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Weightlifting or Weight lifting?

A question we often hear is "what is the difference between weight lifting and weightlifting?"

"I did a weight lifting class last year but I've never done this and this is weightlifting too isn't it?"

So what is weightlifting?

Weight lifting, or lifting weights, is often confused with weightlifting particularly due to advertisements which are often made from the gym and fitness industry promoting basic movements, dumbbells and even compound barbell movements such as powerlifting, as weightlifting.

"But a gym near me offers a weight lifting course and they don't know how to do what you do"

Weightlifting is the name of a sport, just like football or rugby, that has it's own federations, rules, regulations etc. Weightlifting, also known as Olympic Weightlifting, has been part of the summer Olympics since the very beginning with it being included in the 1986 games in Athens and appearing in every games since 1920. You may know more than you think having maybe seen it when watching the Olympic games. It is also a big part of CrossFit with the lifts being performed at top level in the CrossFit games annually.

Weightlifting is often referred to as the apex predator, the sport which helps every other sport but no other sport can really improve. The Olympic weightlifting lifts are commonly used, especially the power variation, by athletes in other sports to train speed, power and jumps amongst many other functional strength and technique movements such as the triple extension which can be transferred into atlas stones and log in strongman. (Further blog post to follow).

CrossFit Games champion 2017, Tia Clare Toomey, during the max snatch event

CrossFit Games champion 2017, Tia Clare Toomey, during the max snatch event

Weightlifting consists of two lifts, the snatch and the clean and jerk, performed with a barbell and bumper plates. They are arguably two of the strangest names of a sport, right? The primary aim of both lifts is to get the bar from floor to overhead using different techniques. Both the clean and jerk, and the snatch have two different styles of lift - the power (above parallel) and the full lift (below parallel). Despite the lifts being different, the one thing which is always the same in weightlifting is how we hold the bar - hookgrip.

Hookgrip is name given to the way weightlifters grip their bar. This can also be used in other movements such as the deadlift in powerlifting. As you can see on the photo of Tia Toomey above, hookgrip is a method of holding the barbell between your thumb and your first two fingers, with the remaining two fingers just on the bar. The reason weightlifters use hookgrip is to keep a secure grip on the bar whilst being able to keep your arms relaxed, one of the most important aspects of the movements. In addition, it also allows you to move much heavier loads and exert more power than using a traditional grip. Many Olympic weightlifters tape their thumbs with athletic tape due to the pressure it puts on the thumbs, and if you've tried to hookgrip, you'll know exactly what we mean!

What is a snatch?

A snatch is a lift performed by the athlete where the bar moves from floor to overhead in one movement. In competition, the snatch is always performed first.

To snatch, a wide grip is used and this grip can be found in a number of ways. A great way to find your snatch grip is to pick the bar up and stand up straight with straight arms, beginning with a narrower grip, and march with high knees. If the bar rolls down your thighs, your grip is too narrow. Slowly move your hands out equal distance until the bar sits nicely in your hip crease when you march. This will be your snatch grip.

Once you have found your snatch grip, you're ready to snatch.

Photo credit to Hookgrip

Photo credit to Hookgrip

If you'd like to learn how to snatch, at Pride Performance we are releasing progressive coaching video's on our Instagram and Facebook and YouTube. At Pride, we also offer online coaching for those who cannot get to us in person or personal coaching and weightlifting club if you are able to get to us!

What is a clean and jerk?

A clean and jerk is a lift performed by the athlete where the bar moves from floor to overhead in two movements, the clean and the jerk.

To clean, a narrower grip than the snatch is used. A good starting point of finding your grip for a clean is a thumb's distance into the knurling. To find your grip, it's similar to the snatch but shrug your shoulders as high as you can before you use your legs to find your correct grip. March with high knees the same as you did with the snatch until the bar sits nicely in your hip crease.

Once you have found your clean grip, you're ready to clean. The clean is the first part of the lift (up to the end of the second line of the photo below and then standing the bar back up again). The jerk is the second part of the lift where the bar goes from your front rack position to overhead.

Photo Credit to Hookgrip

Photo Credit to Hookgrip

If you'd like to learn how to clean and jerk, at Pride Performance we are releasing progressive coaching video's on our Instagram and Facebook and YouTube. At Pride, we also offer online coaching for those who cannot get to us in person or personal coaching and weightlifting club if you are able to get to us!

Weightlifting in competition

In competition, each athlete will sit in a weight class and a weigh in is always performed prior to the competition to measure the exact weight of each athlete and to determine which weight class they sit in. The snatch is always performed first with each weightlifter having three attempts. After Snatch there is a 10 minutes break before Clean and Jerk starts. Each athlete then has 3 attempts at the clean and jerk. The combined total of the highest successful lifts determines the overall result for the individual lifters. A lifter who fails to complete a successful lift in one of the movements fails to make a total in competition. Both power or full lifts can be used in competition but the majority of weightlifters can lift more in a full lift and therefore this is more common to see on the platform in competition.

Athletes / coaches have to announce the next weight and this can be modified twice before lifting. Automatic progression after any successful attempt for the same athlete must be a minimum of 1 kg. Athletes have 1 minute to perform (or 2 minutes taking consecutive attempts).

Over the years, the lift in competition have changed with athletes once having to perform one handed movements or presses. In the 1986 Athens Olympics, athletes performed a handed snatch and a two handed clean and jerk but in 1961, the one handed movements were removed as competition lifts, followed by the press in 1973 leaving the competition lifts as the two handed snatch and two handed clean and jerk which are performed in weightlifting today.

Proper form for a competition

In competition, there are a number of rules and technical points which have to be correct for a judge to give a 'good lift'. The judges have two lights - a red and a white. A white light is pressed for a good lift, and the red for a no lift. A no lift is given for breaking the platform rules or missing a lift. To receive a good lift, an athlete needs a majority white light, e.g. two white lights and a red will be a good lift but two red lights and a white would not.

During a lift, no part of the body other than the feet may touch the platform and there must be no re-bend of the elbow whether the bar is caught with bent arms and straightened, or straight arms which re-bend. In the clean and jerk, the barbell must not touch the chest before the final position. The athlete's feet must also be in line and a down signal will be given once the athlete is no longer moving.

Weight classes

The IWF have just announced new weight classes for weightlifting which consist of 10 weight classes per gender however only 7 of them are Olympic weight classes.


Weight classes were originally established in 1905 with just three weight classes for men only; 70kg, 80kg and 80+kg and have been changed 8 times since with women's weight classes being added in 1983 and the latest amendment being July 2018.

Prior to the most recent change, the weight classes were 56kg, 62kg, 69kg, 77kg, 85kg, 94kg, 105kg, 105+kg for men and for women: 48-53-58-63-69-75-over 75 kg, established in 1998. The 2018 changes are the first time that both men and women have had an equal number of weight classes in the sport.

So now you've learnt a little bit more about weightlifting and even the weight classes which athletes compete, do you fancy having a try yourself? Click here to find out more about weightlifting at Pride

Written by Pride Performance's British Weightlifting Coach Heather Flannery