Weightlifting is not a popular sport. In fact, right now, USA Weightlifting has less than 30,000 registered members nation wide. Compare that to something like USA Hockey, which has over 600,000, you can see that Weightlifters are in a pretty exclusive club. With that in mind, it’s easy to understand that there is a lot of misinformation out there about Weightlifting. When many people hear the term “Weightlifting” they think of Powerlifting or Bodybuilding, which are completely different sports.
A Brief History
Weightlifting has been an Olympic sport since the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. There were two events at those first games: The one hand lift, and the two hand lift. Each consisted of lifting a weight from the ground to overhead, with, as you may have guessed, either one or two hands. Weightlifting was again part of the games in 1904, before experiencing a brief hiatus, returning in 1920, at which point the weight classes, and events became more standardized. There were three events, the snatch, the clean & press, and the clean & jerk. Eventually, the clean & press was removed in 1972. From 1972 until now, Weightlifting has been a “biathlon” consisting of the snatch and the clean & jerk. Women’s Weightlifting started in the 80s, but did not become an Olympic Sport until 2000. Fun fact: even though America isn’t a dominant country in Weightlifting, the first Olympic Gold medal ever awarded to a woman, was American Tara Nott.
The snatch begins with the bar on the floor. The athlete grips the bar and quickly stands up, which elevates the bar upward. After fully extending, the athlete then dives under the bar into a squat position “catching” the bar overhead. It is said that the snatch is the fastest movement in all of sport. Here’s what it looks like
The Clean & Jerk
As its name would imply, the clean & jerk (often abbreviated as C&J) is a two part lift. Again the bar starts on the floor. The lifter grips the bar and explosively stands up, only this time instead of catching the bar overhead, the bar is “racked” on the chest and shoulders. From there the athlete stands up out of the squat. After a brief pause the athlete bends their knees and then drives upward to push the bar overhead. Here’s how it looks:
There are 8 weight classes for men, and 8 for women. The heaviest weight class for both men and women are open ended, meaning there is no upper limit to how much you can weigh. But the smallest women’s weight class is 48kg(106lbs), and 56kg(123lbs) for men. Often people say “I’m not big enough to be a Weightlifter.” but how big you are has nothing to do with it, since there are weight classes for just about every size individual. You only compete against people of your own weight! In fact, Naim Suleymanoglu from Turkey who stood 4’11, is largely considered the greatest Weightlifter of all time.
In competition you get 3 attempts at the snatch, and 3 attempts at the C&J. Your best (heaviest) completed attempt of each is combined for a total. The person with the highest total within their weight class wins. So for example if you were to snatch 100kg on your first attempt, and then move up to 105kg on your 2nd attempt and fail to complete the lift, and try again on your third attempt, and fail to complete that, you would be credited with 100kg. If you did 100, 105 and 110, successfully completing all 3, you would be credited with 110.
What Makes a Good Weightlifter
Just like all other sports, specific body types are better suited to Weightlifting than others. Being naturally strong, is absolutely NOT a prerequisite. Flexibility is. If you don’t have the ability to get into a deep squat with your hands over your head, all while keeping your torso upright, you’re really going to struggle. Athletes with short limbs and long torsos usually make the best Weightlifters, but of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Having good coordination, body awareness, and being naturally fast are also good attributes to have. A positive attitude and patience top the list of mental attributes necessary, as mentally it is one of the most grueling sports there are.
What Makes Weightlifting Unique
Weightlifting is one of the only truly individual sports. In competition it is an athlete on an isolated platform with a barbell. Even in Powerlifting (the cousin of Weightlifting) the competitor shares the stage with spotters (people there to ensure the safety of the lifter). In other individual sports like Mixed Martial Arts, the competitors share the competition arena with each other, and same for track and field, you’re racing against other individuals. Another unique aspect is the brevity of competition. for each of the attempts a Weightlifter gets, 3 in the snatch, 3 in the clean & jerk, they have a total of 1 minute to begin the lift once their name is called for a particular weight. That means even if they take the full minute (which athletes rarely do) they have a cumulative 6 minutes in the spotlight. After months of training, and hours spent in the gym, only 6 minutes to realize success, or swallow failure. It’s part of what Weightlifting such an exciting sport to watch, it is truly a sport of epic moments. And I mean moments in the truest sense.
Although at the National and World Championships, medals are awarded for the snatch, C&J and total, at the Olympic Games, medals are ONLY awarded for the total. Compare that to a sport like swimming which awards medals for a plethora of stroke styles and distances, as well as medleys and relays, it makes people like Norbert Schemansky and Pyrros Dimas seem that much more impressive, who each have 4 Olympic medals. That means they were at the top of their sport for 16+ years. That is a reign of dominance.
Who Should Do Weightlifting
Anyone who is generally interested in the sport should compete in Weightlifting, regardless of your propensity for the movements themselves. Weightlifting is an extremely rewarding sport because you get out of it almost exactly what you put in. In team sports you must rely on your teammates. In individual sports the actions of your opponents effect your own actions and reactions. But in Weightlifting, you’re mostly competing against yourself. Although the goal is to lift more than your opponents, progress is easily measured: You lifted more today, than you could before, and every time you hit a new “personal record” or as we call it a “PR,” you earn a real sense of accomplishment.
Weightlifting style training can also be hugely beneficial to athletes that compete in power based sports such as football, hockey, rugby, etc…It’s also a great choice for former high school or college athletes that are looking for a new outlet for their competitive spirit!