What is Weightlifting?

Competitions who can lift the heaviest weight have been around for hundreds of years. It can be traced back to Ancient Greece, Egypt and China. It is safe to say that showing off by lifting heavy weights is embedded in our DNA.

Weightlifting can refer to lifting weights (yup you guessed it) or Olympic Weightlifting. The sport as we know it now was formed in 1972, when the IWF (International Weightlifting Federation) was created.

This article will explain the difference between the other strength sports – powerlifting and bodybuilding.

Olympic Weightlifting consists of two events: clean and jerk, and snatch.

  1. Clean and jerk is performed in two movements. First is you have the initial lift to the shoulders and then the bar is raised above the head.
  2. Snatch the objective is to lift the barbell from the ground in one continuous movement. It is performed by lifting the bar as high as possible above the head and then the lifter would pull themselves under the barbell, in a squat position (the most popular one) with their arms extended. The athlete then proceeds to stand up, performing an overhead squat.

Lifting weight is often regarded as a sport for meatheads. When it comes to Olympic weight lifting, nothing could be further from the truth.

The lifts themselves are extremely complicated. They require years of training to refine technique alone. This is more important than brute strength. If you can’t master the technique, you might win a few local competitions, but the true champions have both strength and technique.

The goal of Olympic Weightlifting, just like powerlifting, is to get the weight from point A to point B. The style of execution, however differs quite significantly from person to person.Both the Snatch, and Clean and Jerk requires explosive power in order to complete the lift. You will also need flexibility, stability and joint mobility.

It is highly advisable, if you are serious about weightlifting, to get a coach.

What is the difference between weightlifting and powerlifting?

Powerlifting consists of the so called “Holy Trinity” of weight training: squats, bench press and deadlifts. These are the core lifts for many weight trainers, even those who don’t compete at Powerlifting.

Powerlifters focus on lifting as much weight as possible for a one rep max while staying within the rules. The rules vary from federation to federation.

Probably the most obvious difference between Olympic weight lifting and powerlifting would be the explosiveness of the lifts. Powerlifters tend to perform the lift much slower in a controlled manner.

They lift the barbell in a much smaller range of motion compared to Olympic lifters. This allows them to lift proportionately heavier weight. The barbell moves a lot slower under this load. Powerlifters are also subject to strict guidelines which determine the legality of the lift. Performing the lift in a controlled fashion is part of these requirements.

Weightlifters must lift a barbell off the ground and get it above their heads. Compared to the Powerlifting lifts, it is more than double the range of motion.

You simply cannot do these lifts in a slow and controlled fashion. Your only chance is to explode the barbell off the ground.

This is where it gets complicated. The weightlifter must apply maximal explosive power whilst maintaining perfect technique, with a barbell that can crush you if you get it wrong. Hence the reason why a coach is mandatory!

It is this explosive movement that causes more failed lifts in weightlifting. They don’t have as much time to complete the lift compared to powerlifters. Everything happens in a split second in weightlifting while powerlifters can still grind out their lift.

It’s not necessarily because of the simplicity of power lifts but the time of execution.

Increase in Popularity

A few years back you would only find a handful of people who would be performing Olympic lifts in Australia. However, they became much more popular with the rise of Crossfit. Rather than going for a one rep max people started focusing on the endurance side of training – performing as many reps as possible with a fixed weight.

Weightlifting requires certain features to be able to complete the lifts correctly.

In order to be able to support the barbell above your head you will need joint mobility. You need to be able to squat deep which requires hip mobility. Even tougher is supporting the barbell overhead while squatting. The majority of lifters struggle with this.

If you want to get into weightlifting, instead of loading up the barbell you might want to assess your flexibility.

Weightlifters & Powerlifters

You would be surprised how similar Olympic Weightlifting and Powerlifting are. Both involve training with a barbell, have similar training cycles. As well as the same end goal – to lift more weight.

The training methods and exercises are very similar as well. Both Weightlifters and Powerlifters would go through the hypertrophy training cycle. Which is focused on building muscle mass before they tune the rep count down and focus on increasing strength as well as perfecting their form.

Tools of the Trade


  1. Weightlifters use barbells with needle bearings or bushes. Due to the explosiveness of the lift, the weights start to spin. The smoother the spin the easier the lift.
  2. Knurling – IWF Standard knurl markings are 91cm apart (Powerlifting 81cm). They come without centre knurling as it may get stuck on the chest.
  3. Weights – Olympic weightlifters use bumper plates. They are designed to withstand thousands of high drops (2m-2.5m). That’s one of the reasons why they are much thicker compared to powerlifting plates.

For example ATX 25kg Powerlifting plates are only 26mm thick. While Power Maxx Eco Bumper Plates are 90mm thick. If you drop the Powerlifting plates they would probably cut your platform in half!

Training – It is all about Speed

If your end goal is to build more muscle mass and gain more strength, try focusing on slow speed training. Time under tension is the key to building more muscle mass. Bodybuilders would focus on moderate weight and high reps in order to get more muscle fibre tears.

In powerlifting you would tense your whole body before the lift in order to gain more stability. You can’t do that in weightlifting since the movement also requires mobility. You are not very mobile when your body is under tension.

Weightlifters focus on explosive power regardless of the load, while powerlifters are only explosive in the first part of the movement. If you look at a heavyweight Olympic Weightlifter with their big bellies you would probably think these guys and gals would be slow movers. These athletes have some of the most explosive power in the Olympic world.

Considering their weight and size, you would be surprised at how high they could jump or sprint. They are always training for speed and power.


As beneficial as powerlifting may be, an increased one rep max is only good for a few athletic activities.

Flexibility, mobility, explosive power, balance and muscle mass, all can be acquired from Weightlifting. These features can be applied successfully to many different sports.