How To Cut Weight Safely For Amateur Fighters
For the purposes of this article, “cutting weight” is referring to the big cut at the end of your fight camp. The day of, or the day before weigh ins. This is not a guide on how to diet down to your weight over a course of a couple months. This is a guide that will explain how to lose up to 8% of your body weight in less than 12 hours.
Before I start on this, I have to talk about how stupid I think cutting weight is. The whole practice is stupid. If everyone would just agree not to do it, then no one would ever have to. The worst part about being a fighter would effectively be eliminated instantly. But, we can’t do that, can we? Everyone wants to have the competitive edge and even so much that they may risk serious injury or even death because of it. Now that everyone does it, it’s hard to find that competitive edge in it.
Guys are trying to cut more and more weight to find that edge again and it gets absurd at times. If you are one of those guys that can’t feel confident going into a fight without having a massive weight advantage, maybe you need work on your mental toughness and technical prowess instead of your weight cutting. Weight cutting has even come into play with sports betting entertainment that includes betting on MMA fights. The oddsmakers take this practice into consideration when evaluating fighters to establish the lines.
With that said, we all have to cut a little weight to stay competitive, don’t we? I regularly fight at 70 kilos in Muay Thai which is 154lbs, or, at lightweight in MMA which is 155. I don’t like to cut any more than 7-8 pounds to make that class because I find that anything over 7 pounds isn’t going to provide enough of an advantage to justify how terrible it makes me feel. There are guys out there that have cut up to 20 pounds on the week of their fight, but I think those guys are just plain stupid.
I believe they would perform better in their fights cutting less weight and fighting bigger opponents in a larger weight class than killing themselves to that degree. Their future selves would thank them for it as well. Cutting massive weight repetitively over the course of a 10-year combat sports career has been linked to numerous gall bladder, kidney, spleen, and circulatory problems down the line. For some perspective, I coach an amateur kickboxing team and my guys barely cut any weight at all and they never have any issues with size in their fights.
Here’s the professional disclaimer, cutting weight is dangerous and should only be done with experienced professional supervision. Here’s my personal disclaimer, don’t cut any more than 8% of your body weight, it’s just stupid and will likely ruin your performance in your fight.
Ok, firstly, this comes down to how well you know your body. Throughout your training camp your main measure of weight loss will be what you weigh in the morning after you have gone to the bathroom. That’s when you are the lightest throughout the day and likely where you will start the cut on the day of the weigh ins. So, wake up, go to the bathroom and then weigh yourself every morning. You also want to weigh yourself every night before you go to bed, this is when you are the heaviest in the day, but we aren’t tracking that number, we are only tracking the difference between that number and the number that you wake up at. This is so you can get an idea of how much weight you ‘float’ in your sleep.
Typically, I’ll go to bed around 165lbs and wake up around 161 or 162lbs on the day of weigh ins. I’ve had friends who lose much more weight throughout the night and other friends who lose close to nothing so this is important to keep track of. This lets you know how well your body metabolizes things in your sleep and how much water (urine or sweat) your body gets rid of throughout the night. Some people I know also weigh themselves before and after a good workout just to get an idea of how easily their bodies let go of water as they sweat, I don’t usually do that but its useful as well.
Now, you’ve dieted and gotten down into a manageable last-minute cutting range. For me this is around 161 or 162lbs for the weight class of 155lbs. It’s the day of the weigh ins and you wake up well within 10 pounds of your weight. Good job, you’ve done things right so far but today is still going to suck. You shouldn’t have eaten or drank anything past 6pm the day before and you will not be able to eat or drink anything at all until after you have weighed in, which is typically in the evening time. Praise your promotors if they hold speedy weigh in earlier than 3pm, that’s a promoter who really cares about his fighters. At most weigh ins, get ready to hurry up and wait. You will need to check in, see a doctor, get licensed (depending on your state/region) and then wait around until you will be allowed to weigh in.
A couple things you need to know before getting started cutting weight. Firstly, does your state/region/promotion offer a weight allowance? This is huge, some states allow fighters to come in as much as 2 full pounds overweight and still consider that “making weight”. The last pound or two is always the hardest to cut so if you don’t absolutely have to, don’t. The next thing you need to do is contact your fight promoter and ask him about the scale you will be weighing in on. Is there a chance for you to check your weight at the weigh ins before you get on stage and miss weight because your scale is broken or not properly calibrated? Find that out if you can, but you will likely have to roll the dice on this one as it’s rare, in my experience, on lower level shows to have a scale to check your weight on.
Now we get to the actual weight cut. You know what your allowance is and what weight you woke up at. You also have a good idea of how well your body releases fluids so you should have a pretty good understanding of how long this will take. The main procedure is eliminating water weight in your system. Liquids are much heavier than food and are the easiest to get rid of in your body. People accomplish this in a number of different ways but my favorite, by a long shot, is doing it in a hot tub. The most common procedure here is to do it in a sauna and later on in this article ill outline my strategy for that as well, but it sucks way worse than doing it in a hot tub. In my last fight, I cut 7lbs in a hot tub. The draw back with the hot tub is that it takes a lot longer than in a sauna. However, in my opinion, it is a much nicer day than with the sauna.
Here’s a pro tip: get a makeup remover that opens your pores and DON’T put on deodorant. Deodorant is an antiperspirant and the whole point of the day is to perspire as much as possible. You are going to smell, accept that. The makeup remover that I use is called Albolene. You can get it at most pharmacies and convenience stores that carry makeup. A know a bunch of dudes that use Sweet Sweat from GNC but it’s too expensive for me, even if it does work slightly better (according to them). Albolene or Sweet Sweat really make the difference, I can’t emphasize this enough. They will turn a 6 hour cut into a 3 or 4 hour cut instantly.
Now, you have found a place that has both a working hot tub and a sauna (this is my recommendation if times starts to become a factor so you can just jump in the sauna and hate yourself for not waking up earlier if it gets late). Bring several towels and a change of clothes with you. Bring your personal scale too, so you can track the weight you’ve lost accurately. Once you and your coach get to hot tub, lather your entire body up with the Albolene or Sweet Sweat (a thin layer is all you need) and get to sittin’.
I like to warm up to the hot tub by spending about 5 minutes sitting on the outside with water up to my calves. Then another 5 with the water up to my waist and then ill time about 15 minutes of sitting in the hot tub with water up to my neck. You’ll be able to tell how your body is perspiring based on the way you’re sweating on your face and head that hasn’t been submerged. Just trust me that the rest of your body is also sweating. After the first 15-minute session up to my neck, I’ll take another 5 with the water back up to my waist, and then another 5 with it up to my calves before I get out completely and rest. In that 35 minutes, I’ll usually have lost roughly 3 lbs.
I know what you’re thinking, 35 minutes in a hot tub doesn’t seem that hard at all and its true to an extent this first session of weight cutting usually isn’t too painful. Just wait until you’re already dehydrated and hungry though, it starts to suck really quick. You basically rinse and repeat that method until you’re on weight. Now, in the first session I might lose 3 lbs., but in the second session my body knows what I’m doing now and wants to hold on to every bit of water it can for survival.
In the second session, I do that same scheme with the same times, I may only lose half as much or a little more than half. So, I’m down 3lbs from the first, and then another 1.5lbs from the second. I’m 4.5lbs down and got 2.5-3.5 to go. From here on out I’m losing roughly 1lbs for every one of those sessions. You can see that this takes quite a bit of time.
If time starts to become a factor, go sit in the sauna, its quicker. It sucks a whole lot more though. The main drawback to a sauna, to me, is that you also have to breathe in that hot air. I have burned my lunges in the past doing sauna cuts and this is why the hot tub is so much more preferable to me. I can keep my head out and breathe in the nice cool air the whole time. Plus, I’m a little claustrophobic and saunas get me every time.
If you can only find a sauna and no hot tub, here’s my method for that: lather up with the Albolene and get to sittin’. In the sauna, I like to do my first session for 20 minutes. If you haven’t cut any weight yet that day, then you will be able to handle 20 minutes in your first session pretty easily. Here’s the thing with the sauna. Once your body starts to sweat, it gets to a maximum sweating rate and then doesn’t sweat any faster than that despite the temperatures you’re enduring. Get in the sauna and move around a little bit and get your sweat going as soon as possible, then sit at the highest point of the sauna and just wait for a while. Heat rises to the top so its hotter up there.
After a couple minutes, up there your body is fully sweating and there is no need to torture yourself any more than you already are by sitting up there any longer. Now, your objective is to simply keep sweating for the maximum amount of time you can stand. I sit on the bottom level or even the floor to have the easiest time with it as long as it’s still pretty hot down there and I continue sweating. I’ll even open the door very momentarily to get a deep cool breathe and let my face feel the cold air for a split second before going back in the sauna to wait. Just as long as you don’t stop sweating.
Your body requires resources to start sweating. It thinks at this point that you’re trying to kill it and the more times you stop sweating, the harder it will be for your body to start sweating again. It acts like this because it wants to hold on to as much water as possible. In the middle of a long-20-minute session, I might walk out of the sauna entirely for a maximum of 20-25 seconds just to get a mental break from the heat. This is usually all I need to keep going for the duration of the session. This isn’t enough for me to stop sweating but it’s just enough for me to feel like I can keep going.
When I started doing this, sauna cuts got a whole lot easier. After my first 2 20-minute sessions I usually break it down to 10 minutes session after that to take it easier. In my first 20-minute session I might lose 3lbs. In my second I might lose 2 and then its roughly 0.5 to 1 full pound per each 10-minute session after that. Rinse and repeat until you have made weight.
I’ll leave you here with these final pieces of advice. Always have a coach with you in the sauna or hot tub and another friend that’s outside the sauna or hot tub just in case something happens. Always exercise extreme caution when you are cutting weight and never cut more than 8% of your body weight. For me that’s like 12lbs and I even think that’s way too much. Resist all urges to be a dickhead until you can’t any more (which will happen) and be careful when you take a shower after you’ve made weight.
If you stop paying attention you may accidentally drink water unconsciously and then have to sit in the sauna again. Exit saunas slowly despite how enthusiastic you are to be done with your session. Pack a lunch for weigh ins, have simple sugars like fruit (I like apple sauce) and get Pedialyte (children’s electrolyte drink for when they have diarrhea) to rehydrate along with Gatorades and a protein shake for immediately after you have stepped off the scale at the weigh ins. Perhaps ill expand on this in another article about how to rehydrate properly after weigh ins, who knows.
**This article is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as or replace professional medical advice concerning weight or health in general. We do not advocate weight cutting and advise anyone considering it to seek professional guidance from physicians and trainers.