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How to Choose Your Weight Class for Powerlifting

Jun 22, 2022 | Powerlifting Basics 101

When a new lifter starts getting into competing, the first thing they do is ask which weight class they should be in.

Often with no experience, lifters will tell me they want to go up or down a weight class and usually aren’t satisfied with the weight class that they naturally fall into. 

It’s also the case that you won’t stay in the weight class that you start out in. 

In this article, we are going to discuss:

  • How to determine your weight class
  • When you should change weight classes
  • Considerations for beginner and advanced lifters

HOW TO DETERMINE YOUR WEIGHT CLASS

Height

Height will naturally help determine weight class because the taller you are, usually the heavier you are. 

If your height, rather than the amount of muscle mass you have, puts you at the top end of your weight class, it might be advantageous to jump up a weight class. 

A shorter lifter with more muscle mass will not only have a biomechanical advantage over you but the fact that they have more muscle mass will truly put them at an advantage. 

In powerlifting, muscle moves weight. The more muscle you can pack on to your frame, the better. 

It’s more advantageous to pick a heavier weight class that allows you to add muscle and fill out over time. 

Weight

This is an obvious one. 

When talking about weight in this context, we are referring to your natural body weight or the weight that you sit at when you are not actively trying to manipulate it with diet and exercise. 

If you are a beginner, it’s best to start by just competing in the weight class you naturally fall into. 

Once you get more experience under your belt, then you can think about moving up or down a weight class. 

However, it’s best to only jump one weight class at a time and do it over time, with intention and a smart nutrition plan.

Want some help getting to a new weight class? Check out our nutrition coaching

Body Composition 

Your current body composition can also help to determine weight class. 

If you are currently relatively lean (10-15% for men, 17-20% for women), it’s not advantageous to drop a weight class. With this level of body fat, dropping weight would likely see a decrease in strength and performance. 

At this body composition you would consider either staying in your current weight class or adding muscle and even going up a weight class. 

If you are sitting at a higher body fat percent (about 25% for men and 30% for women), you could drop some body fat without sacrificing strength. This could even make you more competitive by increasing power to weight ratio. 

If you fall somewhere in between, then we can look at where you feel most comfortable and also where you might be most competitive. 

Age

Age and weight class is mainly relevant for younger lifters. 

It’s not necessary for young lifters to cut weight and try to go down a weight class. Instead, they should be focusing on maximising muscle and strength gains.

CHOOSING A WEIGHT CLASS AS A BEGINNER POWERLIFTER

First we will classify a beginner powerlifter as someone who has been lifting less than a year and who has done two competitions or less. 

As a beginner, the best thing to do is to compete in the weight class that you naturally fall into. 

When you are first starting out in powerlifting, your main focus should be on getting stronger, increasing muscle mass, and getting the most out of training. 

You are also still getting used to competing. The last thing you want is the stress of making weight while still being unsure of how the meet is run and how you perform as an athlete.

New lifters who try to cut weight usually do so too aggressively which ultimately decreases strength and performance on comp day. 

CHOOSING A WEIGHT CLASS AS AN ADVANCED POWERLIFTER

An advanced lifter is someone who has mastered the basics of competing and is now looking to qualify for higher level national and international competitions.

As an advanced lifter, your weight class is the class that you are most competitive in. Your most competitive weight class is the one where you can have the most muscle mass, limited body fat, and can maintain strength and performance. 

Getting into your most competitive weight class might mean strategically increasing calories over time to fill out that weight class, or strategically decreasing calories over time to drop body fat and go down a weight class. 

It is also common for advanced lifters to do a weight cut to reach their desired weight class. 

Check out our post on Weight Cuts Simplified.

WHEN SHOULD YOU GO UP A WEIGHT CLASS?

In powerlifting, especially with women in powerlifting, there is a constant concern about going down a weight class. 

However, we are going to first talk about when you should consider going up a weight class. Being lighter is not always the best option. 

Can you make weight without decreasing performance?

This is usually the biggest indicator that it’s time to move up a weight class. 

If you are always doing a weight cut before comp and are unable to maintain strength that you’ve built in the off season, it’s time to go up a weight class. 

As you build more lean mass through proper programming and nutrition, it might be difficult to cut down to a lower weight class. 

It’s better to embrace the heavier weight class and work on filling it out. 

At first, you might not be as competitive in your new weight class but over time as you continue to pack on muscle mass you will get even stronger. 

Do you have limited muscle mass?

Remember as we said before, muscle moves weight. 

A lifter with more muscle mass is going to have an advantage over a lifter with less mass as they are able to exert more force. 

If you are at the upper end of your current weight class with limited muscle mass, it’s time to pack on some mass and move up a class. 

This is especially true for taller, leaner lifters. Tall lifters tend to naturally sit at the upper end of their weight class. If you are limited in your ability to gain muscle because your height has put you at the top end of your weight class, it’s time to go up a class. 

Is there potential to be more competitive in a higher weight class?

This is a consideration if you have the opportunity to qualify for a national or international competition. 

For example, say you naturally sit between 90kg and 100kg and our goal is to podium at a national competition. We can evaluate the strength levels of the other competitors in each class and decide which class you are more likely to place in. 

WHEN SHOULD YOU DOWN A WEIGHT CLASS?

All the female lifters I have ever worked with have always wanted to go down a weight class. So we will address this question, when is it actually beneficial to drop a weight class?

In general, dropping a weight class is for advanced lifters who have experience competing and follow good nutrition protocols all year round. 

Do you have a higher body fat percentage?

If you are currently sitting at a higher body fat (about 25% for men and 32% for women), we can more easily go down a weight class without risking losing strength or muscle mass. 

However, it’s best going about this process slowly over an extended period of time. We might work on going down a weight class over the course of several months or even a year. 

The goal is to retain muscle mass and not see any significant decreases in strength.

Is there potential to be more competitive in a lower weight class?

There can be similar considerations as going up a weight class. 

For example, if we can go down a weight class to secure a spot for a national or international competition, it might be worth it. 

The key is, as long as we are not at risk of a decrease in strength and performance. 

Doing this is a strategic move and should be treated as such. We want to sit relatively close to the top end of the next class down. If you are sitting 4-7kg above the weight class you need to be in, you want to start a nutrition plan early so that you can drop some of that weight before beginning prep. 

Ideally, we want to be sitting just below the cut off for our weight class or at most 1-2kg over. 

This is where the guidance of a coach comes in handy.

Check out our nutrition coaching.

WHAT ARE THE POWERLIFTING WEIGHT CLASSES?

Each federation has different classes. The following classes are for GPC and APL which are the two larger federations in Australia. 

Women’s Weight Classes:

  • 48kg 
  • 52.5kg 
  • 56kg 
  • 60kg 
  • 67.5kg
  • 75kg 
  • 82.5kg 
  • 90kg 
  • 110kg 
  • 110kg+ 

Men’s Weight Classes:

  • 56kg 
  • 60kg 
  • 67.5kg 
  • 75kg 
  • 82.5kg 
  • 90kg 
  • 100kg 
  • 110kg 
  • 125kg 
  • 140kg+ 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Deciding which weight class to compete in will happen very naturally in the beginning. As we become more experienced, it may become beneficial to go up or down a weight class. Making this decision is a lot easier with the help of a coach. 

Any questions? Feel free to send an email to natalie@nemesisperformance.com.au

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