Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cutting Weight

Wrestlers cut weight. They don't reduce weight. They don't lose weight. Wrestlers sure as heck don't diet! Wrestlers cut weight.

I'm not sure where the term "cutting weight" originated. A wrestler wouldn't say, "I need to lose ten pounds." He'd say, "I need to cut ten pounds."

I had a certain image of what "cutting weight" was when I began the sport of wrestling. It seemed to usually involve guys wearing many layers of clothing so they would sweat a lot. And, it seemed to involve eating less or not eating at all. I knew that some times wrestlers at tournaments would have to run in the hall to sweat off some weight because they showed up over their weight class limit.

I only weighed about 100 lbs. when I was a freshman in high school. So, making weight for the 98 pound class was no problem at all. I think there was one evening before a meet where I was a little worried that I might be over my weight so I decided to skip dinner. I thought skipping dinner was going to kill me. What made me think I would be able to cut 12 lbs. the next season?

I weighed about 110 lbs. when my sophomore wrestling season began. I guess I thought it would be easy to cut weight. I just thought I'd wear a lot of layers of clothing in practice and simply stop eating. Not very smart, huh?

After a few days of not eating and of limiting my water intake I was totally exhausted. I was hungry and thirsty. I was weak. I was getting thrown around by guys in practice that I should have been throwing around. I was like a rag doll.

I went to a local motel to use the hot tub and sauna a few times. I put a blanket over myself and a space heater once and burned a hole in the blanket.

When my coach handed me the uniform for the 98 pound wrestler I thought, "Why are you giving me this uniform, coach? I'll never make weight." But, I did make weight some how.

After making weight the first time, my mother took me to The Grill for breakfast. I ordered two eggs, sausage, and toast. I also ordered two bakery rolls and two large orange juices. The waitress didn't bat an eye. She was used to wrestlers coming in and eating after weigh-in. I'm not sure what my mother was thinking. I ate every bit of it.

During my junior season I continued to cut weight by starving. I would look forward to a can of diet pop after practice each night. I became a little more aware of calories. I would eat carrots or green beans some times.

I usually tried to actually get a few pounds below my weight class the night before a meet or tournament so that I could eat and drink something. Then I would play the "ounces game". For example, if I was two pounds under my competition weight then I knew I could eat and drink two pounds of food/liquid. I usually lost a pound overnight so actually I could probably consume three pounds of food/liquid in that scenario.
The night before a meet I wouldn't have been concerned about calories. I would have only been concerned about the actual weight of the food itself. So, I might drink 16 oz. of water, 16 oz. of pop, two 2 oz. candy bars, an 8 oz. container of yogurt, and 4 oz. of meat for a total of 48 oz. - 3 lbs.

I liked starving for a few days just so I could enjoy eating and drinking the night before a meet or tournament. It wasn't a great system but at least I never had to go to bed thirsty like I had often done the year before.

During my senior season I finally figured out how to cut weight in a smarter way. I know I said that wrestlers don't diet, but I guess that's what I did. I started off at 1500 calories a day and then cut back a little more as time went on. I never went a single day without drinking or eating. I was able to eat more and more toward the end of the season and kept feeling stronger and stronger as the season was nearing its end. I became conference, sectional, and district champion that season and having a smart diet instead of starving had a lot to do with that.

I had two main books that were sort of my bibles. One book I believe was published by some magazine like Good Housekeeping. It must have been a special gift or something with a subscription. I found it on a shelf in our home's office. The other book was a tiny calorie-counter book like one would find at the checkouts in a supermarket or discount store. Both of these books had sample diets and calorie listings for many foods. The books also suggested that when a person got to his target weight that he could eat a certain number of maintenance calories each day and still remain at that weight. I learned that a pound was equal to approximately 3,500 calories. That's why if one cuts 500 calories a day from his diet he can lose a pound per week - 500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories or one pound.

Wrestlers back in my day - the 1980's - were crazy and foolish when it came to cutting weight. They would starve. They would sweat under many layers of clothing. They would spit in cups. They would sit in hot tubs and saunas. I once saw a wrestler stand on his head a few minutes before weigh-in because he'd heard that would make a person weigh less. What a bunch of garbage. Cutting weight became a real morale buster at times. During my senior year, one of my fellow seniors got kicked off of the team because he tried to rig the scale. I wasn't really mad or disappointed in him. Even though it's something I would never have done myself, I did understand how hard cutting weight could be physically and mentally.

When a person drastically cuts calories - starves - his body has no fuel. Therefore, the body will begin to use its own muscle tissue as fuel. The glycogen stores in one's muscles that provide energy are quickly depleted. The brain works best when supplied with glucose (blood sugar) and doesn't work so well when it's deprived of glucose. The body thinks that a famine is occurring during starvation. Therefore, when the body is fed again it wants to hold on to the nutrition it's getting. The body's metabolism slows down when starvation occurs. When the body is given food again the metabolism is still slow and a person will end up gaining weight and then some. And, it won't be muscular weight either. Starvation is just a bad deal all around.

Of course, if a wrestlers skips a few meals here and there he isn't going to go into famine mode. That depends on how many days he goes without eating and on how low his body fat percentage falls and other factors. Google "starvation response" or "famine mode" and read up on it. There are plenty of articles. You might also be interested in reading about the Ancel Keys Minnesota Starvation Experiment.

A bigger threat related to a wrestler's well being is probably the dehydration many wrestlers resort to for cutting weight. Dehydration can be very dangerous and even fatal. Some deaths of wrestlers have been connected at least partly to dehydration. Losing water weight can be a dangerous strategy.

Here's an interesting article on how to lose a lot of water weight in a short amount of time if that is the choice you decide to make:

Here's another article on cutting weight:

Check out my page on wrestling nutrition to see how to properly feed and take care of yourself during the wrestling season.

If I were going to cut weight knowing what I now know here's how I would do it. I would take my body weight x 10 to find out the number of calories I'd need to eat per day to lose weight. If I weighed 140 pounds, that would be 1,400 calories a day. Assuming I would lose about a pound a week, it would take me 15 weeks to get down to 125 pounds. I realize that sounds like a damn long time - three, almost four months. Then I would take 125 x 15 to figure out how many calories I could eat to maintain 125 pounds. So, 125 x 15 = 1,875 calories per day. But, on competition days I would probably not count calories and just make sure I ate well to have abundant energy.

To a lot of wrestlers this would sound too hard or perhaps even foolish. But, on this regimen I would never have to go a single day without eating or drinking. If you are one of those guys who can lose ten pounds in one practice and find that sweating weight off works well for you then go for it. But, I was never one of those guys. I couldn't sweat off a lot of water weight. I always ended up starved and dehydrated. It killed my performance and morale. But, when I counted calories all throughout my senior season I finished the season by becoming a conference champion and qualifying for the state tournament.

Before you decide to cut weight for wrestling be sure to read up on it. Read about proper nutrition. Adequate nutrition and hydration can have a huge impact on your wrestling performance.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Senior Success

When my senior wrestling season began I weighed around 125 lbs. I planned to wrestle at 112 lbs. I wasn't very motivated when practices began that fall. I'm not sure if I really cared if I wrestled that year or not. This was the 1985-1986 school year.

When the coach asked if anyone wanted to challenge me for the 112 pound spot, no one said a word. I was relieved. I guess I still had a reputation as a good wrestler. But, I had lost so much confidence in myself at that point I'm not so sure that one of the underclassmen couldn't have beaten me. But, no one wanted a wrestle-off against me.

The thought of cutting weight again practically had me in tears. But, I pulled myself together a bit and decided I was going to figure this weight cutting thing out and do it right.

The diet books I read always said to figure out how many calories you ate a day on average and then subtract 500 calories from that number to achieve a one pound weight loss per week. The problem was trying to figure out how many calories I ate per day on average. Nutrition labels weren't prevalent in the mid 1980's and I ate a lot of meals that my mother prepared. I had no idea what I was taking in on a given day.

I noticed a lot of these diet books had sample 1200 and 1500 calorie diets. So, I decided to simply start by eating 1500 calories. Then I cut down to 1200 for a while and then a 1000 for a while. I think I even spent a day or two at 500 calories. I began my "dieting" right at the beginning of the season. It took a little while to see the results on the scale but it worked. I never had to go a day without eating and I drank all of the water I wanted.

I brought my lunch with me every day to school. I counted my calories every single day. I didn't care what I ate as long as it added up to the right number of calories. But, I usually chose healthier items. For example, I knew I could eat three apples for the same number of calories as one candy bar. Three apples sounded better than one candy bar.

I ate plain oatmeal, rice cakes, plain whole wheat bread, and a lot of plain green beans and plain potatoes. Occasionally, I would measure out a teaspoon or tablespoon of butter or peanut butter.

I lived on a farm where he drank raw whole milk. I suppose I could have bought my own skim milk or powered milk but I never did. I would measure out one cup of whole milk and just accept the 180 calories that came with that decision. I never thought of fat grams or worried about carbohydrate grams back then. Interestingly, some doctors and health advocates think raw whole milk is one of the best foods a human can consume. So, perhaps I was lucky to have whole milk to drink.

Even when competition started I kept with my diet protocol which was extremely hard. I wanted to eat whatever I wanted to after weigh-in but I was afraid to. I even watched my calories through the Christmas season and came back right on target after the holidays.

The season started out slow and uneventful. I didn't win any tournaments before Christmas. I was kind of tired from the dieting and just not very focused or motivated.

We wrestled Waukon High that year again like usual. I was no longer going out with the redhead from that school. The two Ward brothers I had wrestled the last three years were both graduated and gone. I would have to wrestle a guy. When Waukon came to Postville for our dual meet, one of the Waukon wrestlers motioned for me to come over and talk to him. I was a kind of a shy guy but I walked over to talk to him. He said, "We don't have any more Wards for you to wrestle this year."

"That's good," I said. I laughed shyly and that was the extent of our conversation I believe.

I was beaten by the guy from Waukon twice. The matches were both close but I couldn’t quite beat him.

During our second meeting, I shot in on a single leg and he did the most unusual thing. He turned away from me and started hopping toward the edge of the mat. He was blatantly trying to get out of bounds. He was close to the edge of the mat but I yanked on his leg as hard as I could and pulled him back a little bit and then dropped down to score the two point takedown right near the edge of the mat. I’d never seen a wrestler try to hop out of bounds before. It seemed like we were in the middle of the mat when the whole thing started and he had no intention of trying to stay and fight me off. He didn’t sprawl or whizzer. He simply fled for the edge of the mat. But, I pulled him back and scored. It was exciting.

At the South Winneshiek Tournament I was beaten by a guy from Riceville who would qualify for state later that season.

I stuck to my diet over the holiday season. Some relatives gave me a hard time when I wouldn’t join in on the feasting or eat what the foods that they were eating. But, I wasn’t taking any chances. I wasn’t going to come back overweight after Christmas like I had in the past.

I finally won a tournament after the holidays. I won the Elkader Tournament. I made it into the finals but was very nervous about my last match. I still hadn’t really gotten my confidence back. But, in the finals I put my opponent in a cradle and pinned him. I was ecstatic. I had finally won a tournament. My coach was happy but said I still had a lot of work to do and that I needed to be more aggressive.

A week before the conference tournament we had a dual meet with North High. I didn’t really feel like wrestling that night. I didn’t want to be there. Obviously, that kind of attitude is not conducive to winning a wrestling match.

Things weren’t going so bad, but then I got caught in an awkward position and was pinned. It was only the second time I had ever been pinned in high school. The other time had happened when I was a freshman. I came home humiliated and didn’t say a word about it.

The following week was the conference tournament. I was seeded second behind the guy from North High.

I was very nervous before the semi finals. I had beaten the guy from West Central before but I was still nervous. His teammates were gathered around the mat hoping for an upset. But, there hopes didn’t come to be. I dominated the match. At one point in the match I was in the down position. I was feeling great. I looked in front of me at my cheerleaders and winked at one of them. Then I did a short sit out on the whistle. My opponent stuck his head over my shoulder. I grabbed his head and rotated and put him on his back. I got ahead by 15 points and the match was stopped. I had won by technical fall.

I had to meet the guy from North High in the finals. I wasn’t nervous at all. I had nothing to lose. He had pinned me the week before. I was standing by the 112 lbs. bracket sheet and overheard a couple of guys talking. One of them said something like, “Oh, we’ll win this one. He just pinned him last week.” They were talking about me being pinned the previous week.

I knew I could beat this guy. He had pinned me but I knew I had simply had an off night. My mother drove me to the high school to catch the bus that morning. I told her that I knew I could beat that guy.

In the final match I scored the first takedown. I stayed in control. It was my choice for the second round. My coaches yelled at me to choose neutral – both wrestlers starting on their feet. I just nodded because that’s what I too had already decided to do. I was a little tired already but I thought to myself, “No, you can’t quit this time. You can’t give up this time.” The whistle blew and I scored a takedown almost immediately.

I eventually got into a cross body ride and used a guillotine to score some back points.

He chose down in the final period. I normally would have been concerned about that but no this time. I knew I could ride him. I rode him most of the third period. He did manage to get a reversal toward the end. He was trying to put in a cradle when I heard someone from the Postville crowd yell, “There’s only eight seconds left, Tharin!” I counted off eight seconds in my head while trying to keep moving and then heard the whistle. I collapsed to the mat. I had won.

I walked off of the mat and hugged my coach who was thrilled. My older sister was near the edge of the mat and was also thrilled. She had been yelling at me all through the match. I said, “I can’t believe it. I’m conference champion.” I walked into the stands and hugged my mother. I was elated. I hadn’t wrestled such a focused match in a long time.

I found out later that even the coach from the other team was very impressed with how well I had wrestled. He too said he had never seen me so focused. I got this information from our assistant coach. Our assistant at the time had been a wrestler for North High during his high school days and knew the North High coach well.

On Monday our coach talked about how we had wrestled and about our prospects for sectionals. He said that if I kept wrestling like I had at conference that I could do really well.

After I left the locker room that night I overheard my coach and one of my teammates talking. My teammate said, “Tharin usually kind of dies out toward the end of this season but this year he seems to be getting stronger and stronger.” It felt good to hear that my coach and my teammates had faith in me.

I was seeded first at the Sectional Tournament. After the seeding meeting my coach told me that some other coach had complained about me being seeded first. Why did my coach tell me that? To motivate me? I was nervous before my first match especially after hearing that some other coach didn't think I deserved to be seeded first.

I had to wrestle a guy that I had pinned earlier in the season. I suppose I should have been confident but I was worried. I had pinned him but he was no pushover. He wasn't going to just fall down on his back and give up. If I lost to him I would be humiliated and never live it down. I told myself I had to win that match no matter what.

I did end up wrestling a very good match. I didn't pin him but I did get the technical fall. I felt strong and confident once the match got under way. Even though I didn't pin him, I actually felt better about my performance in our second meeting.

I wasn't that nervous about my second match. I had to wrestle a guy I had never wrestled before. I figured no one would say anything if I happened to lose. I know that's a bad attitude. I should have been confident that I was going to beat that guy no matter what. But, honestly, I was relaxed because I simply didn't feel that much pressure.

I spent most of the first period tied up with my opponent and getting no results. I finally hit a takedown late in the first period and immediately scored back points too. I think I might have scored back points a second time as well. At the end of the first period I was up by five or seven points I believe.

I was in the down position when the second period began. I did a sit out on the whistle just like in my second match at the Conference Tournament. And, once again, my opponent stuck his head over my shoulder. I grabbed his head and spun around. I put him on his back. The referee slapped the mat--a pin! I jumped up. I was absolutely elated.

I wrestled a guy from Green in the finals. It was a fairly high scoring match. I was able to shoot in on him several times but didn't seem to have the power to finish off my shots as time went by.

In the second or third period I stood up and my opponent slammed me back to the mat. The referee stopped the match and I was given a penalty point. I was allowed to rest for a bit. They wanted to make sure that I was okay. I was a bit stunned. I guess I had my "bell rung" a little bit. But, I said I was okay and the match resumed.

Toward the end of the match, my opponent did a switch. I reswitched him and then he was attempting to reswitch me. I decided I'd had enough of that, so I jumped over his hips and put him right to his back. I came close to pinning him but couldn't quite do it. I believe I won something like 14-9. I found out later that this guy had beaten the guy from Riceville I'd lost to earlier in the season. I had improved from the beginning of the season.

The guy from Green had to wrestle the guy I'd beaten in the second round. The guy I'd pinned in the second round surprisingly beat the guy from Green too. As for the coach who didn't think I deserved to be seeded first, I believe his wrestler placed fourth or fifth. I had proven that I was number one without a doubt. I was sectional champion.

Districts were held at Nora Springs-Rock Falls High School. I looked at my two opponents from the other sectional before weigh in. They looked tired. They looked young. I figured they had both been cutting weight all week. "I know I can beat these guys," I thought.

We could weigh 115 lbs. at that point because wrestlers are given a growth allowance in high school. The other three guys in my bracket all weighed in right at 115 lbs. I only weighed in at 113 lbs.

By that point I was eating what I wanted after weigh in. I watched what I ate during the week, but toward the end of the season I was getting more and more liberal with my diet especially on competition days. I was eating more but still staying easily within in my weight class.

After weigh in that morning I overdid it a little bit. I was feeling awfully full and uncomfortable going into first round. I was nervous. I was freaking out. I didn't want to lose because I had eaten too much. But, I went out and pinned my opponent in the first round. I was relieved and looking forward to finals.

I was very confident going into finals. I wanted to qualify for the State Tournament. I guess for once I wasn't concerned about having to make weight again. This year I knew making weight wasn't an issue. I was strong and ready to win.

I saw my opponent running around the mat before finals and thought, "You can run around and warm up all you want, but I am going to beat you."

I wrestled a good match. He shot in once and I caught him in a quarter nelson. From the quarter nelson I did a beautiful shuck and came around behind to score two points. I dominated the match and never gave up. I never faltered. My arm was raised in victory.

I looked up into the stands and saw my parents. I gave them a thumbs up and smiled. At least that's how I remember it. I walked slowly off of the mat and hugged my coach. I simply said, "Finally." I had finally qualified for the State Tournament. I relieved as much as I was happy.

My dad came down to the locker room and found me. He was happy of course. He didn't want to wait to congratulate me. It was a touching moment.

Another wrestler in the locker room, Randy Kittleson of Saint Ansgar High School, was warming up and listening to the theme from Rocky. He was getting psyched up for the finals. He would go on to become the 138 pound Class 1A State Champion.

But, I didn't need to get psyched up. I had won my title. I was going to the State Tournament. So, I could just relax and enjoy the music.

I was the only wrestler on our team to qualify for the State Tournament. The 98 pound wrestler was nice enough to practice with me during the few days leading up to the tournament. For everyone else on the team, their season was over. It was kind of strange practicing without the rest of the team.

Aaron and I practiced moves and wrestled. My coach had me do some sprints and running as well. I think we left on Thursday of that week. My coaches, the cheerleaders, and I all rode in a van together to DesMoines. The other wrestlers and a few other people were happy that they had a reason to travel to DesMoines. They were going to see me wrestle. Of course, a lot of them were going to party too.

I weighed in at Veteran's Auditorium and then we went to Perkins for breakfast. I saw a couple of guys from Plainfield High School eating there as well. One of the guys was Vince Miller. He became the 132 pound Class 1A State Champion that year. The other guy's name was Lyndon Van Raden. Cool name, huh? I would meet him at Wartburg College the following year.

After breakfast we went back to Vet's Auditorium. I wrestled some time that afternoon. I was a little nervous I suppose. Vet's was a big venue. My opponent was from Iowa City Regina.

We tied up for a while and I think he got the first takedown. I did a standing switch at some point I think and scored a two point reversal. I had trouble riding him. I had trouble taking him down. I lost the match something like 5-2. He didn't make it to the finals so I never got a chance to wrestle back. My season was over. Vance Light from Lisbon was the 112 pound 1A State Champion that year. The guy that beat me finished sixth or seventh I think. I just remember that he was on the awards podium. I felt kind of deflated when it was all over.

We had our annual wrestling banquet soon after the state tournament. I received the award for Most Valuable Wrestler that season.

I felt a sense of relief when the season was over. It seemed like I had made up for the some of the hard losses in the past. I would be remembered as a conference champion and a state qualifier. I had redeemed myself.