Weightlifting. Encyclopedia of World Sport

Competitive weightlifting goes beyond the general conditioning and development of strength of weight conditioning and requires total body strength, power,
speed, flexibility, and balance. The snatch and the
clean-and-jerk are the two events in competitive
The tomb of Beni Hasan revealed wall paintings showing men and women exercising with stone weights as
early as 3500 C.E. Illustrations from the 2040 B.C.E. tomb
records of Prince Baghti depicted movements that are
strikingly similar to the one-hand snatch or swing.Ancient Greeks and Romans used different shaped and
weighted stones called halteres for exercising. In China,
weighted objects of various kinds were used for heavy
exercise to prepare troops for battle.
The Greeks were the first to develop organized approaches to weight training and had weight activities
that were practical and usually related to warfare. They
used lifting stones, which later were replaced by a bar
with a bell on each end for added resistance. (The bell clapper was removed to silence the bell, thus the term
“dumbbell.”) Legend has it that a Crotonan man called
Milo was the first to use progressive-resistance exercise. Milo’s progressive resistance exercise consisted of
daily lifting and carrying a baby calf throughout its
maturation into a full-grown bull. The Romans also
shared this appreciation of weight training, but with
the decline and fall of the empire, the value and direction of physical exercise diminished.
During the Dark Ages, weight training became the
tool of the warrior; shows of strength became popular
entertainment. Such competitions have remained relatively unchanged in Switzerland, Spain, and Scotland
as well as in the Swedish island of Gotland.
In the 18th century, interest in physical strength
and well-being reappeared. Physical education was
reintroduced to the university curriculum. Exercise apparatus developed along with programs using free
weights and simple machines. Training emphasized
musculature strength and endurance rather than physical development.
Professional strongmen became popular. Bending
bars of iron, lifting every object from people to animals, and breaking chains were common. Felice Napoli
of Italy, a circus and a fairground performer, is credited
with starting the strongman boom. He influenced Professor Louis Attila, who had the foresight and vision to
see weightlifting and bodybuilding as an activity in its
own right. He trained many of the best-known performers of the time and crowned heads of state. He
popularized the use of hollow shot leaded weights and
developed the bent press or screw press.
In the mid-1800s, lifting as we know it today developed in parallel in several countries throughout Central Europe and in the United States. Early weightlifting
contests had programs consisting of “odd lifts” focusing on repetitive lifting. These included using everything from one or two finger lifts and lifting with the
teeth, to the more standard snatch, press, and cleanand-jerk.
From the bar with the “dumbbells” evolved the solid
globeweight introduced by Triat of France. Later, Louis
Attila developed the hollow globes that could be
weighted with everything from sand to quicksilver. The
French developed the first disc-loading set, which was
produced by M. M. Pelletier Monnier and used ideas of
Professor Desbonnet. In the late 1920s Charles Rigoulot
(1903–1962) used an 8-foot bar to exceed the world
record for executing the clean-and-jerk; thus the advantage of a long springy bar was discovered. In 1905
the Milo Barbell Company produced the first barbell
set with interchangeable plates. Rotating collars were
later added.
In 1896 the first modern Olympic Games were held.
Weightlifting was included but subsequently excluded
in the 1900 games. Weightlifting returned to the
Olympic program in St. Louis in 1904. No weightlifting
was included in the 1908 (London) or 1913 (Stockholm) Games.
Father Bill Curtis was one of the first to develop and
use a system of weight training for overall strength and
health rather than striving for higher poundage in a
specific lift. W. A. Pullum, known as the “the Wizard of
Weight-lifting,” was the first man to concentrate on
technique rather than strength. He established the first
scientific weightlifters’ school in 1906, and in 1912 became the first Britain to lift double his body weight.
Henry Steinbon (1893–1989), a German strength expert and professional wrestler, became the chief advocate of the “quick lifts,” the one-hand snatch and the
The International Weightlifting Federation, formed
in 1920, brought official status to the sport. Weightlifting returned to the Olympics with a new set of rules and
regulations. From 1920 on, most of the interest would
be on international lifts of the one- and two-hand
snatch, one- and two-hand clean-and-jerk, and military
press. The press, snatch, and jerk would become the
standard lifts until the press was removed in 1972.
In 1929 the AAU assumed leadership of weightlifting and began to sanction meets. For the first time, in
1932 an AAU-sanctioned team performed at the Los
Angeles Olympics. Initially lackluster, lifting in the
United States improved such that Americans began
placing at the top of world competition.
Women entered the weightlifting scene in the 1940s,
with the first recorded weightlifting meet for women
held in the United States in 1947. Women have competed internationally in Olympic-style weightlifting
since that time but have not yet been included in the
Olympic Games. From the start, Chinese women have
consistently dominated weightlifting competition.
In the early 1960s Eastern bloc countries considered Olympic lifting a major sport and began to dominate. In 1972, the press was dropped, leaving only the
snatch and jerk.
Olympic lifting standards have risen significantly
with increased numbers of competition opportunities,
improved scientific training, and use of strength-enhancing drugs. The countries that have taken a moral
and ethical stand against drug usage are now at a distinct disadvantage. Other countries prepared medical research to pursue new drug designs and to create
methods of successfully avoiding drug detection. During the 1972 Munich Olympics, the first two positive
cases of doping in weightlifting were found. In the 1976
Olympics eight disqualifications for anabolic steroid
use were made. The controversy over the use of performance-enhancement drugs in lifting continues.
Rules and Play
In a weightlifting competition today, males compete in
10 weight classes from Fly (54 kilograms [119
pounds]) to Superheavyweight (108-plus kilograms
[238-plus pounds]). Women compete in 9 weight
classes starting at 46 kilograms (101.5 pounds) and
going up to 83-plus kilograms (183-plus pounds). Age
divisions include: junior (12 through 17 years), junior
(18 through 20 years), senior (21-plus), and master
(35-plus). The two-hand snatch and two-hand cleanand-jerk are the only lifts included in competitive
Olympic lifting.
Each lifter has three opportunities to complete a
successful or legal lift for the snatch and then for the
clean-and-jerk. The athlete must record one legal lift in
both events to be considered in the final placing. The
heaviest weight lifted for each event is used for the total of the combined lifts. The grip used for both lifts is
very specific to weightlifting and is called the hook
technique. The hook grip is established by first wrapping the thumb around the bar and then overlapping
the thumb with the first and second finger; thus the
thumb becomes a hook on the bar.
The snatch is an explosive movement when the barbell is lifted from the platform to an overhead position
in one continuous motion. The intricate snatch technique makes this lift the more difficult of the two
weightlifting movements. The lifter must pull the bar
from the platform to chest level and then overhead with
arms fully extended in one fluid motion. The body
must be positioned under the bar in this movement
just before the bar is extended overhead evenly. To
complete this the athlete uses the squat style.
The clean-and-jerk technique allows for the greatest amount of weight to be lifted. Two distinct movements are involved in this lift: the clean, which is the
lifting of the weight from the platform to shoulder
height, and the jerk, which is the thrusting of the
weight from the chest and shoulders to an overhead
position. In the clean, the weight is lifted first to waist
level using the legs, hips, and back muscles. The lifter
must then pull the body under the bar using a squat or
a split technique. From here, the lifter stands, resting
the weight on shoulders and chest. An explosive jump
is used to propel the weight upward, splitting the legs to
help lower the body under the bar. After the weight is
overhead, the lift is completed by bringing the legs together using a series of small steps to achieve an erect
stance. The lift is complete when the body becomes