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An Introduction to Olympic Weightlifting: Basic Rules of the Lifts

The sport of weightlifting is one of the sports contested at the first modern Olympic Games. I like to refer to weightlifting as gymnastics with a barbell, as it is a sport that combines strength, power, speed, mobility, technical coordination and a variety of mental skills. Whether you're a dedicated fan or just discovering the world of weightlifting, understanding the rules of this sport will help you appreciate the athletes' skills, expertise, and dedication to training. While watching Georgia's Lasha Talakhadze snatch 225kg (496 lbs) so effortlessly that he makes it look weightless it can be simple to misunderstand the training, skill, and mental energy that goes towards such an accomplishment. For context, 225kg or roughly 500 lbs is generally considered an impressive deadlift for a common gym goer, but now imagine possessing enough speed and strength to throw that overhead in one motion.


  • Weight Classes and Categories:

Olympic weightlifting comprises two main lifts: the snatch and the clean and jerk. Athletes compete in various weight categories, allowing for fair competition among individuals of similar body weight. The International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) currently recognizes ten weight categories for both men and women, ranging from the lightest at 49kg to the heaviest at 109+kg for men and 45kg all the way to 87+kg for women.


  • The Snatch:

The snatch is the more complex of the two contested lifts and is commonly referred to as the most powerful movement in sports. The rules for the snatch are as follows:

a. The lifter approaches the barbell, which is loaded with the desired weight, placed on the platform.

b. The lifter grips the bar with a wide overhand grip and assumes the starting position, with the feet hip-width apart.

c. The lifter lifts the barbell from the floor to an overhead position in one continuous motion.

d. The lifter must stand upright, with the arms fully extended and the barbell under control.

e. The lift is deemed successful if the lifter maintains control of the barbell and the arms remain locked out in a stable position.


  • The Clean and Jerk:

The clean and jerk is a two-part lift that, while still requiring speed and precision, can benefit from greater raw strength than the snatch. The rules for the clean and jerk are as follows:

a. The lifter begins by performing the clean, where the barbell is lifted from the floor to the shoulders in one motion.

b. Once the lifter has successfully completed the clean, they must stand upright and stabilize the barbell before proceeding to the jerk.

c. In the jerk phase, the lifter takes a short dip and then drives the barbell overhead, locking out the arms.

d. The lifter must then hold the barbell steady with fully extended arms.

e. The lift is considered successful if the lifter demonstrates control throughout the movement and the arms remain locked out in a stable position at the end.


  • Technical Violations and Disqualifications:

Olympic weightlifting is subject to specific regulations to ensure a technical standard for the lifts. Some common technical violations that can lead to a disqualified lift can include:

a. Failure to lock out the arms in the overhead position.

b. Dropping the barbell before receiving a down signal from the officials.

c. Stepping off the platform during the lift.

d. Failing to complete the lift in one continuous motion, known as a press-out.

e. Touching the barbell with the underside of the foot.

f. Pausing or stalling the barbell partway through the lift, known as a hitch.


Olympic weightlifting is an extraordinary sport that demands both physical skill and mental fortitude. While it is a dedicated sport in its own right, the movements of weightlifting are commonly used by strength & conditioning coaches and athletes of various disciplines to enhance numerous athletic qualities. When observing the lifts without understanding the rules and loads involved, it can be easy to underestimate the complexity of the sport. Understanding the rules and techniques behind the snatch and the clean and jerk can enhance appreciation for the skill, strength, and precision required to excel in weightlifting movements.

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