As we know, powerlifting is a weight class sport. Because of this, it’s common to see lifters gaining and losing weight. This might be to go up or down a weight class or simply to increase their power to weight score within their current weight class.
Gaining or losing weight can impact the way you feel in training and how you move.
So if you’re thinking about changing weight class or shifting your body composition, let’s dive right in.
ABSOLUTE STRENGTH VS RELATIVE STRENGTH
Before we get too far down into it, I want to touch on this briefly because I think it’s extremely important.
Regardless of your current weight or body composition, the more muscle you have, generally the stronger you will be.
The more muscle you can pack onto your frame, the more you will increase your absolute strength. This does not mean, try to gain as much weight as possible.
There is a fine line where gaining weight might increase your absolute strength but will decrease your relative strength. By this I mean how strong you are relative to your body weight.
It’s not uncommon for lifters to lose sight of this fact in pursuit of absolute strength. In reality we should be in pursuit of both.
BODY FAT PERCENTAGE
It has always been my personal philosophy that you should optimize your body composition within your weight class.
This means being jacked (because as discussed previously: more muscle means more absolute strength) but also relatively lean.
Now, lean can mean different things to different people. In the context of powerlifting, lean is the lowest body fat level that you can handle that doesn’t affect performance.
Keep in mind, it can sometimes take multiple cycles of cutting, building, and maintenance to discover this body fat percentage.
So, if you are already relatively lean and you decide to cut down whether to go down a weight class or for aesthetic reasons, you are more quickly going to notice a drop in performance. This is the case even if you cut slowly.
Being too lean and eating in a calorie deficit for too long can lead to a decrease in muscle mass. Ultimately decreasing strength.
On the other hand, if you are carrying excess body fat, the fastest way to improve relative strength is to drop some fat.
If you cut slowly, you should be able to maintain performance. You might even notice you feel stronger. By dropping fat, you can often get into a better position for your lifts. We will talk more about this in the next section.
HOW YOU MOVE
The biggest change that gaining or losing weight can have on squats is where you hit your end range of hip flexion. Hip flexion is a fancy way of describing how much you bend through your hips. Another way to think about it is how deep or shallow you can get in your squat.
Keep in mind, regardless of federation or weight class, depth in powerlifting is defined as: hip crease must be below the top of the knee.
For heavier lifters, they often hit this end range of hip flexion a lot sooner than lighter lifters. This is often why you will see heavier lifters have a wider squat stance. It allows them to improve their end range of hip flexion and get that little bit deeper.
And vice versa, you will often see lighter lifters with narrower stances.
Keep in mind, this doesn’t take into account hip anatomy. For the purposes of this article, we are generalizing. Not everyone fits into the same box. You will see lighter lifters with very wide stances and heavier lifters with narrower stances. It’s just not as common.
So what does this mean for you as a lifter?
If you are a heavier lifter and you’re thinking about going down a weight class or simply optimize your body comp in your current weight class, you might have to change how you squat.
There are two options. First, you can bring your stance closer so that you hit your end range of hip flexion sooner.
Second, you can maintain your current stance, but train yourself to stop a bit shorter. Because dropping weight often leads to an increase in the range of motion of the hips, you might find that you are able to squat a lot deeper. This can sometimes lead to a dip in strength.
By teaching yourself to stop a bit short, you maintain the comfort of your familiar stance without the potential hit in strength.
The best option is a case by case basis. This is something your coach can help decide what is best for you as a lifter.
From experience, when lifters drop weight, the first lift they notice it in is the bench press.
One reason for this is that your range of motion naturally increases as you lose weight. The more fat you lose, the smaller your torso and chest girth.
Put simply, there is less thickness through your chest so the bar has to travel further.
This is one of the reasons smaller lifters tend to have bigger arches and wider grips. They don’t have excess fat to decrease their range of motion so they improve their leverages in other ways.
The opposite is true if you gain weight. If you decide to bulk up and allow your chest muscles to fill out, you will naturally decrease your range of motion. Bigger pecs equal bigger bench.
If you do carry more body fat and you compete in the IPF, an advantage of dropping fat might improve your chances with the new elbow depth rule. The rule is not favorable to lifters with extremely short range of motion in the bench press. This is a way of increasing ROM without having to tinker too much with the rest of the set up.
Sure, you might feel a dip in strength in the beginning but it’s ground you will easily be able to make up. And it sure beats getting red lights for elbow depth.
Just like squats, gaining and losing weight impacts hip flexion in the deadlift. For deadlift, this means how high or low you can get your hips.
Now, the deadlift isn’t impacted quite as much as the squat. Often lifters won’t have to change anything about their deadlift.
However, there can be times where weight gain negatively affects your deadlift.
For example, carrying excess weight, especially around the middle, can make it more difficult to get into an advantageous position in the deadlift. This is why you will often see heavyweight conventional deadlifters have a wider stance.
They need that wider stance to improve positioning and increase hip flexion range of motion.
Gained or lost weight and lifts feeling off? Reach out to us and lets have a chat.