Starting some sports at an early age can stunt your growth. But is wrestling one of those sports?
Does wrestling stunt your growth? Wrestling as a sport doesn’t stunt your growth. It actually can improve your development, make you stronger, improve your cardio, speed, and reflexes. But the severe weight cutting some high school wrestlers do before competing can definitely decrease their growth.
Nutrition is one of the most important factors when it comes to development. And sports that restrict calorie consumption such as wrestling, long-distance running, or gymnastics can stunt growth.
Wrestlers often cut weight to compete in a smaller weight class where they’ll have a size advantage. They dehydrate themselves and eat almost nothing days before the weigh-ins.
That can stunt someone’s growth and even cause long term damage to the body. The worst thing is that since everybody is doing that, there is not that big of an advantage when you cut weight. It’s more of a disadvantage if you don’t.
The good news is that today’s wrestling weight management rules are focused on discouraging rapid weight loss or gain. Wrestlers can’t lose more than 1.5% of their body weight per week; they can’t dehydrate themselves severely or have a lower body fat percentage than 7%.
That ensures that wrestlers won’t cause long term damage to their bodies (including decreased growth).
In the rest of the article, I’ll talk in detail about the dangers of extreme weight cutting, the importance of nutrition; how to ensure you don’t stunt your growth when doing weight cuts, and which are the other sports that can cause that.
The Importance of Nutrition
Nutrition is essential for the development of a child/teenager. During the period of rapid growth (puberty) teenagers might need more than 2,800 calories per day if they active (which is obviously true for wrestlers).
During that period a caloric restriction mixed with high activity level can decrease the growth of a teenager and delay puberty.
Actually, before the new weight cutting rules (2006-2007), some studies showed a decrease in the growth of male wrestlers during the wrestling season. However, those wrestlers caught up with their peers during the offseason.
Weight Cutting Dangers
Severe dehydration can be lethal. We’ve seen that before in wrestling. That’s actually the reason why there are strict weight management rules today.
Dehydration can also cause temporary, immobility, and decrease cognitive function. Other sports where competitors cut weight also created new rules recently. For example in MMA, fighters who gain more than 15% of their body weight in the time between the weigh-ins and the fight are forced to go in another weight class (learn more about weight cutting in MMA in this article).
In wrestling, kids start competing younger than 8 years old but the weight strict cuts begin in high school. In middle school, wrestlers go to weigh-ins only 3 times a year and they actually don’t cut weight.
In high school, weigh-ins can be 3 times a week and there are cases. To make sure you don’t damage your body, you should cut more than 6 pounds when in high school.
That, of course, depends on the weight class but generally, the rules are doing a good job of preventing rapid weight cuts.
The only reason to cut weight should be if you have too much body fat and you are not in your natural weight class. 7-10% of body fat is the optimal body fat percentage.
Dehydration should be used as a last resort to cut the extra 2-3 pounds before the weigh-ins.
Do Wrestling Stunt Your Growth in Any Other Way?
When doing their strength and conditioning, wrestlers often lift weights. Many people think that lifting weights can also stunt your growth.
But that’s just a myth. No studies have ever shown that. The only thing to consider is that teens should focus on lower reps (around 10) and focus more on technique rather than lifting maximum weight.
That way they’ll learn the proper technique and avoid injuries as they start lifting more.
So the answer to the question is no. wrestling does not stunt your growth in any other way (other than doing excessive weight cuts).
Today’s Wrestling Rules
With today’s restrictions, it’s almost impossible for a young wrestler to cut too much weight, starve oneself daily, or not drinking water. And this is great because obviously cutting a lot of weight at a young age can harm the whole careers of talented wrestlers.
So practicing wrestling and competing can actually help your growth. Especially in building your muscles, improving your stamina, speed and coordination.
In some countries outside of the US, for example, Russia, high school wrestlers don’t cut weight. In case the kid is between weight classes, for instance, 152 and 160 lbs, the kid is forced to compete at the heavier weight class which is the way to go in my opinion.
What to Make Sure you Don’t Decrease your Growth
Even with the strict rules, there’s still a chance to cut excessive weight. Avoid that isn’t that complicated, though. There’re basically two things to consider:
If you have under 10% body fat (you are really lean) it’s probably not a good idea to cut weight. Also if you have low energy all the time during the weight cut, consider competing in the upper weight class.
At the end of the day, a little size advantage isn’t going to help you that much if you don’t have the energy to utilize it. There are plenty of wrestlers who made it on the scale but can’t perform due to the lack of energy.
Also, wrestling tournaments aren’t like MMA where you have 24 hours to recover after the weigh-ins. You might have 1-2 hours before the match starts (depending on the tournament). And that’s not enough time to rehydrate or to get energy from the food you eat.
So wrestling in the upper weight class might not be so bad.
Other Sports that can Stunt your Growth
To summarize the article, wrestling doesn’t stunt your growth, extreme weight cutting does. But there are other sports that can cause the same thing according to studies of The New York Academy of Science.
People noticed that the growth of some teenage gymnasts is not reduced but delayed. Male and female gymnasts had prolonged puberty than their peers. At first, people thought that this is caused by the impact on the bones and joints but later studies showed that it’s because of the same reason we already discussed – low-calorie intake and intensive workouts.
There are no weight cuts here, but the less the gymnasts weigh, the easier for them is to do their exercises. And that’s the reason for the low-calorie intake.
This sport requires great stamina. The training is exhausting and burns a lot of calories. That combined with the fact that lighter runners tend to do better (because they carry their bodies with ease) can be dangerous.
The problem here is the same – low calorie intake; high calorie burning.
To conclude I’, just going to say that you should absolutely wrestle, run or do gymnastics if you like it. But be super careful when it comes to calorie intake. Puberty is the worst time to starve yourself. That’s the period of rapid growth and if you don’t want to decrease it, you should consume enough calories.