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What is a Weight Class?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2016
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Weight class is a term used to describe the division of athletes based on weight in certain sports to make for fairer competitions. This is relatively common in sports where size or strength can be a big advantage. The number of weight class divisions can vary quite a bit, and there are arguments for more and fewer weight classes. Sometimes athletes can do harm to themselves trying to reach weight class restrictions, which has caused some controversy.

Most sports with weight class divisions are individual sports where size can be a deciding factor. For example, boxing has had weight classes for a very long time because larger fighters have advantages in reach and power. Wrestling and most mixed martial arts competitions also have weight classes for the same reason.

Some other sports with no direct physical contact can also be set up with weight classes. One well-known example is weight lifting, and another is running, although the latter is only done in certain competitions. Smaller people have an advantage over larger people in any running contest, regardless of their conditioning, so larger people are sometimes allowed to compete separately. The runners in higher weight classes are called "Clydesdales" after the super-sized horse breed.

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Most sports with teams are designed so that people of different sizes can work in different roles. For example, in baseball, larger players who are slow can thrive in less athletically-oriented positions like first base, while faster players are usually placed in the outfield. Players who are especially small tend to have more agility, which makes them good middle infielders.

In combat sports, there is a practice called “weight cutting” that some people consider very dangerous. When people cut weight, they basically dehydrate themselves to meet the restrictions of a given weight class. Most sports allow these competitors to rehydrate and put on weight before the competition, which sometimes allows them to weigh much more than their opponents. Some people may also starve themselves or purge to get themselves down to the proper weight.

There are a couple of perceived problems related to this practice. For one thing, fighters sometimes dehydrate themselves to the point where they could be endangering their health. If this isn’t done exactly right, fighters may enter the contest with limited energy and other problems that could lead to injury. Another issue is that weight classes are designed to make competitions fairer, and some believe weight cutting gives unfair advantages to those who practice it.

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