Another gem from guest writer John Grace. John Grace is a coach at Athletic Lab, based out of Cary, North Carolina. John has his CSCS and USATF Level 1 certifications and coaches youth to professional athletes at Athletic Lab.
At some point in almost every athlete’s career, they will have entertained the idea of either gaining or dropping weight to improve performance. While there are many variables in training that can be changed, increasing an athlete’s weight is one that can make for quick increases in strength. While this may sound like the easiest path to glory, there are myriad areas to consider before consuming everything in sight:
What is your training age?
Training age refers to the total time an athlete has been in training, and it will be different for every athlete. For instance, the amateur athlete may have a year or less, while an elite athlete may have accumulated ten to twenty years dedicated to training. The reason I bring this up is to point out that an athlete with a low training age may not be fully matured technically or structurally in their specialty (i.e. Weightlifting, Powerlifting, Soccer, Football, etc.). Additionally, if you haven’t hit a technical wall (or ceiling); meaning that at your current weight you can still make some solid progress, it’s probably not the best time to experiment with your weight. While you can still see strength gains this way, your technique will still be the limiting factor.
While a bodybuilding physique may be enticing to many athletes, aesthetics should be secondary (tertiary even) to performance. There is no need to put on weight just for the sake of putting on weight. By the same token, if the increase in weight is muscle mass, then the muscle you add needs to directly contribute to optimizing performance. Big biceps and triceps may look good, but there’s not much use in spending an inordinate amount of time developing big arms when really your lower half is the engine for most all sporting movements.
This pertains mostly to sports where you have to propel your body when gravity is working against you, such as sprinting, soccer, basketball, etc. If you have excess fat and tissue that is not contributing to the strength levels you need for your sport, you could see an immediate improvement once your body composition is at an appropriate level.
“Excess adipose tissue acts as dead weight in activities where body mass must be lifted repeatedly against gravity.”
Remember, the higher your body mass, the more force you have to produce to move that mass.
Know Your Competition
This pertains mostly to any sport with designated weight classes, such as weightlifting. Weight classes provide for more competition among athletes. If your current weight class is stacked with powerhouse weightlifters, while another weight class up or down from you is more on your competitive level, you may consider switching (you see most people dropping down a weight class for this reason).
While moving down a weight class may provide you with a greater chance to win, you may find that your strength levels will take a toll. What is important to look at when you drop weight is your relative strength levels. If you drop from the 85kg weight class into the 77kg weight class (assuming your previous weight was at 85kg and current weight is 77kg) you could refer to your Back Squat 1RM vs. body weight and determine which ratio provides you with the competitive advantage you seek.
Body weight: 85kg Back Squat 1RM: 200kg
Body weight: 77kg Back Squat 1RM: 185kg
While your Back Squat 1RM may have dropped 15kg (due to the weight loss), your strength values relative to your body weight have actually increased. Your squat strength relative to your 85kg and 77kg body weight are 2.35 times body weight squat and 2.40 times body weight squat, respectively. So in this situation, it would make more sense for the athlete to reduce his body weight in an effort to increase his competitive edge.
While the concepts outlined here can be beneficial tools to use for improving performance, the important thing to consider is that every athlete is different. If you have a weightlifting or sports performance coach, discuss the benefits and drawbacks of using weight fluctuation as a means to improve performance.
1. Ostojic, Sergej M. Changes In Body Fat Content Of Top-Level Soccer Players. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. (2002). 1. 54-55.