“This kind of feels like a spa treatment.” I watched my knees as the hot water in the bath closed and unclosed around them. I felt the hair at the back of my neck grow wet as I tried to submerge my body as fully as possible. The water distorted the image of the flesh lying beneath it–shortening an already short torso, warping the shape of my legs and arms into alien appendages. I wore a purple thong because Kyle, watching me step stark naked into the hot bath, suggested some sort of underwear as protection from the temperature of the water. Not sure cotton would protect me from the water’s heat–or that certain portions of my body really needed extra protection–I put the thong on anyway.
“Okay, let’s get out for a few minutes,” Kyle said, looking at his phone. It was my third trip into the epsom-salted water. My heart rate skyrocketed as I slowly elevated myself from my prone position in the tub to standing, watching for any beginning signs of faintness. Already dehydrated, I had to be careful about sweating out weight at this point in my weight cut. It wasn’t really necessary, but the half pound I lost in the water allowed me to eat an entire bag of almonds in the middle of my over 24-hour fast.
I’ve written a fair amount about weight classes and weight cuts in this blog. I am doing so again because I believe this is an aspect of powerlifting that remains mysterious, glamorized and almost fetishized–particularly when it comes to women doing it. When executed well, as my cut from 130.8 to 122 pounds was for my meet last weekend, performing a water cut is physically safe. Even when executed well–and absolutely certainly when not executed well–the likelihood a weight cut will impact performance in some way on meet day is a solid one.
I had not planned on cutting to 123 for my meet. Originally, I was coming into it weighing at or below the 132 weight class I had intended on occupying, and I was entirely ok with that. When Kyle informed me that I could potentially take the all time world record total and deadlift at 123, my usual “screw large weight cuts” stance shifted. Or rather, it didn’t, because I have said over and over again that weight cuts should not be pursued by novice lifters at all, and only pursued after some meet experience AND if there are serious records or rankings on the line. And I stand by my stance on this. I will also say that I did not intentionally drop weight/lean out leading up to this meet–a practice common among female powerlifters working to make a certain weight class. Two things happened that led to my accidental weight drop: I changed my diet and my level of activity changed significantly outside of my normal training. As far as my diet goes, I shifted from a “crazy deficit punctuated by weekly refeeds/cheat meals” to “an extremely small deficit with straight up zero deviation from the daily diet for four months straight except for this one day where I passed out while getting a tattoo and ate a huge sandwich and potato chips so I wouldn’t keep passing out.” Activity levels shifted from largely sedentary outside of lifting to for to five days a week of constant motion for three to four hours straight training other people. I saw my weight drop from 138 around the time I got married in April to 130.5 at the end of July at my lowest weight leading into the meet.
There was no magic dietary secret here to lose the weight. I didn’t force donuts into my macros and proudly post pictures of them everywhere–I ate foods that I felt best supported how I felt and performed when in training. And no, that isn’t donuts for me. Or cake. Or ice cream. As sacrilege as it is to say this currently in the fitness industry, I am entirely ok with eating “clean foods” 100% of the time for months on end because psychologically I don’t have a problem doing this. Some people do. And I give exactly zero fucks if someone is not mentally wired the way I am–I expect that to be the case, actually–but I refuse to be dishonest about my diet. This is what worked for me. It is very likely not going to work for the next person. It might work for the next person physically, but it might not be sustainable for them mentally. It might work for them mentally, but physically may not be in his or her best interests. One diet system, in other words, is not a panacea for everyone, because no two bodies or minds operate the same way.
So, I accidentally dropped a weight class. And I only decided to actually make that weight class one week before the meet in which I broke two world records in that weight class. It wasn’t a huge, huge deal for me to be a “123 class lifter” on a mental level–it was the right thing for my body at this point in my training career and I did it. I don’t define myself by weight class. I refuse to define myself by a number–especially one that shows up on a scale. I imagine that while I plan on lifting at 132 for the foreseeable future, who knows, I may go back down to 123 at some point. And I may lift as a light 148 a few times. I continue to believe that limiting oneself by weight class has broader repercussions for the scope one one’s athletic career. That’s a topic for another day, though, so instead I’ll leave you with a good idea of the “stages of a weight cut and recomp.” In this picture, Kyle does his best to portray the “bloated dude recomping after making weight” and I adopt the role of “woman who has not yet gotten to weigh in but is entirely entertained by the process of guessing how many months along the food baby is.”