Often in the powerlifting community, we hear about people trying to “make weight” or moving up and down weight classes. But how do we know which class we should be competing in?
How To Pick Your Weight Class For Powerlifting? Choosing a weight class to compete in depends on the lifter’s experience level, anthropometric characteristics (height, weight, lean mass, fat mass), and the weight class in which they will be the most competitive.
In this article, I will discuss the 4 ways to determine your weight class, when it’s time to change weight classes, and considerations for beginner and advanced lifters.
4 Ways To Determine Your Weight Class For Powerlifting
There are four considerations to make when determining your weight class for powerlifting:
- Natural Weight
- Body Fat Percentage
Height helps to determine our weight class because it will be represented when we step on the scale.
If our height, rather than our muscle mass, puts us at the top end of our weight class, we wiIl be at a disadvantage compared to shorter and more muscular lifters.
Not only would we have to work harder to lift the same weight as a lifter who is shorter than us because of mechanical disadvantages, but we will also have less muscle mass and therefore less ability to exert force.
Instead, we should pick a weight class that we can fill out with a more substantial amount of lean tissue to have more force-generating capacity.
2. Natural Weight
Our natural weight refers to the weight at which our body will naturally stabilize at when we are not actively trying to manipulate it with food, this is called our “set point”.
In the beginning stages of competing, this is the weight that we should compete at. Once we determine what our weight is, we can see which of the powerlifting bodyweight categories we fit into, and then register to compete in that category.
When we get to the point where we want to change weight classes, we should pick a weight class close to where we naturally sit. Moving up or down one weight class is do-able but moving up or down multiple weight classes takes time, to preserve/gain as much lean mass as possible and avoid increasing fat mass.
When adjusting weight classes from our natural weight, we should start by only moving one weight class initially, and perhaps keeping additional adjustments part of a long-term goal (if we still have excess body fat or the potential to significantly increase lean mass).
Thinking about competing? Make sure to check out my other article on What To Eat During A Powerlifting Meet.
3. Body Fat Percentage
Our level of body fat can help us to choose our weight class because it will determine whether we can drop a weight class and maintain our strength, or if it’s more beneficial to go up a class and add muscle mass.
The lowest most people can go before we start seeing negative impacts on performance is 10-15% body fat for men and 17-20% body fat for women. If this is currently where we are, we should not drop a weight class. And over time, as we build additional lean mass, we will most likely have to go up.
If we’re currently sitting above 25% body fat for men or 30% for women, we can afford to lose some fat mass by dropping a weight class to increase our relative strength.
If your body fat percentage is anywhere in between these two ranges, we should choose based on what will make us more competitive – staying where we are, adding lean mass, or decreasing fat mass.
Read my other article where I discuss whether powerlifting will make you fat.
Young lifters should never cut a weight class while they are still developing.
Research shows that by doing so, they jeopardize strength and power development and may actually limit their ability to reach their full potential later on.
Young lifters should compete at the weight class at which they naturally sit, and focus on maximizing muscular development.
Picking Your Weight Class As A Beginner Powerlifter
First of all let’s define who a beginner is. A beginner is someone who has been lifting for less than a year, and/or has not competed more than twice.
If I am a beginner, I should not try to make a certain weight class. Instead, I should compete in the class that I naturally fall into.
The reason for this is that as a beginner, my sole focus while competing should be on improving meet day performance and learning the flow of the meet.
At this point, if we’re too focused on making a certain weight, we may jeopardize our performance.
Inexperienced lifters may diet incorrectly (cut too fast/too much), resulting in decrements in strength and performance; or bulk too aggressively, leading to significant fat gain (less relative strength) and bloating, which could alter their movement patterns as well as leave them feeling lethargic.
There are many important details in powerlifting competitions that we need to learn to master before thinking about manipulating our weight to make a certain weight class.
To learn more about getting started in powerlifting, check out our Beginner’s Guide To Start Powerlifting
Picking Your Weight Class As An Advanced Powerlifter
Advanced lifters are those who have mastered the basics and are working towards higher finishes at national or international competitions.
As advanced lifters, our goal should be to compete in the weight class where we are the most competitive and have the best chance of winning.
The weight class where we are most competitive, is the weight class where we have the most lean muscle mass, limited fat mass, and can maintain strength and performance.
This could mean actively increasing calories periodically with a slow and steady approach (“lean bulking”) to fill out a weight class. Or, it could be systematically reducing calories over time to lose body fat and drop a weight class.
When Should You Consider Going Up A Weight Class?
Here are some considerations to make when you want to go up a weight class:
- Are You Unable To Make Weight Without Decreases In Performance?
- Are You Tall, But With Limited Muscle Mass?
- Is There Potential to Be More Competitive At A Higher Weight Class?
Are You Unable To Make Weight Without Decreases In Performance?
If we continuously cut weight for a competition, but can’t hold onto our strength that we developed in a training environment, it’s probably time to move up a class.
Most competitive individuals choose to train at a weight slightly higher than their competition weight. When it’s time to compete, they cut (with food and/or water manipulation) to reach their competitive class.
Over time, as we build more lean mass through proper programming and nutrition, it may become difficult to cut to this class, leading to decrements in performance by attempting to make weight.
At this point, it is worth embracing the increase in lean mass and working to fill out the next class. We may not be as competitive initially in the next class up, but over time when we “grow into” the class we will be even stronger because of this increase in muscle tissue.
Are You Tall, But With Limited Muscle Mass
If we are taller and weaker than our competitors, it is probably time to move up a class.
Remember, the lifter with the most muscle mass is more likely to win the competition because of their increased ability to exert force. In addition, taller lifters have to exert more force than shorter lifters to lift the same amount of weight.
If we are limited in our ability to gain muscle mass in our current class because we are tall, it is more worth our time to increase muscle mass and go up a weight class. All in all, filling out a weight class with height is much less beneficial than filling out a class with muscle.
That being said, there are individuals who are very tall with a more slender build that can lift crazy amounts of weight, but they are the exception.
Is There More Potential To Be More Competitive At A Higher Weight Class?
If we have the opportunity to make a national or international team, and we have the choice between two weight classes, it makes sense to choose the weight class that we can successfully make and be most competitive in.
Say we sit somewhere between the 72kg and 84kg class in the women’s division and our goal is to win the class and try for an international team. If we know the other competitors in each class and have a general sense of their strength levels, we can evaluate which class we are more likely to be competitive in.
If our options are between a lifter who has multiple world records in the 72kg class (for example, you’re competing against @djessicabuettner) or a lifter in the 84kg class who has no records and is roughly the same level of strength as us, it makes more sense to go for the 84kg class.
Wondering if you’re strong enough to compete at your first powerlifting meet? Check out our guide on How Strong You Need To Be At Your First Powerlifting Competition
When Should You Consider Going Down A Weight Class?
Once we become a more advanced lifter, it may be worth going down a weight class if we meet one of the following criteria:
- Do You Have A High Body Fat Percentage
- Are You In Contention For A National/International Team Spot?
Do You Have A High Body Fat Percentage?
If we have a high body fat percentage (above 25% for men, and 32% for women), we have the potential to “easily” drop a weight class while retaining muscle mass.
Although it may be tempting to go about this process as quickly as possible, it is actually more beneficial to cut down slowly (no more than 1% of your bodyweight per week) to encourage muscle retention and metabolic health.
If our body fat percentage is lower than the numbers stated above, it may still be worthwhile to drop a class but it should be noted that there can be consequences if we drop below 10% for men, or 16% for women.
Are You In Contention For A National/International Spot?
It is worth dropping a weight class if we can successfully do so, without drastically decreasing our performance, and it means the difference between making a national/international team or not.
It’s important to be realistic with ourselves about our ability to drop a weight class. We should sit fairly close to this weight class as the competition approaches to improve our chances of weighing in on target. If we are 10-15lbs over the weight class, we should be starting our nutritional interventions well in advance.
As the competition approaches, we may be already on target or slightly over. If we are still above our desired weight class, we can continue with food manipulation or we have the option to water cut (manipulating hydration levels to dehydrate temporarily and make weight). However, I do not recommend water cutting more than 3-5% of body weight.
It is worth talking to a registered dietitian or hiring an experienced coach, to help you drop a weight class without losing muscle mass.
What Happens If You Don’t Make Your Weight Class For Powerlifting?
Choosing which weight class to register for is an important decision because if we don’t make weight at a regional, national, or international competition, we cannot compete.
For this reason, as a beginner, it is important to choose the class in which we will naturally fall into. At this stage, we want to show up, lift weights and gain experience, rather than worry about being able to compete or not.
Read about 55 Mistakes First-Time Powerlifters Make (one of which is cutting weight for your first competition).
As an advanced lifter with more competitive goals, the weight class we choose can set us up for success or failure. If we register for a weight class that isn’t our “normal” weight, we increase the risk of “missing weight” and not being able to compete at all.
At local level and provincial/state level competitions, if you weigh-in too heavy, you just simply compete in the higher weight class, so the risk is very low.
What Are The Powerlifting Weight Classes?
Each federation will have its own weight class classifications, so make sure to check with your organization before registering for a meet.
The IPF has the following weight classes:
We “make weight” when we weigh within the range or exactly on target. For example: if I want to make the 74 kg Men’s Class, I need to weigh within 66.01 – 74.0 kg; any lower or any higher, and I would “miss weight” and be unable to compete.
Read more about How Powerlifting Meets Work.
Deciding which weight class to compete in will happen very naturally in the beginning stages of powerlifting. As we gain more experience in the sport, it may be beneficial to change classes to become more competitive. Remember to be realistic when registering for a new weight class, because the weight class you compete in won’t matter if you bomb out of the meet.