Class Should I Compete In?
When we all get back to the gym, we might find ourselves in a different weight class to where we were before. David Penney has lifted in a number of classes with us in the North West, he tells us about his experiences below.
As a new (but not so young), independent lifter just starting out and considering entering a competition, an important question was: “which weight class would be optimal for me?”. Should I enter at my current weight, should I bulk up to the next class, or should I cut down to the class below?
I have often read that it is ill advised to cut weight before a comp, then on the other hand there are folks who consistently train at the bottom of the weight class above and then cut aggressively pre-comp to sit competitively at the top end of their competition weight class (this can often be a close call and there is the risk of not making your weight class at all, which would exclude you from placing at the competition). The latter athletes seem to be those who tend to take the sport a little more seriously and who are out to compete seriously against others, rather than just competing against their own previous competition bests, which is currently my primary aim. Sometimes there may be a competitive advantage to switching your weight class due to the number of active lifters in that particular class and this is more evident the further you move up the Masters age class categories. I do not profess to be an expert at weight class selection, far from it, but I do like to experiment and interpret the outcomes. And so it is, at the request of the Editor, I have put this short note together based on my own experience, having now competed in three different weight classes, as follows: -93kg, -83kg, -105kg.
I have now been in six competitions, though due to the odd back tweak here and there my squats and deadlifts have not increased over time as much as they could have done. Consequently, these data do not add much to the debate so will be ignored and I will focus on my bench press results, which have not been affected by these particular injuries. However, various other events have impacted on my bench as will be detailed later.
NW Bench Champs
NW Christmas Spectacular
Prior to starting powerlifting I had done a couple of years in the gym after realising I was in very bad shape. I have no idea what my body weight was, but I was wearing 46 inch waist trousers, and at almost six feet tall I must have been close to 20 stones (127kg), if not more. I lost the weight reasonably quickly and started training powerlifting in the -93kg class, but did not compete until I had cut down to the -83kg class. Newbie gains were made relatively easily over my first two comps, but by the time I weighed in at my third competition at 81.4kg my body fat was very low indeed. I looked totally ripped and at 50 years-old had a six-pack that put most youngsters to shame. However, I soon realised that this was not sustainable, especially if I wanted to increase my strength significantly. At the North West Bench Championships my top lift was a mere 102.5kg, which I was very disappointed with, as my training lifts at just a few kg body weight heavier, had been around 115kg, and I was hoping to open at 110kg on the day! Indeed, I was so miffed with this result that I immediately registered for the North West Championships which was due to happen approximately 4 weeks later, but I entered in the -93kg class and decided I was not going to worry about my weight for that one and started eating my way up. I felt much better and managed 115kg for a new comp PB on the day and decided I would remain in the -93kg class and this would still work aesthetically.
In October 2018 I became unwell and in December of that year was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (I will be writing an article on lifting with IBD at a later date and would be interested to hear from other powerlifters with this condition). I was prescribed, amongst other things, corticosteroids, a side effect of which is that you want to eat EVERYTHING! I had recently seen a friend go from a very strong and well-built 90+kg, waste away to 40+kg and almost die as a result of IBD, so I decided that if I was going to experience anything similar then I wanted sufficient body reserves to help me through, which my current low body fat was not likely to provide. I also changed my diet completely to help manage the condition and so it was that I happily and intentionally headed up to the -105kg class. Fortunately, my IBD went into remission and my first competition at this weight (North West Masters) saw me bench 120kg, representing a 5kg increase on my comp PB and I was looking forward to extending this further at the North West Christmas Spectacular a few months later.
However, life struck again 4 weeks before the comp, this time in the form of a very nasty finger crush injury (I caught the tip of my finger between a 150kg squat bar and a safety rack side bar), which resulted in a real bloody mess of ripped flesh and shattered bone and there was talk of having to amputate the tip, though fortunately this was not necessary. I was unable to do any lifting at the gym for 2 weeks and only moderate lifting for a week or so after that. I still managed to compete but my weights were way down, at just 112.5 for my third attempt. Undeterred, I signed up for the British Bench Press Championships, despite experiencing a resurgence of my IBD symptoms due to the antibiotic treatment received for my finger injury! I opened at 115kg and walked away with a new comp PB of 122.5kg and second place in my M2 weight category; I had planned for 125 or 127.5, but don't think I would have hit them on the day, though I certainly expect to next time.
So, what can we take away from this and where is next for me? Will I go for a stint in the -120kg class? I very much doubt it, but you never know! Certainly, there is a correlation between bodyweight and amount of weight lifted, and this was particularly evident at the British Bench Press Championships. However, this is never going to be a nice linear or smooth curve due to life events and there are plenty of very light lifters shifting very heavy loads also. If you are just starting off in powerlifting, experiment a bit during the early years to see what suits you best. If you want to compete seriously then take advice from an experienced coach with a good track record of success.