When I first started cutting weight, I wasn’t very good at it, and I broke several times, but later I got better at it, and it made me a lot tougher mentally. However, if I had it to do over again, I would always move up a weight when in doubt.
Some of the most legendary weight cutters that I know of did just as well when they moved up a weight class, some when they moved up several. Gene Mills won Tibilisi at 114.5, and was a legendary weight cutter. He later got fat and happy, and still made a world team at 136.5, and won the Midlands at 142 pounds. Melvin Douglas cut hard to make 180.5 and 16 years later took Steve Mocco to overtime at heavyweight. Bruce Kinseth won the US Open at 180.5, Mark Churella moved up two weight classes in one year at the NCAA’s and won his third title. Rick Sanders did just as good at 125.5 as he did at 114.5. Looking at the careers of many great wrestlers, they almost all do well when they outgrow a weight class and don’t make that huge cut.
In 1989, I cut to 136.5 for the last time, and I felt like I was going to die. After that, I moved up to 149.5 for good. While I never made a world team at 149.5, I did beat several world medalists and a world champion twice at that weight. I wish I had gone up to 149.5 sooner, rather than later. Weight cutting has caused many wrestlers to quit the sport too soon. If I had it to do over again, after 1984 I would have taken two years off to party and lift weights, and then gone 149.5, rather than cutting to 136.5 again. So, all you young wrestlers out there, leave the big weight cutting to us “Old School” idiots, and don’t try this at home, remember we were trained professionals.