The Training of a Wrestler, Part I: Making Weight

Today’s guest post comes from assistant strength and conditioning coach for the University of Minnesota, Andy Zalaiskalns. Andy’s series addresses the physical preparation of a wrestler, starting with the basics of weight management.- DR

The Training of a Wrestler: Part 1, Making Weight

Andy Zalaiskalns

Coach Andy wrestling for the University of Findlay Roughnecks

I’ve been involved in the sport of wrestling for nearly two decades, as both a competitor and as coach. For most people, the thought of wrestling conjures up images of kids running around in plastic garbage bags, spitting an almost powdery form of saliva into cups, and eating nothing but orange slices while sucking on ice cubes for months on end in order to make weight. I was no different. Many of these long held rites of passage certainly test a competitor’s grit, but combined with the mentality of most wrestlers and coaches that believe you must train like a madman to be successful in one of the most grueling competitions known to man, more than a few inefficient training methods have been developed and have become commonplace in the wrestling community. Don’t get me wrong- I love wrestling with all of the mental toughness and attitudes associated with the sport (for better or worse). I’ve done every one of the methods I am going to put into the spotlight and at times have even prescribed them for my athletes, which is why I believe it’s important for me to share the lessons I’ve learned with you.

The most controversial topic involved with this sport is cutting weight. Three wrestlers died in 1998 due to practices used in order to make weight and the NCAA quickly developed new regulations regarding safe weight management for the sport. These were extreme cases and a close look at the research shows that in contrast to most public opinions, severe health problems are typically not a concern for most wrestlers that do choose to reduce their bodyweight for competition. However, the performance implications of calorie restriction may be of concern. Reported effects of calorie restriction in youth wrestlers are lowered levels of testosterone, a reduced performance on ergometric testing, decreased levels of serum protein, lowered glycogen stores, and a decreased cardiac output.1,5 Studies examining mice with inadequate nutrition have also found that reducing calories in puberty-age mice can have an adverse effect on adult height.6

The possible performance outcomes of reducing calories in wrestlers are alarming, but in contrast to the aforementioned research, other studies have shown that actual competitive performance does not decrease with short-term calorie reduction. 9 A study that examined wrestlers in-season and after season showed wrestlers that reduced calories in order to make weight did experience lower levels of free testosterone (Free-T) and insulin growth factor (IGF), but that their growth hormone (GH) levels actually increased during the reduced caloric period. Additionally, all levels returned to normal ranges after the completion of the season (reduction in training load) and increases in caloric intake.7

That’s conflicting research with very different training implications. I am personally not against cutting weight, but I believe there is a time and

place for it- and that time and place is not youth wrestling (save this for college). Puberty is one of the most potent periods of naturally occurring anabolic hormonal cascades. The high output of GH and IGF, most prevalent during the finite years of puberty, are sending intense anabolic growth signals throughout the body. 4 Weight cutting practices diminish these signals and as stated previously, can possibly reduce final adult height. However, since these signals appear to self-regulate back to normal ranges after cessation of the season, moderate weight reduction may be favorable for a 16 year-old wrestler weighing 180lbs that wants to compete in the 171lb weight class instead of 189lbs, but cutting all the way to 152 lbs is fighting nature and reducing the ability to take advantage of the natural hormonal cascade accompanied with puberty. Additionally, the most important developmental component for youth competitors in any sport is mastery of skill, which should take priority over fighting a battle with the scale.8


1.Garner D.M., et al: The eating attitudes test: Psychometric features and clinical correlates. Psychological Medicine (1982) 12(4), 871.

2. Issurin and Lustig. The duration and physiological background of the residual training effects for different motor abilities after cessation of training (2004).

3. Karnincic, H., et al. Lactate profile during Greco-Roman wrestling match. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2009) 8(3), 17-19 .

4. Mauras N., Rogol A.D., Haymond M.W., Veldhuis J.D. Sex Steroids, Growth Hormone, Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1: Neuroendocrine and Metabolic Regulation in Puberty. Horm Res (1996) 45, 74-80.

5. Oppliger R.A., Landry G.L., Foster S.A., et al: Bulemic behaviors among interscholastic wrestlers: A statewide survey. Pediatrics (1993) 91, 826.

6. Perriello, V.A. (2001). Aiming for healthy weight in wrestlers and other athletes. Contemporary Pediatrics, 18(9), 55-74.

7. Roemmich, J.N., and Sinning, W.E. Weight loss and wrestling training: effects on growth-related hormones. Journal of Applied Physiology (1997) 82, 1760-1764.

8. Verkhoshansky, Y. & Verkhoshansky, N. (2011). Special Strength Training Manual for Coaches. Rome, Italy: Verkhoshansky SSTM.

9. Zachwieja, J.J., et al. Short-term dietary energy restriction reduces lean body mass but not performance in physically active men and women. International Journal of Sports Med (2001) 22, 310-316.


About the Author

Coach Andy Zalaiskalns

Andy Zalaiskalns is currently an assistant strength and conditioning coach at the University of Minnesota, a position he took in April 2011. Prior to that, he served in the same position at the University of Northern Colorado from September 2009-May 2011. Andy is a graduate of the University of Findlay, earning a bachelor’s degree in strength and conditioning where he wrestled for the Roughnecks from 2004-2009. After completing his undergraduate work in the spring of 2008, Andy began his master’s degree in Education while working as a graduate assistant strength coach for Findlay and wrestling his last year of eligibility. During his wrestling career, he was a two-year Team Captain, three-time Coca-Cola Scholar Athlete Award Winner, and earned three NCAA Division II Academic All-American awards. He finished his senior season with 32 wins, beating three Top-25 ranked NCAA Div. I wresters and the two-time defending NAIA National Champion; leading the nation for the most wins in the Div. II 197lb. weight class and placing him 12th all-time for wins-in-a-season at The University of Findlay.

Andy is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the NSCA. He is currently completing his master’s degree in Education to graduate in December 2011. So far, he has trained 64 All-Conference Athletes (Big 10, Big Sky, GLIAC, Great West, Pacific Coast, WWC), 9 NCAA National Qualifiers in Wrestling (Div. I & Div. II), 11 NCAA All-Americans (Div. I & Div. II), 1 Great West Conference Rookie of the Year, 1 Big Sky Conference Soccer Offensive MVP, 2 Conference Pitchers of the Year (Great West and Pacific Coast), 1 Individual Big 10 Champion in the Hammer Throw, 1 GLIAC Conference Men’s Basketball Championship Team, the 2009 NCAA Div. II Men’s Basketball Player of the Year, and The 2009 NCAA Div. II Men’s National Basketball Championship Team. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife Joy and their dog Beenie.

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