Olympic Weightlifting: Rules and Judging

Knowing the rules makes watching more enjoyable

Cuba's Sergio Alvarez (Bronze Medalist: Men's 56kg) - 2008 Weightlifting International Invitational
Cuba's Sergio Alvarez wins a bronze medal for the Men's 56 kg - 2008 Weightlifting International Invitational Tournament in Beijing, China. Credit: Feng Li/Getty Images

The rules used in Olympic weightlifting competition are the standard international rules set out by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) and approved by the Olympics administration. Participants in Olympic weightlifting must follow a long list of rules, but most of them aren't important to the viewer watching at home. A few can be helpful to understand while you're watching, however. Here's a summary of the most important regulations you'll want to know.

Weight Class Rules

Athletes are divided into several weight classes in this sport. Placing is based on the total weight lifted on the two main lifts.

Only two weightlifters per country are allowed to compete in each weight class.

If the number of entries for a weight class is too large, such as more than 15 entries, it can be split into two groups. One group would include the strongest performers, where performance is based on what they estimate they'll be capable of lifting. When the final results are collected for all groups, the results are all combined for the weight class and they're ranked. The highest score wins gold, the one that follows wins silver, and the third highest takes bronze.

Weightlifting Equipment Rules 

Men and women use different barbells. Men use barbells weighing 20kg and women use 15kg. Each bar must be equipped with two collars weighing 2.5kg each.

Discs are color-coordinated:  

  • 25kg is red
  • 20kg is blue
  • 15kg is yellow
  • 10kg is green
  • 5kg is white 
  • 2.5kg is black,
  • 0.50k is chrome
  • 0.25kg is chrome.

The barbell is loaded from the lowest weight to the heaviest. The barbell is never reduced to a lighter weight after an athlete has performed a lift after the weight has been announced.

The minimum progression weight after a good lift is 2.5kg.

The time limit for an athlete to begin an attempt after being called to the platform is one minute. A warning signal sounds when there are 30 seconds remaining. The exception to this rule is when a competitor makes two attempts one right after the other. In this case, the athlete may rest for up to two minutes and he'll receive a warning after 90 seconds have elapsed without a lift.

Judging Rules

Each athlete is allowed three attempts at each chosen weight for each lift.

Three referees judge the lift.

If the lift is successful, the referee immediately hits a white button and a white light is turned on. The score is then recorded.

If a lift is unsuccessful or deemed invalid, the referee hits the red button and a red light goes off. The highest score for each lift is the one that is used as the official value for the lift.

When the highest value has been collected for each lift, the total weight lifted in the snatch or the first of the two lifts is added to the total weight lifted in the clean and jerk—the total of both movements. The lifter with the highest combined weight becomes the champion. In the case of a tie, the lifter whose body weight is less is declared the champion.