“The only dumb question is the one that goes unasked.”

Dmitry Klokov of Russia competes in the men's 105kg weightlifting competition during the World Weightlifting Championships at Disney Village in Marne-la-Vallee outside Paris, November 12, 2011. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier (FRANCE - Tags: SPORT WEIGHTLIFTING)

The following are common questions and clarifications about the sport of Olympic weightlifting that you may not find elsewhere on this, or any other site:

Q1  I thought weightlifting consisted of the squat, bench, and deadlift?
Q2  Will weightlifting make me bulky?
Q3  Doesn’t squatting deep destroy your knees?
Q4  I don’t want to compete as a weightlifter, so should I learn the Olympic lifts?
Q5  Why do weightlifters wear shoes with wooden heels?
Q6  At what age can my kids start weightlifting?
Q7  I don’t live in Winnipeg, can I still be a weightlifter?
Q8  I already do the Olympic lifts at my Crossfit box. What does the MWA have to offer for me?

If you have another question that you would like to see answered in this section, send it to us using the website feedback form found here.

I thought weightlifting consisted of the squat, bench, and deadlift?

Weightlifting as a competitive sport consists of two lifts – the snatch and the clean and jerk. Powerlifting is another competitive strength sport in which three competitive lifts are contested – the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift. Weightlifters almost unanimously use variations of the back squat and deadlift (or other pulling exercises from the floor) as assistance or accessory movements to build strength in the legs and the back, and occasionally powerlifters will use variations of the snatch and clean & jerk to build explosive power while pulling. Though the two sports share the fact that they are both strength-based and use a loaded barbell as an implement, their movements, rules, and training requirements are all fundamentally different.

Will weightlifting make me bulky?

There is a common misconception that training for Olympic weightlifting will induce excessive muscle growth in both men and women. The short answer is no, training for weightlifting will not cause either men or women to look “bulky”. It is true that when combined with appropriate eating patterns, over time, training for weightlifting will often result in one attaining a leaner, more muscular physique, however, in all but those with an exceptional predisposition to gaining muscle, this physique would be one that that most would characterize as “athletic”, “healthy”, and “strong”.

There are several factors inherent to the sport of competitive weightlifting that prevent or discourage weightlifters from looking like bodybuilders, strongman competitors, or fitness models: First, weightlifters compete in a sport where competitions are delineated by weight classes. Men can compete in one of 7 weight classes below 105kg (231.5 pounds), and women can compete in 6 weight classes below 75kg (165 pounds); only two weight classes out of thirteen (above 105kg for men and above 75kg for women) are unlimited, or “superheavyweight’ classes, where there is no restriction on bodyweight.

Secondly, in addition to competing within these specific weight classes, competitions often use a means of comparing performances in different weight classes for men and women called the “Sinclair Coefficient”. This comparison serves to equalize bodyweight between competitors by gender, with the highest result being the best performance on a per-bodyweight basis. There is therefore no incentive to either raise or lower one’s bodyweight unless there is a marked gain in performance, and even then, this factor is only relevant at the higher levels of competition.

Lastly, the sport of weightlifting consists of two competitive lifts – the snatch and the clean & jerk – which are both short in duration and performed in an explosive manner. The training for these explosive, alactic-anaerobic movements is similarly structured, with most exercises being performed explosively for relatively few consecutive repetitions (less than five). The low number of repetitions per set, combined with the low “time under tension”, or the amount of time supporting a load, makes the training of a weightlifter a less hypertrophic activity than the training found in most other barbell sports or pastimes. Weightlifting will train one to be stronger and more explosive at any body weight or appearance.

Doesn’t squatting deep destroy your knees?

Weightlifting is known to be one of the least injury-prone organized sports, providing that no preexisting medical pathologies exist in the athlete. Both the front and the back squat are fundamental strength assistance exercises for the two Olympic lifts, and are generally performed with as full a range of motion in which an athlete can maintain proper technique. The empirical premises for performing full squats, versus a depth where the knee forms a ninety degree angle are many: The knee by design is a joint with nearly 180 degrees of potential flexion, and the ability for an individual to stabilize that joint throughout it’s entire natural range of motion in a loaded or unloaded condition is a strong indicator of musculo-skeletal and joint health, not to mention it is just the standard practice of a normal, bipedal mammal. More specific to weightlifting, the two Olympic lifts, when performed correctly, both require that an athlete achieve a full squat position with the bar fixed overhead at arms length (in the snatch) or racked on the shoulder girdle (in the clean). The actual depth and position of the joints relative to one another during all these movements is dependent upon what type of squat one is doing, along with one’s individual body proportions.

Common impediments to achieving a weighted squat to full depth (a.k.a. a “full squat”, or “Olympic squat”) most often stem from a lack of joint mobility in either the ankle or the hip and the individual’s accompanying lack of strength to control the body throughout the movement. Since the full squatting motion takes an individual through positions in the “bottom position” that are mechanically disadvantageous in comparison to those which halt with the knee joint around or above ninety degrees, lesser weights must be used. This, in part, is an inherent protective mechanism of the movement against soft or connective tissue injury: If an athlete cannot perform a full squat safely with a given weight, their joints and connective tissues are certainly not strong enough to stabilize the weighted load in a partial movement, and would be especially compromised should the individual make any technical mistakes during the movement. When it comes to squatting, partial movements = partial results, while increasing the risk of injury.

Avoiding injury is always a good thing, but avoiding the full-depth squat because of its supposed risk is like refusing to walk because you have seen other people trip and fall on the sidewalk. With properly-coached technical cues, remediative mobility work, and a little bit of patience, nearly all athletes can achieve the strength and mobility required for a full front or back squat, and by association, the ability to perform the full Olympic lifts.

For a compendium of recent scientific research supporting the empirical observation that full range of motion is in the squat is not only possible, but healthy, see a deep squatting reading list (link) on this site.

I don’t want to compete as a weightlifter, so should I learn the Olympic lifts?

There are many transferable elements from weightlifting to whatever activity you choose to participate in. An increase in strength and the ability to express strength in an explosive manner (power) is almost always a benefit in both contact and non-contact sports, as well as in day-to-day living. Although the competitive element of weightlifting provides a valuable platform to learn about oneself under pressure, the discipline of learning and developing one’s abilities in the Olympic lifts is both a challenging and rewarding endeavor. And most of all, weightlifting is likely the coolest thing that a person can do in a gym.

Why do weightlifters wear shoes with wooden heels?

Weightlifting shoes almost always have a raised heel and midsole consisting of either wood, plastic, or a molded composite material, all fitted to a thin rubber or foam outsole for grip. Heel height is variable between brands and models of footwear, and can range in height from 3/4″ to 1 1/4″. One needs only to try a pair of weightlifting shoes once to recognize the increase in stability while lifting or squatting, and the raised heel allows for more favorable positioning in the full squat position in both the snatch and the clean & jerk. True weightlifting shoes are very activity-specific; the lack of any cushioning in combination with a solid heel is made for lifting and lifting only. Cross-trainers, running shoes, and even those strange-looking Vibram Five-Fingers have their utility in certain circumstances, but nothing comes close to matching the comfort and performance of quality weightlifting shoes when stepping onto the platform or into the squat rack. Those interested in looking at or purchasing weightlifting shoes can browse to our Equipment Vendors page (link) for select Canadian and U.S. retail options. In Manitoba, Power Firm is the sole retailer of weightlifting shoes.

At what age can my kids start weightlifting?

As mentioned in the Getting Started section, weightlifting is an extremely scalable sport, accessible to all levels of ability and all ages. Children can begin learning the Olympic lifts as early as they could begin participating in any other sport. Equipment costs when lifting with a club amount to a pair of shoes, which can often be sourced used from other lifters who outgrew their own, and club fees which, in comparison to many other organized sports, are almost nil.

An old wives’ tale exists which states that lifting weights before one has neared physical maturity, or before their growth plates have calcified, will stunt one’s growth. This is patent nonsense. A well-supervised and appropriate strength training program will only benefit the “physical literacy” of a young sports enthusiast who is enrolled in soccer, swimming, hockey or gymnastics. Increases in bone density, flexibility, whole-body coordination and muscular strength resulting from weightlifting will truly pay dividends for the rest of one’s life, and many a weightlifter who was introduced to the sport in adulthood has lamented, “I wonder what could have been had I grabbed a barbell when I was 11 years old.” Most of all, weightlifting is a unique, fun and challenging sport that encourages life-long participation. Read more about personal development through sport at the Canadian Sport for Life website (link).

I don’t live in Winnipeg, can I still be a weightlifter?

Yes, of course you can! Though is it preferable to have frequent feedback from a coach in a training environment filled with other weightlifters, there are workable solutions for those not within regular commuting distance of the weightlifting clubs in Winnipeg. It is recommended that you contact the weightlifting club coaches directly (see the Weightlifting Clubs (link) section to discuss potential arrangements for satellite instruction and/or in-person visits to the clubs. Though more expensive than using a club’s equipment, reasonably-priced barbells and bumper plates can be purchased from a number of retailers listed on this site (see Equipment Vendors (link)), and there are many online resources to guide you on how to construct a sturdy and protective weightlifting platform. With a bar, bumper plates, platform, and most of all, good coaching, you are well on your way to becoming a weightlifter!

I already do the Olympic lifts at my Crossfit gym.  What does the MWA have to offer for me?

Crossfit as an activity for general strength and conditioning has been very successful, in part because it has incorporated Olympic weightlifting as a fundamental component of it’s programming. That the general awareness of Olympic weightlifting has increased exponentially over the past decade is in no small part related to the fact that daily, in on-ramp classes or named “workouts of the day” in Crossfit boxes across the world, individuals are introduced to power cleans, snatches, and jerks. This interest has increased the availability and quality of budget-minded weightlifting equipment, vastly expanded the online weightlifting presence, and boosted competition registration numbers. If you are training in a Crossfit gym whose coaches have gone above and beyond the status quo to seek regular instruction from weightlifting coaches and clubs, or have previously competed in weightlifting themselves, you are in luck and likely are well on your way to a lifetime of great lifting.

For it’s almost austere simplicity – a barbell, weights, and a lifting platform encompasses the lifter’s athletic universe – weightlifting is a highly technical sport, requiring countless hours of instruction, practice, and correction to master. If in gymnastics – another technical sport – one were wanting to achieve a straddle ring planche (video link), one could certainly view a hundred videos on the internet, read a plethora of articles, then go and monkey around on the rings, but the most effective investment in one’s time would be to seek a gymnastics club and arrange for proper instruction on ways to work towards that goal. Similarly, if one wanted to learn the pole vault, one could probably purchase the necessary equipment and start pole vaulting in short order, but the learning curve would be fraught with undue frustration in comparison with similar instruction at a local track and field club. The principles also apply to weightlifting, whether it is practiced as a competitive sport, or as a component of a broader strength and conditioning program. Specific instruction on weightlifting, from weightlifters, in a non-competitive environment is of benefit to everyone from the beginning Crossfitter to a Crossfit Regionals qualifier. Whether you are looking for an occasional training session or a period of frequent instruction, the MWA can direct you to experienced individuals who can guide your weightlifting journey such that you become a more efficient and powerful athlete, regardless of your starting point or your end goals. In the words of one coach, “you have to know how to do a snatch properly ONCE before you can expect to do it well thirty times.”