Weight Cuts – What’s the Deal?

Before I started competing in Jiu Jitsu, I never owned a scale. They were not allowed in my house growing up and I just never felt the need to purchase one.

When I announced my intentions to compete for the first time, I was asked the big question of which weight class I would be entering. Honestly, I looked down on the whole process of cutting weight as a stupid, unnecessary thing. I remember making an inward vow that I would never drop weight for a competition. Logically, I would feel best at whatever my normal walking weight is right?

Wrong.

Now first, I will say that I know people who have done very stupid things in order to make weight – and in a last ditch effort, I have done stupid things myself. If done properly, however, dropping to a lower weight class can give you an extra edge in more ways than just a size difference.

My normal walking weight is about 145 lbs. With a Gi on, that would be roughly 148 lbs and put me in the middle weight division for an IBJJF competition. I have competed in the middle weight division and it was not a pleasant experience. Over the past four years of competing, I have determined that light weight is my sweet spot. This requires me to drop about 7 lbs over the course of 4-6 weeks. Please note that most often, my weigh ins are done just a few minutes before my matches, so no huge water cuts for me.

I think this actually ends up being a very good thing for me physically and mentally.

  • I have a smaller body frame and have more likelihood of matching up with someone of the same size in the light weight division.
  • Planning out the weight drop in advance forces me to adjust my eating habits and increase my cardio – which makes me physically feel better and stronger.
  • The mental discipline required to keep me on track with my eating and training really helps to keep me focused and feel on point at the actual event.

So What?

 My advice I give to people about weight cuts, is to experiment with it. Don’t do anything crazy as a white belt. You may see high level competitors doing large weight drops for the world championships, but keep in mind that they have been doing this for years and have worked out their system and acclimated their body over time to be able to make their selected weight class without falling apart.

Everyone has a different body type, metabolism, and environmental factors. This is why I advocate experimenting with different weight classes to find where you feel you fit in best. I have actually made feather weight twice (125 lbs) – but just because I can, doesn’t mean that I should.

 

How do you know if it is your weight class?

Just ask yourself a few simple questions after your matches. Did you feel strong, did you feel focused? How was your speed? Did you gas out? How was your muscular endurance? If you felt good, then stick with that division for a little while and see where it takes you.

It’s not all about size

 Quite often, I run into opponents who are larger than me in my weight class. One of my friends saw my weight class podium photo from the 2016 Pans and thought it was the open weight class, due to the size differences represented on the podium. The size of your opponents doesn’t matter so much as does your own physical and mental conditioning. I see making weight not as trying to be the biggest in the next weight class down, but as making sure I am physically at my best before going out to compete.

My Weight Class Journey

I remember when I first started training Jiu Jitsu. It was toward the end of January so everyone was thinking about Pan Ams and weight cuts. At that time, I was thinking everyone was crazy, and that I’d never do that.

My perspective has changed over the years. In my eyes, the purpose of weight classes are to try to eliminate the size factor so that it is an equal footing test of skill. If skill is matched, size will win. This is why it’s always a huge deal if someone from the middle to low end of the weight classes manages to win the open weight class. Their skill level was high enough that day to overcome the size differences.

So how does someone determine which weight class they should be competing at? I think it’s a process of experimenting to find where you feel strongest. 

I’ve competed from 125 up to 155 and have found my sweet spot right around 135. When I’m not competing, my weight naturally stabilizes at around 142 – so with extra cardio and clean eating I can make 135 within a couple of weeks.

I can make 125 with a very tight regimen of cardio training, long sparring sessions, and calorie restriction. I did it twice in one year for Pans and Worlds. It is an achievable division for me, but only if I’m able to take 6 weeks off from work to focus on the process. I’ve been having to adult a lot the past few years and have not been able to have another go at it. Maybe this next year it will be possible?

I competed my first year as a purple belt at 145. Lots of reasons why there, and I determined that it is a reasonable division for me. It’s not ideal since I was at the low end of the weight class and I could feel the strength differential.

155… I just had no business in that weight class.
Weight Cuts and Aging:

As I get older, it has become more difficult to maintain a lower walking weight. I find myself having to pay more attention to my normal eating habits, change up my cardiovascular routine, and spend more time on recovery and prehab exercises.

In the golden days of my youth, all I had to do was cut out pasta for a week in order to make 135. Now I actually have to do a structured meal and conditioning plan in order to make the same weight. I like to blame having more muscle mass now than when I first started but let’s face it. I hit 30 and my metabolism did a “whoa Nelly” on me.

I wonder sometimes if I might eventually shift up to the higher weight class – but I am resisting that option. It’s just gonna take a little more dedication and focus on my part, and that’s a good thing!

In Closing:

Weight classes are an integral part of Jiu Jitsu competition. But they are just one factor of the whole. I’ve known many people who focused so hard on making a weight class that it was a detriment to their technique and mental training. I’ve also known people who have completely neglected maintaining a healthy weight and ended up in unbalanced match ups that should not have occurred outside of the open weight division. By “known people” I refer to myself. Balance is key.

Abu Dhabi World Pro Recap

I just made it back to the states after a very interesting 10 days in the United Arab Emirates. I will work on a few other blog posts detailing some of the non-competition experiences (food, desert safari, shopping in local markets, etc) – for now I will just be sharing about my adventures leading up through the competition event itself. So… prepare yourself for informal story time!

I booked my flight before the schedule was solidified, so I ended up arriving in the Abu Dhabi airport at around 3 am local time on the day I was to compete. No day before weigh ins for me – so I was very hungry and thirsty. Female hormones decided to time their surge during this critical stage, so I did not have the planned wiggle room for my weight.

I hung out at the airport for about 5 hours, charging my devices and staring with thirst envy at everyone else who happened to take a sip from a water bottle in my vicinity. Occasionally, I would stroke my bag of sports drinks and whisper a “soon my precious, soon”. When time finally came for me to make my way to the venue for weigh ins, I purchased a metro card and made my way out to the bus stop along with my suitcase and bag. I missed the proper metro stop and therefore ended up walking about 1.5 miles in the desert heat, dragging my suitcase over cobblestone (R.I.P suitcase). When I finally arrived at the competition venue and weighed in, I was a full pound under weight thanks to that desert stroll – so all’s well!

I had about 90 minutes before my division was set to begin, so I proceeded to down a bottle of electrolyted liquid and lie down with my feet up in the warm up area. At this point the giddiness began to kick in because I realized I had made it happen and I was really going to get to go out and compete.

img_2551My match was meant to be the 5th one in my division, but since it was the first match that the coordinator found, it got bumped to the first event of the day! So this means being escorted past the curtain out to the side of the mat while the tv commentators are talking and the crowd is starting to rumble in the background. I was grinning like a fool. So happy to be there after all the work I put in to make it happen. This was going to be me showing my best game.

Finally, the referee gives the motion to start the match and everything else fades away to a pinpoint of focus. I go from grinning fool to focused animal in the drop of a hand. My opponent came at me with fury and powerful technique. I responded instinctively, just doing what I know how to do (so many inversions!). When we reached 1 minute left I looked at the scoreboard and saw that I was up 2 advantage points and could coast the last bit if I wanted. However, that is how I missed out on a finals match in Cincinnati, so I kept going. My opponent knew she only had to pass my guard in order to advance to the next round and I could feel her determination and drive. Suddenly I saw an opening and managed to lock in a submission, rolling to mount to finish in the last 30 seconds of the match. It was honestly one of my proudest matches. It was a war from beginning to end with a worthy opponent whom I would love a chance to match up with again!

I was as elated and made my way back to the holding area when the adrenaline dump kicked in like it never has before. That along with the lack of sleep and recovery time hit all at once. I was very close to throwing up and had to lie down on the floor with my legs elevated. Thankfully since I ended up being the first match of the day, they had to process through the rest of my division before they came back to me again. It was a full 30 minutes before I could sit up without nearly blacking out and I have not been that close to backing out of a match before. However, I owed it to my first opponent to continue on and do my very best! So once I could sit up, I focused on projecting a strong solid front to any of my opponents who might be watching me. Just because I feel like I’m going to pass out, doesn’t mean I need to let people see that.

My name was called for my second match and I kept that mask on as I went out. I wish there was a triumphant resolution to this tale, but alas, I was immediately pulled into a triangle and had to tap to the pressure on my neck. I kept the mask on afterwards, thanked my referee and made my way back to find ice for my neck.

All in all, this was one of my favorite tournament experiences and it was an honor to participate in it! I also earned enough points to be ranked #6 in North America! I will be back. What I will do differently next time is just book a flight arriving much earlier so that I can have time to do the day before weigh ins and recover more completely. Mentally I was more focused than I have in the past year – I feel like I am starting to be confident in my game again. I will continue to improve and make myself better every day. My next goal will be to hit as many of the Grand Slam events as possible (Tokyo is in July), and also to wreck some havoc at Master Worlds.

Bend or Break?

I am now two weeks into this training camp, with two weeks left to go! I definitely miss my crew back home in Nashville, but am keeping busy enough that I’m not really stopping too much to think about it.

I expected it to be tough. Last Tuesday I had a very rough morning training session and got fairly emotional about it. I think I was able to hide it for the most part, then spent the rest of the day listening to my training motivation soundtracks. That evening I had probably my most “on” session up to that point.

My coach, Shawn Hammonds, thankfully has done an excellent job preparing me mentally for tough training. I have learned to accept it, and allow it to reshape me. Someone who is not prepared to handle the physical and mental pressure of this concentrated environment would likely break.

The way I see it, I have two options: give up, or keep moving. Since giving up isn’t really an option for me, I can only suck it up and train.

I’m really excited about competing at Worlds this year. I get to step on that mat knowing that I have done everything possible to prepare myself – and that, my friend, is going to be an extremely liberating experience!

I have talked with my amazing crew at Raijin Fight Wear and they are looking into sending me an assortment of stickers that I can give out at Worlds! So if that pans out, consider it a game of “Where’s Nicholle?” Find me and get a free sticker of your choice (and there are some cool ones!)

My weight drop is coming along nicely. Compared to Pans, I am 2 pounds ahead of schedule and hope to keep that momentum going!

 
I am definitely running hungry at all times, but I am able to train full speed for multiple 8 minute rounds in a row with no problems with stamina so I consider myself good to go!

14 days until I leave for Jiu Jitsu World Championships! 

Current weight: 130.8 (goal 126.5)

Success!

If you read my last update, you will know that I had determined I was going to be competing in the feather weight division for the first time ever. I’ve attempted the cut several times before, but always quit halfway through. I was determined, and when I hit that wall again this time, I told myself “No quitting. Make it happen.”

I was about a pound over when I arrived at the hotel on Tuesday. I wasn’t horribly worried about it because I didn’t compete until Friday. Dad flew in from New Hampshire to cheer me on, and surprised me with a visit to Disneyland on Wednesday! It is hard to be on a weight cut at Disneyland, but it is also hard to really be sad about it because, hey, it’s DISNEYLAND! I bought some sweets to enjoy later!

Processed with VSCOcam with a4 presetI got to meet Captain America and he gave me some very good pre-competition advice. He told me to not be distracted by other people, focus on the task at hand, and also to remember why I started this in the first place – which is because it’s fun and I love it. Oss Captain!

I stopped in at the venue on Thursday to check my weight on their scale and found myself still a pound over. So for the rest of the day I simply nibbled granola and sipped small amounts of mineral water. By morning, I was a half pound under by my scale – not even wearing my lightest gi, and as you can see by the photo, I was VERY happy about it. This is probably the lightest I have been since before puberty!

Making this weight was one of the toughest things I have ever done. I really don’t know how to express in words how it felt! My official weigh in was 128.2 lbs; 13 lbs less than what I have previously weighed in as, and about 18 lbs lower than my average walk around weight.

After I weighed in, my coach admitted to me that he didn’t think I would mentally be able to do the cut. Hearing that made me smile!

Mike Calimbas is a master of capturing the moment! So many emotions on my face all at once here!

What About The Competition?

Right I suppose I should talk about the actual grappling portion of the competition! I had the luck of drawing my friend Taylor Biagi for my first match. We had both pegged one another as the person to beat in the division and it sucked that we had to meet up in an eliminatory match.

I lost the match, but it was awesome! I have no problem whatsoever admitting when I loose to a superior opponent, and Taylor is a most worthy adversary indeed! 

So Now What?

Since I felt so good making the weight, I have decided to focus on keeping my walking weight down between 130 and 132. Worlds is just 9 weeks away and I feel like I am reborn and rejuvenated! I’m gonna shoot for a little lower of a weight so that I can finally wear my awesome Raijin Fight Wear Gi in a competition!

And now, here are some fun photos from the trip!

With the Captain
With the awesome Taylor Biagi after competing!
Nick Albin aka “Chewey” – cant wait for him to visit my school again so we can roll!
Ketra, Nikki, Myself, and Tara. I always miss out on the group photos, so I insisted on this one!
Ran into Erin! She said it was a nice to make Gianni take a photo of her with someone for a change!
Ran into fellow Tennessean, Eric, also the creator of “JitsGrips”
I had a bit of a cheese and carb overload after competing… I’m still processing this meal I think!

I Can, and I Will

I’ve made several attempts at dropping to feather weight (129 lbs in the Gi), and each time I have hit a wall at 133 lbs, gotten fed up, and given up. I have given myself many excuses for quitting, all of which are logical. 

So yet again, I find myself making the attempt to cut. My goal is to make it to at least 126 to give myself a little wiggle room.

I hit my wall again at 133. This time, however, I have some accountability (hi Taylor!) and after pondering quitting, I decided that I WILL make weight. If for no other reason but to shut up my excuses.

As of this writing, I have made it to 130 and I see light at the end of the tunnel! What is doing the trick for me is an hour of fasted cardio first thing in the morning. I do this by setting a fast walk on a max incline treadmill. It was pretty hard to focus until I found the correct soundtrack that would enable me to just zone out/in and it becomes fairly meditative as I spend an hour just focusing on goals and visualizing outcomes.



It’s odd to wake up and see abs for the first time in my life!

I have started to stall a little bit again with the drop in the past few days, so I am going to change it up again. My shoulder has started feeling a bit loose, I’m adding in my rehab Kettlebell circuit in the afternoons. It has the combined benefit of stabilizing my hypermobile joints, and also acts as a mid-intensity circuit. Here is a quick video I filmed explaining this routine!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlLlssuTqW4 

Weight Cut and Video Update

I have been pretty busy (and fairly cranky with this weight cut) lately and haven’t taken the time to write. So I offer the gift of video logs of my training this past weekend!

With this cut I am having to do 30 minutes of cardio, twice a day. I elected to do the treadmill set on a max incline. It makes me angry and I only make it through by useage of my most excellent collection of motivational soundtracks.

Pan Ams are just about three weeks away! Aaaaahhhh!

Saturday Evening (14 Feb) with Katherine

Sunday Morning (15 Feb) with Ruth