Hands up who wants to talk about weight classes? Most specifically, some weighty issues that are hiding in their shadows.
No, I’m not talking about PEDs (though you’d be hard pressed to be involved in BJJ without noticing them and for sure they’re a big topic to discuss with regard to both weight gain and loss). Nah, today I’m talking about weight cuts. Or better yet, if I’m using transparent language….extreme or uneccessary weight loss for playing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
When I first started BJJ I was more focused on my aesthetic than my technique.
There. I said it. I’m not proud of it. But I’m certainly not willing to lie about it and I know I’m not alone. At the time I felt like a fraud if I didn’t ‘look like an athlete’ and I had a strong focus on losing any perceived extra weight I felt I was carrying.
In my mind, real athletes were lean. And vascular. And super muscly. And always on weight. I’d seen so on social media so it had to be true.
My cross training for BJJ was absolutely about getting lean and, as a result, completely sports irrelevant. I spent many more hours running than drilling. Hours and hours at the gym, very definitely outweighing the hours spent acquiring new BJJ skills.
My first competition was at middle weight (69kg). I cringed at the photos of me on the top of the podium at the Pan Pacs that year. It makes me sad to think that I didn’t post those photos, of winning the Pan Pacs Open weights & my divisions (my very first tournament) a moment that I should have been super proud and boastful of…yet I was more worried about how my body looked in my No Gi uniform than celebrating what I was capable of and what I had acheived.
My next tournament, for mixed reasons (not all of them noble), I dropped 8kg (more than 10% of my body weight) in 8 weeks. I lost the final of those ADCC trials due to a poor gas tank, mainly caused by the dramatic weight cut and the poor management of acquiring it.
I lost first round of my next tournament also at that same weight. As soon as I put 4kg back on I went unbeaten in Australia for many years.
The truth is, you don’t have to do any of it
Since starting BJJ I’ve watched other female athletes do the same thing as I did and use their weight category as an excuse to justify their own unhealthy relationship with diet, exercise, food and self image. It’s very easy to tell your friends you have to cut weight, ‘I have to be strict’. ‘I have to do this extra cardio’. ‘I have a comp so….’ even though the truth is, you don’t have to do any of it. It is all a choice. And a choice based on a weight division that you willingly selected.
Weight categories are a convenient way for many to hide and enable weight loss obsession. I see it. And I’ve lived it. And I’m sick of it being an undisclosed topic amongst us all.
Fair enough, all power to athletes wanting to perform to their peak, and if the outcome of those actions is a leaner, faster version of themselves, well that makes total sense. But that is very often not what is actually happening for tournaments, especially among the female community.
Again, fair enough if your goal was ALWAYS weight loss and you’re using BJJ to achieve that goal but I am speaking of those that aren’t being honest with themselves, their training partners, their friends and their coaches.
It might surprise you to know that sports people can be some of the least healthy people I have ever met. Both mentally and physically. A lot goes on behind closed doors that doesn’t align with the images uploaded to social media or the discussions in articles about dietary programs, clean eating, healthy living and demanding training regimens. There’s a great deal of content out there but not as much honesty as uploading is going on.
A Weight Watchers success story!
At the beginning of the year I walked at 64kg and made the choice to cut to the 60kg for Abu Dhabi. With the tournament offering a ‘day before’ weigh in, it felt like a more logical choice for me to join the 60kg division rather than planning to be 64kg in the the 70kg division with women that had weighed & refuelled 24 hours prior to fighting.
I made the strategic choice to drop 4kg rather than give away 10kg for my black belt debut. It proved to be the right choice for me.
It took me 10 weeks to achieve that weight loss and for the first time in my life I was walking around at the ‘goal’ weight that Weight Watchers had given me in my early 20s (back story: I had started my weight loss journey at 86kg after a brief jaunt to 103kg one summer around age 24). It only took me 15 years to get to the goal weight! Easy right?! A Weight Watchers success story! I should write Glenda and let her know…
At 60kg and holding a lot of muscle, I was at a super lean and super not sustainable size. And, surprise surprise after a lifetime of weight management and focus, still not 100% happy with how I looked. There is a big lesson in that experience for me. One I’m still adjusting to and coming to terms with. The baggage of a lifetime of harsh self judgement doesn’t disappear even at ‘goal weight’. Which wasn’t entirely a shock to me. As we all know, body obsession isn’t really about the body…its all what goes on in your head. Can’t salad eat your way around that one, no matter how hard you try.
I performed well at 60kg, likely due to this time around having the focus on what my body could do rather than how it looks, an outcome that aligns with my current values and focus. Other contributing factors were absolutely that my focus was on output and performance and the fuel required for both, therefore the aesthetic outcomes were a result of, rather than the goal of my training.
The exciting thing about this is I was much more capable of being proud of the athlete I have created than how lean I am (or am not) because, as it turns out, if you’re hard on yourself about your weight, getting to that weight doesn’t necessarily ensure you instantly start being kind to yourself. It was pretty easy to be nice to myself about that shiny medal though…
Flash forward to No Gi Worlds and making the big and somewhat daunting decision not only to not cut weight but instead to, shock of all shocks, proactively gain size to compete at the heavy end of middle weight (66.5kg. I’m usually a lightweight 61.5kg).
I did this for several reasons, not all of them as obvious a they may have seemed at the time.
One of them being that I wanted to show the women that look up to me that you don’t always have to go down in weight, you don’t always have to struggle to maintain weight, you could – heave forbid – gain weight and it a) not make the world end and b) potentially be a wonderful decision with positive outcomes for both your mental and physical health.
For me it was the first time I had ever decided to consciously gain weight in my life. It was exciting and intimidating and entirely new. The first time in living memory that I wasn’t keeping myself in check, eating clean every meal, limiting all my cravings, feeling like I’d failed if I lapsed with food or alcohol choices, taking nights off! It was entirely alien to me.
Truthfully I did struggle to not judge myself, especially in Lycra. Fkn no gi = no-where to hide. Made worse because I film all my training to review for coaching and development purposes. Hours and hours of watching my new butt and thighs smash their way through wrestling training. It was challenging.
Since my twenties I have had more reps of self judgement than I have of double leg entries so I am very well trained for the former, not so much for the latter, even if I am a black belt.
I need for you to understand you don’t need abs to be good at what you do. You don’t need abs to be the best.
Finally snapping and feeling totally exposed mid prep Camp, I voiced distress to JT (my incredible strength coach & a huge part of my sanity support crew) he gave me some of the best possible advice during this time. “I need for you to finally really understand that you don’t need abs to be good at what you do. You don’t need abs to be the best. You don’t need abs to be a fighter”
This became a bouy-like lifeline in a sea of self judgement for me and I decided to not only listen to his advice but to really set about proving his theory correct. I also felt if I could show this choice, process and a positive outcome it might help other athletes free themselves from the same cycles that I have been stuck in when it comes to negative self image and confused priorities.
It wasn’t easy to accept my new size and it wasn’t easy to turn off a lifetime of harsh self judgement. I failed more times at this than I wanted to. But what was easy was to focus 100% on my preparation and 100% on the task at hand. 100% Priority: getting boss ass badass at No Gi and as fast as possible which, had I have just had in mind since the get go, really would have saved me a lot of time and anguish….probably would have given me better jiu jitsu too…
Pros and Cons of weight gain for competition preparation
– Better energy levels
– Able to focus & listen better
– Able to train more
– Better recovery
– Better sleep
– Less muscle soreness
– Less injury
– Less emotional/able to control moods easier
– More training partners (the smaller you get the less people are a good size for training)
– Less getting bench pressed/out muscled
– More success in the scrambles
– More success in wrestling
– Social life not effected re: meals
– Strength went up (lifting heavier)
-Everyone complaining about my new & improved pressure 🙂
– Anaerobic sessions initially harder due to extra weight
– ….jiggly bits…
– My head space dealing with the jiggly bits
Nb *hard to come up with too many cons that aren’t just variations of ‘I think I probably looked hot/fitter/better when I was smaller, which feels awkward to write about and is subjective anyway.
I know this is likely a bigger picture issue and is more relevant to the crazy media effected world we live in but: I am 100% sick of women being told that (and believing) that the smaller they are, the more important and relevant they are in the world. I am 100% sick of buying into it also. I am 100% sick of ‘success’ stories equating to leanness or being smaller than the person you used to be. The image in the before is ALWAYS bigger than the image in the after. Is that really the better option for EVERYONE?!! How can that be possible when we are all so different and each have such individual goals and health requirements.
I am 100% sick of the history that I have had of valuing my body aesthetically over athletically, especially considering my athletic achievements. I am 100% sick of other women doing the same. I am 100% sick of the media valuing womens aesthetics over her achievements. I am 100% over always talking to women about weight cutting and division selection where the choice is ALWAYS about being smaller. Where are the conversations with women about choosing a division based on game and style and strategy? Why is it that this always happens to be the division below? Or even the one below that? I call BS. And I think we all know it is but no one is willing to say so.
I see men go up and down ALL. THE. TIME. Why? Because size is aligned with power. Power, domination and strength. Attributes that men are super excited to attain. And boy am I jealous (choice of words here were very deliberate).
Where are the chicks that are striving to be exponentially more powerful, and with that, simply bigger? Because you know what, I’ve certainly grown into being one of them and I’m looking for some swol sisters to rejoice with.
Also currently seeking others already on this path to put on my list to fangirl over. Please do apply. I want to be inspired. I want to gain. Knowledge, experience, size, strength. Bring it on 2018 – bigger and better.
I’m all for everyone performing at what is their personal best, and if that’s in a lighter division all the best to them. But let’s also recognise weight cuts and weight division selection as enabling what it is and try to be honest with ourselves if using a division as an excuse to adhere to impossible media standards and pressures.
You don’t need abs to win.
You don’t need to win an aesthetic competition while also trying to win a BJJ tournament.
You don’t need to put that extra pressure on yourself. Selfies aren’t reps and how good they look doesn’t count for much come comp day. You’re just as worthy of greatness if you’re not lean.
And here’s the red hot tip, you’re just as worthy when you’re strong and heavy as when you’re light and fast. Different, sure, but just as worthy.
2018 – the year of the gains. I’m into it. Send me your swol pics. I’m excited to see some prime Aussie beefing this year, especially in the womens brackets.
4 Comments Add yours
All I can say is- Bless you! This is fabulous. It’s something that’s been more and more on my mind lately but I loved the way you laid it all out.
Love love love it Jess. I have gone up and down so much since doing bjj and this resignates so much with me.