From Middle Weight to Light Weight; Making the Cut

Mark Clevenger

It’s human nature to think the grass is greener on the other side but there are some instances where you just have to find out for yourself. Last March I got the idea to cut weight classes for Strongman from a 225 lb Open Middle Weight (MW) competitor to a 181 lb Open Light Weight (LW) competitor. I wanted to perform better in the sport as well as experience the process of dropping weight classes. I looked at the MW event weights, then at the LW event weights and thought, “Hey, drop a few lb’s and I could totally murder that!!” Plus, as a coach, I understand the value of hands-on experience with the things we teach. Anybody can write up (or purchase) a macro template with a water cut for weight loss while training, but can they give you the intimate details on everything they will experience throughout the process? I wanted to be able to give my clients these details so they can learn from my experience and not just my knowledge.

In order to track this process, I have outlined my brief background in strongman and details of my experiences with weight cutting complete with some of the “ah-ha” moments along the way.

Diary of a 30-year-old Football Player

I started my journey into Strongman 6 months after my college football career ended back in 2015. I had dropped 15 pounds of ‘playing weight’ (from 240 to 225) pretty easy working out on my own and was looking to compete in something to fill the competitive void left by football. I coached part time at a gym that was hosting a novice Strongman competition and the owner asked if I would participate so he could have a coaching presence competing to represent his gym. I respected the hell out of this guy and agreed based on the request more than my desire to do it. As it turns out, this was the beginning of my love affair with Strongman.

Now, I was a blocking Tight End in college (at 30, mind you) who specialized in moving people where I wanted them to go, because of this experience my dynamic strength was through the roof. The downside of this experience was the fact that my shoulders and lower back were completely wrecked which severely limited my static strength in the press and deadlift.

“I was starry eyed for success and in March of 2016 I decided to purchase my Renaissance Periodization weight cut template and start my journey to the LW Open weight class.”

After a few shows where I bombed my static events I started looking at other weight classes. My wondering mind convinced itself that I had some excess weight to shed and that the static weights for the LW Open division were manageable at my current abilities. Key phrase here moving forward, current abilities at 225 lbs. I figured with manageable static weights in those events coupled with my dynamic strength abilities I could go and compete at a high level. I was starry eyed for success and in March of 2016 I decided to purchase my Renaissance Periodization weight cut template and start my journey to the LW Open weight class.

Kentucky’s Strongest Man

Over the course of the next year, I moved 4 times (2 of those cross country) which made dieting and training difficult. The inability to consistently cook and prep my meals due to big moves and transitional housing stalled my weight loss to around 210 lbs. After finally getting settled with both my diet and training in July 2016 I set my sights on Kentucky’s Strongest Man in October. That title was too cool to pass up competing for.

“My deadlift dropped almost 100 lbs and my overhead progress had completely stalled. My dynamic strength had taken a hit too.”

I weighed in at 205 lbs and competed in the Novice LW Division (don’t judge me) which I subsequently won. Although I won, there was a noticeable strength decrease in my competition performance. My deadlift dropped almost 100 lbs and my overhead progress had completely stalled. My dynamic strength had taken a hit too but the performance effect was negligible considering how good I naturally was at it (thanks Depauw Football!). How much of this decrease in static strength was all the stress associated with moving coupled with inconsistent training and how much of it was losing weight I can’t really say. I can say that while cutting weight classes, don’t do it and move 4-5 times (several cross country) during the process. I equate it to pulling up your pants while you’re still going to the bathroom, it makes a mess and more work for you in the long run than if you were patient and waited until you were finished.

Goal Set- Eyes on the Prize

After this win I set my sights on the Open LW division for the Savage Strength Challenge in April of 2017. My weight drop from 205 lbs to 190 lbs happened from November 2016 to February 2017.

“I was totally ripped but had little to no fat left to lose.”

Over this time my deadlift progressed had stalled but I was beginning to make headway on my overhead. My shoulders felt like they were finally healing from football (2 years later) and I was able to lift the way I wanted/needed to improve their strength. After several years I could finally move my arms over my head without wincing and looking like an old man. The weight loss problem at this point became the fact I was totally ripped and had little to no fat left to lose. This is great if you like being ripped more than you hate being hungry but most of us don’t operate like that. Plus it was the dead of winter so I couldn’t even walk around in public without a shirt to show off. The timing for this all around was very poor.

If It Fits Your Macros

From February through the beginning of April I adjusted my macro’s and was able to get my weight down to 186 lbs. I was eating like a rabbit, always hungry, tired all the time, couldn’t train with the intensity that I was accustomed, and constantly felt like trash.

“I felt like an angry troll, with abs!”

I had become short tempered and pissy to everyone around me. The best description I can come up with is that I felt like an angry troll, with abs (put that in your mental image bank). I attributed this continued drop in weight to a loss of lean mass because my lab values came back with low testosterone and excessively high values of Creatinine and BUN (Blood Urea Nitrogen). My continued strength loss was an obvious physical effect of my body catabolizing my lean mass which the lab values verified since the byproducts of protein breakdown were reflected in both BUN and Creatinine.

The Water Cut and Rehydrating

The week of the competition I used a water cut to get me down to 178 lbs the Thursday night before the 24-hour weigh in on Friday. By that night my skin started to turn grey and my face was so dehydrated I looked like Skeletor from He-Man. I couldn’t stand up too fast because I would light headed and almost pass out, my pissyness was amplified, and just moving around in general was exhausting. At this point I didn’t even know if I could get on the board for any of the events on that Saturday which was a scary feeling.

“Weight goal met! I weighed in on Friday at 178.2 lbs.”

Before and After

Beforeandafter

After barely eating/drinking anything on Thursday I weighed in on Friday at 178.2 lbs. I immediately downed a gallon of Gatorade/coconut water/Creatine/and Pedialyte mix. I had looked forward to eating so much for so long, but knew I needed electrolytes and fluids ASAP. My plan was to down the fluids and eat everything within arm’s reach. After that gallon of fluids I felt sick and my stomach was totally stretched out with no room for food. It took over an hour until I had enough room in there to pound a double bacon cheeseburger with extra-large fries from Five Guys Burger and Fries!!

I Eat All The Things

I ate until I felt sick again and stopped. Over the next two hours I randomly snacked on maple butter blondie bites, Oreo’s, and Complete Cookies. Three hours after eating at Five Guys, I ate Chipotle with double meat and extra rice, again eating all of it to the point of being sick. Two and a half hours later I had Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese from Applebee’s with a Maple Butter Blondie. I got all the way to the last bite of desert and couldn’t finish it. I felt so sick I didn’t want to move. I went back to the hotel room and managed to down a Casein protein shake and pass out.

Overall I honestly didn’t care how sick I felt, I was food deprived for so long at this point that nothing, not even my own body, was going to tell me I couldn’t have the food I craved and missed. By the end of Friday (a 10,000 calorie binge eating fest) I was starting to feel normal, outside of the over-full sick feeling, but was still worried about being able to lift heavy at the competition.

Game Day- Savage Strength Challenge

The next morning I got up really early, downed another gallon of Gatorade/coconut water/creatine/and pedialite mix, went to IHOP for stacks of pancakes, scrambled eggs, hash browns, and bacon. An hour and a half later I had waffles and eggs from the continental breakfast at the hotel before getting ready to go compete.

“I left the hotel and weighed in at 194lbs. Yes, I gained almost 16lbs of water and food weight in 24 hours!“

I was amazed at how good I felt at this point. I almost felt human again and was looking forward to competing. I did one last weight in to see the difference before I left the hotel and weighed in at 194lbs. Yes, I gained almost 16lbs of water and food weight in 24 hours.

First Place- Men’s Open Light Weight

I walked away with my first, first place finish in an open weight class. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a good gauge for performance because only one other guy in my weight class showed up and he zeroed several events. All I had to do to win was 1 rep for three events, carry a heavy yoke farther than 20ft, and carry a heavy Husafell father than 107ft.

“I beat the other guy long before we both got on the platform. I worked harder to prepare and it showed.”

I was there to win and didn’t want to risk injury and lose to lesser competition so I only did the bare minimum to win. I wanted to push my limits and see what kind of toll everything had taken on me but at the end of the day it’s always about the win, no matter how you get it. I felt guilty afterwards but a teammate put it best to me, I beat the other guy long before we both got on the platform. Even with the weight cut, I worked harder to prepare than the other guy and it showed.

We went out to eat that night as a crew and then drove three and a half hours home. I continued to eat everything in sight from Sunday until the following Saturday and watched my weight get up as high as 198 lbs.

“I felt amazing all week and was hitting numbers I hadn’t hit in nearly two and a half months. My body was finally back to functioning normally and I could feel it.”

I was able to resume training that following Monday in preparation for our next contest since the previous Saturday (competition day) only tallied up to a moderate event training day in comparison to the amount of energy and effort I put forth. I felt amazing all week and was hitting numbers I hadn’t hit in nearly two and a half months. Out of curiosity I went into the doctor the following Thursday after the competition and had my lab values taken again. My testosterone, Creatinine, and BUN were all within normal ranges. My body was finally back to functioning normally and I could feel it.

The Moral of the Story

So what was the purpose of me telling you my backstory into Strongman and the long road I traveled from MW competitor to LW competitor? I wanted to share this experience with you to give you a first-hand account of weight cutting for strength sports and what I learned from it.  In the end, the hardest lesson learned is the hardest to swallow, just get stronger. The grass isn’t greener on the other side, the process will not be fun, you will not be your strongest you on game day, and it’s just an excuse to play down to the competition. I’ve heard stories of other athletes traveling this path without losing strength and even PR’ing events, but I was not one of them. If your weight is close to the cutoff naturally and all you have to do is cut out a little bit of food a week or two before, go for it. If you’re 45 pounds off… just get stronger.

I find myself questioning how much stronger would I be today if I hadn’t wasted those 6 months or so of harsh dieting and just ate to perform instead of under eating to underperform. Granted the experience cannot be replaced and I can use this as a lesson to others but that doesn’t mean I would do it again knowing what I know now.

So go forth, eat to be happy, train to compete because you love it, and everything will fall into place where it belongs. If that’s on the podium, great. If not, at least you didn’t torture yourself for several months and were a complete a-hole to everyone you love around you. Depending on how you look at it, either way it’s a win.

The Fallacy of Cardio for Fat Loss

By Mark Clevenger
December 31st 2016

I started writing this piece the other day by tactfully addressing the fat loss ignorance that permeates our culture. After 3 pages of teasing out all the misused and misunderstood information I still hadn’t started addressing the real science, the facts, about fat loss and exercise. So I decided to scrap it and write a blunt post backed by science. After all, the best argument you can make for bad or misused information, are facts.

Fact #1: Your diet dictates fat gain and fat loss1. Fat loss is simply a matter of calories out (exercise) > calories in (food). Your body must be a state of caloric deficit to lose fat1.  No if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. If you eat more than you use, you will not lose weight. You can believe whatever you want about your buddy who used the pop tart diet, or took a magic pill through some Ponzi scheme, but this is a proven fact.

Fact #2: Resistance training is better than aerobic training at burning fat2. This is because resistance training for fat loss is shown to reduce fat and preserve fat free mass (muscle) during times of caloric deficit2. Aerobic training (cardio) on the other hand shows a reduction in both fat and fat free mass2. Reduced lean mass is contrary to your fat loss goals. Don’t believe me? See Fact #3.

Fact #3: Muscle burns energy substrates (fat, carbohydrate, and protein) for fuel to perform work3.  With this fact known we can logically conclude that someone with 100lbs of fat free mass uses twice as much energy as someone with 50lbs of fat free mass doing the same amount of work. So having a little extra muscle only helps you get the desired effect of fat loss quicker. Muscle is our friend in the fight against fat loss.

I can hear the women reading this now in my head as I write, ‘but I don’t want to get bulky.’

Fact #4: If you’re lifting weights while on a caloric deficit diet you won’t put on mass. The body doesn’t have the substrate quantities necessary (because of the deficit) to build new muscle and make you ‘bulky.’

What should you take from all this? First and foremost, your diet dictates fat gain or fat loss1. Second, resistance training is better than standalone ‘cardio’ for fat loss because it preserves muscle while burning fat2. This resistance training will not make you bulky when dieting, regardless of your gender. Muscle is our friend because it burns substrates, like fat, for fuel. The more muscle we have, the greater potential to burn these substrates. So please, please, please, get off the cardio train at the next available stop and get on the resistance training bus with a one way ticket to less body fat. Or just keep running all the time and complaining to your friends about how you look skinny-fat instead of just skinny.

References:

  1. Hall K.D. What is the required energy deficit per unit weight loss. Int J Obes (Lond). 2008; 32(3): 573-576.
  2. Geliebter A. Maher M.M. Gerace L. Gutin B. Heymsfield S.B. Hashim S.A. Effects of strength or aerobic training on body composition, resting metabolic rate, and peak oxygen consumption in obese dieting subjects. Am J Clin Nut. 1997; 66(3): 557-563.
  3. Gaitanos G.C. Williams C. Boobis L.H. Brooks S. Human muscle metabolism during intermittent maximal exercise. J App Phys. 1993; 75(2): 712-719.