Monday, August 28, 2006

Weigh-In Differences

A few days ago a reader asked why collegiate weigh-ins are different from USRowing (e.g. USRowing nationals) weigh-ins. Collegiate weigh-ins are typically the day before a race, with a certification requirement at IRAs. USRowing requires an athlete to weigh-in not more than two hours prior to each race (heat, semi, and final). In an attempt to get an answer to this question, I went to the font of all knowledge on such matters (collegiate, anyway), the lightweight committee of the CRCA.

As with many rowing practices, the true reason for the difference is a bit murky, but probably results largely from tradition. In addition, the collegiate practice was developed to help protect the health of the athlete as a single weigh-in prior to the regatta helps avoid race day dehydration issues. There is also the convenience factor of one weigh-in for regatta officials, coaches and rowers. (With a goal of growing the sport, convenience does play a part.) While not a USRowing practice, FISA (international) sets a single rower weight limit of about 130lbs, and a boat average limit of about 125 lbs. This kind of boat average weight limit is not used in college rowing because of the inherent danger of forcing a boat average five pounds below the individual average. This typically results in all members of a boat losing weight, even those well under 130 pounds, to allow athletes near 130 to compete.

It's tempting to want athletes to weigh in every day and let those near-weight rowers row dehydrated. If they are that close to the limit either they shouldn't be rowing lightweight or they should pay a price for not managing their weight as well as everyone else. If the penalty for dehydration was simply fatigue or a loss of strength, that might work. Unfortunately the penalty could be injury, or worse. The certification requirement at IRAs, however, is an attempt to weed out those rowers who really aren't lightweights by forcing them to weigh-in during the season.

There is one USRowing weight practice that I find to be particularly egregious. Elite lightweight rowers are allowed to weigh 140 pounds when they submit their April erg score. That is 15 pounds heavier than the boat average. Elite level lightweights actually have weight management plans that have them bulking up to 140 in the off season so they can max out the erg test, and then dropping weight for the racing season. This is obviously unhealthy and I don't understand why USRowing encourages it. Why not require lightweights to be at weight whenever testing, racing, or seat racing?

[Update: See comments - I get slapped around a bit on this one.]


M Shofner said...

Really Burke, you are going to accept that answer? I don't even know where to start. You had a good lead with this one and you took the CRCA committees answer as if they sprinkled sugar on it and spoon fed it to you.

Any amount of research to the recent years IRA weigh in protocol would tell you that tradition has nothing to do with it.

What is a "near weight athlete" (not lightweight but could suck down) and why are people still reducing it to a sport of weight loss. I thought it was supposed to be a sport for the smaller statured athlete.

The sport may be growing under that new legislation but perhaps so are the athletes! And the NCAA will never acknowledge ltwts if this practice continues. Some programs will be fine w/o NCAA but with it...OH how it could flourish)

Thank you for all of your kind words earlier this summer. I promised my old rowers that I would never post matter how I am attacked my name stands with my word.

Anonymous said...

Where did you end up coaching Mary?

JW Burk said...


Well, gee, yeah, I was gonna accept that. Now though, I feel like I was talking on my cell phone and was just told I missed my exit! The current weigh-in protocol hasn't been a hot-button of mine so maybe I gave it short shrift?

Clearly the IRA certification was new last season. The day-before weigh-ins (for duals as well as regattas) I thought had been going on for years. Am I wrong there? Actually, weigh-ins for duals are often whenever the visiting team can get there - day before or day of.

Your concern about a "sport of weight loss" is exactly why I dislike FISA's boat averaging. The problem, though, is that as long as there is a weight limit there will be athletes losing weight. I don't see how you can ever avoid that. Perhaps daily weigh-ins, but that's not practical and the rowers are free over the summer to do whatever they want with their weight. I assume that your main complaint about the single, day-before weigh-in is that a near-weight (yes, not a lightweight but could suck down) athlete only has to suck down for one weigh-in, making it easier for that person to row lightweight. I agree with that, but I think the benefit of daily weigh-ins is fairly marginal as far as keeping those rowers out. Of more benefit might be weekly certified weigh-ins during the season. Even with weekly weigh-ins, though, you'd still have rowers losing weight, although the max would probably shift down.

If the goal is to only have "true" lightweights racing lightweight (and I think it is) the problem remains of what is a "true" lightweight. We can answer at the extremes - naturally 140 pounds, no; naturally 120 pounds, yes. But what is someone's natural weight? What she would weigh if she ate whatever she wants and doesn't work out? Or does she work out? Is that weight control? Does she count her calories like her roommate does? Is that weight control? This gray area is terribly difficult to address, although that doesn't mean it shouldn't be attempted. I would be interested to know how you judged high school recruits? What told you that a particular athlete was a true lightweight while another one wasn't?

I'm not sure the NCAA has a problem with how lightweights are weighed-in, as much as they simply have a problem with a weight limited sport. Oddly, cross-country and gymnastics, two NCAA sports, put women more at risk because participants believe that weighing less will make them perform better. Rowers, however, believe that weighing as close to the limit as possible will give them an edge (as long as the weight is muscle). Perhaps the NCAA could be made to see that and then the conversation would shift to weigh-in practices and weight management, objections to which could be overcome. For now though, I think the objection to the sport is based on a misapplied principle.

I strayed off topic a bit, but I'd welcome hearing your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the NCAA's dislike of lightweight rowing, the following two arguments ought to be brought up in support of women's lightweight rowing:
1) Gender discrimination - NCAA men's wrestling is an established sport. The extremes taken by these athletes to "make weight" are well-documented. Why does the NCAA feel the need to protect female athletes from themselves when it fully supports men's wrestling? Isn't that a sexist, "we know what's best for women" attitude?
2) Obesity crisis in the U.S. - One has only to read the latest news articles to be aware of this crisis in the U.S. If the NCAA feels the need to protect the lightweight rowers from themselves, why doesn't it impose a BMI standard on all openweight rowers (for that matter all football players) that would prohibit those in the obese category from participating in NCAA sports.

JW Burk said...

Those are two good points, and worth making. If wrestling were not already established, however, I think it would face the same uphill battle that lightweight rowing faces. It just has the benefit of being early to the party. I agree with you on the obesity crisis, but I think that is politically untouchable. You can tell someone she's too skinny, but you may not tell someone she's too fat. Nonetheless, you make a good point. Some of the rowers I've seen are doomed to a life of obesity without some serious intervention, not to mention football linemen.

Anonymous said...

Weighing in earlier does not make it any healthier. The rowers should weigh in every day of a competition. Or every week of the year, or several times each week to make sure that they are at weight all year long. This is the definition of a true lightweight: being at weight all year long. The CRCA coaches who argue against this are arguing against race day weigh-ins because they don't have lightweight athletes. This is true for light men and women. I think that is why you see more elite level lightweights who rowed as openwieghts in college. Collegiate lightweights are pampered in regards to their status as lightweights. They are able to go thru the whole year heavy, and only weigh in the day before the race. They then have 24 hours to binge, and replenish themselves to 5+ pounds above race weight. This makes them totally unprepared and unable to perform well when the race on weigh-in day, since they are not physiologically trained to race at the target weight. This is unhealthy. If these athletes weigh in all year long, only the true lightweights will be able to maintian the weight. The true lightweights will be the top performers, and they will be the ones who will be healthy during racing season.

Anonymous said...

Unless I have been misinformed, I believe Mary is the new assistant for Stanford, now headed by Yasmin Farooq. Expect speed from that team.