Civilizations throughout time have appreciated and pursued the manly trait of strength. Many millennia ago, aproximately 3000 years back in time, the Chinese utilised the lifting of rocks and bags of sand to train their soldiers. In ancient Greece, exercise was regarded as an important element of one’s life as it brought along vigour and health, with weightlifting being a form of exercise that was widely practised. At a time were constant battling was occurring, having a strong body and mind was imperative to the development of men and the first Olympic Games were held in Olympia in 776 B.C as a way to bring about the best athletes within the region in honour of the god Zeus.
Fast-forward to 1896, to the first Olympic Games of the modern era. Since these games represented the utmost expression of the different athletic abilities, strength being one of them, the newly formed International Olympic Committee had to come up with a physical demonstration which would measure strength, thus olympic weightlifting was born. Strength was to be measured in a simple yet bullet-proof form, whoever lifts the heaviest loaded barbell from the floor to overhead (full extension) wins, a premise that still stands to this day. Back then, the exercises were a crude representation of modern olympic weightlifting and included six varieties to be performed. Weightlifting was skipped as a discipline for the next Olympic Games, reappeared in 1904 and then was left out until 1920, staying as a permanent discipline ever since, and having the list of exercises reduced from six to three: the Press, Snatch and Clean with Jerk. By 1932, weight divisions had been incorporated so as to match competing lifters by their bodyweight and the sport didn’t have any further modifications until the Olympic Games of 1972, when the Press was moved out thus leaving the Snatch and the Clean with Jerk as the sole two exercises to be performed.
As stated previously, strength is measured by lifting the weight from the floor to overhead yet present weightlifting is made up of two exercises which have the same goal of precisely doing this, so, what gives? The difference is in the method of achieving this goal. The Snatch has the lifter lifting the barbell in one motion while the Clean with Jerk (also known as Clean and Jerk or C&J) includes one stop mid-way. Due to the fluid motion of the snatch, the lifter is not only tested in strength but agility, precision and flexibility, while the C&J relies more on strength and stamina. To put it in a context that you can relate to, the Snatch is the gymnastic form of weightlifting while the C&J is the brute and raw form of weightlifting (think shouting and head going red). Both lifts are done in an explosive fashion, with the snatch lasting about two seconds and the C&J about five to ten seconds. They really occur that fast!
Here is an overview of the exercises, also known as lifts:
The lifter bends down at the waist, with hands gripping the bar wide. He then proceeds to lift the weight, moving it explosively in an upwards fashion while squatting down and receiving the barbell overhead with arms extended. The lifter then stands up from the squat position with the barbell still overhead and stays in an erected manner with the barbell resting overhead until the referee allows him to lower the barbell, indicating the succesful completion of the lift. The lifter has three attempts to lift the heaviest weight he can do with the heaviest attempt being recorded as his competing lift
Snatch illustration: starting position and receiving the barbell overhead in squat position
Source: Olympic Weightlfiting Resource
Finish position, erected from the squat, of the snatch (Pyrros Dimas with 180 kilograms or 396 pounds!)
Source: The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad
Clean and Jerk
The lifter bends down in the same manner as in the Snatch, grabbing the barbell with hands closer, at about shoulder width. He then proceeds to lift the barbell, squat down and catch it on the shoulders (what is known as the Clean). He stands up from the squat position, pausing once erected and now pushes the barbell overhead from the shoulders (what is known as the Jerk). Once the barbell is overhead, he remains in the erect position until the referee signals the lowering of the barbell which again means that the lift has been completed succesfully.
Clean and Jerk illustration: first three captions depict the Clean stage and the other three captions show the Jerk stage.
Source: Olympic Weightlfiting Resource
Each lifter has up to three attempts in the snatch and another three in the C&J to lift the heaviest weight. Each of the heaviest attempt in the Snatch and C&J is recorded and then summed so as to provide a total (heaviest snatch attempt + heaviest C&J attempt = Total). Whoever has the highest total wins. In order to provide a fair ground of competing, weightlifting is composed of weight categories which allow lifters to compete against each other based on bodyweight, since the more muscle mass one has (with all other factors being equal) the stronger one will be. There are eight categories for men and seven for women, they are measured in kilograms and include up to that given bodyweight:
Men: 56, 62, 69, 77, 85, 94, 105 and over 105 kgs.
Women: 48, 53, 58, 63, 69, 75 and over 75 kgs.
The current heaviest lifted snatch is 213 kilograms (468.6 pounds) and the heaviest Clean and Jerk is 263 kilograms (578.6 pounds), both having been lifted by Hossein Reza Zadeh from Iran, a 105+ lifter who was at his height in the early 2000’s.
As you can see, both lifts look simple yet put one in very awkward positions, which is why weightlifting not only requires strength but also power, flexibility, coordination, agility, precision, endurance, explosiveness and much more. Now, you may be wondering if weightlifting is really for you, with all those massive poundages being thrown around and the acrobatic positions ensued. Well, the answer is a big YES! By taking on weightlifting you are not making a statement of wanting to go to the Olympics, nor do you have to train everyday and give up your day job. Not at all. An average training program has you training for three days of the week for 60 to 90 minutes, make two of those days on the weekend and you can fit the remaining day anywhere on your working week.
Weightlifting is a great sport that can help one get fitter, stronger and healthier. The nature of the lifts in weightlifting means that not only are muscles put under stress but also bones and connective tissue, and there is no age limit to get into the sport. Weightlifting is a great way to strengthen bones, cartilages, tendons as well as your mind, since going down to catch that barbell not only requires physical strength but also courage and determination. If you play other sports, weightlifting serves as a backbone to develop your athletic abilities and it is widely used by professional sportsmen all around the world.
Weightlifting will help you jump higher!
In order to start learning this sport, you should join a club and have a coach oversee you. Don’t worry, it is not going to break the bank. A weightlifting club membership fee is much (and I really mean it), much lower than that of a conventional gym. There are plenty of clubs around in the US as well as other countries and sometimes a club will only be a simple basement with a few barbells and a few determined lifters. Google is your friend, as they say, and most of the time you can locate a club with Google. If you cannot locate any in your area, you can contact the weightlifting federation/body/association of your country and they will be able to help you out. I personally know a few clubs in different countries so feel free to leave me a comment if you need help locating one (or need anything else/want to comment).
Yours in Strength!
All the best,