QUESTION : How do I calculate my best weight class?
ANSWER by Dr Joseph Estwanik: Plan ahead! Many abuses to the body and the psyche result from self-imposed pressures to rapidly meet inappropriate weight loss goals or the performance of unhealthy maneuvers in order to “make weight.” We have all experienced, or have witnessed, some of the sadistic schemes to “make weight.” Boxers, wrestlers, grapplers, weightlifters, and martial artists all must satisfy weight divisions to compete. These divisions were ideally created most specifically to achieve the three goals of fairness in sport, safety, and competitive divisions.
Good coaches have shared hints on success at weigh-ins. They do not allow an athlete to go to sleep the night before weigh-ins until he is “on weight.” This usually means weighing the exact amount for that weight-class requirement. A coach did mention, however, that because most athletes “sleep off” weight overnight before, being 1-2 pounds overweight the night before is O.K. As we breathe at night, the normal process of air exchange within our lungs naturally evaporates about one pound of water weight. Some athletes actually lose two pounds of water at night while normally sleeping.
Some young athletes suffer long-term harm from coaches and parents who require a growing youth to remain at a weight class for season after season despite a body yearning to grow, develop, and strengthen. Over breakfast, one tournament morning, experienced coaches shared examples of stunted athletes who in their opinions, were criminally abused by overbearing parents or coaches, obsessed with their child’s weight. When one youthful, emaciated boxer left his coaching family, he gained a healthy 30 pounds almost overnight. This stunted teen had been forced by parental abuse to remain at the same required weight for nearly three years.
A former American Olympic boxing super heavyweight who has recently fought Klischko for the World Championship, shared with me his motivation for gaining 30 pounds of lean muscle as he switched from the 201-pound category into super heavyweight. He personally confirmed to me that at his amateur weight of 201 pounds he dieted so strictly that he “ran out of fuel” in the later rounds. All those watching could notice his “edge” slipping. At his new and proper weight, his performance remained consistent and stellar leading to a top 5 in the world pro ranking. Most athletes qualifying for elite levels of competition have chosen or settled into an appropriate performance weight, but many do not and could better excel at a different weight class.
Measurement of body fat percentage serves as a scientific safety guideline for calibrating appropriate weight decisions. A minimum of seven percent body fat is generally considered a safe high-school level. Junior-high adolescent boys are safer for growth in the 8-10 percent body fat range. Mature males can attain a body fat of 5-7 percent. The minimum of 12-15 percent body fat for girls is reasonable if normal menstrual functions continue. Those women boxers in starvation will cease having regular menstrual periods and be exposed to the other components of the female athletic triad. The three components of the athletic triad are osteoporosis (thinning of the bones), amenorrhea (loss of menstrual periods), and eating disorders (anorexia nervosa or bulimia). This group finds their way into the orthopedic surgeon’s office when a stress fracture results from this triad of related illnesses.
Rapid weight loss is always just a temporary loss of water (dehydration). It is well known that performance is guaranteed to suffer if more than five percent of body weight is rapidly lost to dehydration. Haven’t we condemned anabolic steroid use because it is unsafe and artificially increases size? Unreasonable weight loss should be condemned because it is unsafe and artificially decreases size. Weight classes were established for safety and fairness in sport. Confirm your optimal and ideal body weight by obtaining a percent body fat calculation as a basis for your decisions.
JOSEPH J. ESTWANIK, M.D.
SPORTS SCIENCE CENTRE
BUSINESS: Metrolina Orthopaedic and SportsMedicine-Charlotte
LICENSURE AND North Carolina and Ohio National Boards-FLEX, June 1973
Certified American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery, Sept 1979