Weightlifting is a competitive sport. The longer you practice it, the better your lifts get, especially when just starting out. As your lifts improve, the challenge of how much you can lift begins to creep into your mind, leaving you hooked. At this point, you might be eyeing your first weightlifting competition.
Your first competition, or “meet”, is an exciting time. It’s a day to show off your hard work and perform your best lifts on the big stage. There’s only six lifts done on the competition platform, but there are ways to make sure they’re your best. There’s lots you can do to prepare for success.
Competitive weightlifting is inclusive to all. Since you don’t need to qualify for local meets, you can register for one at any time, regardless of your strength capabilities. This complete guide has all the information you need to be fully informed and ready to rock on your first meet day.
What Is a Weightlifting Competition?
The sport is formally referred to as simply “weightlifting”, although you may colloquially recognize it as Olympic lifting. Almost all weightlifting competitions follow the same format, whether they’re locally-held or are the World Championships.
Weightlifting includes the two Olympic lifts: the snatch and the clean & jerk. The snatch is a barbell lift from the ground to overhead in one motion. The clean & jerk is a lift that takes the barbell from the floor to your shoulders, then to overhead in the jerk.
On the competition platform, you get three attempts at each lift, starting with the snatch. The weights are always measured in kilograms. All lifters of the same session share one competition barbell. You declare what weight you want to take for your attempt, and the organizers call you for your lift once the weight on the bar gets to that number.
Weightlifting is a sport of absolutes — you either receive two or more white lights (out of three) and a “good lift”, or two to three reds and a miss.
The competition barbell can only ascend in weight. After you take your first lift, you have two options: go up in weight, or repeat the weight if you missed. After everyone finishes their three snatch attempts, there’s a ten minute interim break, and then the clean & jerk portion begins in the same fashion.
Each lifter has to fit a weight class on meet day. There are ten weight classes for each gender, in kilograms, respectively:
- Women: 45, 49, 55, 59, 64, 71, 76, 81, 87, 87+
- Men: 55, 61, 67, 73, 81, 89, 96, 102, 109, 109+
Youth lifters have their own weight categories:
- Youth Women: 40, 45, 49, 55, 59, 64, 71, 76, 81, 81+
- Youth Men: 49, 55, 61, 67, 73, 81, 89, 96, 102, 102+
*If a Youth lifter does not make weight, they’re permitted to change into the corresponding weight class.
To fit your weight class, you have to be exactly at or under the specified weight. You also have to weigh more than the weight class below it. For example, to be a 49-kilogram lifter, you must weigh between 45.01-49.00 kilos. Even 49.01 would be overweight for the class, and would mean that you’d participate in the 55-kilogram weight category instead.
All lifters fit into an age bracket. Your age group is determined by the year you turn a certain age. For example, in the year 2022, any lifter born in or before the year 2005 is considered a Youth lifter.
The age classes are Youth (under 17 years), Junior (under 20 years), U25 (under 25 years), and Masters (over 35 years). Senior (age 20 and up) is the most competitive division, because all lifters are eligible to participate in the Seniors if they desire and meet the minimum qualification total.
When you sign up for a meet you’re asked to provide an entry total, which is a general prediction of how much you’ll lift on meet day. A weightlifting “total” is your best snatch and clean & jerk added together. An entry total is required as a courtesy for helping the directors determine which session you’ll lift in.
The rule is that your entry total must be within 20 kilograms of the first total that you actually hit on the competition platform, which gives you a decent window of comfort when it comes to your guess. In the certain case that your actual total exceeds your entry total by 20 kg, your lifts would, according to the rules, be disqualified from the competition.
Your Meet Day Agenda
All weightlifting competitions always follow the same schedule. Get to know the order of operations to stay ready for when it’s your turn to perform.
Weigh-ins usually take place a few hours before your session begins. Each lifter is called individually to be weighed. Each person is given a “lot number”, which is a randomized order that they weigh you. Youth lifters are required to weigh in with a parent present.
When you weigh in, you have to be within the parameters of the weight class that you registered for. If you’re not on-weight when they call you, you have up to one hour before the competition to make weight. Once an acceptable weight is recorded, you cannot re-measure your body weight.
The official will then ask you what your opening attempts are going to be. You’re obligated to provide your estimated opener for the snatch and clean & jerk. You have two chances to change your openers once the competition begins. You’ll provide your signature to seal the deal, then briefly rest until it’s time to start lifting.
Start lightly warming up your body with some light cardio or stretching about 30-45 minutes before your session. All meets have a designated warm-up area, or “back room”, in which the competitors prepare for their official attempts.
Begin your barbell warm-up in the back room 20-25 minutes before you go onto the platform. Gradually increase the weight on the bar from the empty bar to your opening weight over the course of 5-10 attempts, while your coach watches the card table to see where you’re placed in the order.
The time you should start warming up depends on where you’re currently placed in the cards.
Each lifter in the session has a designated card. The cards are placed in order of the declared attempts from lowest to highest weight, and this determines both the order of the lifters and what weight is loaded on the bar.
You can change your opener twice before taking it. After you take your lift, you or your coach must go directly to the cards table within 30 seconds to declare the weight you’re taking for your next lift.
If your lift is successful, there’s an automatic one-kilogram increase in weight put on the bar for your next attempt. The bar stays at the same weight if you miss. You can then declare what weight you want to take next, and you may change that declared weight twice if desired.
Your Three Attempts
Each competitor gets three attempts in the snatch and clean & jerk on the competition platform. If you miss a lift, you can repeat the weight, but you can’t go back down. If you make the lift, you should make a conservative jump for your next attempt, depending on how the previous lift felt.
If you and another lifter declare the same weight, whoever has taken fewer attempts will go first. For example, if it’s your opening attempt, but their third attempt, you’ll go first. If it’s the same attempt for both lifters, the lot number determines who goes first.
You’re credited with your best successful lift out of the three you took. Your best snatch and clean & jerk are added together for your total result. If you can’t make one of your snatches or jerks, you’ve “bombed out” of the meet since you can’t register a total. If you bomb out in the snatch, you may still partake in the clean & jerk portion of the meet.
Note: This rule does not apply at the Olympic Games as there are no individual medals for the snatch or clean & jerk.
Competition Rules & Regulations
There are a lot of tiny and specific rules in the sport of weightlifting. For a comprehensive overview, you should refer to the International Weightlifting Federation’s (IWF) Technical Rules & Regulations manual. That said, here are a few of the big ones you should be aware of:
White & Red Lights
There are three judges at a weightlifting meet. These people can award you either a white light or red light. In order for your lift to be white-lighted, or considered a successful lift, it must be caught and held still with two straight arms. Once you bring your feet back together, you have to wait for the “down” cue from the center judge.
There are many reasons that your lift can get a red light or be invalidated. Some examples include:
- If you drop the barbell before the down signal is given.
- If a part of your body other than your feet touches the platform.
- If your elbow bends at any point in the catch, or if there’s a secondary pressing motion of your arm.
- If you drop the barbell behind you.
- If your elbow touches your knee in the clean.
- If you don’t maintain your grip on the bar until it passes shoulder height when dropping it.
Proper competition attire is a singlet, which is a one-piece compression garment. Singlets are made of stretchy material that must be tight to your body. You can wear leggings and a shirt under the singlet, but your clothing must not cover your elbows.
Lifting equipment such as wrist wraps, knee wraps or sleeves, belts, and lifting shoes are permitted in competition. There are no specifications for wrist wraps or knee coverings, but your lifting belt must not exceed 12 centimeters in width.
In the event that two athletes lift the same final weight in either discipline, or post the same total, their ranking is determined by who lifted the weight first chronologically.
How to Sign Up for a Weightlifting Meet
If you want to enroll and participate in a weightlifting competition, you must have a vetted membership with your country’s governing body. In the United States, this would mean enrolling with USA Weightlifting (USAW) on their website. Once you’re enrolled, you can peruse the webpage and navigate through their meet directory to find the competition you’re interested in.
Alternatively, your local gym might be sponsoring a competition in the near future. You can ask a staff member there for detailed instructions on how to participate.
Tips for Success
If you’ve made it this far, you’re almost ready for your first meet. Don’t miss these important tips for making sure everything goes just right.
Prepare for hitting your heaviest lifts on meet day by taking the intensity down right before the meet. Weightlifting programs typically include a “taper” on meet week, which is a deload period of increased recovery and lower strain. Since you’ve been training hard for several weeks or months, you’ll feel better than ever on meet day after a relaxing taper.
Plan Your Openers
On meet day, you and your coach get to make the calls. You can put any weight on the bar that you’d like. Since you can only go up in weight with just three attempts, your opening lifts should be strategic and appropriate. This way, you have the best chance of hitting them.
Your opener should be a lift that you can hit consistently. Give yourself room to go up after the first lift so that you can have three successful attempts. For example, consider starting around 90 percent of your recent best. Test your predicted openers around a week or two out from the meet for extra certainty.
Don’t Stress Your Weight
Even though you have to specify a weight class, there’s no pressure to fit into a certain one. You should not feel pressured to change your body weight to fit a lower (or higher) class when you’re just starting out as a competitive athlete.
When it’s time to choose your weight class, start by weighing yourself for a few days in a row to see what your walk-around weight is. Identify which weight class your body fits by default. You should compete in this weight class to eliminate the need to cut weight for your first competition so you can focus on lifting well and having fun.
Weightlifting competitions can be long and arduous, so make sure to eat and drink water periodically throughout. Food and drink are always allowed at meets for competitors. Check your body weight the morning of and eat accordingly. You should eat a snack or light meal shortly after you validate your weight with the technical officials.
Keep your body fed appropriately and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Meets are sometimes fast-paced, but can last a long time, so it’s easy to forget to fuel your body. Avoid this by planning your food and drink ahead of time.
Your Best Is Yet to Come
If you’ve made it all the way to the end, congratulations. You’re now ready to compete at your first Olympic lifting competition. It’s an incredibly exhilarating learning experience, but you won’t know just how much you enjoy it until you try.
Your first meet is one of the best experiences of your weightlifting career, something even tenured professionals would agree on. There’s no need to wait to sign up for one. The best way to become a competitive strength athlete is to simply take the plunge.
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