I am sure you've seen this time and time again and you've probably tried it yourself a time or 2 with the same results. You want to drop down a weight class and you want to do it all within a 12 week prep cycle. What usually happens is you drastically drop calories, throw in a bunch of unnecessary cardio just to make it happen by any means. Training starts off well and you think man this is easy I am dropping weight and getting stronger, than as the weeks go on you get smaller and smaller and more rundown. Your lifts start dropping but you are reassured everything will be ok so you keep fighting forward because at this point in time you think I don't want to gain my weight back and still be weak so I'll keep dropping to justify my weaker lifts. The meet comes you make weight, congratulations are instore and you go pig out on some breakfast and eat like a gluttonous pig because you know if you get a little bloated and put weight back on you'll be all good. Meet day is here and time and time again the lifter fails miserably and decides you know what cutting weight just is not for me, I just need to be big. So they proceed to eat like they just did a 20 week diet and as if food will no longer be around if they don't eat it all. Their weight balloons back up and they pack on way more fat than ever, but they are strong, YES!!! Exatcly what they wanted so they do their next couple meets as a bigger, stronger, and fatter lifter. Hit big numbers but ultimately decides they feel like shit and they don't like they way they look. So guess what happens, they do the same exact thing, extreme diet, excessive cardio and fail. If this sounds like you, then I have the solution for you. It's not going to be easy and it will take time but it will get you to where you ultimately want to be.
The problem is most lifters have this next meet mentality where they only see things in 12 week meet prep cycles. They don't plan for the year or years to come they want to be the most competitive at this meet and this meet is all thats are their mind. Which brings me to another point if cutting a dramatic amount of weight is going to make you more competitive than you are not strong enough so just focus on that, it is powerlifting, not subpar small totals at a lighter weight class so I can win a 3rd place medal in the 18 different sub categories I signed up for or is it???
Lets think in terms of the Olympics where athletes put everything they have into 4 years of training to peak at this one event. 4 years of training, that means they have a plan to take them to that point. Sure they compete throughout the years but they aren't concerned with the outcomes as much as they use these competitions as markers or indicators of how well their training is going and make adjustments. So in terms of weight class sports, lets say a lifter needs to add some size they will spend a whole year or two doing so and trust me when I say they don't take the kitchen sink, wheel me out in a wheel barrell approach. It is a slow and methodical approach to add X amount of kg's to their frame per month. This same approach is taking when dieting them back down to their original weight class. So yeah while they are gaining weight they might be outmatched in their heavier weight class but thats not their goal. The goal is to be ready for the Olympics not the next local meet. Do you see where I am going with this, everything they do is detailed out so that they are ready when they need to be ready.
Another example of this is the Russian powerlifters, when Krill broke the All Time bench record people forget that a year before he smashed a 716lbs Bench that looked like he could have broke the record that day, but that was not the plan. Same thing with Andrey and his squats, people seem to think he only wants to break it a little at a time and why not just shoot for that 1st 500kg squat but everything he does is well timed and when its time for him to squat that he will. Its called having a game plan that goes far beyond the upcoming meet. Same thing goes for dieting, you have to develop a game plan that will set you up exactly where you want to be in the next 2-5 years and i know that may seem like a lot of time to dedicate to this but nevermind if I have to explain to you that this is a marathon and not a sprint you probably quit reading this a long time ago because it was a secret diet/recipe to get you ripped and strong all at the same time and in only 12 weeks.
So now that you know what this is going to take and have mentally prepared yourself for the task at hand, lets begin down that journey. The goal of leaning out or dropping a weight class needs to be made well ahead of time to allow for a slow and methodical approach leading into your next meet. Starting a cut phase or diet is best done right after a meet, i know some people tend to think you need to pound calories to help with recovery but lets be honest those people are usually fat and not really the greatest lifters. Starting to diet right after a meet is ideal for two reasons, one is that after a meet you will start doing a lot more volume and GPP so the best way to keep muscle on while dieting is to do more volume and adding in some type of cardio. Think along the lines of how bodybuilders train leading into a show, because the key to a successful cut is to be able to drop fat and maintain as much muscle as possible. Number two reason is that it will give you plenty of time to slowly work yourself down in weight, I highly recommend people give themselves at least 20-24 weeks of dedicated work to get down to the next weight class and stay. That doesn't mean you can't compete just be mentally prepared to not be as strong during this time. Which is fine because we are building for the future not the next meet.
Now I know alot of you didn't start powerlifting to improve your physique, in fact most people gravitate towards it because its been known to be a sport where you can eat whatever and just lift. This is no longer the case if you want to be good, do you think its a coincidnce that the top guys and ladies are usually pretty lean and look like bodybuilders. So if you want to be the best than you must change your approach and mentality about nutrition, unless you are a super heavyweight than god bless you eat whatever. Why 20-24 weeks that seems like a really long time to be dieting right and it is but the approach to take is to diet hard for 8 weeks and than spend the next 8 weeks slowly adding in calories, than diet hard again for 4 weeks and spend the last 4 weeks slowly adding calories. The key here is to try to keep increasing your starting calories of the cut so you can keep dieting on more and more calories. Disclaimer here that is extremely important before we get into the cut and reverse plan is that if after these 20-24 weeks are up and lets say you don't get to your weight class, don't panic and go on and extreme diet just for the sake of the weight class, be patient and extend the process until you get there.
Lets say that you start your dieting phase at 2500 calories and by the end of the 8 week cut you are down to 1500 calories in hopes to lose about a .5-1lbs per week rate, this seems to be the ideal rate for most, from that 1500 calories each week you will increase them by 150-175 calories so that by the time this 8 week phase is up you will satrt your next diet phase lighter but up to 2700-2900 calories. You just keep going back and forth with this process until you have reached your desired weight class and preferably slightly below. Why slightly below you may ask and thats because if you are below you will have more wiggle room for more calories going into the next phase which is the maintence phase. This is the phase where you start to get your old strength back. This is the pahse where you will start to increase calories over a 20-24 week time frame but not letting your weight get over 5% of your weight class. So there may be a few times in there where you may not add any calories for a couple weeks until your body adapts, you train harder, or you add in some cardio. The key to this whole process is patience, consistency and a long term goal oriented focus. This approach will help you from having the huge ups and downs of cutting/feeling sorry for yourself and gaining all kinds of unwanted weight for the sake of being stronger again.