Lightweight Rowers Making Weight

Don’t worry… I’m under. I haven’t eaten since yesterday afternoon. And I went for a run after practice.

Eating nothing. Drinking minimal water. Running with trash bags and several layers of clothing. Sitting in the car with the heat all the way up on a hot day. Taking laxatives.

These are all methods my very own teammates have used to lose weight in two or three days to make weight on race day, none of which are sustainable.

In high school varsity rowing, there are two categories: lightweight and heavyweight(or open weight). The cutoff for women lightweights is 130 lbs, and 150 lbs for men. As a lightweight rower, one must make weight every single weekend at every race, which may mean cutting weight for half a week every week.

These methods are unsustainable and dangerous

  • Running With Trash Bags – trash bags prevent the sweat from evaporating, telling the body to sweat more to lower the body temperature. This is effective in losing water weight, but not fat.
  • Laxatives – results are only temporary and can lead to dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and dependence.

Healthy, Effective Ways to Make Weight on Race Day

  • Reduce sodium, causes you to retain water (bloat)
  • Eat whole, healthy foods in proper portion sizes
  • Eat according to your body’s caloric needs and activity levels
  • Hydrate
  • Start cutting weight as early as possible to take off pounds safely. Have a long term plan of losing no more than 1 lb a week and maintaining it.
  • Consume foods high in fiber, such as salads, fruit, or vegetables that will help flush out intestines
  • Rehydration between weigh in and racing; sip water and replenish electrolytes


Liz Fusco – Sports Dietitian for USRowing and Team USA
Instagram – @lizfoodco

Works Cited

“Athletes & Eating Disorders.” National Eating Disorders Association, 26 Feb. 2018,

Cooper, Melissa. “How to Lose Weight for Lightweight Rowers.” Woman, 14 July 2016,

“Laxative Abuse.” National Eating Disorders Association, 22 Feb. 2018,

“Losing Weight, Making Weight, Rowing Fast.”

Vulcan, Nicole. “How to Lose Weight for Lightweight Rowers.”, 5 Apr. 2018,

“What Are the Side Effects of Not Eating?” LIVESTRONG.COM, Leaf Group,

“Will Wearing a Trash Bag Help You Lose Weight When Working Out?” LIVESTRONG.COM, Leaf Group,

Share this project
  1. April 25, 2019 by Laura Reysz

    Hi Megan,
    I like how passionate you feel about this topic and you certainly made everyone aware of the dangers . I wonder what % of the rowers you know make weight this way vs. the more dangerous starvation diets?

    • April 29, 2019 by Megan.Hua

      Hi Ms Reysz,
      It is very common for rowers to not eat anything between dinner the previous day and weigh ins that morning. Many rowers try to cut out salt and other foods from their diets, but sometimes that isn’t enough. I do believe that there is an in-between between the theoretical right/healthy way and the dangerous ways. They become dangerous when running with trash bags, barely eating, not drinking water, etc become a habit rather than the occasional way to lose the last few ounces of water weight to get right below the cutoff.

  2. April 26, 2019 by Ella.Bogdanski

    Hi Megan,
    I admire that you speak from personal experience in this project. I find it a bit worrisome that young athletes feel pressured to change their weight for their sport. Especially because muscle weighs more than fat. Do you think that rowers have healthy mentalities about working to fit into a weight category? Do you think that the weight categories are reasonable?
    Thank you so much for sharing!
    Best, Ella

    • April 29, 2019 by Megan.Hua

      Hi Ella,
      I do think that the weight categories are reasonable as there are only 2 categories in terms of weight: men and women’s lightweight. The women’s cutoff is 130 lbs and the men’s is 150 lbs. In high school races, the common categories are Freshman, Novice, JV, Ltwt, and Varsity. Freshman and Novice events are for rowers who are for rowers who started rowing that year, and JV and Varsity events are for all weights, and Ltwt is the only one with a cutoff.
      In terms of mentality, it depends person to person. Some people know that they are not lightweight rowers and would never try to cut down to that weight. Whereas, some rowers are set on racing lightweight because they get to be more competitive in that category and would use any and all methods to cut down (within reason).

      • April 30, 2019 by Ella.Bogdanski

        Hi Megan,
        Thank you for your thoughtful response. I did not know that there were that many categories of rowing! It makes sense that the mentality surrounding the weight categories are different for everyone.

  3. April 26, 2019 by Aria Chang

    Hi Megan,

    It’s really nice to see a fellow rower write about a subject that I’m so familiar with! As a coxswain, especially a lightweight men’s coxswain I know all about the woes of making weight. The team culture that we’ve developed in our club is so dangerous. I’ve heard coaches call people fat during weigh-ins, I’ve seen guys lose 12 pounds in 2 weeks by drinking nothing but case after case of sparkling water. I’ve seen coxswain after coxswain develop an eating disorder. Since crew is so unheard of, almost no one knows about the highly competitive nature of the sport, and how people will do anything for it. The level of dedication that people have for rowing is somewhat terrifying, and I think it’s great that you’re bringing some light upon the more toxic aspects. Thanks for sharing!

    • April 29, 2019 by Megan.Hua

      Hi Aria,
      I am a rower and the occasional coxswain, so I have experienced having to make weight on both ends. I never have a problem with making weight as a lightweight rower, but when I was under 110 lbs as a coxswain, I was told as a joke by someone in my boat to simply shove food down my throat the night before and morning of weigh-in to minimize the amount of added weight to the boat (sand bags). I chose to focus this page on the issues with lightweight rowers making weight, but I find it really interesting that you have seen this issue with coxswains as well.

  4. April 26, 2019 by Josephine.Kovecses

    Hi Megan,
    This article was incredibly interesting and a division of rowing I had never heard of. I was wondering if you know of any personal stories from lightweight rowers about their experience, or even a memoir of a professional lightweight rower you could refer me to? You’ve sparked my interest, I’m so curious now!

  5. April 28, 2019 by Minea.Hill

    Your piece was super interesting and made me aware of something I knew little to nothing about. I have a friend that is a wrestler and he goes through a similar ordeal when he is cutting to make weight, however, he does not go to as big of extremes. Are coaches actively supporting this for their rowers, simply turning a blind eye, or are aware of it at all? If they know this is going on, as adults, should they not be doing everything in their power to deter their rowers from doing it in order to protect their safety?

    • April 29, 2019 by Megan.Hua

      Hi Minea,
      There are definitely coaches out there who simply ignore these methods, but in the past few years on my rowing team, we have tried many things to help our rowers make weight healthily, including keeping food logs, providing resources to know what we should and should not be eating to fuel our bodies, and weighing in on Wednesdays (mid-week between races) to make sure we are on track to weigh in on race day. In the end, it is the rower’s decision whether or not they want to race lightweight. The coaches do not have the power to force you to eat something or force you not to eat something, it’s the rower’s responsibility to make these decisions.

  6. April 29, 2019 by Graham.Wolff

    Hey Megan, Thank you for addressing this serious issue. I see so many people now saying “oh I can’t eat today because I need to lose weight for weigh-ins” which is just not healthy. Do you happen to know anyone personally that is on a rowing team?

    • April 29, 2019 by Megan.Hua

      Hi Graham,
      I am on my school’s rowing team and a lot of this comes from either personal experience or the experiences of some of my close friends and teammates.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.