A Guide to Competitive Weightlifting

by USA Weightlifting

A Guide to Competitive Weightlifting

Many people may think that weightlifting is simply a way of training for other sports and activities, but that belief couldn’t be more incorrect. Weightlifting is itself a sport—and an incredibly difficult one at that—that tests both strength and technique. In fact, Weightlifting is actually one of the oldest sports in the world spanning from prehistoric tests of strength to becoming an official Olympic event in 1896.

But what does competitive Weightlifting—also commonly referred to as Olympic Weightlifting—actually involve? In this guide, we’ll share everything you need to know about competitive Weightlifting.

What Lifts Are Used in Olympic Weightlifting?

A good place to start in this guide to competitive Weightlifting is with the lifts that are actually performed. While there are thousands of different types of ways to lift weights, there are only two lifts used in Olympic Weightlifting: the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk (C&J). 

  • The Snatch - The Snatch is the first event completed in Weightlifting competitions and involves lifting a barbell—which weighs 15 or 20 kilograms on its own—with both hands from the floor and extending it arm's length above the head in one swift motion.

  • The Clean and Jerk - The Clean and Jerk is the second event completed in Weightlifting competitions and involves lifting the barbell overhead with two motions. This lift is not as swift as the Snatch, but it is the lift where the most weight can be lifted. Here are the two motions:

  • The Clean - The first motion is the “Clean,” which brings the bar up to the shoulders, where the lifter pauses.

  • The Jerk - The second motion is the “Jerk,” which uses the legs and the arms to raise the bar overhead, where the athlete holds it until the buzzer is sounded by the official.

These are two of the most difficult lifts in all of weightlifting and require strength and proper technique, which is why they are the two that are used in competition.

What Are the Rules and How Does Scoring Work?

Next, let’s focus on the primary rules and scoring of competitive Weightlifting. There are 10 different bodyweight categories for men in weightlifting competitions, ranging from 55 kilograms to over +109 kilograms. For women, there are 10 different bodyweight categories spanning from 45 kilograms  to over +87 kilogram. 

In addition to standard men's and women’s competitions, there are also competitions for all other individuals who want to compete, including those under the age of 13 and those over 85 years old. Every weightlifter is able to compete with athletes that are their own age, bodyweight, and gender.

During a Weightlifting competition, each competitor is allowed three attempts in each lift. For each lift, the highest weight successfully lifted during a single lift results in their total score for that individual lift. Then, the two total scores from the two lifts are combined, and the competitor with the highest overall total is the winner of the competition. 

Since there are only three attempts per lift, it’s crucial that all competitors train as hard as possible in order to properly lift the heaviest amount they can with the proper technique. If a competitor completes a successful lift, then they are able to add more weight for their next lift if they choose. If a competitor is unable to lift the specified weight during any of their three lifts, they are ruled out of that competition. 

If there is a tie between competitors who have lifted the same combined weight, the athlete with the who attempted and made the lift first is declared the winner. 

If a competitor doesn’t use the proper technique—like not fully raising the barbell arms-length overhead in the Snatch lift—then that attempt is not a successful lift. The attempt counts as one of their three but does not receive a score.

What Competitions Are There?

As briefly mentioned earlier, there are Weightlifting competitions for everyone out there, no matter their age, gender, or bodyweight. Hopefully, there will be even more as the sport continues to expand, gain popularity, and become more inclusive. There are local, regional, and national competitions, leading all the way up to Olympic trials. No matter who you are and what your goal is, there is a Weightlifting competition out there for you. You can even use this tool to find Weightlifting competitions near you.

How Do You Train?

If you’re looking to train for a Weightlifting competition, then a great idea is to start a weightlifting program with a coach who will guide you through the necessary training. If you are truly looking to win Weightlifting competitions, you should find a coach who is certified and will give you the best chance for success.

However, you can also train on your own if you want. Generally, it’s a good idea to train using Olympic lifts no more than 3 times a week. But you should still continue to strength train with other lifts and exercises, like standard squats, military presses, and deadlifts.

The length and specifics of a Weightlifting training program will depend on the individual competitor and their needs. However, it is generally advised to train for at least 4 months in order to prepare for a weightlifting competition. 


About USA Weightlifting

USA Weightlifting aims to strengthen the weightlifting community at every level—from amateurs up to the Olympic Team. We believe that weightlifting is everyone’s sport, and through it, we can strengthen individuals, communities, and our country. We are dedicated to keeping the sport clean, safe, and focused on challenging individuals physically to help build strength within.

We are committed to building a diverse, inclusive, and safe space for everyone, and we continue to work to remove barriers to entry and encourage personal growth and transformation for all.

Our work also goes beyond the athletes, as we aim to educate the educators. Through the development of coaches and technical officials, we are constantly working to ensure excellence throughout the sport.

We rely on the support of donors like you to expand access and education for the sport, so consider making a donation today! You can also learn more about Weightlifting and Team USA, or consider bringing weightlifting to a school near you!

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