Weightlifting generally refers to activities in which people lift weights, either for the purpose of competition, health, fitness or muscle development. The strength-based sport of lifting weights is also referred to as power-lifting. A version of this sport, Olympic weightlifting, is a regular part of the summer Olympic Games.
While the goal of power-lifting competitions is the lifting of weights themselves, weightlifting is used as an end to achieve different goals in weight training, a type of exercise using weights to increase muscle strength, and specifically in body-building, a form of body modification for aesthetic reasons. Although body-building has been closely associated with weightlifting, it is possible to engage in a body-building training regimen using exercises or equipment other than weights.
Conversely, because the goal of body-building is often to generate a particular appearance, a person who engages in weightlifting only to increase strength may not achieve the physical appearance sought in body-building.
The History of Weightlifting
Competition between people concerning who can lift the heaviest weight has been recorded in diverse and ancient civilisations as early as the earliest known recordings of such human events, including those found in Egypt, China and in ancient Greece. Today, the modern sport of weightlifting traces its origins to the European competitions of the 19th century.
The first male world champion was crowned in 1891. Women’s competition did not exist, and the weightlifters were not categorised by height or weight.
The first Olympic Games of 1896 included weightlifting in the Field event of the predecessor to today’s Track and Field or Athletics event. During the 1900 Olympic Games, there was no weightlifting event. Weightlifting resumed as an event, again in Athletics, in 1904 but was omitted from the Games of 1908 and 1912. These were the last Games until after the First World War.
In these early Games, a distinction was drawn between lifting with ‘one hand’ only and lifting with ‘two hands’. The winner of the ‘one hand’ competition in 1896 was Launceston Elliott, while the winner of the ‘two hands’ event was Viggo Jensen of Denmark.
In 1920, weightlifting returned to the Olympics and, for the first time, as an event in its own right. At these Games, which took place in Antwerp, Belgium, fourteen nations competed. The competition lifts were the ‘one hand’ Snatch, the ‘one hand’ Clean and Jerk and the ‘two hands’ Clean and Jerk. At the next Olympic Games, in Paris, France, in 1924, the ‘two hands’ Press and the ‘two hands’ Snatch were added to the programme, making a total of five lifts.
In the Olympic Games after 1920, instead of requiring all competitors to compete against each other regardless of size, weight classes were introduced and, by the 1932 Olympic Games, weightlifting was divided into five weight divisions.
In 1928, the sport dropped the ‘one hand’ exercises altogether leaving only the three remaining exercises: the Clean and Press, the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk. By 1972, the Clean and Press was dropped for the reasons cited above, and this left the sole elements of what is today’s modern Olympic weightlifting programme – the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk.
A competition for women was introduced at the Olympic Games of 2000 in Sydney, Australia. However, as early as 1987, there were official world championships awarded to women weightlifters such as Karyn Marshall.
In 2011 the International Weightlifting Federation ruled that athletes could wear a full-body “unitard” under the customary weightlifting uniform. Kulsoom Abdullah became the first woman to do so at the U.S. National Championships that year, and athletes are allowed to do so at the Olympics. IWF rules previously stated that an athlete’s knees and elbows must be visible so officials can determine if a lift is correctly executed.
The sport is controlled by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF). Based in Budapest, it was founded in 1905. Male athletes compete in one of eight divisions, and female athletes lift in one of seven divisions determined by their body mass. The men’s classes are:
ñ56 kg (123 lb)
ñ62 kg (137 lb)
ñ69 kg (152 lb)
ñ77 kg (170 lb)
ñ85 kg (187 lb)
ñ94 kg (207 lb)
ñ105 kg (231 lb)
ñand over 105 kg;
And the women’s are:
ñ48 kg (106 lb)
ñ53 kg (117 lb)
ñ58 kg (128 lb)
ñ63 kg (139 lb)
ñ69 kg (152 lb)
ñ75 kg (165 lb)
ñand over 75 kg.
In each weight division, lifters compete in both the snatch and clean and jerk and prizes are usually given for the heaviest weights lifted in each, and in the Overall – the maximum lift from both combined. The order of the competition is up to the lifters – the competitor who chooses to attempt the lowest weight goes first.
If they are unsuccessful at that weight, they have the option of reattempting at that weight or trying a heavier weight after any other competitors have made attempts at the previous weight or any other intermediate weights.
The barbell is loaded incrementally and progresses to a heavier weight throughout the course of competition. Weights are set in 1 kilogram increments. When a tie occurs, the athlete with the lower bodyweight is declared the winner. If two athletes lift the same total weight and have the same bodyweight, the winner is the athlete who lifted the total weight first – a rule with an intentional design on ‘human progress’.
During competition, the Snatch event takes place first, followed by a short intermission, and then the Clean and Jerk event follows-on. There are two side judges and one head referee who together provide a “successful” or “failed” result for each attempt based on their observation of the lift within the governing body’s rules and regulations. A majority of two “successes” is required for any attempt to pass.
Usually, the judges’ and referee’s results are registered via a lighting system with a white light indicating a “successful” lift and a “red” light indicating a “failed” lift. This is done for the benefit of all in attendance be they athlete, coach, administrator or audience. In addition, one or two technical officials may be present to advise during a ruling.
Also, a “Best Lifter” title is commonly awarded at local competitions. It is awarded to both the best Men’s and Women’s lifters. The award is based on a formula which employs the “Sinclair Coefficient”, a coefficient derived and approved by the sport’s world governing body and which allows for differences in both gender and bodyweight.
When the formula is applied to each lifter’s overall total and then grouped along with the other competitors’ and evaluated, it provides a numeric result which determines the competition’s best overall Men’s and Women’s lifters. And while, usually, the winner of the heaviest weight class will have lifted the most overall weight during the course of a competition, a lifter in a lighter weight class may still have lifted more weight both relative to his or her own bodyweight and to the Sinclair Coefficient formula thereby receiving the “Best Lifter” award.