Let’s talk about cutting for competition.
You want to drop down a weight class and you want to do it all within a 12 week prep cycle. You decide to drastically drop calories, throw in a bunch of unnecessary cardio to achieve any kind of weight loss, no matter the cost. Training starts off well, you’re dropping pounds but still getting stronger. Everything looks absolutely sunny.
But as the weeks go on, you get smaller and smaller and feel more and more rundown.Your lifts suffer, but you accept it as a temporary thing, thinking that it is all part of the plan. But the fatigue and the failed lifts with weights you used to do a few weeks ago are starting to get to you. Maybe power through because you don’t want to gain the weight back and still be weak so you keep dropping to justify the weaker lifts.
The meet comes you make weight! Congratulations! You’re finally free of the cut, and treat yourself to what could only be considered a breakfast made to feed a family of 4. You know you’ll get a little bloated, but you’ll put weight back on you’ll be all good to hit your previous lifts.
Meet day is here and you fail every lift attempt. You blame the cut and decide that you just need to be big. You throw yourself into gaining as much as possible, with no rhyme or reason to your diet. Your weight balloons back up and you pack on more fat than ever, but your lifts are back where they were. Success!!! Exactly what you wanted. You do your next couple meets as a bigger, stronger, and fatter lifter. The numbers are big, but ultimately you feel like shit and you don’t like they way you look. You decide to try cutting weight again, and begin the cycle over again. And again. Endlessly cycling between extremes.
The problem is most lifters have this ‘next meet mentality’ where they see things in 12 week meet prep cycles. They don’t plan past their next competition, until there’s another one on the horizon. While their focus on their next meet is commendable, life isn’t just about that one day of lifts. Your prep for that meet will have long term affects on your body, beyond your meet, and even beyond the next one you go to. If cutting weight in the most dramatic way possible is what makes you fired up for your next meet, not the opportunity to lift as heavy as you can, then what happens when you fail those lifts? What happens to your body when you keep throwing it to extremes with no positive results? Nothing good, I can tell you that.
Lets think in terms of the Olympics. Olympic athletes put everything they have into 4 years of training to peak at this one event. 4 years of training planned out meticulously, including any other competitions or events scattered between. But they aren’t concerned with the outcomes of those as much as they use them competitions as markers or indicators of how well their training is going and make adjustments to achieve Olympic status perfection.
Let’s return to weight class sports. Our example lifter needs to add some size to achieve their goals. A practiced and sustainable athlete will spend a whole year, or more, gaining that weight. And trust me when I say they don’t take the ‘all you can eat buffet every day’, ‘wheel me out in a wheel barrow’ approach. It is a slow and methodical approach to add a VERY SPECIFIC amount of kgs to their frame per month. This same approach is taking when dieting them back down to their original weight class. And maybe they’re outmatched in the heavier weight class at their peak weight at a competition, but that was never the goal in the first place. The goal is to be ready for the Olympics; a 4 year process. The short term competitions mean little to the greater goal. Do you see where I am going with this? Everything they do is detailed out so that they are ready when they need to be ready.
Another example of this is the Russian powerlifters. When Kirill Sarychev broke the all-time bench record, people forget that a year before he smashed a 716lbs Bench that looked like he could have broke the record that day, but that was not the plan. Same thing with Andrey and his squats, people seem to think he only wants to break it a little at a time and why not just shoot for that 1st 500kg squat but everything he does is well timed and when its time for him to squat that he will. Its called having a game plan that goes far beyond the upcoming meet. Same thing goes for dieting. You have to develop a game plan that will set you up exactly where you want to be in the next 2-5 years. I know that may seem like a lot of time to dedicate to this but there is no way around it if you want to be in the meet circuit for the long term, and maintain your health and strength long after you stop competing.
So now that you know what this is going to take and have mentally prepared yourself for this undertaking, lets begin. The goal of cutting weight or dropping a weight class needs to be made well ahead of time to allow for a slow and methodical approach leading into your next meet. Starting a cut phase or diet is best done right after a meet, which might surprise some of you. There is a misconception that you need to pound calories to help with recovery but I personally think that is an excuse to indulge in foods that were restricted leading up to that meet. Ask any lifter who consistently places in competitions and you won’t get that answer.
Starting to diet right after a meet is ideal for two reasons.
1: Generally speaking, after a meet you will start doing a lot more volume and GPP, so the best way to keep muscle on while dieting is to do more volume and adding in some type of cardio. Think along the lines of how bodybuilders train leading into a show, because the key to a successful cut is to be able to drop fat and maintain as much muscle as possible.
2: It will give you plenty of time to slowly work yourself down in weight. I highly recommend people give themselves at least 20-24 weeks of dedicated work to get down to the next weight class and stay there. That doesn’t mean you can’t compete during that time, just be mentally prepared to not be as strong during that meet. Which is fine because we are building for the future not the next meet. Long term goals, people!
Now I know alot of you didn’t start powerlifting to improve your physique. In fact, most people gravitate towards it because its been known to be a sport where you can eat whatever and just lift heavy things. And that might have been true in earlier years of the sport, but not anymore. Do you think its a coincidnce that the top lifters are usually pretty lean and look like bodybuilders? So if you want to be the best, then you must change your approach to cutting and metality around nutrition. Unless you are a super heavyweight than god bless you eat whatever.
But why 20-24 weeks? That seems like a really long time to be dieting, and yes, it is, but the approach to take is to diet hard for 8 weeks and than spend the next 8 weeks slowly adding in calories, than diet hard again for 4 weeks and spend the last 4 weeks slowly adding calories. The key here is to try to keep increasing your starting calories of the cut so you can keep cutting, but the lows are higher each cycle to maintain and build muscle while keeping fat low. Disclaimer here: it is extremely important before we get into the cut and reverse plan that if after these 20-24 weeks are up and you don’t get to your weight class, don’t panic. Be patient and extend the process until you get there. Maybe you didn’t make it for this meet, but I guarantee you there’s another meet coming.
Let’s say that you start your dieting phase at 2500 calories and by the end of the 8 week cut you are down to 1500 calories, losing at about a .5-1lbs per week rate. This is generally to be the ideal rate for most people. Now from that 1500 calories, you will increase them by 150-175 calories per week, so that by the time this 8 week phase is up you will be starting your next diet phase at a lower body weight, but up to 2700-2900 calories in allowance. You just keep going back and forth with this process until you have reached your desired weight class or preferably slightly below. Why slightly below? Because if you are below your ideal weight for your weight class, you will have more wiggle room for more calories going into the next phase: the maintence phase.
This is the phase where you start to get your old strength back. This is the phaste where you will start to increase calories over another 20-24 week time frame, but not letting your weight get over 5% of your weight class. So there may be a few weeks where you may not add any calories until your body adapts, you train harder, or you add in some cardio. The key to this whole process is patience, consistency and a long term goal oriented focus. This approach will help you from having the huge ups and downs of cutting/feeling sorry for yourself and gaining all kinds of unwanted weight for the sake of being stronger again. Just remember: Be patient. Don’t panic. Eat.