Society is obsessed with numbers; it’s easy to see that in the health and fitness sectors. So many people are concerned with body metrics such as weight, muscle mass, body fat percentage, etc. And amidst all of this, there is the common knowledge of how weight is not just weight at its form as a number on a scale. Weight, as a whole, is commonly misunderstood.
BMI gives prime examples of such. BMI alone does not determine health alone because it does not look into what that weight is composed of (such as fat, water, bones, organs). Determining a fit individual “overweight” just because they have a high BMI does not give any insight to if the weight is a health issue. Those with a low or average BMI could be even unhealthier than this fit individual due to a sedentary lifestyle or unhealthy eating habits.
This idea of lumping the components of weight as just…weight is rampant in the fighting community and it’s not hard to see why. A fighter only needs to hit a certain number during weigh ins, no matter how they get there, regardless they’re more or less healthy/fit than their opponent.
Aside from making weight, how much does weight actually matter?
Do the components of weight matter as much as some think – or is this entire obsession with weight generally silly and potentially self-destructive?
Through the fitness community (pre-Muay Thai), I learned the importance of weight not being an indicator of much. There were plenty of people who weighed more yet looked much smaller due to having more lean muscle mass. “Throw away the scale! Measure your progress through pictures and measuring tapes!” It was great to see my own progress in things other than weight, such as strength gains and being able to run for longer, and then…
Muay Thai happened.
(Before you continue reading, this is not about how Muay Thai will give you distorted body issues or disordered eating)
In the Muay Thai community, weight is talked about CONSTANTLY. It’s talked about when someone is expressing how much they have to cut for their fight. It’s talked about when people casually ask each other how heavy they currently are. It’s talked about when people express gains and losses.***
When I was cutting weight for my first fight, it really surprised me how much weight I could lose in just water in a matter of hours. When I stepped on the scale at 113 pounds, I went, holy shit, I lost so much weight! And every time I cut weight after that, I always surprised myself by how much weight I was able to lose. But I always have to remind myself, in reality, the process of weight cutting is to manipulate weight temporarily and all that is really lost is water, not fat. As soon as I ate some food and drank water, my weight always goes back up to what it was a few days ago. To see weight change on my will like that really reinforced the thought of weight being a mere indicator of mass.
What I’m describing may sound like degression or even a contradiction to what I said before about weight not mattering, but they actually work together.
Weight does matter in Muay Thai because it is a sport of weight classes.
However, Muay Thai helped me realize that weight, sometimes, is just…weight. Just a number to hit, but almost everything else matters more. And how much someone weighs is absolutely not an indicator of their strength, performance, health, skill, or self-worth.
There are people who cut a lot of weight, and there are people who cut no weight at all. Those who cut more do it to have a physical mass advantage in the ring, but there isn’t always an advantage being heavier…OR lighter. Sometimes the lighter person is stronger. Sometimes the heavier person is stronger. In Thailand, people who are much more experienced regularly fight people who are much bigger but less experienced than they are because they rely on their technique and fight IQ.
Every fighter should have a healthy balance between caring about their weight and knowing when they should file it away. Fighters should know or get to know which weight class is appropriate for them and can promote longevity in their fight career and health. In no circumstances should this weight be the center of attention during a fight camp – it will only take away the ability to train 100%. Nor should weight be the cause of obsessive thinking, possibly leading to body image issues. I’ve heard people say that it is “normal” for fighters to have these issues, even going as far to say that all fighters have “eating disorders”, but it’s time to change that narrative. In no healthy state of mind is having these issues considered normal. Everyone needs to be reminded from time to time that gaining a few pounds is no reason to feel ashamed, especially when the person is not preparing for a fight. Hitting a certain weight during fight camp will not magically put everything into place.
Bottom line: Yes, weight is something you have to make for a fight. Every fighter should find the weight class that makes them feel their best in the ring, and cutting a lot to be heavier than the opponent does not necessarily give you an advantage. Weight alone does not say anything else about you. You are responsible for your power, speed, technique, and how well you perform in a fight. And that comes from your training and dedication to the sport. Your weight/weight class is not responsible for that.
***PSA: This kind of environment like treading through dangerous waters for people with a history of body image issues and/or disordered eating. Some might say it’s just talking about weight and might even say things such as “only the week are affected adversely”, but the issue is not as black and white as they think. Talking about weight and the feeling of someone looking you up and down to guess your weight creates anxiety and, largely, it is anxiety and the desire to control that fuel these issues. Hearing others talk about their weight (or even worse, being asked about your own) while you are internally struggling with issues regarding weight is not a healthy environment to be in. If you are struggling with these issues, get yourself away from these environments and don’t keep it to yourself. Talk to someone about it, whether it be a friend or health professional.