|Boxer Olivia Gerula at her weigh-in last year (left).|
Most women think of their weight as a deep, dark secret. Few would be happy about weighing themselves in front of another person, but how about in a room full of people, including media with television cameras, wearing nothing but a bikini?
This is what all professional female fighters go through, and if you plan to fight at all, expect your weight to become common knowledge. When you're training, you'll be obsessing about that little (or not so little) number for weeks or even months.
While it might be tempting to just fight at whatever weight you're at, there's a real advantage to cutting weight. Say, for example, that you're a shorter guy with a stocky, muscular build. You stand 5'6" tall, but you weigh about 185 pounds. In a sport where many men are lean and lanky, your typical opponent will be at least six inches tall, if not taller. Which puts you at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to reach. In this case, dropping twenty or thirty pounds will most likely bring your opponents down to size. The general rule of thumb in fighting (unless you're a heavyweight) is 'the lighter, the better'.
Unfortunately, the weigh-in game has become just that: a game. Fighters will drastically dehydrate and even starve themselves before a weigh-in to make weight--then they binge and drink vast quantities of water in order to regain as much weight as they can before their actual fight a day later. The more muscular you are, the more you're able to play this game successfully, as muscle stores more water. Dehydration can make an athlete weigh-in deceptively light, but drinking plenty of water will bulk him back up again. For example, in the recent MMA match between Chris Stranger and Lindsey Hawkes, both fighters needed to weigh in at 170 pounds. Both were determined to make it to 184-186 pounds before their fight the next evening.
What does this rapid weight gain and loss do to athletic performance? If you're weighed down by heavy meals and excessive hydration right before your fight, doesn't this slow you down, make you sluggish? And what does it do to our health? Studies have shown that losing and regaining as little as ten pounds can be very dangerous to our livers, our hearts, and our metabolisms...and that's just for a start. Consider that most people who lose weight for fitness-related activities (including fitness competitions, boxing, and kickboxing) binge on junk food during the days following their competition, and the risk factors increase. I'm all for eliminating crap from our diets, but if we're going to just overload on it later, what's the point?
There are other dangers as well. We already know that the incidence of eating disorders is very high among women and girls who compete in figure skating, gymnastics, and dance--other activities where weight is seen as important. Females haven't been competing in the fighting arts long enough for there to be any conclusive statistics, but it stands to reason that eating disorders would plague women in these sports as well. And men, while not as frequently effected, should still be concerned. When I trained amid world champions, I certainly knew several men who suffered from severely disordered eating. I remember one guy telling me that he'd eaten chicken teriyaki for lunch, and so would not be eating a thing for the rest of the day. Yikes!
Losing weight by following a healthy diet and training hard is one thing. Losing it through a very unhealthy game of starve and binge is another. We've yet to see what the long-term effects of this will be on the young athletes of today, but I honestly can't imagine them being worth the risks.
Have you ever dropped weight for a competition, or know someone who has? Please share your experience!
** I should add, since I used Olivia's weigh-in photo to illustrate this post, that she does not employ the unhealthy methods of losing/gaining weight as described above. Several weeks before a fight, she eliminates sugary and fatty foods from her diet and steps up her training.