Selecting a Weight Class

Nov. 06, 2008, 2:24 p.m. (ET)
Starting in January, new AIBA women's weight classes go into effect, and many boxers will take the opportunity to select a new competition weight.  The new weights are 46kg/101lbs, 48kg/106lbs, 51kg/112lbs, 54kg/119lbs, 57kg/125lbs, 60kg/132lbs, 64kg/141lbs, 69kg/152lbs, 75kg/165lbs, 81kg/178lbs, 81+kg/178+lbs.
Proper weight class selection is critical for boxers, as it charts a course for the national championship season.  When choosing a weight class, boxers should take into account their body type, boxing style, lifestyle and comfort level.  Two boxers at the same age and height may not be in the same weight class.  And while some coaches may encourage boxers to drop down to gain an assumed advantage over others, or to avoid a particular opponent, there are not necessarily advantages to boxing at the lowest weight possible.  Ultimately the choice of weight class is up to the boxer, because it is the boxer who must commit to the work necessary to make the weight on a consistent basis, without compromising mental or physical health.
Olympic-style boxing is a year-round sport, and as such amateur boxers cannot gain and lose weight repeatedly like some professional boxers might do through their careers.  Amateur boxers are advised to "walk around" within a few pounds of their competition weight, since they are competing on a regular basis, and competing in tournaments which require weighing multiple days in a row.  Further, amateur boxers who win a qualifying tournament are committed to that weight class until that next event for which they qualified.
Dropping Weight
Nutrition experts advise that athletes should begin their weight loss program several weeks out from competition.  A well-conditioned athlete should be able to get to competition weight by slightly lowering caloric consumption, while slightly increasing exercise.  
Problems with Rapid Weight Loss
Some boxers attempt to "cut weight" in as little time as a few days or a few hours, by using extreme methods such as fasting, saunas, sauna/rubber suits, plastic suits, plastic bags, avoiding liquids, spitting, or even using weight-loss drugs.
Extreme weight-loss measures will compromise performance in the ring (speed and power will be lost), the boxer's mood will be altered, the boxer will be mentally stressed, and less likely to be able to concentrate, and at worst such practices are dangerous to boxers’ health because they compromise electrolyte balance, thermal regulation, and cardiovascular function.  For example, plastic suits or plastic bags used to increase sweating only eliminate water from the body.  No fat is lost.  Weighing before and after a workout will reveal how much water weight was lost in the workout, and that water should be replenished to avoid dehydration.
Another problem with plastics (or sauna/rubber suits) is increased body temperature.  The body cools itself using evaporation of sweat from the skin.  When the body isn’t allowed to cool (plastics prevent evaporation) or the body is dehydrated (which prevents sweating) heat exhaustion and heat stroke can occur.  This can shut down body functioning and even cause death.
Another example of extreme weight-loss measures is weight-loss products, sold by prescription or over the counter.  These products usually contain stimulants, laxatives and/or diuretics.  These drugs are illegal for amateur boxers.  A simple drug test, whether in domestic or international competition, can detect these drugs in the body, even weeks after they’ve been used.  A positive drug test will result in a boxer being banned from amateur competition for several months, or even years.
Some boxers "cut weight" repeatedly for many years, and are then surprised when the techniques stop working.  It is now believed that constantly putting your body through losing and gaining weight can slow metabolism because the body adjusts, thus making it even more difficult to lose weight in the future.  In the short run, the consequences of “cutting weight” can cost you an important competition.
Boxers who “fight the scale” go through a lot mentally and physically, and therefore cannot perform at their best.  It is now known that the loss of 2% or more of body water can diminish sport performance. 
It takes more than 24 hours to fully rehydrate the body.  The boxer who dehydrates herself, and then drinks water, Pedialyte, Gatorade, or other liquids following a weigh-in can create an imbalance in the body, and much of the fluids will not be properly absorbed.  Further, binge eating or binge drinking following a weigh-in can make it difficult to make weight the following day.  
Assistance in Selecting a Weight Class
Nutritionists, dietitians, nurses, physician assistants, and some physicians can assist boxers in selecting a weight class, and can give long-term strategies for maintaining a proper weight.  Coaches can advise on weight, but the boxer is the only one who really knows her body, and she is the person responsible for making weight for competitions.  
When selecting a weight class, ask yourself the following questions: 
  • Do I feel strong and fast at this weight?
  • Am I able to get to this weight class without significant mental or physical strain?
  • Can I make this weight for four or five days in a row, during a tournament?
  • Is this weight realistic based on my lifestyle?
  • If I enter this weight at a qualifying tournament, can I maintain the weight for many months to come?
Proper weight management is based on discipline, not tricks.  A disciplined boxer is a better boxer, and has longevity in the sport.