This article is a follow up on a previous one about weights, and exists so you can sound knowledgable next time you talk to your fitness-inclined friends, but also for you to get excited about weights. The competitive world of lifting weights is beautiful and full of intricacies, and as with anything, understanding a little bit about something is the first step to becoming a master at it.
So for your own amusement and enlightenment, come with me:
Starting this list with bodybuilding feels weird. First, because it is a sport that gets somewhat bashed about by some people in the fitness industry and its association with vanity, but mostly because it is the only sport in this list where that you’re not scored by the amount of weight you can lift.
Bodybuilders spend hours working hard at the gym to sculpt their muscles to look just so. This means good bodybuilders have an incredible knowledge of muscular anatomy and understand training principles to a tee. Most of all, great bodybuilders know their body, know what and when to fuel it and know how to tailor training processes to themselves.
Bodybuilding competitions judge participants in five requirements – mass (how much muscle there is), definition (how much detail you can see of each muscle), proportion (muscles over the whole body look harmonious and are in equal stages of development), symmetry (both sides of the body present equal development) and stage presence (the competitor’s routine and charisma on stage, and their ability to express their physique).
Training sessions are brutal and require an incredible amount of dedication. Body builders have to control their nutrition carefully and it’s not uncommon to see one packing a lot of fat and then see them incredibly lean 3 months later. Off season they need a lot of food to fuel their muscle growth, and that’s when the tin moving gets big. As competition season approaches, they shed that all off and work on getting their body fat to crazy low amounts – the more fat you have, the less muscle definition will show, which will get in the way of displaying all of your work on the stage.
Arnie did not compete as a weight lifter, and because of that we can’t compare him to people that do so. I’m sure he lifted incredible weights during his heyday, but when it came to show time he was a master at showing it off.
The pinnacle of the sport is Mr. and Ms. Olympia that crowns a world champ, and happens every year.
Probably the oldest sport in this list, olympic weightlifting is the only one that actually features in the Olympics, which every four years grants a gold medal for those at the top of the top. The other major competition in the sport is The World Championships, and happens every year for youth (13-17 years), junior (15-20 years), senior and master (35 years or older) athletes.
Olympic weightlifting consists of two lifts: the snatch (the fastest lift), and the clean and jerk (the most powerful lift).
As you’ll note from the powerlifting section below, both olympic weightlifting lifts are about getting a barbell from the floor and hold it somewhere – overhead in case of oly lifting – and they require on-the-point technique and power from your body.
Weightlifters compete in weight classes and come in all different shapes and sizes. Physique is really varied, and although many Olympic Weight Lifters look like the stereotype you have in you head, more often than not weightlifters just do enough leaning up to fit their weight class and won’t really fit the ripped look.
One of the funny jokes in the industry is that olympic weightlifters do nothing but three things their whole life (snatch, clean and jerk and squat), and although not a lie, that’s not quite the full picture either. The amount of careful work to get perfect technique and extract as much explosive energy from your body as possible is an endless pursuit, and it’s normal practice to see experienced and celebrated weightlifters spending hours with a stick or an empty barbell practicing their lifts.
Also, they never do bench. Ever.
Names can be misleading. Arguably, olympic weightlifting is the sport of power, while here we have pure and absolute strength. Although powerlifting movements are less technical than oly lifting, it requires an extreme amount of overall body strength because all those supporting muscles need to be on point to support the loads the lifts put on your body (looking at you, core).
Powerlifters compete in three movements: bench, deadlift and back squat, and in competitions they get three goes at each lift. They also compete in weight classes, and just to make things interesting they love to measure their weights in pounds, instead of kilos like most normal human beings.
The origins of powerlifting are clear as mud. American Football players have friendly competitions in training halls using the powerlifting movements as they are heavily used in their training – which leads some to claim that that is the source of the sport. But here is hard to tell if having the training movements created the sport, if it was just a coincidence. Regardless, the point is moot. The sport is extremely popular all around the world and imposes a much lower entry barrier to new athletes than olympic weightlifting.
Things get cray when we get talking about the different powerlifting competitions. You see, powerlifting has a multitude of federations – some of them allow use of steroids, some don’t; some allow use of assistive equipment (like suits and straps to help with your lift), and some don’t; some include females in their leagues, some don’t. It’s really hard to keep track of world champions and records, because there are so many nuances in rules and substances allowed between federations that it is hard to compare the best of each amongst themselves.
Regardless of competition or not, the powerlifting movements are great at building overall strength and body coordination, and it’s hard not to include some sort of powerlifting training in your strength programme.
Strongmen and women comps are batshit insane. Although they will use more conventional training methods at times, the whole idea is to lift stuff that no one would normally care to lift, and do it in style.
Strongperson competitions include log throwing, flipping 200kg hammers, moving wheel barrows with god-knows how many kilos of rocks. Those people you see every now and then pulling trucks with a rope? Strongperson athletes, most likely.
Strongman/women competition are rising in popularity, but given the loads and nature of the objects they tend to scare away some people. But these sort of exercises usually bring humility to any athlete that thinks they’re the strongest around.
What about CrossFit?
Gawd, why did you have to ask?
Look, CrossFit is complicated. I have it to thank for becoming fitter and stronger and becoming a personal trainer, but it’s hard to neatly put it in a box like the sports above.
CrossFit’s main goal is to improve functional fitness – to make your body better at doing day-to-day work. And with that in mind anything can come to the party, including weights. So CrossFit will use elements of olympic weightlifting, powerlifting and strongperson training to improve fitness, but also include other things such as gymnastics, running and biking, and then mix it all together just to keep things interesting.
CrossFit’s main goal is not to create athletes that are specialists, so although CrossFit athletes do have impressive lifts, their strength is somewhat sacrificed due to the training they do in other areas. CrossFit will also use lifting movements at high volumes to work other areas of fitness, which is something that the sports discussed above rarely do in their training.
So they all use ‘roids, right?
Look, steroids are a problem. Although it’s a problem for every sport on the planet (hello Lance!), people usually associate them with weightlifting sports – and to an extent, that’s fair. In the past steroids have been a larger problem in these sports, so much so that some just embrace it and create their own league around it.
For the ones that don’t, cheaters will cheat. I personally choose to believe the testing system, albeit imperfect, works. At higher levels, people will bend the rules to be at the top. They tarnish a sport and don’t deserve anyone’s respect, and I’d rather celebrate and focus on those that follow the rules and enjoy the competitions for what they are.
Is that all?
By no means, no! I’m sure I’ll be schooled in some weight sports I’m no aware of. What I love the most is how these movements and their training techniques can be used by anyone to build strength and go about their life, and you don’t need to be a crazy strong athlete to enjoy little increments on your lifts and the sense of accomplishment they bring. The confidence and enjoyment are hard to describe, and as you experience the different lifts and exercises you start appreciating the athletes and their dedication to what they do.
I hope this article gives you a little something something for you to go look into and get excited about a new sport you didn’t know much about before.
If you want to start experimenting with lifting some weights to see what they feel like, build some strength to help with the garden work or become an olympic/world champion one day, let’s have a chat!