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Prep wrestling: The Art of Managing Weight

Ellsworth junior Sam Stuhl wrestles in the Baldwin-Woodville dual on Thursday, Jan. 5. (Photo courtesy of Jon Claesson)

Sam Stuhl had to be bribed with ice cream to take part in an interview.

That was before he even knew the interview would be about perhaps the least glamorous part of wrestling: managing weight.

The Ellsworth junior and two-time state champion said maintaining an appropriate weight is everything to do with discipline and sacrifice.

“This effort and discipline is the stuff that’s going to win me a state title,” Stuhl said. “So, this is what I need to do. I can’t crack. I can do other stuff afterwards, but right now this is a time to stay disciplined.”

Spring Valley/Elmwood senior Seth Schlegel, who is the second-ranked 138-pounder in Division 3, said Christmas had its own particular challenges.

“Pretty much all of the candy (had to be set aside),” Schlegel said. “I can’t just sit down and eat it all at once like a lot of people do.”
There is a lot of advanced planning that goes into wrestling a certain weight.

Seth Schlegel has wrestled in three different weight classes this season for Spring Valley/Elmwood. (File photo)Schlegel usually wrestles at 138, but he wrestled in the 145-pound class in a dual before Christmas and then at 132 pounds in the Northern Badger Invitational.

“I knew at the beginning of the year that I was probably going to go down for the Northern Badger. I knew and then you need to know when to start — how much you’ll need to lose each day.”

The advanced planning ensures that athletes aren’t in danger. It just depends upon the way the team wants to shuffle up their wrestlers to maximize their win probability.

“Good teams will move their wrestlers around during duals,” SVE head coach Carter Turner said. “They might weigh in at 145 and wrestle at 152. This doesn't seem to bother the wrestlers too much.

“It could put them at a disadvantage with the good wrestlers, but most of the time it makes little difference.”

Prescott head coach Jordan Poirier said that most wrestlers, within reason, can win by using good technique when wrestling a heavier opponent.

“I am not necessarily a big fan of weight cutting and believe that superior technique trumps the size difference — most of the time,” Poirier said.

Additionally, Ellsworth head coach Mark Matzek said a wrestler that has to cut weight dramatically because they didn’t manage their weight effectively won’t be as competitive.

“If a kid drops weight too fast, they can get beat by a kid that isn’t even at their level,” Matzek said. “After that first period, someone is battling with you, your body starts to shut down, you start getting tired faster. That’s why we can’t cut weight and you have to be managing your weight.”

Good nutrition

All three of the Pierce County wrestling coaches emphasized that good nutrition is vital to maintaining the appropriate, most competitive weight for each athlete.

“Our society's eating habits certainly don't help the wrestlers' diet over the holidays, (but) many wrestlers watch closely what they eat,” Turner said. “I talk to the wrestlers often about nutrition and their eating habits. Most of the top level wrestlers have a good handle on nutrition.”

It’s common for wrestlers to own digital scales to track how much their food weighs before eating a meal or snack.

“I have a food scale that my uncle gave me last Christmas,” Stuhl said. “I’ve been able to weigh my foods and liquids.”

Matzek spoke from personal experience when he said the difficult things like managing weight lead to championships. (File photo)“If you talk to a kid that has wrestled for a while, they know how much a granola bar weighs in tenths,” Matzek said. “They know how much apples, bananas, oranges weigh. All of it.
“It’s actually comical.”

Nutrition is important in any sport, and once weigh-ins are completed it’s similar.

“Day of a meet, usually I’m just eating some sandwiches, a gatorade, apple and other fruit,” Schlegel said. “Once we’re weighed in it basically just matters how big the tournament.”

But if you don’t take care of your nutrition there can be dire consequences.

“If you don’t, it doesn’t matter how strong you are, how much technique you know, if you do not manage your weight (you’ll get beat),” Matzek said.

Typical losses

Wrestling practices are similar to any strenuous workout; you lose weight immediately when you begin sweating.

Weight is lost after any high school practice, but in wrestling, kids step on a scale afterwards to check out where they’re at throughout the week.

“Another aspect of wrestling that most people don't understand is how hard a wrestler works in practice and the calories they burn in a practice,” Turner said. “It is not uncommon for a wrestler to lose three to four pounds in a practice.”

Wrestlers have a routine throughout the week to keep track of their weights.

On Monday they see where they’re at with an eye on where they need to be by their dual on Thursday. There’s a realistic range they need to be within to be in the best shape possible.

“You need to be within 5 pounds of that weight to let your body readjust to your battle weight,” Matzek said. “Then you’ll be at the correct weight every day when you leave practice and then you put the same amount in your body every day and your body adjusts.”

“When the wrestlers come to practice I want them to be focused on their technique instead of how much weight they need to lose,” Poirier said. “The crash dieting is not healthy and I urge my wrestlers to stay disciplined.”

As wrestlers get older it gets easier to track and maintain their weight.

“Cutting weight this year has been a lot easier for me than the last two years,” Stuhl said. “The last two years I would come in on a Monday over by a lot.”

Maturity and water have been major factors in Stuhl’s improved management of his weight.

“At the beginning of the year I would carry around a gallon of water so I would drink a gallon a day,” Stuhl said. “That came off of me pretty easily, so that was nice. So I’ve been feeling a lot better.”

Which is good because Schlegel said the challenges of maintaining a weight can leave a wrestler feeling ill.

“It’s the worst part about wrestling,” Schlegel said. “But it really isn’t that bad if you do it right.”

Understanding the struggles and difficulty of maintaining a weight is as much a right of passage as invading State Street Brats or Wando’s for lunch at the beginning of March for the wrestling community.

“That’s why the wrestling community is such a tight-knit community,” Matzek said. “There’s a mutual respect because there is a ‘hey, you did it, so you get it.’”