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The Unexpected Dangers of Wrestling

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        While wrestling may seem like a sport that revolves around only physical strength and endurance, it also calls for extreme body weight manipulation. This requires that wrestlers restrict their food and fluid intake, over-exercise, purge, and binge. After an incident in 1997 when three college students died from their severe weight loss regimes, attention has not left the diet and exercise practices of the sport. Ever since this attention began to focus on wrestling,  questions have arose concerning the sport’s hidden dieting stigma and whether or not they will have detrimental effects on the players.

        In standard high school wrestling there are fourteen weight classes that range from 106 lbs to 285 lbs. At the beginning of the wrestling season, the weight class of each wrestler is determined using their current weight and body fat. For many of these athletes, their chosen weight class is surprisingly less than their current body mass. In order to “make the weight,” wrestlers must lose a specified number of pounds using exercise and food/fluid restriction. After the weight is lost and the wrestler makes weight, they must rapidly increase their fluid intake before the match, in order to gain back the weight that they lost and to increase their strength. This detrimental cycle is repeated every week leading up to a match for most of the participants.

        Other components used in addition to dieting include exercise and heat. These two components go hand in hand, and are usually executed together. Many wrestlers will exercise in sweatshirts or other heavy clothes for extended amounts of time. Doing this increases their body temperature and results in the loss of extra water weight (through sweat). Others will take hot baths or sit in saunas for the same result. To some, this plan may seem like the perfect quick fix to all weight problems. However, these means of weight loss can have severely damaging effects on the body and mind.

        Physically, weight loss methods like the one above, dehydrate your body to an unspeakable extent. To some, this may seem like no big deal, however, in the longrun, it has the potential to kill. Dehydration is very common among wrestlers of all ages. In fact, most athletes will experience this many, many times throughout their career. Dehydration is essentially the lack of water within your body. This fluid deficiency affects your entire body in very damaging ways. Because the human body is made up of 60% water, every function inside of you requires fluids, if no fluids are available, the body cannot do what it needs to in order to keep you alive. For example, when the kidneys are deprived of water, they cannot flush your body’s toxins, this creates a toxic build up which over time that will destroy your kidneys (A similar process happens within the digestive system). Additional symptoms of dehydration include heat shock, fainting, high blood pressure, fatigue, high cholesterol, and even death. If dehydration is prolonged, these symptoms will increase in severity and have a higher potential of permanent damage such as heart or kidney failure.

        While the physical effects of extreme weight loss may be serious, the mental effect have debatably worse consequences. The strict diet and exercise methods used by many wrestlers encourage unhealthy eating habits as well as extreme workout routines that seem to be carried on throughout the athlete’s entire lives. The measures taken to “make the weight” increase the risk of eating disorders and hormone imbalances, these stay with wrestlers for the rest of their lives. Recent studies have shown that out of all the men who have been diagnosed with eating disorders, three-quarters of them are wrestlers.

        Despite the distressing information shared above, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (or the NCAA) has made some changes to that way that weight-cutting is enforced, in an attempt to make the sport safer for all participants. Certain cutting techniques such as training in hot rooms, purging, and extreme fluid/food restrictions have been banned. In addition to these constraints, the NCAA now expects hydrations tests, and body fat checkups from every wrestler. While these are massive steps in the right direction, harmful weight cutting techniques are still being used on most high school and some college teams. If steps are being taken to protect and ensure the safety of adult wrestlers, why are none being taken to protect the kids?

Sources:

http://www.livestrong.com/article/538919-long-term-effects-of-cutting-weight-in-wrestling/

http://www.bloodyelbow.com/2010/2/15/1311633/the-negative-health-effects-of

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The Unexpected Dangers of Wrestling