Why Dropping a Weight Class is not (Always) a Good Idea

workout and fitness dieting diary on wooden table

If you’re a strength athlete in (powerlifting, weightlifting, CrossFit, strongman, etc.) preparing for a competition, it may seem like a good idea, even without saying, that you should drop to the lowest weight class if at all possible. However, dropping a weight class quickly is not the best option to pursue under all but a few circumstances.

Calorie restriction can cause muscle loss

The fact is that weight cutting requires calorie restriction, which, if done responsibly, results in a relatively small (e.g. 250 to 500 gram) weight loss per week. Anything more is likely to consume muscle mass and result in compromised strength and other unpleasant symptoms, including feeling fatigued, headaches, dizziness, loss of focus, and an unstable mental state. In addition, water shedding is often done in the days leading up to the competition, which can cause similar symptoms, as well as sleepiness, lack of energy, confusion, or irritability.

Cutting a weight class may have technique implications

Depending on the starting body mass index (BMI), losing weight too rapidly, typically more than 5-10 percent, in the month before an event, can easily cause a 5-10 percent reduction in strength performance. In addition, weight loss is linked to a change in body measurements, which may make changes in technique, however small, a possibility. This may include a different touchpoint in the bench press, slightly altered back angle in the squat and deadlift, amongst others. It is fair to say that, close to a competition, any alterations to technique are not optimal.

Lose weight in a planned and measured way

Having said all these reasons not to cut weight, there are circumstances where an athlete is justified in making a deliberate and well-thought through decision to try and drop a weight class for a competition.

The first is if you are very close to a record in your target (lower) weight class and reasonably expect to exceed it on the day. The second is to achieve or improve a podium placing. And, the third is to use the lower weight category to make a qualifying standard for provincial or national colors. However, in determining the reasonableness of your expectations, you are sensible to allow for some compromise in strength performance.

Compete at you natural weight as far as possible

If you are a novice or beginner-intermediate lifter, you are by far best off to compete with your natural weight and not cut calories unless sustainably and part of a long-term BMI reduction plan and not attempting to dehydrate before the meeting. Believe me, losing weight fast takes a toll that is often not worth the risk and discomfort.

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Joan Swart is a master's powerlifting enthusiast, sports nutrition student, and forensic psychologist from Paarl, Western Cape.

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