What Is Olympic-Style Weightlifting All About?

The sport of Olympic-style "Weightlifting" is one of the world's most misunderstood and under-appreciated sports. Part of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 (with a women's event having been added in 2000), Weightlifting is the only Olympic sport in which heavy weights are used.

The International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) and International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognize only two weightlifting events, which must be done in all competitions in the following order: a) the two hands snatch (snatch), and b) the two hands clean and jerk (C&J). The overall winner of any weightlifting competition is the athlete who lifts the highest amount of weight in the snatch and C&J (i.e., the heaviest weights successfully lifted in each event are combined) . This combined score is called the "Total." While awards are given at major competitions for each event as well as the Total, recognition in the sport of weightlifting goes to the athlete who lifts the greatest total weight in competition. When a weightlifting aficionado speaks of the "World Champion" in weightlifting, he or she is generally speaking about the winner in the Total.

In the snatch, the bar is pulled in one explosive motion from the floor to full arm's length overhead. In order to make the lift easier to perform, athletes typically bend their legs quickly while the bar is rising in order to catch the bar at arm's length. The combined attributes of great strength and blinding speed are needed to accomplish this challenging event effectively. The best lifters in the world (in the lighter weight classes can lift as much as 2.5 times their bodyweight in the Snatch). The best superheavyweight weightlifters in history have lifted nearly 500 lb./227.5 kg. in this lift.

In the clean and jerk (C&J), the bar is also lifted to full arm's length overhead. However, although it is considered one event, the C&J is really two lifts that must be completed one immediately after the other. In the clean, the bar is raised (pulled) in an explosive motion from the floor to a point of rest approximately at the level of the shoulders. (The rules permit lifting the bar within a zone from the chest above the nipples to a position above the shoulders, as long as the arms are in a fully bent position with the bar resting on the hands in the latter case). 

The second part of the C&J, the jerk, consists of bending the legs and then extending both the arms and the legs to bring the bar to full arm's length over the head in one explosive motion. In order to make the lift easier to perform, athletes typically drop into a "split" position, or merely bend their legs quickly while the bar is rising in order to catch the bar at arm's length. Since the athlete is lifting the bar in two stages in the C&J, heavier weights can be lifted in the C&J than in the snatch.

The best lifters in the world in the lighter weight classes can lift as much as 3 times their bodyweight in the C&J. The best superheavyweight lifters in history have lifted nearly 600 lb./272.5 kg. in this lift. Often referred to as the "King (or Queen) of the lifts", the C&J is the greatest single test of overall strength and power known.

As a practical matter, bending and/or moving the legs to catch the bar (after it has been explosively lifted) is a required aspect of the snatch, the clean and the jerk. Aside from being sound practice from an efficiency standpoint (the bar does not have to be lifted as high if the body is quickly lowered), it is virtually impossible for the bar to be lifted in a continuous motion (i.e., without a significant and visible change in speed) unless the body is quickly lowered just before the lift is completed and just as its upward velocity is slowing down.

Sequence photos of the snatch and C&J are available at Les Simonton's educational site: www.eng.auburn.edu/users/simonton/wl/cj.html.  

Weightlifting has separate competitions for men and women, 8 bodyweight classes for men (56 kg./123.25 lb. is the lightest weight class and above 105 kg./231.25 is the heaviest) and 7 for women (48 kg./105.75 lb. is the lightest weight class and above 75 kg./165.25 lb. is the heaviest). There are also age group competitions, so that teenagers and seniors citizens can compete against other athletes their own size, age and gender. And Weightlifting competitions take place in more than 160 countries throughout the world, making Weightlifting one of the world's most universal sports!

Weightlifting is a sport in which the strongest and most powerful men and women in the world - bar none (as well as some of the world's fastest and most flexible men and women) compete. Many people who are unfamiliar with the sport are surprised to learn that Weightlifters don't necessarily have the biggest muscles in the world. In fact, some could easily be mistaken for well conditioned athletes who compete in other sports. Weightlifters simply have the strongest and most powerful muscles in the world, developed by hard and very specialized training that develops enormous strength without the "bulk" that bodybuilders, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, possess. Bodybuilders are dedicated athletes and many are quite strong, but they are not as strong as the best weightlifters and their muscles needn't be strong because they compete solely on the basis of the appearance of their muscles, not their strength (muscle size and strength are not highly correlated).

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 flexibility, speed and coordination are very crucial factors in of weightlifting success, along with strength).

Because of its many weight classes, age divisions and levels of  competition, there is a place for everyone in Weightlifting and the sport warmly welcomes its newcomers. Get started today by ordering The Weightlifting Encyclopedia and/or becoming familiar with the Organizations and Resources associated with the sport.

Copyright 2002 A is A Communications. All rights reserved.
Last Revised: March 02, 2002.