Wrestlers and boxers have practiced cutting weight for decades. Robert DeNiro broughtthis practice to the big screen in 1980 as Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull as he sipped onGinger Ale to make weight for his next big fight.Most recently, with the explosion of mixed martial arts into mainstream America with thepopularity of the Ultimate Fighter reality series, fight fans everywhere were witness tothis masochistic process as fighters spent hours in hot saunas wearing plastic suits to shedtheir final few pounds.Cutting weight is more than a practice; it is an art form that requires considerableexperience and dedication to perfect. With this practice so common in MMA, why dofighters even cut weight? And moreimportantly, does dropping a weight classprovide the fighter with an advantage in theoctagon?Nearly all bio-chemical reactions in ourbodies rely on water. Water makes up 60%+of the human body. It is not only vital tomaintaining life, but also directly impactsphysical and mental performance as well.Even mild dehydration, 1% of our bodyweight or as little as one liter of water can negatively impact athletic performance. iPhysiologically, dehydration reduces your body’s ability to deliver oxygenated bloodthroughout your body due to a reduced blood volume.This reduction in volume inhibits a person’s aerobic endurance, muscular strength andlactate threshold.ii For a sport such as ultimate fighting, any impact on cardiovascularconditioning can limit a fighter’s ability in the octagon.As a former fighter and someone who has practiced cutting weight since middle schoolwrestling, I am very familiar with this process.Theoretically, a fighter who “walks around” at a heavier weight compared to theiropponent should have a strength and power advantage over their competition when bodyweights are equal at weigh in.Former UFC Middleweight champion Rich Franklin would cut roughly 20 – 25 pounds tomake the 185 pound ceiling for his fights. I had the distinct pleasure of training with Rich prior to his weight cuts and was in awe over his physical prowess as he trained at an incredibly strong 210 pounds.
The ability to maximize your strength and power at a heavier “walking weight” shouldprovide an advantage over an opponent who does not possess as much muscle mass. Aweight cut of 20 pounds is not uncommon. So how does a fighter achieve this weightloss in such a short period of time?There are various measures for a fighter to cuttheir desired weight. The most popular practiceis to exercise in hot environments. MMAcompetitors typically train 2 – 3hours daily.Every liter lost through sweat is equivalent to atwo pound loss in body weight.Exercise can be as simple as running andskipping rope or as complex as fight circuitsincluding punching, kicks, takedowns, jiu jitsurolling and sprinting.To enhance the weight loss during exercise, most athletes will wear plastic suits andheavy clothing to increase their body temperature and promote added sweating.In addition to exercise and elevating the body’s temperature, fluid restriction is a simpleand extremely effective practice. This process requires no additional energy by thefighter and a 5 – 6 pound loss can be expected within 24 hours of beginning to dehydrateoneself.Another popular technique utilized is to spend time in a sauna or hot bath. A dry sauna isthe most powerful of these tools and will elevate a fighter’s core temperature andconsequently increase fluid loss substantially.Personally, I have spent hours in the dry sauna to help with my weight loss. I haveexperienced a 10 pound loss in body weight in just a few short hours in the dry sauna. Fluid restriction causes fatigue and only so much exercise can be performed in a dehydrated state. Therefore, a fighter will reap tremendous weight loss rewards by incorporating in this technique. The dry sauna is more “mind over body” and a dedicated focus will achieve desired results. Another effective practice to lose excess pounds is to empty the bowels the day beforethe weigh in.
A human body contains 5 – 7 pounds of waste at all times passing through the stomachand intestines. Taking a gentle, natural laxative the night before the weigh in shouldresult in an additional 5 pound loss without any negative impact on performance to thefighter.Often combined with a laxative, diuretics will assist a fighter in losing up to 10 pounds.Diuretics signal the body to urinate constantly and an incredible amount of fluid is lost.With that said, diuretics can be extremely dangerous and may result in an electrolyteimbalance within the system negatively impacting performance including cramping,muscle weakness and potentially heart arrhythmia or neurological symptoms.Therefore, diuretics should be used sparingly and withcaution.The final measure to reduce body weight utilized byMMA competitors is to reduce their daily caloric intake.A fighter must make sure that some food is consumed tomaintain a level blood sugar. A reduced blood sugar,known as hypoglycemia, can cause irritability, lethargy,a lack of energy and even much worse health risks whichwill all negatively impact the fighter’s ability to competeor just survive.Due to the fact that most fighters train until the day prior to their fights, calories arenecessary to function. The reduction in calories needed to aid in the weight loss is anindividual process. Each fighter reacts differently to a self-induced starvation process.My recommendation is to begin to cut calories three weeks out from the date of the fight.By reducing 500 calories per day, one pound of body weight per week will be lost by adecreased caloric intake. After three weeks, a three pound deficit will be achieved.A more drastic calorie reduction may be necessary, but should only be exercised withintwo days of weigh-ins. This will have no impact on a fighter’s training ability. Calorie reduction combined with fluid restriction, increasing the core temperature through exercise or hot sauna as well as the use of a gentle laxative will provide the necessary weight loss needed to be successful on the scale. Pay-per-view promotions including UFC and Strikeforce hold weigh- ins for the fighters the day prior to the event date. This ensures that proper hydration can be administered increasing a fighter’s body weight, strength, stamina and fighting performance.
Even with a day to administer fluids, the substantial weight cut can lead to poorperformances in the octagon.Jake Shields stated at the UFC 121 post-fight pressconference that he “cut 20 pounds in a day…I don’t thinkit was my best performance, but this is a learningexperience.”iii Jake’s performance against Dutchkickboxer, Martin Kampmann, was not stellar and he wasfortunate to escape with a decision victory.Unfortunately, lesser promotions typically hold weigh-ins within hours of the actualevent. This practice is performed as a cost cutting measure for the promotion but doesnot provide the fighters ample time necessary to replenish lost fluids and electrolytes.In short, performance is definitely impacted if a substantial weight cut has beenperformed without the necessary recovery time.Believe it or not, the weight loss is the easy part. Re-hydrating and properly preparingthe body for the fight is the challenging aspect and the area in which mistakes arecommonly made damaging the fighter’s performance in the cage.The body takes from 4 to 48 hours to fully recover from moderate dehydration, whichmeans time is of the essence to ensure peak performance and health.ivAgain, as weight is cut, blood volume is decreased. Additionally, both heart rate andblood pressure can elevate. Electrolyte imbalance may have occurred and bothpsychological and physical fatigue may set in. Reversing all these contraindications iscritical in establishing a solid foundation for competition.To counteract these effects, a fighter should consume small, balanced meals at 30 minuteintervals. A balance of protein, complex carbohydrates and simple sugars in the form offruits and vegetables is imperative. Avoid high fat, high processed sugar foods. Additionally, consuming too much food to quickly will leave the fighter bloated and feeling sick. Small meals will be absorbed and clear the system quicker. So please exercise some patience and control. More important than replacing calories, fluid is necessary to re-establish balance within the human body.Remember, a severe dehydration coupled with a calorie restriction has just occurred.This body is starving for nourishment. Re-hydration should occur immediately after afighter concludes the weigh-ins.
To do this, 3 – 5 gallons of fluid may be necessary. Bestfluid choices include water and an electrolyte replenishmentdrink, such as Pedialyte.Soda, dairy products and high sugar drinks includingGatorade and PowerAde should be avoided. An indicator ofproper re-hydration is clear urine. Consume fluids until thispoint is visibly present to ensure proper hydration necessaryfor a grueling fight in the cage.Now that you have become familiar with the reasons behindcutting so much weight and how it is accomplished, please keep in mind the reality ofthis process.Physiologically, a drastic weight cut is trauma to the human body. The body responds tothis trauma by increasing fat storage to eliminate the risk of depleted calories again in thefuture.In addition to storing calories as a means of self-preservation, the body will also storefluids and act as a sponge to absorb as much water as possible to prevent the chance ofdehydration from occurring again.Evidence of this physiological process is Chuck Liddell’s physique at fight time. Hisstomach typically looks bloated and distended. In short, he looks chubby. In reality,however, he is not out of shape. Rather, his body is physiologically responding to theweight cut he just endured. The human body is extremely adaptive and will store calories and fluid when it believes that its survival is at risk. Additionally, an extreme weight reduction can be damaging to the kidneys as well as other vital organs. This damage can be acute or long-term. Regardless, cutting weight has its risks and each and every fighter should exercise caution when performing this necessary component of competition.For each pay-per-view witnessed by millions of fans, the fighters competing in theoctagon have not only trained their skills to the highest level, they have most likely puttheir bodies through a self-imposed masochistic process to successfully compete at alower weight class.This drastic weight cut is performed so that the bigger, stronger fighter will have astrength and power advantage over the opponent when weigh in is equal.
Promotions such as the UFC and Strikeforce provide their fighters the necessary time tore-establish nourishment before they step foot in the octagon. However, lesserpromotions typically do not extend this courtesy.Because most fighters weigh in and fight within the same day for feeder leaguepromotions, the body does not have the needed time to achieve balance within thesystem. Therefore, performance can be impaired and success in the cage may be injeopardy.Some elite level fighters will not perform a weight cut. Fedor Emelienenko, perhaps thegreatest fighter on the planet, competes at a light 220 pounds within the heavyweightdivision. He refuses to cut to the necessary 205 pounds to compete in the lightheavyweight division. Even though Fedor is undersized, he is tremendously explosiveand has an amazing endurance capacity which benefits him tremendously against hisbigger opponents.Therefore, cutting weight does not guarantee victory. It may, however, provide anadvantage for some against weaker competition. The process of depleting so manypounds within a short period of time is one that takes learning and practice. Errors duringthe weight cut and after weigh-ins can impede performance.Therefore, just as a fighter would practice his stand up skills, a fighter should alsopractice cutting weight and the affects in one’s game.Check out these great MMA articles MMA Diet (http://www.squidoo.com/mma-diet) Nutrition is one of the most important facets of any complete strength and conditioning program. Fueling your body with the proper macronutrients allows a fighter... Famous Female MMA Fighters (http://www.squidoo.com/female- mma-fighters) Thanks to popular female fighters and personalities such as Megumi Fujii, Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos and Gina Carano, people have started to take notice of the... What is MMA? (http://www.squidoo.com/what-is-mma)
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