If you haven’t already read Part 1 in this series you should check it out HERE.
Part 2: Put Away The Sauna Suit
My first exposure to powerlifting came, like most lifters of my generation, through the internet.
For a long time, my go-to source for all things powerlifting was EliteFTS. This company is an American one that, at the time, predominantly focussed on multi-ply equipped powerlifting. Everything I read (and I read a lot of articles on that site) talked about lifters ‘cutting weight’ to compete. It made sense to me at the time… why wouldn’t you want to be a the top of the weight class? Surely that’s the best way to win?
Before we delve too deep into the world of weight cutting and for the benefit of those completely new to the sport it should be noted that powerlifting is traditionally a weight class based sport. This means that all the lifters are weighed prior to competition and grouped into predetermined categories. The amount of time allowed between weigh-in and competition varies depending on which federation you choose to compete with. My first competition was unaffiliated however we were given the option of a 24-hour weigh-in. The competition began on Sunday morning and we all weighed in on Saturday morning.
In the lead up to this competition, I was walking around at a body weight of around 103-104kg. At the time I figured I’d have a much better chance competing in the 100kg weight class then I would in the next class up, the 110s. I’d read about people cutting huge amounts of weight so I figured it couldn’t be too hard. I didn’t know the specifics but I knew for sure that sweating heaps was the best plan of attack.
Looking back on it now is almost painful to realise just how naive I was. What I’m about to share is probably the least effective weight cutting strategy in the world. If you’re interested in cutting weight for a competition I’d advise you to recreate none of the following story.
It all started Friday morning. I figured the day before weigh-in was the perfect time to start my cut. I’d done all the training I was going to do for the meet and now it was time to put watch the weight slide off and then re-feed and be ready to smash it come Sunday. Given I had no real plan for my cut I figured the first step was to not eat much.
Simple enough to go without food for a day especially when you consider the smorgasbord of snacks I’d planned for post weigh-in. This weight cutting business isn’t so bad after all.
Next on the menu was sweating. The vast majority of the articles I’d read suggested two main options for getting a good sweat on in order to drop weight: saunas and hot baths. My parents didn’t own a sauna and I didn’t think running the shower on hot non-stop for hours was the most efficient method so I opted for the hot bath approach. I (over)filled the bath and, having further factored in the amount of water my body disperses, I slipped in. After a brief adjustment period, I settled in and embraced the boredom that was staring at the ceiling and waiting.
After what felt like an eternity (but was far more likely to have been about 30mins) I exited the bath, dried myself and eagerly stepped on the scales….
I’d lost weight! It was only a hundred grams or so but I was down.
I drained and refilled the bath (the water was, at that point, tepid) before heading in for round 2.
After the second bout, I’d lost another hundred grams or so and was feeling reasonable however I’d become increasingly thirsty. Obviously, I couldn’t drink any water but I had heard of people sucking on ice chips to manage their first. Sorted.
A couple of ice cubes later I was ready for round 3. I was faced with a small problem… Apparently, the capacity of my parents hot water system was not up to the demands of a powerlifter. 8 years later my youngest brother still likes to complain about the time I used all the hot water.
After a brief period of mourning for my hot bath approach, I moved on. I’d always heard of the use of a ‘sauna suit’ and figured I had nothing to lose.
I whipped out the roll of cling film from the pantry and proceeded to essentially mummify myself with it. I then threw on a tracksuit and sat on the couch to let the suit work its magic. After a quick trip to the freezer, I realised I was all out of ice and I had neglected to fill up the trays to make more. Bugger.
While I didn’t have any more ice cubes I did have a stockpile of Zooper Doopers. They’re mostly ice, right?
Before I knew it I’d inhaled half a dozen Zooper Doopers and was feeling much better about myself. I stepped on the scales not long after and discovered only a very small drop. At that point, I was barely peeing anymore and I was tired, hungry and still about 2.5kg over the weight limit. I listened to the ongoing teasing from my family about my predicament, ate a small dinner and went to bed with the plan to hit the local sauna first thing in the morning to drop the last ‘little bit’.
I awoke the next morning, bundled my scales into my bag and headed to the local leisure centre to use the sauna. I left my stuff in a locker and sat down in the sauna. After finally conquering the feeling of not being able to breathe I ducked my head outside to check the clock and realised it had only been about 10mins.
I knew I was in trouble at that point. For a long time, I’ve never enjoyed a sauna and knowing I couldn’t leave for at least an hour made that feeling much worse. After another brief stint, I went to the change rooms to check my weight. I’d definitely lost a little bit of weight and that gave me the motivation I needed to return to the sauna. That motivation rapidly disappeared upon my reentry and before I knew it I was ducking out of the sauna to ‘wet my lips’ at the bubbler. About 15mins later I went to check my weight again only to discover I’d bumped my scales and changed the setting to stones instead of kilograms. I’d left my phone in the car and thus was stuck not knowing if the sauna was actually helping.
At that point I did what every elite athlete will tell you not to do:
I packed up my bags, headed to the comp venue and stepped on the scales at 102kg.
After a whole day, a 5 person house worth of hot water, 2/3 of a roll of cling film and half a dozen Zooper Doopers I was nowhere near making the 100kg class and was miserable.
Since that fateful day I’ve managed to be successful with a couple of weight cuts and, despite a far more intelligent approach, they were still miserable.
When done correctly a weight cut based on water manipulation can be an effective method to take advantage of a 24hr weigh-in. While it is a tool that can be used the vast majority of powerlifters will never have to worry about cutting weight. For 99% of the lifters I’ve coached over the last 5 years a weight cut is unnecessary and potentially dangerous. I was fortunate to not do any last damage (other than that to my reputation within my family) but others have not been so lucky.
The general advice I give most lifters is to not worry about their body weight especially for their first meet. For your first experience, you’ve already got so many new things to worry about and it’s best to focus on executing what you’ve practised in training rather than being competitive. If you’re only competing, like I do, to measure your own progress then you really have no need to be competitive within a weight class. Lift in the weight class where you feel you’re at your strongest.
When is it ok to cut weight?
If cutting weight is going to mean the difference between a podium finish or not at a national level comp AND you’ve been competing for a few years a cut might be for you. Having said that I imagine most people reading this post are still new to the sport. If that’s the case….
PUT DOWN THE SAUNA SUIT AND STEP AWAY FROM THE BATH!
Focus on the number on the bar not the number on the scales.
Until next time,