So you want to try an Olympic Weightlifting meet…

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Whether you’re entering the world of weightlifting from a CrossFit background or dipping your toe into the competitive world for the first time, you’ve discovered a sport that’s simultaneously empowering, challenging and humbling – and if you play your cards right, can be enjoyed for years to come.

The sport of Olympic weightlifting is not new, but most of us are pretty new to it. It can be a bewildering web of kilograms, singlets, buzzers, white lights, third attempts, reps to count, cutting weight, and more. Below are a few things that we’ve learned along the way that we think will be helpful to anyone who’s still considering whether or not to compete.

Regardless of all of this, remember that the most IMPORTANT part of your first meet is keeping an open mind and learning as much as you can. Once you’ve watched a few lifters move through their session, everything will make sense. And don’t hesitate to ask someone around you if you’re not sure what’s going on or where you’re supposed to be. We love meeting new lifters and sharing what we know!

Why kilograms and speaking of kilograms, what’s up with weight classes? 

The first thing to consider is that Olympic weightlifting deals in kilograms, not pounds – which is a pretty significant mental shift from competitive CrossFit. Weight classes are also a thing. For your first local meet, don’t worry too much about what weight class you fall under, just choose based on what you usually weigh. Men’s weight classes are 56kg, 62kg, 69kg, 77kg, 85kg, 94kg, 105kg, and 105+kg. Women’s weight classes are 48kg, 53kg, 58kg, 63kg, 69kg, 75kg, and 75+kg. To be eligible for any weight class, you must weigh in just UNDER the weight listed. For example, if I want to lift as a 69kg woman on meet day, I can weigh anywhere from 63.01kg (138.7 pounds) to 69.0kg (151.8 pounds) on during my weigh-in period. If I weigh any more than 69.0kg, I’ll  still be allowed to lift! I’ll just be classified as a 75kg lifter for that meet.

What do I wear on meet day? 

Traditionally, athletes wear a singlet and Olympic weightlifting shoes to compete. Oly shoes are a great investment whether you’re fully invested in competitive weightlifting OR simply incorporating the lifts into your CrossFit training. If you’ve never lifted with them before – simply put, they’re a game changer. No need to buy a super expensive pair if you’re not sure whether this is going to be your thing forever, know that my shoes cost about $80 and they’re just now starting to break down after two years of casual competition. If you’ve got a little cash to spend, look into Adidas Adistars, Nike Romaleos, or even Reebok’s CrossFit/Oly hybrid shoe. As far as the singlet goes, it’s worth finding one that you like, that’s not see through, and will hold up over time. Basic, low priced singlets are all over Amazon. Like shoes, if you have some extra money to spend, you can get a little crazy.

Most USAW sanctioned meets enforce the singlet/Oly shoe rule. In the case of the Liberty Barbell Classic, the rule about singlets/oly shoes only applies to athletes competing in the Open division. Novice athletes do not need to wear a singlet, but are required to wear fitted clothing that leaves their elbows and knees visible. This means that spandex shorts and a tank top are just fine. Baggy sweatpants and a hoodie are not permitted.

What lifts are performed? How is my score calculated?

There are two lifts tested in an Olympic weightlifting meet: the snatch and the clean & jerk. Everyone in a session will snatch first, then there will be a short break (usually no more than 5-10 minutes) then everyone will clean & jerk. Competitors each get three attempts to snatch and three attempts to clean & jerk. Your overall score, or Total, is the combined weight you successfully lifted in the snatch and clean & jerk.

Depending on the size of the meet and how the sessions are divided, gold/silver/bronze medals may be awarded for the three highest Totals in each weight class. Additionally, awards may be handed out for Best Overall Male and Female Lifter – these awards are determined using the Sinclair Formula, which factors in your bodyweight relative to the total weight you lifted successfully.

What are the technical requirements? What constitutes a “good” lift and a “no lift”?

This is especially important if your only exposure to these lifts has been in a CrossFit setting, where many times a snatch or clean will be listed as a movement, but the requirements are really “ground to overhead anyhow” or “shoulder to overhead anyhow” (case in point, workout 14.1 in the 2014 CrossFit Open). For a comprehensive explanation of the rules, please take a look through the official IWF rulebook here. The major requirements to remember are as follows:

SNATCH: The weight must start on the floor and move in one smooth motion to overhead – no pausing in the hang position. You can squat snatch, power snatch, or split snatch, but either way you must catch the bar overhead with elbows locked out (no pressing out allowed) AND you must stand up with the weight, come to full extension and show control overhead with the bar in the same plane as your feet. You CANNOT drop the weight until the center judge gives you a “down” signal. If you drop the weight before the down signal, lose it forward or behind you, or any part of your body touches the platform besides your feet (for example, taking a knee and standing back up as we sometimes see in training!) then it’s automatically a no lift.

CLEAN AND JERK: Again, weight must start on the floor and come in one smooth motion to your shoulders. Power cleaning or squat cleaning is fine, but your elbows cannot touch the knees when you catch the weight or it’s a no lift. Once you have it on your shoulders you can move the bar around slightly to adjust your grip if needed, and then you jerk overhead! Same rules apply – you must catch the bar with elbows fully locked out, come to full extension at the hips and knees, and show control at the top with the bar in the same plane asyour feet, AND wait for the “down” signal.

IMPORTANT REMINDER: We very very very highly recommend PRACTICING waiting for the “down” signal from the center judge a few times in your training until it becomes habit. One of the most heartbreaking things EVER is seeing an athlete that’s nailed a beautiful lift slam the bar down in victory and get red lights for not waiting for that down signal. Also, no bar slamming (that’ll also get you a red light). The bar must be lowered with control and cannot be released from your grip until it’s below waist height.

How do I know what to declare? How do attempts work?

You should arrive at your meet with a general idea of what you’d like your attempts to be. For a first-time competitor, we usually recommend that the first attempt (or “opener”) be a lift that you hit every day and could conceivably hit in your sleep. Even if it seems ridiculously low compared to the best lift you’ve ever hit, remember that you’ll have two more attempts to get credit for a heavier weight, and knowing that you can and have successfully hit your opener will help mitigate your nerves and is a HUGE confidence booster. Your second attempt should be a weight that you hit fairly reliably on good training days. And if you make your first and second attempts, your third attempt is where you might try to go for the glory and set a new competition PR.

Don’t forget, your main goal at your first meet is to get credit for as many successful lifts under pressure as possible. Strategizing and learning how to manipulate the timer will come with more experience on the platform.

At the beginning of the session, the bar is loaded with the lightest declared opening weight. After each successful lift, weight is added to the bar depending on what attempts have been declared. It’s important to remember that once weight is added to the bar, it cannot be removed. If you attempt a weight and fail the lift, your only options are to repeat that attempt or go up in weight.

Normally, you have ONE MINUTE to take each attempt. The countdown begins once the bar is loaded to the weight you’ve declared, and you get a warning buzz when you have 30 seconds remaining to pick up the bar (helpful hint: if you can practice this a few times during training, definitely get used to that 30 second buzzer sounding as you’re setting up so it doesn’t take you by surprise on meet day). If you’re following yourself (meaning you take an attempt and there are no other competitors between you and your next attempt), you are allowed TWO minutes on the clock to recover.

It’s much easier to get a feel for how this works by actually watching a meet take place (and whether or not you decide to compete, LBC ALWAYS welcomes spectators at any meet we host). 

Say I want my opener for the snatch to be 40kg. Another competitor is opening at 39kg. She attempts 39kg and makes it, and then the loaders will add 1kg to the bar so it’s loaded to 40kg for my first attempt. I then attempt my opener at 40kg and make it. I decide that I want my 2nd attempt to be 45kg, because 40 felt pretty good. Before I can try 45kg, I have to wait for anyone that wants to attempt a weight between 40kg and 45kg. There will most likely be two or three lifters who open between 40kg and 45kg. If I try 45kg and make it, I can make my third and final attempt anything HIGHER than 45 kg. However, if I fail my attempt at 45kg I cannot try a lower weight. I either have to try 45kg or try to go up.

Same goes for the clean and jerk. Your overall score, or Total, is the combined weight you successfully lifted in the snatch AND clean & jerk. So in my hypothetical example, say I snatched 40kg successfully, snatched 45kg successfully and failed an attempt to snatch 50kg. Then I hit 60kg on clean&jerk, failed 65kg, then tried it again for my 3rd attempt and made it. My total for the day would be 45kg + 65kg or 110kg.

As you can see, there is some strategy involved in planning the weights you’re going to attempt, but these are all things you’ll discuss with your coach well before you’re going into meet day.

Speaking of coaches, why should I bring one with me?

Ideally, your coach is the person who’s been working closely with you as you’ve trained and prepared for your first meet. She’s just about as familiar with your strengths and weaknesses on the platform as you are, and will advise you on an achievable opener, a practical second attempt, and a third attempt that’s just gutsy enough to light a fire underneath you! In a practical sense, your coach will help you time your warmups relative to when you expect to walk out onto the platform so you’re perfectly primed for your first attempt and make sure to communicate any changes in attempts to the meet announcer. Ideally, you shouldn’t have to worry about anything on meet day except preparing for your own attempts, and it’s a lot easier to focus when someone else can keep track of what’s happening on the platform on your behalf.

What’s the deal with the referees/judges?

Competing in a meet means that you’re lifting on a platform in front of three judges – one directly in front of you and one on each side. I found this to be the most nerve-wracking part of my first competition – it certainly becomes more comfortable the more competitions you do, but I don’t think you ever really lose that little rush of adrenaline as you step out on the platform! If you’re smart, you’ll work on channeling that nervous energy into a successful lift.

Based on the aforementioned technical rules, the judges decide whether the lift is a “good lift” meaning it gets a white light or white flag, or a “no lift” meaning it gets a red light/red flag. If at least two of the three judges deem the lift “good” you’ll receive credit for the attempt.

What do I do when I walk in the door for my meet? What should I bring?

First of all, get PLENTY of sleep the night before. You’ll probably be nervous, and that’s okay! Do your best to relax and get rest. Eat normally at dinner – this isn’t the time to go out for unlimited wings and cheese fries, nor is it the time to decide you want to try a new kind of protein shake or that intermittent fasting thing everyone at your gym is talking about.

Immediately after registration closes, a final schedule will be posted listing which specific session you’ll lift in, the time of your session, and the time of your weigh-in. Make sure you double check these times and confirm them with the meet director if you’re not sure! Your weigh-in session will last one hour and begins TWO hours before your session begins (so, if my session begins at 9am, I can weigh in anytime between 7am and 8am).

SUGGESTED LIST OF THINGS TO BRING:

USAW card

Photo ID

Singlet

Oly Shoes

Belt

Sweatshirt/blanket in case the gym is chilly

Any warmup/mobilizing equipment you usually use (theracane, lacrosse ball, foam roller)

Book/music

Food/water

Supplements (protein, BCAAs)

Coffee, if you drink it

Give yourself plenty of time to get to the event venue (and leave extra time for traffic/parking/getting lost, etc). When you enter the venue the first thing you’ll do is check in at the registration table. At this point you’ll have to show your USA Weightlifting member card if you’re lifting in a USAW sanctioned meet (you’ll receive a copy of this card via email when you purchase your USAW membership) as well as a photo ID. After you provide this information, you’ll be given a card to record your attempts. You’ll take this card with you to the weigh-in area where you’ll strip down to your singlet or underwear, whichever is more comfortable, and have your bodyweight recorded by a meet staff member (don’t feel awkward about this, we’re totally used to it!). At this point you’ll also officially declare your openers, the staff member will write them on the attempt card along with your bodyweight, and you’ll hand the card back to the registration desk.

After you’ve done all this, you’re free to relax (and try not to stress) until it’s time to warm up. Feel free to take this time to have a snack (again, nothing that you wouldn’t eat on a normal training day), foam roll, mobilize, watch earlier sessions, or simply meditate on the awesomeness that is to come.

Don’t forget – if you’re not sure where you’re supposed to be or what’s going on, you can ALWAYS ask! We’re happy to help out!

If you’re interested in learning more about how to coach a lifter at a meet or just how a meet is run, keep an eye on the Liberty Barbell Club Facebook page for announcements about upcoming seminars and mock meets. 

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