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10 Myths about Weightlifting (Sport)

10 Myths about Weightlifting (Sport)

October 24, 2016


Thanks to organizations like CrossFit, Hookgrip, and the general increase in physical culture, the sport of Weightlifting is on the rise. But there are still a lot of misconceptions about Weightlifting. Let’s take a look: Myth #1: Weightlifting is Powerlifting is Bodybuilding There are a group of sports called “Strength Sports” which include: Weightlifting, Powerlifting, Bodybuilding, Strongman, Heavy Athletics and Throwing, and CrossFit. They all share certain qualities, much like the way football, baseball, and basketball all share similar qualities. But the general public tends to lump all these sports together, despite them being very distinct from one another. If you’re just someone who likes to exercise to stay fit, I don’t expect you to know the difference, but there’s cringeworthy amount of “fit pros,” Bodybuilders and Powerlifters that don’t even really know the difference. Each sport has its own skills, rules, and competition, being good at one doesn’t necessarily mean you’d be good at another. Back in the day when Bodybuilding and Powerlifting were first coming on to the scene, it wasn’t uncommon for athletes to compete in multiple strength sports. In fact, originally in Bodybuilding you would have to also compete in Weightlifting or Powerlifting to earn points. As time went on, and competition got tougher and tougher, athletes began to dedicate themselves to one or the other to maximize their results. Today there are few people who compete in more than one with extreme success. Take a look at the collage below to see each athlete in their element. Notice they’re all performing different skills, and have varying body types.

Myth #2: It’s called “Olympic Weightlifting” If you hear someone refer to the sport of Weightlifting as “Olympic Weightlifting,” “Olympic Lifting” or “Oly Lifting,” you can be sure that the person  probably has little-to-no first hand experience with the sport. The sport is called Weightlifting. Of course this drives Powerlifters and Bodybuilders nuts, who want to insist that they are “Weightlifters,” but just training with weights is not the same as the sport of Weightlifting. In fact, the IOC (international Olympic committee) recently went on a cease and desist spree for any gym or business calling it “Olympic” Weightlifting, as they own rights to that word. If you want to learn more about why we don’t call it “Olympic” Weightlifting click here. If you’re a Powerlifter, say you’re a Powerlifter, if you’re a Bodybuilder, say you’re a Bodybuilder, but if you don’t compete in Weightlifting, don’t say you’re a Weightlifter. Myth #3: Weightlifting is complicated Go read just about any op-ed or technical article about the sport, and you’re likely to find an opening statement mentioning how technically challenging the snatch and clean & jerk are. It’s true that they have technical components, but I’d argue no more than a lot of other sports such as golf, or even baseball. The difference is, many sports rooted in sound technique are taught at a young age, and have structured instruction and progression through schools and other programs. While Weightlifting has been around for a very long time, it’s in its infancy of popularity and growth. Many people coming in to the sport are adults with full time jobs, and injuries from previous sporting careers. What other technical skills do you pick up as an adult? Is playing the guitar the most technically challenging thing in the world? No, but as an adult you’d probably still struggle with it a bit for the first few years, especially if you weren’t learning in a formal setting. Many people don’t have access to a good Weightlifting coach so they follow online programs or videos. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you have to realize it could be a slight handicap. Myth #4: Weightlifting will make you bulky Despite speed, technique, and flexibility being a big part of the sport, it’s still mostly about being really strong. With that said, bigger muscles do not mean stronger muscles. This is a difficult concept for people not involved in coaching to understand. Without getting too much into the science of it, Weightlifting is largely dependent on your nervous system and how efficiently it works. While most people will get stronger if they grow bigger muscles, that’s not the ONLY way to get stronger AND it’s not an option for a Weightlifter since there are weight classes. There is a point of diminishing returns with growing bigger muscles as a means to get stronger, and if you weigh too much, you’re going to be competing against people who have bigger frames and can handle more muscle with more efficiency. The smallest weight class in Weightlifting is the women’s 48kg(106lbs!). These women lift some seriously impressive weights, and often don’t have physiques that would make you think they work out, nevermind compete in a strength sport. Check out the photo of America’s tiniest Weightlifting Champion, Morghan King. She can put 200lbs+ overhead, more than double her body weight. If you think she’s too muscular, you have a seriously distorted idea of what a healthy body looks like.

Myth #5: Weightlifters aren’t strong To be fair, this is only a foolish belief held by a small group of people in Powerlifting. There are a handful of coaches NOT involved in Weightlifting that espouse this idea as if it were fact, but to quote a random person the internet, regarding this topic: The solution always seems simple when you’re ignorant of the problem. Many people argue that American Weightlifters spend too much time worrying about technique, and not enough time working on being strong. In Powerlifting, you really only have one physical attribute you need to worry about developing: maximal strength. Unfortunately, there a variety of skills and attributes needed in Weightlifting to be successful, and simply being “maximally strong” isn’t necessarily going to help. What does that mean? You could increase your strength in the squat, deadlift, press, etc… and not see any positive return on snatch and C&J…which is where it matters since those are the competition lifts. Elite level Weightlifters are some of the best athletes on the planet, and while they may not squat or deadlift as much as Powerlifters or Strongman competitors, that’s a product of them not needing to, and I have no doubt that if many of them made the transition to other strength sports, where their focus could be on those things, they would do very well for themselves. Here is American Weightlifter and 3x Olympian Kendrick Farris squatting 270kg(594lbs) for a set of 5. Note that he doesn’t use any assistance equipment like in Powerlifting such as knee wraps or a belt (which will add 5-15%). Using a 1RM calculator that puts his theoretical 1RM some where around 685lbs. Figure in 5% if he used wraps and a belt, that puts him at 720lbs. That’s nearly 90% of the American record in his weight class in Powerlifting. A lot of math, and what ifs…but you get the point, Weightlifters are strong as heck. It’s also worth noting that Weightlifters squat deeper than Powerlifters or Strongmen, a point that people in the latter camps always say doesn’t matter. Anyone who has taken a high school physics class knows that it does. It takes greater energy to move the same load a greater distance. I won’t begrudge Powerlifters for squatting only as deep as necessary for their competition, but having the ability to squat big weight through a full range of motion does deserve extra respect.

Here is another example of an extremely strong Weightlifter. Pat Mendes with 800lbs, again no belt, knee wraps, or even spotters.

Myth #6: Weightlifting is dangerous It doesn’t matter what I say, what studies are done, etc…this myth will never die. Middle school kids will break their ankles playing soccer, get concussions playing football, need shoulder surgery from playing baseball, but one Weightlifter out of a hundred passes out on a clean and jerk during a competition and suffers no injury and everyone says “see I told you it was dangerous!” Like any sport (and life) Weightlifting has its risks. It’s not uncommon for people to get some tendonitis in their knee, or have achy wrists, but serious, debilitating injuries are rare. At the elite level you occasionally see a back or an elbow give out, but these are often associated with PED use, meaning athletes were able to lift weights beyond what the human body was naturally capable of lifting. In general, Weightlifting is done in a controlled environment, with proper instruction, and in a sense is very predictable. The movements are the same every time, so if you’re not going to be able to hold the bar over your head, you’ll be able to feel it, and get out of the way easily. This is why injury rates in team sports are so much higher, because the environment is constantly changing, and people collide.

Myth #7: Weightlifters aren’t “real athletes” Here in America, we really love balls. You can have all manner of talent, but if it doesn’t involve fondling a ball in some capacity, you’re considered second rate. The idea of being “athletic” is contextual, but I think most people would agree, that being an athlete entails owning a variety of skills like coordination, explosiveness, agility, etc…These are qualities elite Weightlifters have an abundance of, particularly the most “athletic” quality of all: Explosive power. One of the greatest American Weightlifters of all time, Shane Hamman, could dunk a basketball and do a standing backflip…at 5’9 and over 300lbs bodyweight. If that’s not athletic, I don’t know what is.

Here’s Chinese Weightlifting Champion Liao Hui doing some very casual looking box jumps at an impressive height.

Myth #8: Everyone Should do Weightlifting Competitive Weightlifting is my passion, and in some sense my life’s work. I’ve really enjoyed the growth of the sport, and I work every day to help continue that trend. While I would never discourage someone who wants to compete from being a Weightlifter, I also don’t think that everyone needs to be one, a point argued against by some coaches. Programs like CrossFit consider the movements essential to their training program. The snatch and clean & jerk (and their variations) have an appropriate application for some athletes competing in other sports, but I think the notion that all athletes need them is incorrect. People look at the explosive power of Weightlifters, combined with their flexibility, and think it’s a good fit for team sport athletes. One thing that Weightlifting has taught me, is that strength and power are dependent on position. That means someone who is strong on two legs, may not be strong on one, or someone who is powerful vertically, may not be powerful rotationally. All athletes should build a great foundation through very broad and generalized training that focuses on a multitude of physical attributes, and then select training more specific to their sport as their competitive season draws closer. Even certain positions within a sport will require vastly different training. Consider a lineman in football vs a wide receiver, or a goalie in soccer vs an attacker. Myth #9: Weightlifters aren’t flexible It used to be thought that lifting weights would make your muscles tight. In truth, taking a joint through a full range of motion while underload promotes flexibility and mobility. Because of the positions you find yourself in while performing Weightlifting movements, you’re going to need to be flexible, mostly in the thoracic spine, hips, and shoulders. Flexibility is something that’s not needed much in the other strength sports (save for CrossFit), which is why Weightlifters tend to have an easier time transitioning to something like Bodybuilding or Powerlifting, but not the other way around. If you’re curious about how flexible you need to be to be a Weightlifter, grab a broom stick, hold it straight over the top of your head, and try to squat down until your butt touches your legs. If you can do that without your arms shifting out in front of you, your heels coming up off the floor, or your torso being leaned way forward, you probably would make a decent Weightlifter. Now consider that Weightlifters hit that position with upwards of over 400lbs over their heads. Check out this video of Olympic silver medalist, Dmitry Klokov stretching, and tell me he’s not flexible.

Myth #10: All Weightlifters are on steroids It’s true that performance enhancing drugs are a big problem in the sport of Weightlifting. Why? Because performance enhancing drugs are a big problem in almost all sports. Steroids are popular in Weightlifting because they make you stronger, but don’t be fooled, there are drugs used in other sports to improve your endurance, or your mental focus, and they are just as dishonest, and damaging to your health. With that said, agencies like WADA are working hard to clean up the sport (and other sports). You don’t have to be on steroids to be a Weightlifter, and I think people would be surprised of what the human body is capable of naturally. Physical culture is on the rise in America and around the globe, but it’s still not part of pop culture. Until it is, women with healthy, strong bodies will be accused of being “manly” and men with impressive physiques will be accused of steroid abuse. Here in the US, we have very stringent testing for our elite Weightlifters, and while that doesn’t mean that all of them are drug free, most of them are. So if you ever want to see what the human body is capable of, attend a USA Weightlifting event, or tune in to a broadcast, to watch these underrated but amazing athletes compete. As Weightlifting continues to grow, it will be important to educate the general public about this wonderful and exciting sport. It has been said that the average NFL game contains only 11 total minutes of action in a 3+ hour broadcast, but we watch because it’s a sport of “moments” and those 11 minutes are some of the most exciting in all of sports. Weightlifting too, is a sport comprised of short, but incredibly exciting moments. Weightlifters train for hours and hours day in and day out, for a combined total of 6 minutes on the competition platform. A snatch takes less than a few seconds to complete, that means each and every lift has a lot riding on it. The pressure and the stakes in Weightlifting are always very high, and everything can chance in an instant.  I’ll leave you with the video below to see how incredible this sport can be.