The Basics of Olympic Weightlifting

Mens Category +105kg
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Olympic weightlifting is a sport in which competitors attempt to lift heavy weights mounted on barbells. Olympic weightlifting is one of the few sports to have been present in the first modern Olympic Games held back in Athens, 1896, and has been part of the Olympics ever since except for 1900, 1908 and 1912.

The Sport Consists of the Following Two Lifts

  • The Snatch: In the snatch, the barbell is lifted from the floor to an overhead position in one motion.
  • The Clean & Jerk: The Clean & Jerk consists of two stages. The first stage, called the clean stage, is a lift where the barbell is picked from the floor and placed on the shoulders in one motion. After a pause, the athlete goes to the second stage of the motion. In this second stage, the athlete lifts the barbell into an overhead position while placing the legs in a lunge position (one leg in front of the other).

What Makes Olympic Weightlifting Different to Bodybuilding?

Opposed to bodybuilding where the weights are used simply as tools to stress the muscle and cause it to grow, in this sport the main goal is the lifting of the weight itself with flawless execution. It takes great functional strength, power, flexibility, dexterity, concentration, and great lifting technique to be successful at Olympic Weightlifting.

However, similar to bodybuilding, in order to succeed in this activity, an enormous amount of determination and consistency are required. In addition, special attention needs to be given as well to lifting technique, not only for safety reasons but also because in a weightlifting competition, a sloppy form will affect your placing since only a properly executed lift is counted. As a result, beginner weightlifters practice perfect form over and over again with an empty Olympic bar. Olympic Weightlifting has a huge following at the worldwide level but does not have as much here in the United States nor in the United Kingdom. The reason for this is because a lot of people don't know much about the sport. However, we feel that after we cover this sport many of you will find it interesting enough to at least check it out at the Summer Olympics.

The Competition

Olympic weightlifting has changed a lot over the course of the years. In modern weightlifting, athletes compete in two lifts: the snatch and the clean and jerk.

Weight Classes

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

At the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, men competed in eight bodyweight categories: up to 56kg, 62kg, 69kg, 77kg, 85kg, 94kg, 105kg and +105kg. Women participated in seven categories: up to 48kg, 53kg, 58kg, 63kg, 69kg, 75kg, and +75kg. The programme of events for the 2008 Beijing Games is the same.

How the Sport Is Judged

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, indicating the lift as successful. In this case, then the score is recorded. If a lift is unsuccessful or deemed invalid, then the referee hits the red button and a red light goes off. The highest score for each lift is the one that gets used as the official value of the lift.

Once the highest value has been collected for each lift, the total weight lifted in the snatch is added to the total weight lifted in the clean and jerk. The lifter with the highest combined weight lifted becomes the champion. In the case of a tie, then the lifter whose body weight is less becomes the champion.


The equipment used in this sport can be divided between the one that is being lifted by the athlete and the one used by the athlete for lifting assistance and safety.

  1. Weights
    • Barbell: Equipment consisting of a steel bar able to have different rubber-coated weights shaped in the form of a disc fastened onto it. In weightlifting competitions, competitors must lift the barbell loaded to a certain weight under strictly specified conditions. In competition, the barbell’s weight is progressively loaded by one-kilo increments.
    • Rubber Coated Cylindrical Weight Plates: This is an individual cylindrical weight plate on the bar. The weight of the discs typically goes from 0.5kg to 25kg. The bar is loaded with the same amount of weight plates on each side adding up to the total weight requested by the athlete for the lifting attempt.
    • Collar: A metal cylinder weighing 2.5kg each that secures the weights in place (weighing 2.5kg each).
  2. Lifting Clothing and Accessories
    • Attire: Competitors wear a suit that is usually one piece and closely fitted with or without a T-shirt underneath.
    • Lifting Shoes: shoes should be chosen for their ability to provide stability to the feet during the execution of the lift.
    • Weight Belt: A belt with a maximum width of 120mm may be worn to support the trunk during the attempt.
    • Wrist and Knee Wraps: Bandages can be worn on the wrists or the knees in order to offer support and protection of the joints.
    • Elastic knee-caps: Instead of bandages, lifters have the option of wearing elastic kneecaps instead.

Gold, Silver, and Bronze

Only two weightlifters per country are allowed to compete in each weight class. If the number of entries for a weight class is too big (over 15 entries, for instance) then it can be split into a couple of groups; Groups A and B with Group A being the strongest performers (where performance is based on what they estimate they'll be capable of lifting). Once final results are collected for all groups, then the results are all combined for the weight class and ranked. The highest score wins gold, the one that follows bronze, and the third highest takes bronze.