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Certifying Wrestlers' Minimum Weight: A New Requirement

William O. Roberts, MD
Department Editor


High school and college wrestlers often attempt to "cut weight" before a tournament in an effort to wrestle in the lightest possible weight class and thereby gain an edge on opponents. Some wrestlers use unhealthy weight-loss practices, and last fall three college wrestlers died after extreme weight cutting.

To prevent such tragedies, the National Collegiate Athletic Association has begun requiring that a minimum safe weight be set for each wrestler at the start of the season. In addition, several states require or recommend a minimum weight certification for high school.

The purpose of the certification exam is to determine the lowest weight a wrestler can achieve and still have a theoretically safe level of body fat. The task of determining this minimum weight will fall to team physicians and athletic trainers. Such determinations are done by measuring body fat percentage and weight and using several equations. The task is not especially complex, but it does require some background knowledge and the ability to measure body fat consistently and accurately.

What Level Is Safe?

The theoretical minimum body fat is 5%, but this figure has not been scientifically proved. A minimum of 7% body fat (with a 3% standard error allowance) is generally considered safe for high school wrestlers (1,2), but a maturation-based system may suggest a slightly different minimum in some cases. A body fat range of 5% to 7% may be safe for adolescent boys who are sexually mature (Tanner stage 5). Boys in Tanner stages 2 to 4 may be safer in the 7% to 8% range, while prepubescent boys may require a minimum range of 8% to 10%.

For female wrestlers, a minimum body fat of 12% to 15% may be reasonable, but the most important consideration is continued normal menstrual function during the season. For all wrestlers, it should be noted that the minimum safe body fat content may not be the optimum value for health or performance.

Because skinfold measurement is imprecise, a standard error allowance should be made in the final minimum weight calculation. The Minnesota State High School League, following a procedure developed for Wisconsin high school wrestlers (3), recommends an error allowance of 3% for high school wrestlers. The weight certification form used in Minnesota high schools is seasonally available via the Internet at

The protocol described here will allow a safe minimum weight determination with body fat equations that have been established in a multicenter study for male adolescent wrestlers (2).

How to Do It

In weight certification, weight and skinfold thickness values are used to determine body density and fat-free mass (2). These values are then used, along with the theoretical minimum safe body fat percentage, to calculate the minimum safe weight. The calculations are detailed and used in an example in "Determining a Wrestler's Minimum Safe Weight: Procedure and Example," page 80. A worksheet to use when doing the procedure with a calculator may be found below.

Skinfolds are measured with high-precision calipers (eg, Lange, Hergenden, or Fat-O-Meter) three times at each of three sites, all on the right side of the body: the midtriceps, infrascapular, and periumbilical sites (figures 1 and 2). The results for each individual site are averaged, and the three averages are then summed.

[Figure 1]

Skinfold thickness is measured by lightly pinching the skin and subcutaneous fat layers to separate them from the underlying muscle tissue (figure 2). Pinching the fat fold too firmly will change the result, so the initial grasp of the skin and subcutaneous tissue is critical to an accurate measure. The spring-loaded pressure calipers are applied until the needle on the dial comes to a stop.

[Figure 2]

Although measuring skinfold thickness is relatively simple, it takes practice to do it reliably. The best approach is to practice under the guidance of a qualified instructor. A detailed description of skinfold measurement can be found in the text Applied Body Composition Assessment (4) or the related video and software packages.

Using the Result

The minimum weight will, of course, determine the athlete's lowest safe weight class. For minors, the weight class should be approved by a parent, who should have the option to agree or to move the athlete to a heavier (but not lighter) class.

If a coach feels for some reason that the athlete should be certified at a heavier weight, it may be appropriate to follow the coach's wishes. On the other hand, a wrestler who is naturally thin and measures below 5% or 7% body fat should be certified at the current weight and not required to increase his body fat to 5% or 7%.

The certification process is not without pitfalls. Wrestlers often approach the certification exam like a wrestling match and cut weight for it. The most common abuse is to present for the exam in a dehydrated state with the intent of gaining a lower minimum weight. At least one state is requiring a urine specific gravity to try to ensure full hydration. A urine osmolality may be a more accurate assessment of hydration status; a simple method is under investigation.

Toward Healthy Competition

Minimum weight certification in wrestling will promote a healthy approach to weight loss and maintenance as well as fair competition. Physicians and athletic trainers will play a major role in implementing and improving this process. You can help by learning how to do the examination in cooperation with a wrestling coach and encouraging local high school and college teams to implement the body fat determination as a part of the minimum weight certification exam.


  1. Tipton CM: Making and maintaining weight for interscholastic wrestling. Gatorade Sports Sci Exchange 1990;2(22):1-4
  2. Thorland WG, Tipton CM, Lohman TG, et al: Midwest wrestling study: prediction of minimal weight for high school wrestling. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1991;23(9):1102-1110
  3. Harms RL: Wisconsin wrestling minimum weight project. Wisc Med J 1992;91(4):173-175
  4. Heyward VH, Stolarczyk LM: Applied Body Composition Assessment. Champaign, IL, Human Kinetics, 1996

Determining a Wrestler's Minimum Safe Weight: Procedure and Example
Example: A High School Wrestler
Procedure and Equations Weighing 147 lb
1. Skinfold measurements and weight
Summing of three skinfold measurements (average of 3 tests at each site)
+ Midtriceps + 6 mm
+ Infrascapular + 8 mm
+ Periumbilical + 8 mm
= Sum of skinfolds (SSF) = 22 mm
Athlete's current weight (ACW) 147 lb
2. Calculation of athlete's body density (BD)
For maximum accuracy, figures are not rounded off until the final result.
BD = 1.0982 - [(SSF x 8.15 x 10(-4)) + (SSF(2) x 8.4 x 10(-7))] BD = 1.0982 - [(22 x 8.15 x 10(-4)) + (22(2) x 8.4 x 10(-7))]
BD = 1.07986344
3. Calculation of athlete's percent body fat (%BF)
%BF = [(4.57/BD) - 4.142] x 100 %BF = [(4.57/1.07986344) - 4.142] x 100
%BF = 9.0%
4. Calculation of athlete's minimum (percent) body fat weight (AMBFW)
This calculation uses the athlete's %BF and current weight (ACW) and the desired minimum body fat for the relevant population. In this example, the desired minimum used is 7%.
AMBFW = (1 - %BF) x ACW AMBFW = (1 - 0.09) x 147
AMBFW = 1 - desired minimum %BF AMBFW = 1 - 0.07
AMBFW = athlete's fat-free mass = 133.77
AMBFW = desired % fat-free mass = 0.93
= 143.8 lb
5. Use of a standard error allowance of 3% to calculate the final minmum wrestling weight (MWW)
MWW = AMBFW x (1 - 0.03) MWW = 143.8 x (1 - 0.03)
MWW = AMBFW x 0.97 MWW = 139.5 lb
Minimum wrestling weight for the season is 140 lb (140-lb weight class).

Calculator Helper Worksheet for Determining Minimum Weight for Wrestlers (Minimum 7 % Body Fat With 3% Standard Error Allowance)

These calculations require the athlete's current weight and the sum of three skin folds (SSF, millimeters)—the infrascapular, midtriceps, and periumbilical.

SSF2 (____2) x 8.4 x 10-7 = _______
Plus +
SSF (_______) x 8.15 x 10-4 = _______
Sum 1 = (_______)
+/- key sum 1 - _______
Plus + 1.0982
Equals body density (BD) = (_______)
Invert BD [key 1/x] _______
Times x 4.57
Equals = (_______)
Minus - 4.142
Equals BF/100 (ie, % body fat/100) = (_______)
+/- key BF/100 - _______
Plus 1 + 1
Times weight x [_______]
Equals athlete's fat-free weight = _______
Divide by desired % fat-free mass 0.93
Equals athlete's minimum weight at 7% body fat = _______
Times correction for standard error x 0.97
Equals minimum wrestling weight = _______

Dr Roberts is a family physician at MinnHealth SportsCare in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, and medical director of the Twin Cities Marathon. He is a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, a charter member of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, and an editorial board member of The Physician and Sportsmedicine.



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