Olympic-Style Weightlifting (or “Weightlifting”, as the sport is called in the Olympic Games) is the oldest and most universally practiced sport in the world involving barbells and tests of strength. Part of the Olympic Games at the inception of the modern Games in 1896, the Weightlifting event’s winners have proudly earned the title of the Strongest Man and Woman in the World (and also the most powerful – power being a function of speed and strength). Weightlifting is the only sport involving heavy weights that is part of the Olympic Games.

The majority of Competitions are conducted in ten body weight categories for men and women. Consequently, all athletes have an opportunity to compete against others their own size.

Many competitions have specific categories which take into account the athlete’s age. For instance, there are youth competitions locally and worldwide for athletes 17 and under, and “Masters” competitions begin in five-year age brackets beginning when at athlete reaches age 35 (in the US National age based competitions begin at age 11 and under, continue with 12-13, 14-15 then 16 and 17).

Therefore, in the sport of weightlifting, you are always able to compete against athletes your own size, age and gender.

In Weightlifting competitions, the Snatch event always comes first. In the Snatch lift, the athlete lifts the barbell from the floor to arm’s length overhead in one explosive motion. The athlete uses the powerful muscles of the legs, hips and back to raise the barbell from the floor, and then to impart a tremendous explosive force that propels the bar upward. As the barbell rises from this effort, the arms assist in bringing the barbell to arm’s length overhead under control, as the body is lowered very rapidly under the barbell (so that the athlete does not have to lift the barbell any higher than necessary to get it to the arm’s length overhead position). The sequence photos of the Snatch below are from “The Weightlifting Encyclopedia” by Arthur Drechsler, photos courtesy of Bruce Klemens.

To see a video of a live Snatch, you can click here.

The best lifters in the world (in the lighter body weight classes) can lift as much as 2.5 times their body weights in the Snatch. The best super heavyweight weightlifters in history have lifted nearly 500 lb./227.5 kg. in this lift.

The second competition lift is the Clean & Jerk (C&J). In this lift the athlete lifts the barbell from the floor to the shoulders in one motion, again relying on the most powerful muscles in the body (those of the legs, hips and back) to raise the barbell from the ground and then to exert an explosive effort that propels the barbell upward. At the same time the athlete uses the muscles of the arms and shoulders to move the body under the barbell and secure it on the shoulders, while lowering the body. Now the lifter rises to a fully standing position in preparation for the second part of the lift – the jerk.

In the Jerk, the lifter bends the legs in a preparatory “dip” and then explosively thrusts the barbell upward with the legs. Then, almost immediately the lifter’s legs quickly rebend, usually with one foot moving forward and the other backward into a “split” position (but the feet can also just move sideways, or not at all as the legs rebend). At the same time the arms and shoulders push up against the barbell to both keep the barbell moving higher and at the same time push the body under with utmost speed. This combined effort results in the barbell being brought to arm’s length overhead, from which point the lifter straightens the legs and brings the feet in line (if a split position was used).

The C&J is considered by many to be the single greatest measure of strength ever developed, as virtually every muscle in the body is tested in performing this incredible lift. The sequence photos of the C&J below are from “The Weightlifting Encyclopedia” by Arthur Drechsler, photos courtesy of Bruce Klemens.

To see a video of a live C&J, you can click here.

In addition to being the strongest athletes in the world, overall, weightlifters generate some of the highest power outputs ever measured among athletes and they among the fastest and most flexible athletes ever measured in any sport. Great skill is also important in accomplishing their amazing feats. It is an unusually strong man who can lift his body weight overhead without training. Untrained woman lifting 70% of her body weight is just as rare. Yet some of the very best male weightlifters in the world have lifted more than 3 times their body weights overhead and women have lifted 2.5 times their bodyweights. The best super heavyweight lifters in history have lifted nearly 600 lb./272.5 kg. in the Clean and Jerk and the best women more than 400 lb./181.5 kg.

Weightlifters often fail to receive the credit they deserve for the strength the develop. Because there are many body weight classes in weightlifting competition, and because the focus is on strength development of the entire body, versus pure muscular development, weightlifters may not look as strong as others who lift weights (e.g., outstanding bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger). But don’t let their athletic but not overly muscular bodies fool you, the power of those bodies is enormous, often much greater than those of athletes who look more muscular.

While natural strength is an asset for beginning Weightlifters, anyone can become much stronger than the strength level at which they began. It is not unusual for an athlete to improve his/her strength 3 to 5 times above what is was when the athlete started training.

Therefore, there is an opportunity for everyone to improve dramatically with appropriate training.

Modern weightlifting requires skill as well as strength. The challenge of developing that skill makes the sport even more interesting, as continuous improvement is possible over many years, and the challenge of improving one’s technique adds much interest to one’s workouts. An athlete can truly have a good workout from a skill standpoint, even though he or she may not be strong enough that day to break a personal record.

It is virtually never too early or late to begin gradually progressive strength training. It has been said that anyone can run a marathon with training. Similarly, anyone can develop considerable strength with regular and proper training.
Olympic-Style Weightlifting, especially in the US, has done more to eradicate drug use than any other sport. After many years of developing its drug testing program, today the USA Weightlifting (USAW) has the strictest possible urine tests performed on athletes at every major National event by an independent organization (USADA). There is also year round, unannounced, out-of-competition testing. Under this program, athletes can be tested at school, work, home or in the gym, with no notice. Such testing is expensive and inconvenient but our athletes and administrators accept this as the cost of keeping the sport clean.

While Weightlifters compete partly to determine who is the strongest among them all, most weightlifters use the competitive venue to challenge themselves – to see how far each one of them can go in terms of developing their mental and physical strength. No one is born strong enough to become a Weightlifting champion, and many champions began their careers with very ordinary strength levels. The excitement and challenge of Weightlifting stem from seeing the tremendous improvements that one can make in ones’ strength and technique, as well as flexibility, speed and coordination, which are very important factors in of weightlifting success. However, all of these characteristics are very responsive to proper training. That is one of Weightlifting’s most wonderful features – progress in lifting ever heavier weights can be achieved by training so many different variables. This keeps training both challenging and interesting.

Because of its many body weight classes, age divisions and levels of competition, there is a place for everyone in Weightlifting competitions. But it is truly a sport where everyone can “win”, in that every athlete who trains regularly and intelligently can experience a true mental and physical transformation. It is this universal experience of growth that makes Weightlifters and unique community in which all can experience enormous progress and share the celebration of that progress with everyone else who pursues the sport. That is one of the many reasons why the sport welcomes newcomers so warmly and reveres its champions so profoundly. Become a weightlifter today!