Weight lifting - From Olympic sport to gym fitness

Weightlifting involves lifting barbells or dumbbells with the aim of increasing the strength and size of your muscles. Weightlifting can be either Olympic weightlifting (as part of the Olympic Games) or general resistance training with fixed or free weights. Olympic weightlifting consists of two lifts: the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk, while general weightlifting involves many more different lifts. The benefits of lifting weights apply to both categories of weightlifting:

  • It increases your physical work capacity
  • It improves bone density
  • Increases the strength of connective tissue, muscles, and tendons
  • It improves your quality of life

Weightlifting was permanently added as an Olympic sport in 1920. Initially three disciplines made up the competition - press, snatch and clean-and-jerk. In 1972 the press was abolished, leaving the snatch and clean-and-jerk as the sport's two Olympic disciplines. Women's weight lifting first appeared at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

In Olympic weightlifting, pure strength, power, good flexibility and extreme coordination are essential. Good technique can have a significant effect on competition outcomes. As does mental attitude: lifters must have absolute confidence in their ability to lift the weight when they approach it. It is not necessarily the strongest competitor that wins!

Olympic weightlifters compete in weight classes. There are eight weight groups for men and seven for women. Each contestant is allowed three attempts at each type of lift (only the heaviest successful snatch and clean-and-jerk weights are used to calculate the final score). Contestants are required to successfully attempt both the snatch and the clean-and-jerk lifts in order to rank in the competition. Competitors failing in all three attempts at the snatch are allowed to compete in the clean and jerk, but receive no overall placing.

The weight lifted must increase by a minimum of 2.5 kg for each attempt. Each lifter has a 60-second time limit in which to approach the platform and begin the lift. If the lifter is making consecutive attempts, two minutes are allowed between lifts.


The Snatch

[video width="320" height="240" mp4="https://www.technogym.com/wpress/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/snatch_1.mp4"][/video]

(a dedicated pic is necessary or a link to a tg video)


As this video shows, the snatch is performed by lifting the bar from the floor to overhead in one uninterrupted movement and holding it there for two seconds. The lifter pulls the bar to about chest height and then, in the moment before the bar starts to descend, pulls their body into a squat position under the bar, securing it overhead - arms held straight. The lifter must then stand and wait for the referees’ "down" signal, to lower the bar.


The clean-and-jerk

[video width="320" height="240" mp4="https://www.technogym.com/wpress/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/cleanandjerk_1.mp4"][/video]

The clean-and-jerk is a two-part lift. First the weight is brought up to the shoulders, and then it is raised overhead and held for 2 seconds. For the "clean," the lifter must pull the weight from the platform to his shoulders in one motion. The bar is pulled to about waist level keeping it close to the body. Then, before the bar starts to descend, the lifter pulls their body beneath the bar, secures the bar on the shoulders or chest, and then stands erect. To see how this lift should be performed, check out our video here.


The "jerk" then follows in which the lifter, again in one motion, thrusts the bar from the shoulders to a position overhead and splits their legs front and back. The lifter then brings their feet together and awaits, standing completely still, for the signal from the referee to lower the bar.


Whilst the snatch and the clean-and-jerk are great lifts to learn and spectacular to watch, they represent dynamic lifts and are not necessarily the most effectice strength exercises for improving muscle strength and fitness. The snatch and the clean-and-jerk represent dynamic lifts. The weight is lifted in an explosive fashion. The duration of the actual lifting phase is quite short and the lowering stage is non-existent: once the down signal is given, the weight is dropped to the floor.


Hence there is not the eccentric or negative portion normally present in regular weight lifting. The negative portion of the lift places more stress on the body but also more hypertrophy (muscle growth) stimulation. That means that there’s more stimulation and so, in return, more repair and growth when weights are lifted and lowered slowly, as in regular resistance training.


In contrast, the slow lifts performed during squat, bench press, deadlift etc. are the complete opposite. They test the lifter’s maximal strength and whilst they still require explosiveness, the nature of the lifts is much different. It’s more about brute strength and the technique is much simpler.


Whether starting weightlifting as an Olympic discipline or for everyday fitness, it is important to get help from a suitably qualified personal trainer. This will ensure that you exercise with the correct form and that your program is designed to achieve your fitness goals.


Most experts recommend starting with your larger muscle groups and then proceeding to the smaller muscle groups. The most demanding exercises are those performed by your large muscle groups. For beginners, programs should identify between 8-10 exercises, approximately one exercise per muscle group.


Suggestions for simple exercises to include are as follows. All of the machine exercises can be performed using equipment from the Technogym Pure Strength range:


  • Chest: bench press, chest press machine pushups, pec deck machine
  • Back: one-armed row, seated row machine, back extensions, lat pulldowns
  • Shoulders: overhead press, lateral raise, front raise
  • Biceps: bicep curls, hammer curls, concentration curls
  • Triceps: tricep extensions, dips, kickbacks
  • Quadriceps: squats, lunges, leg extension and leg press machines
  • Hamstrings: deadlifts, lunges, leg curl machine
  • Abs: crunches, reverse crunches, oblique twists, pelvic tilts


Always warm up (for example with light cardio exercises or by doing a light set of each exercise) before starting a weightlifting session. This helps get muscles warm to prepare them for more vigorous exercise, and prevents injury. It is important that you avoid using momentum to lift the weight; lift and lower the weights slowly, concentrating on using muscles to move them, not momentum. Avoid holding your breath and make sure you're using the full range of motion. Stand up straight and pay attention to your posture. Ensure that you engage your abs in every movement you're doing to keep your balance and protect your spine. Aim to do 8-12 repetitions of each exercise. In general, you should be lifting enough weight that you can ONLY do the desired reps. You should be struggling by the last rep, but still able to finish it with good form.