How to Join and Compete In Olympic Lifting Competitions

How to Join and Compete In Olympic Lifting Competitions, December 2021

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In recent years, the popularity of Crossfit and Olympic lifting as both fitness regiments and spectator sports has boomed. Men and women alike are committing to training programs in this high intensity sport. 

Olympic weightlifting, at least in my humble opinion, is a true test of an athlete's overall mental and physical strength, and this challenging and competitive sport can deliver incredible results for people who want to take their fitness goals to the next level.

In Olympic lifting competitions, you want to be the best, be the strongest, and be able to move heavy weights with efficiency and power. Maybe you are already training consistently and wondering if you have what it takes to excel at this sport.

If this level of competition appeals to you, you might be one of the many weightlifting gym goers now wondering: how do I join and compete in Olympic weightlifting competitions? 

Well, you are starting in the right place. In this article, I am going to share my expertise about the world of Olympic weightlifting and how you might approach participating competitively in this sport.

What is Olympic Weightlifting? 

Woman lifting bar weights

Maybe I am moving too fast with my enthusiasm for Olympic weightlifting competitions, so let me back it up a bit.

You might already be familiar with CrossFit weightlifting movements, or maybe you think you have a pretty impressive front squat, and you are now curious about learning more about Olympic lifting as a sport.

Let me break down the basics for you...

To properly start, we have to go way back, all the way to ancient history.

Interestingly enough, historical records show evidence of people competing in Olympic weightlifting in ancient Greece, India, China, and Egypt.

Since the dawn of civilization, us humans have had a drive to test the limits of our bodies’ ability.

Our modern idea of Olympic weightlifting stemmed from 19th Century Europe, and the first man who received a world champion title in weightlifting did so in 1891.

Since the beginning of our beloved Olympic Games in 1896, weightlifting has made an appearance as an internationally competed sport. However, women were not able to compete in international Olympic weightlifting until a female competition was introduced  in the 2000 Olympic Games.

Since then, women has become equal players in this sport that is quickly gaining popularity and world attention.

Today, Olympic weightlifting has evolved into a sport that focuses on two main lifts: the snatch and the clean and jerk. 

Of course there are other important movements in Olympic lifting (power cleans, squat cleans, and push jerks to name a few) but these all work together to train your body to execute the perfect snatch and clean and jerk.

In competitions, athletes compete to outperform each other with how much weight that they can properly perform these movements under in a single attempt.

Olympic Weightlifting: Where Do I Start?

Woman lifting bar weights with plates in the olympics

Now, I do need to be honest here before anyone gets too caught up in the allure of this sport: in order to start training for Olympic Lifting competitions, you first need to have a strong base fitness level. What do I mean by that?

Well, an Olympic lifting training program is intense, and it demands the athlete to have a good working knowledge of how to correctly perform each compound movement. What I am trying to say is when you enter an Olympic lifting training program, be smart, be safe, and be ready to train hard.

Really, Olympic weightlifting movements are not something you want to mess with. To prepare yourself for Olympic weightlifting, you need to make sure you are in good physical shape.

To do this, start with training the basics: learn to perform a bodyweight squat with correct form, learn the mechanics of a proper hip hinge, and strengthen your core with full body movements like planks and bird dogs.

To do this, start with training the basics: learn to perform a bodyweight squat with correct form, learn the mechanics of a proper hip hinge, and strengthen your core with full body movements like planks and bird dogs.

You should also consider increasing your cardio endurance by participating regularly in a cardio activity of your choice (read: running, elliptical training, stair climbing, hiking, or HIIT training). I recommend you always consult a doctor before making any changes to your level of physical activity, especially if you have health concerns. 

Along with conquering the basics, you are going to want to trainer up, especially if you are serious about competing. No matter how much internet surfing you do across different Olympic Lifting Competition articles and message boards, nothing will prepare you like a proper coach who specializes in Olympic lifting training.

Personal trainers are able to teach you proper form, prescribe you exercises to strengthen your individual weaknesses, push you to stay motivated, and even coach you through your first competition. Albeit pricey, if you are committed to success in competition, a coach will be worth the session fees.

Have you heard the phrase popularized by motivational speaker David P Brown, “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”?  Well, the same thing stands true for sport specific training. You can only be as good as your environment is.

A quick Google search can help you find CrossFit or weightlifting oriented gyms in your area, and these are the gyms you are going to want to join.

Along with an encouraging environment, they will also have all the equipment you need to perform Olympic weightlifting movements, like barbells, bumper plates, competition plates, a platform and chalk (which some other generic gyms will either not have or not allow). 

Overall, because of the intensity of Olympic weightlifting, you need to prioritize safety over everything else- your PRs, your ego, all of it. Putting yourself in the right training environments, under the guidance of a trainer, can help with this. 

The Athlete’s Lifestyle

Woman lifting bar weights with plates in the olympics

As you get more and more serious about participating in Olympic Lifting competitions, your day to day priorities will shift: you might find yourself declining an invitation for a late night out or late night fast food cravings as you become more and more committed to your fitness goals.

A strong athlete values two things, food and sleep.

The science is simple: as you get stronger and perform high intensity training, you need food to fuel your workouts and sleep to allow your body time to rest and rebuild.

When you are training for Olympic Lifting competitions, you should aim to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night to let your body rest and repair itself. You also must ensure that you are eating a sufficient amount of whole foods that are rich in vitamins and protein to give yourself the energy to train and get strong.

For more specific diet rules, I strongly recommend consulting with a dietitian or trainer who can set you on a meal plan to really make sure what you eat is contributing to your overall performance. 

Finally, and although you might think it to be counter intuitive as you amp up your training, do not skip rest days. The idea that you need to exercise everyday is a myth that will end up doing you more damage than good (read: burn out and injury). Your body needs to rest in order to grow: let it.

Competition Day: What to Expect During Olympic Lifting Competitions

Think you have what it takes to compete? Well, even if you are unsure, let me tell you that there is nothing quite as motivating as signing up for an Olympic Lifting competition and pushing your limits to execute your strongest lifts in front of a crowd.

Whether you are striving for first place, or just want to test your own strength and set a firm goal for yourself, competing in Olympic lifting is a great experience. First things first, you will need to find an event to participate in. 

Search online to find an Olympic Weightlifting club near you that is hosting a competition.

Day of, you will want to be organized and prepared. Get a good sleep, show up on time and bring all your gear to set yourself up for a successful day.

You will want to pack your weightlifting bodysuit, lifting shoes, straps, knee sleeves, chalk, and so one.

I like to bring a hoodie to keep my muscles warm and a foam roller to warm up and cool down with. As well, do not forget a water bottle and snacks for fuel. 

When you enter a competition, you will be sorted into a weight class with people who are the same gender as you and have a similar body weight.

This intends to level the playing field so that the competition measures your raw strength against a similar group of athletes.

In many competitions, you will get weighed in at the start of the event day to determine your weight class.

The attendant will then take down what is called your opening weight. 

This number indicates the amount of kilos that will be on the barbell for your first snatch attempt and your first clean and jerk attempt. 

You will raise that number between attempts depending on how successful the lift was for you, and how you felt under the bar. 

During an Olympic weightlifting competition, you get three attempts to perform the snatch and another three attempts to perform the clean and jerk. There are a series of criteria that the judges will look for in order to declare your Olympic lift successful.

For example, at the bottom of your squat, did your elbows touch your knees? Or, did you come to a controlled stop with the weight over your head? This criteria can make or break your lift, so make sure that you are very familiar with what perfect form the judges will be looking for.

How do you win an Olympic competition? The judges will count the heaviest weight you were able to move with correct form in a single attempt towards your overall score. The person with the top three highest scores within their weight class are awarded. 

Final Thoughts

Woman exerting force to lift up the weight

I want to leave you with this thought: no matter how closely you follow my advice here, success in joining and competing in an Olympic lifting competition comes down to one thing only- your mindset. 

Are you willing to set a goal and train towards it, even on days where you are tired from work or feel weak under the bar?

Are you willing to set time out of your week to train, stretch, eat clean, and sleep well? Now, I am not talking about total life change here, but if you want to train like an athlete, you have to think like one too. 

Olympic weightlifting can be intense, but it also comes with huge accomplishments. The feeling of crushing a PR is incredible, and you will likely get into the best shape of your life while you do it. Are you ready to take on this challenge?

Denver Matheson

I spend a lot of time at the gym and even more time in the kitchen giving my body what it needs to repair itself and grow stronger. The third most important place for any athlete is their research zone. That's exactly why this site exists, to help me share all of the information I've learned throughout the years just like people did for me in the first place!

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