NCAA Rule Change Improves Weight Loss among National Championship Wrestlers : Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise

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APPLIED SCIENCES: Physical Fitness and Performance

NCAA Rule Change Improves Weight Loss among National Championship Wrestlers

Oppliger, Robert A.1; Utter, Alan C.2; Scott, James R.3; Dick, Randall W.4; Klossner, David4

Author Information
Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: May 2006 - Volume 38 - Issue 5 - p 963-970
doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000218143.69719.b4
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Abstract

Three collegiate wrestlers died during a 5-wk period in the fall of 1997 from complications caused by rapid weight loss (4). The weight loss regimens typify a tradition common among wrestlers preparing for competition. Along with the American Medical Association (3), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) first documented these behaviors in a position statement published in 1976 (2), which was revised in 1996 (16), and admonished about the health and performance consequences of these practices.

In response to these tragic events, the NCAA made two immediate changes that included adding 7 lb to each weight class and moving weigh-ins closer to competition. For the 1998-1999 season, these changes were adopted as rules and a weight management program was adopted that included determining a minimal competitive weight using preseason assessment of body composition and regulated weekly weight loss (11). Consistent with ACSM recommendations, these changes were instituted to curb weekly weight manipulations, focus training during the competitive season on skill acquisition and conditioning, and maintain competitive equity.

In an investigation among this cohort in 1991 and 1992 (19), it was demonstrated that significant rapid weight loss (RWL) of 3.7 ± 1.3 kg occurred between the day before competition at the national tournament and a mat-side weigh-in. The RWL was reduced to 2.7 ± 1.4 kg when the weigh-in for competition was moved to 2 h before the initial match, but there was significant rapid weight gain (RWG) by the end of the first day of the tournament (20). Recently, Ransone and Hughes (17) tracked RWL among a cohort (N = 78) of Division I wrestlers. They observed weight loss of 1.4 kg during the 24 h before a weigh-in and a rebound of approximately 1.1 kg following the match. Compared with previous studies, the RWL were significantly smaller and provided evidence to support the effectiveness of the new NCAA weight management rule that established a minimal competitive weight at the beginning of the season. Likewise, a survey completed in 1999 (15) found less extreme weight loss practices among a sample of wrestlers from all three NCAA divisions of competition (i.e., Division I, II, III).

The present investigation was initiated to assess the impact of the NCAA rule changes on the weight loss practices of college wrestlers competing at the divisional national tournaments. The purposes of this research investigation were twofold. First, in part 1, we compared body composition assessments and minimal weight (MW) determinations between the preseason (PRE) and postseason (POST). It was hypothesized that, although relative body fatness (% BF) and weight (WT) might change, MW would remain the same. If MW was significantly different, the difference could be attributed to three possible causes including the accuracy of the assessments, the extent of weight loss manipulations by athletes to effect their MW, and changes in the lean mass of the wrestlers during the course of the season (i.e., PRE to POST) that may have affected the optimal MW.

Second, in part 2, we compared RWL between the day before the competition and the weigh-in with the amount of RWG at the end of the first day of competition. Comparisons between RWL and RWG provide information on the wrestler's weight stability when arriving at the meet and served as an indicator of the wrestler's weight management.

METHODS

Subjects

Subjects included wrestlers competing at the divisional national tournaments, which represent the top 5-10% of the wrestlers in each division. The data were collect at the Division I (D1) tournaments in 1999, 2001, and 2003; the Division II (D2) tournaments in 2000 and 2004; and the Division III (D3) tournaments in 1999 and 2002. Participation was strictly voluntary and anonymous. Compliance rates were approximately 79% at D1, 68% at D2, and 80% at D3. The NCAA Committee on Competitive Safe Guards and Medical Aspects of Sports approved this research. Host institutions were advised of the planned research and provided consent when appropriate.

Data Collection

Part 1.

The POST body composition and WT were assessed on the day before competition using skinfold calipers and the prediction equation attributed to Lohman (9) as described in the NCAA's assessment manual (11). In contrast to the PRE measurements, we were not able to determine whether the subjects were hydrated at the time of the assessment. Body fatness and MW and were then computed. The PRE WT, MW, and % BF were retrieved retrospectively from records required for each wrestler and submitted to the NCAA national office at the beginning of the season.

Testers include the authors and athletic trainers from the competing teams. All the testers were experienced with the methods of skinfold testing, the subjects, and the methods used in the NCAA assessment manual. A brief orientation to the protocol was held before testing. Previous research has shown intratester and intertester reliabilities exceeding 0.90 among experienced testers using the sites included in this research (12).

Part 2.

The POST WT obtained in part 1 on the day before was compared with the weight at the weigh-in on the first day of competition to determine the RWL. At the end of the first day of the tournament, one of the authors positioned himself near the scales in the warm-up area. With permission from those wrestlers checking, the weights were recorded. These data were compared with the weight at weigh-in to compute the RWG.

Data analysis.

Data were aggregated by division and weight class. To facilitate data analysis, the weight classes were grouped into LIGHT (N = 315), which included the 125, 134, and 141 weight classes; MIDDLE (N = 290), which included the 149, 158, and 165 weight classes; and HEAVY (N = 206), which included weight classes 174-198. Heavyweight wrestlers were excluded from the analysis because they are seldom constrained by a weight limit. When appropriate, means were compared statistically using a general linear model with a Scheffé follow-up test and contingency tables using a χ2 analysis. SAS software was used to analyze the data (18).

RESULTS

Part 1.

A total of 811 wrestlers participated in the investigation, including 385 from D1, 195 from D2, and 231 from D3. The number of participants by weight class ranged from 114 at the 141-lb weight class to 51 at the 197-lb weight class. Figure 1 shows the PRE and POST WT, % BF, and MW for wrestlers in each of the three divisions. For all three divisions, a significant decrease was found in WT and % BF between the PRE and POST, but no differences between the PRE and POST MW. No significant differences were found in WT and MW between divisions, but % BF PRE was significantly different, with D2 wrestlers (13.8 ± 3.7%) greater than D3 (12.3 ± 3.2%), and both D2 and D3 wrestlers greater than D1 (11.6 ± 3.4%). At POST, the average wrestler had 9.5 ± 1.8% BF. Fewer than 5% of the wrestlers tested below 7% BF, and none tested below 5% BF at the POST.

F1-23
FIGURE 1:
Preseason and postseason weight (kg), percent body fat, and minimal weight (kg) for NCAA championship wrestlers in Division I, II, and III (means ± SD). * Significantly different from preseason (P < 0.01); + significantly different from Division I (P < 0.01); & significantly different from Division II (P < 0.01).

HEAVY wrestlers had greater % BF PRE (HEAVY 13.7 ± 3.7%, MIDDLE 12.4 ± 3.6%, LIGHT 11.4 ± 3.1%) and POST (HEAVY 10.4 ± 1.8%, MIDDLE 9.6 ± 1.7%, LIGHT 8.8 ± 1.4%) and showed a significantly greater decrease in % BF between PRE and POST. MIDDLE wrestlers had a greater % BF than LIGHT, but showed similar decreases in % BF during the season. For the three groups, MW PRE (LIGHT 58.9 ± 3.3 kg, MIDDLE 69.0 ± 3.1 kg, HEAVY 79.8 ± 4.0 kg) did not differ significantly from POST (LIGHT 59.1 ± 3.4 kg, MIDDLE 69.0 ± 3.1 kg, HEAVY 79.8 ± 4.4 kg).

To further evaluate PRE and POST results, we divided the wrestlers into four groups using an increment of approximately one half of a weight class (1.8 kg). The first group consisted of those whose MW PRE was lower than or equal to their POST MW. The second group included wrestlers whose PRE MW was 0-1.8 kg (4 lb) greater than the POST MW. The third group had a PRE MW 1.8-3.6 kg (8 lb) greater than POST, and the fourth group had a PRE to POST increase greater than 3.6 kg. (At the lower weight classes, 3.6 kg represents approximately one weight class.) Figure 2 shows the distribution of wrestlers in these groups for each of the three divisions. The distribution of wrestlers was not significantly difference between divisions. Wrestlers with the greatest disparity between PRE and POST MW were heavier and had greater % BF POST (11.8 ± 2.3%). Most (21 of 38) were competing in the three heavier weight classes, whereas only a few (5) were competing in the lower three weight classes.

F2-23
FIGURE 2:
Difference between pre- and postseason minimal weight by division.

Part 2.

A total of 600 wrestlers participated in the second part of the investigation. This included 300 D1 wrestlers, 108 D2 wrestlers, and 192 D3 wrestlers. Wrestlers eliminated after the first day of competition were obviously no longer concerned about their weight.

As shown in Figure 3, the average wrestler had a small but significant (P < 0.05) RWL of 1.2 ± 0.9 kg (mean ± SD) between the POST weighing approximately 20 h before the competitive weigh-in on the first morning of competition. Fewer than 5% were more than 2.3 kg (5 lb) above their weight limit approximately 20 h before the first morning weigh-in, and 28.8% were within 0.45 kg (1 lb) of their weight class at the POST. When compared by weight class, no significant differences were seen in RWL. Expressed relative (RWL%) to their weight class (Fig. 4), the average wrestlers showed a small but significant (P < 0.05) decrease in weight of 1.7 ± 1.2% between the POST and the weigh-in. About 88% were within 3% of the weight class cutoff, and only three wrestlers exceeded their weight class cutoff by 5% or more. When expressed in relative terms, lighter wrestlers lost a significantly greater percent of their weight than heavier wrestlers. Among the LIGHT weight classes, the average relative weight loss was 1.9 ± 1.3%, which was greater than MIDDLE (1.7 ± 1.1%) and significantly greater than the HEAVY (1.5 ± 1.1%). The difference in RWL% between MIDDLE and HEAVY was not significant. Significant differences were observed between divisions in RWL and RWL%. DI wrestlers lost 1.4 ± 0.8 kg, which was significantly greater than Division II wrestlers, who lost 1.2 ± 0.8 kg. Both D1 and D2 wrestlers weight loss was significantly greater than D3 wrestlers (0.9 ± 0.9 kg). Expressed relative to their weight class (RWL%), the differences were significant too with D1 losing 1.9 ± 1.3%, D2 1.6 ± 1.0%, and D3 1.3 ± 1.2%.

Similar to the RWL, among the wrestlers preparing for a second day of competition, most remained close to their weight class (Fig. 3). The average RWG at the end of the first day's competition was 0.9 ± 0.8 kg (P < 0.05). Significant differences in RWG were observed between D1 and D2 wrestlers whose RWG averaged 0.9 ± 0.9 kg (for both divisions) and D3 wrestlers who showed an average RWG of 0.6 ± 0.8 kg). Likewise, RWG% was significantly greater for D1 wrestlers (1.4 ± 1.2%), D2 wrestlers (1.4 ± 1.3%), and D3 wrestlers (0.9 ± 1.2%).

When the wrestlers were compared by their weight class (Fig. 4), RWG was similar among LIGHT (1.0 ± 0.8 kg), MIDDLE (0.8 ± 0.8 kg), and HEAVY (0.7 ± 0.8 kg) wrestlers. As a percent of their weight class (RWG%), all three group were significantly different LIGHT (1.7 ± 1.3%), MIDDLE (1.2 ± 1.1%), and HEAVY (0.8 ± 1.0%).

F3-23
FIGURE 3:
Rapid weight loss (RWL) and rapid weight gain (RWG) at NCAA national tournaments.
F4-23
FIGURE 4:
Relative rapid weight loss (RWL) and relative weight gain (RWG) as a percent of weight class at NCAA national tournaments.

DISCUSSION

The results of the present investigation show positive changes in weight management and contrast with the tradition of weight cutting among wrestlers. Part 1 of this investigation supports the hypothesis that wrestlers are being provided with good information for determining MW at the beginning of the season and that those who show greater disparities in MW PRE to POST are typically not competing at their MW. Part 2 of this investigation provides evidence to support the anecdotal observations that wrestlers at the national tournaments have their weight under control and exhibit fewer weight-cutting behaviors during the competition than were prevalent before initiating the new rules in 1998.

Part 1.

The primary purpose of the first part of this investigation was to examine the efficacy of new rules for determining MW. The reliability of the primary method for assessment, skinfolds, has been well established, both among the general population and specifically among wrestlers (10,12,13). The validity of the prediction equation used by the NCAA (9) has also been established among wrestlers (5). The present research confirmed the conclusions of these previous investigations. Overall, no difference was noted between PRE and POST estimates of MW for wrestlers in any of the three divisions. Among wrestlers who showed the greatest adverse disparity (N = 38) between PRE and POST MW, most (N = 21) were competing at the three heavier weight classes and above their MW. These wrestlers appeared to have selected weight classes that did not require reaching their MW (i.e., heavyweight wrestlers); they were not constrained by the weight class.

At the POST, LIGHT wrestlers competed at a lower % BF than MIDDLE and HEAVY, but it is important to note that, among this sample, few wrestlers (N = 38) measured below 7% BF, and the average % BF (9.5 ± 1.8%) was considerably higher than the minimal % BF of 5%. Other research completed in season has shown similarly results. Utter (24) tracked seasonal changes in body composition among a cohort of Division I wrestlers. Starters showed a peak seasonal decrease in % BF of 2.5%, similar to the present data, and an average of 10.6 ± 2.2%. Likewise, Davis et al. (6) found less acute weight loss among a sample of collegiate wrestlers. Previous research, primarily among high school wrestlers (21-23) has shown a significant numbers of wrestlers competing at a minimal % BF. The present results from the NCAA tournament, along with those of Utter (25) and Davis et al. (6), demonstrate that, in addition to being potentially unhealthy, competing at the minimal weight may not be necessary for success.

Several limitations to this portion of the investigation exist. Although participation was relatively high for each year we sampled, participation was strictly voluntary. Those who choose not to participate may have shown more extreme differences between PRE and POST and been at a lower % BF than we observed, although we doubt that this occurred. A systematic pattern of exclusion by the wrestlers exhibiting extreme weight management would have required coordinated behaviors between divisions and across the 5 yr that we collected data. It would have produced variability between the different groups sampled. As reported, our data showed great similarity across the years and divisions.

The present investigation is biased because it examined only the top 5-10% of collegiate wrestlers. Weight management behaviors of less successful wrestlers are not included, and therefore, conclusions about their weight control behaviors are tenuous. Other investigations (6,17,24) report similar behaviors among less successful competitors, so it is probable that our results can be extrapolated to these athletes.

The reliability of the data collection methods (i.e., skinfold measurements by different athletic trainers) and the validity of the equations are always an issue of concern. As we indicated, the athletic trainers making the assessments at the national tournament were familiar with the techniques and specifically the assessment of this population. We conducted a brief orientation at each tournament to assure that the testers were prepared. Previous research on the skinfold testing protocol with multiple testers (10,13) and on the validity of the prediction equation (5) supports our belief that these factors did not adversely influence the outcomes.

Part 2.

The purpose of the second part of this investigation was to evaluate the weight management behaviors of the wrestlers. The protocol replicated the methods used in two previous investigations completed at the national tournaments in 1991 and 1992 (19) and in 1998 (20). For the 1998 national tournaments, there was a rule change that moved the weigh-in from the day before competition to 2 h before the first match. For the 1998-1999 competitive season, in addition to the change in weigh-in time, the NCAA added the MW determination at the beginning of the season. The present data reflect the addition of the weight management program. The outcomes from the present research show significant improvements in weight control compared with the two previous investigations with this cohort.

Scott et al. (19) showed RWL of 3.7 ± 1.3 kg among a sample of 668 wrestlers competing at the 1991 and 1992 NCAA Division I, II, and III national tournaments. This represented a 4.9 ± 2.4% increase in weight during the 20 h between weigh-ins on the day before competition and the mat-side weight checks on the first day of competition. Weight changes were most pronounced among LIGHT, exceeding 6% of the weight.

In 1998, rule changes put the weigh-ins 2 h before the first day's competition, and RWL decreased about 1 kg to an average of 2.7 ± 1.4 kg (20). The relative weight loss averaged 3.9% and, as in the earlier investigation, was greatest among the LIGHT at 5.2%. The present results show a significantly lower RWL (1.2 ± 0.9 kg) and RWL% (1.7 ± 1.2%) compared with the two earlier investigations. This difference was apparent among wrestlers in all three divisions and among wrestlers in all the weight classes. The present outcomes are consistent with an investigation by Ransone and Hughes (17), who tracked 78 Division I wrestlers during the 2000 wrestling season and found similar results. They observed a decrease of 1.4 kg (~1.9%) in weight during the 24 h before a competitive weigh-in. For the present investigation and that of Ransone and Hughes, the weigh-ins were at the same time as in 1998, 2 h before the first day's competition, and the only difference was the addition of the weight management program initiated by the NCAA at the beginning of the 1998-1999 season.

The present investigation and that of Ransone and Hughes (17) show similar outcomes in postcompetition RWG. Similar to the present investigation, where RWG was recorded at the end of the first day's competition, Ransone and Hughes observed a 1.1-kg (1.5%) increase in weight during the 24 h after the competition. These data support the conclusion that the NCAA weight management program had significant positive influence on an athlete's weight control behavior.

The success of the NCAA weight management programs is consistent with the outcomes observed in state high school associations (8,14) that have used similar early season assessments and minimal weight limits. In general, among international style wrestlers and interscholastic wrestlers 15-18 yr of age, two recent investigations show contrasting results. Alderman et al. (1) measured RWL among a sample of 2638 wrestlers 15-18 yr of age competing at elite national tournaments in 1997-1998. They observed a RWL of 3.4 kg (RWL% 4.8%). Place winners lost a significantly greater amount of weight (3.8 kg) than those who did not place (3.1 kg). Likewise, Oppliger et al. (15) completed a retrospective survey of collegiate wrestlers in the fall of 1999. Because freshmen were competing in high school the previous season, they reported on their experiences as high school seniors. The freshmen, who had few weight management rules in high school, were more extreme in their weight-cutting behaviors than upperclassmen who had competed for the first time using the new NCAA weight management rule. They showed freshmen cut weight more frequently (17 ± 10 vs 11.2 ± 12 times for upperclassmen) and lost a greater amount of weight with each episode (2.7 ± 2.2 vs 1.9 ± 2.3 kg for upperclassmen).

A benefit of the small RWG may be that competitive equity in each weight class is enhanced. Traditional belief has been that by cutting weight, wrestlers gain a competitive advantage. Research has been published that both supports and refutes this premise (1,7,25). More than 95% of the competitors in the present investigation showed a RWG of 2.3 kg (5 lb) or less at the end of the first day's competition, and less than 1% had a RWG greater than 3.5 kg. This compares with an average weight gain of 3.5 kg among the wrestlers tested by Horswill et al. (7). The present results are consistent with the investigation of Horswill et al. (7), who found no difference between first round winners and losers at the 1991 and 1992 NCAA tournaments. Furthermore, the present results show considerably lower RWG than in the 15- to 18-yr-old wrestlers in the Aldeman et al. investigation (1). The results are comparable with those of Wroble and Moxley (25), who assessed RWG among competitors at a high school tournament. Among high school wrestlers who won, RWG was 1.5 ± 1.1 kg versus a RWG of 1.1 ± 1.0 kg among the wrestlers who lost. Both groups exhibited greater RWG than the present cohort of collegiate wrestlers.

As with part 1 of this investigation, wrestlers who did not allow us to record their weight at the end of the first day's competition may have biased the outcomes. It was our experience that very few (< 10%) wrestlers who step on the scale asked that we not record their weight. The relatively high participation indicates that this probably was not an influence on our data. Anecdotally, we, along with veteran coaches and officials, observed that very few wrestlers were working to lose weight in the warm-up area at the end of the first day. Before 1999, the warm-up area was frequently very full after the session ended as wrestlers tried to lose weight before the next morning's weigh-in. It is also possible that wrestlers cut weight before arriving at the competition and, therefore, did not have to lose much weight at the competition site. As mention, this would contrast with the anecdotal observation of coaches and officials who attended previous tournaments.

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The results of the present investigation support the conclusion that the ACSM-recommended weight management program implemented by the NCAA is effective in reducing unhealthy weight-cutting behaviors among collegiate wrestlers and promoting competitive equity. The outcomes were consistent across collegiate divisions. Clinically small but significant differences were observed between wrestlers in lighter weight classes compared with heavier weight classes.

The present data showed good agreement between MW recommendations made at the beginning of the season and at the end of the season. Most of the wrestlers showed little difference in the PRE MW to POST MW. Among those with the greatest PRE MW to POST MW difference, most were competing well above their MW and may not have been constrained by the weight class. It is worth noting that the average wrestlers at the tournament were competing at 9.5% BF, well above the minimal 5% BF. Because they are the most successful wrestlers in each division, it suggests that these athletes focused their training time on conditioning and skill acquisition and not on cutting weight.

During the championship tournaments at all three divisions, weight cutting was decreased dramatically compared with previous investigations using the same research design. Weight loss from the day before competition to weigh-in was small compared with similar measurements before the rule changes. The difference between the present investigation and a study completed in 1998 is the inclusion of a weight management program that provided MW for athletes at the beginning of the season.

The success of the NCAA weight management programs could be enhanced if more state associations adopted similar weight management programs and if young wrestlers competing in international-style tournaments were encouraged to use healthy weight management. We believe a consistent philosophy of weight management among governing bodies would promote healthy and safe weight management and competitive equity. Further surveillance to monitor weight management practices at all levels of competition would serve to enhance the improvements observed among NCAA wrestlers.

The authors wish to recognize the significant contribution of the athletic trainers and tournament organizers in helping to collect this data. We appreciate the willingness of coaches and wrestlers who participated in this investigation during a critical event in their competitive careers. The NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports funded this research.

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Keywords:

WRESTLING; BODY COMPOSITION; WEIGHT MANAGEMENT; NATIONAL COLLEGIATE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION

©2006The American College of Sports Medicine