I know quite a bit about cutting weight. To qualify for the US Open in 2017, I cut from 227 to 181 – in less than a week. At this past year’s US Open, I dropped from 214 to 193 and barely had to break a sweat. Multiple world-class lifters use my cutting protocols, and none of the athletes I coach has ever failed to make weight. In short, I consider myself one of the best weight cutters in the world.
So you might be surprised to hear that I recommend strongly against cutting weight for powerlifting meets. Trust me, I know how tempting it sounds: if you could just drop a weight class without losing strength, you’d win your meet for sure! But that’s a fantasy. No matter how dialed in your cut might be, you will lose strength and perform worse if you try to drop weight before a big performance. And attempting a dramatic weight cut, like the ones I’ve done in the past, is a potentially life-threatening endeavor.
Of course, there are exceptions, and in the rest of this article, I’ll try to explain when you should and should not consider cutting weight – and how much you should plan to reasonably lose to maximize your performance and reach your goals.
For Most Lifters: Don’t Cut Any Weight
In almost all cases, the right answer is to walk into a meet and compete at whatever weight you happen to be that day. This should always be the case for first-time competitors! There’s so many new variables involved in a meet that the last thing you want to do is to add another wrench in the mix. That’s asking for trouble, and your goal at this stage is to generate momentum for future training and competition.
It’s the same story for your second, third, and probably tenth meets, too. You’re going to feel better, put up better numbers, and overall just have a better experience if you don’t put your body through the additional stress of cutting weight right before the big day.
And no, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got a 2- or 24-hour weigh in. Yes, the 24-hour weigh-in does give you a little extra wiggle room to rehydrate if you’re cutting a lot of weight. It doesn’t alleviate any of the stress of cutting, though, and on the balance, you’re better off not even bothering with a cut.
Experienced Competitors: Cut at Most 5% of Your Target Weight
After you’ve been in the game for a long time – long enough to feel entirely comfortable on the platform – and you’re strong enough to consider going for some local records, or qualifying for bigger meets, then it’s also time to consider cutting a little bit of weight.
How much? I generally recommend limiting your weight cuts to 5% of your target bodyweight (not your current bodyweight). So, if you’re looking to compete in the 220 class, you can cut about 11 pounds, and the most you should weigh at any point during your meet prep is 231 pounds. Generally, 3-5% of your bodyweight can be lost simply through smart water and sodium manipulation and limiting food volume (not carbs or calories). Those changes will have a minimal impact on performance, and again, it doesn’t really matter whether you’ve got a 2- or 24-hour weigh-in, although with a 2-hour weigh-in I’d err on the lower end of that 3-5% limit. In both cases, the rehydration process will be fairly similar and effects on performance fairly small.
Going for an All-Time Record? Game On.
Honestly, if you’re at this stage of the game, you shouldn’t need my advice on how or how much weight to cut. You should know your body well enough to manage the process on your own. That said, it can be helpful to have a little reassurance, and as long as you’re cutting at most 10% of your target bodyweight, you’ll probably be okay. Cuts over that amount are very difficult, very risky, and I never recommend them to anyone.
Only attempt this kind of cut with a 24-hour weigh-in, and plan your rehydration process very carefully. The time after weighing in will be crucial in determining how much of an impact the cut will have on your performance, but don’t be fooled: no matter how efficiently you cut and rehydrate, your strength will suffer significantly. Do not expect to cut a lot of weight and then PR on the platform – it’s just not going to happen.
Ultimately, it’s your body and your choice as to how you prepare for a meet, but as someone who’s been in the game for a while, and has a ton of experience cutting weight, I’d really suggest you think twice before moving down a class. And if you do cut weight, do it the smart way, and never put your health at risk. For everyone planning to step on the platform: good luck!
Need Help With Your Weight Cut?
In Unfuck Your Program, you'll find my actual weight-cut protocol, along with the best information available on building your own training program. It's on sale for Memorial Day weekend: take 30% off the original price using the discount code MEMDAY. And if you have the opposite problem – you want to gain weight – check out the 20% off presale discount for my upcoming 12-Week Powerbuilding Program, which you can get with code EARLYBIRD. As always, think strong, train hard, and have fun!