Weightlifting is the sport or exercise of lifting barbells. It often refers to several distinctive activities, one of which is a form of exercise, weight training, and three others that are competitive sports, namely, Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and bodybuilding.

Eduardo Soto Montecino of Chile at an Olympics weightlifting event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 2016. The purpose of such competitions is to complete a maximum-weight lift of a barbell that is loaded with weight plates.

Eduardo Soto Montecino of Chile at an Olympics weightlifting event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 2016. The purpose of such competitions is to complete a maximum-weight lift of a barbell that is loaded with weight plates. Prizes are awarded to the competitor who can successfully lift the heaviest weight.


Different forms of weightlifting have somewhat different purposes. Weight training is to develop the size and strength of skeletal muscles through using the force of gravity, in the form of weighted bars or dumbbells, to oppose the force generated by muscle contraction. Weight training is a form of exercise that can be used by athletes in many sports other than bodybuilding or Olympic weightlifting to prepare for competition; it can also be practiced by amateurs as part of an overall fitness regimen.

The purpose of Olympic weightlifting is to compete in a maximum-weight single lift of a barbell loaded with weight plates. Olympic weightlifting is distinguished from powerlifting by its emphasis on explosive strength, the ability to exert maximal muscular force in minimal time. Powerlifting emphasizes limit strength, defined as the athlete's ability to exert muscular force for a single all-out effort. In contrast to both Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting, bodybuilding is focused on physique, or the external appearance of the body. Bodybuilders use weight training in combination with a dietary regimen to gain muscle and reduce body fat, the goal being an aesthetically pleasing physique with clearly defined muscle groups.


Olympic weightlifting and bodybuilding are practiced worldwide in over 160 countries, whereas powerlifting is based primarily in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia. All three types of competitive weightlifting are open to women as well as men. Powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting are open to those 15 and older; however, the minimum age for competition in the Olympic Games themselves is 16. In 2016, weightlifting competitions took place in the Olympics in Rio de Janerio.

Weight training is widely used by professional athletes in sports such baseball, football, hockey, soccer, as well as by professional bodybuilders and powerlifters.

It is also used for muscle building and overall fitness by many people who are not professional or semiprofessional athletes. It is difficult, however, to obtain exact figures for the total number of participants worldwide in weightlifting activities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2013 that 29.6% of adults in the United States participated in some kind of strength training exercise two or more times per week. These statistics cover weight training as a form of strength training but do not specify the other forms of exercise included in this category.

Weight training is increasingly used by the U.S. Army as part of physical readiness training (PRT) to prepare soldiers for military operations. Weight training as a part of PRT appears to be effective in reducing the number of injuries among soldiers compared to traditional weightlifting exercises.

JOE WEIDER (1919–2013)

Joe Weider made a name for himself in the publishing and the bodybuilding worlds. His publishing company, Weider Publications, published several successful fitness magazines, including Muscle & Fitness, Fit Pregnancy, Shape, and Men's Fitness. In 1983, he was named “Publisher of the Year” by the Periodical and Book Association, and in 2003, the company was sold to American Media.

Weider also developed a fitness program—The Weider System of Bodybuilding. In 1946, he and his brother Ben created the International Federation of BodyBuilders (IFBB)—the highest level of global competitive bodybuilding. Weider also created the Mr. Olympia and Ms. Olympia bodybuilding titles to enable the Mr. Universe champions to continue competing and earning money.

Weider also marketed several weight-loss products (nutritional supplements, vitamins, etc.). Unfortunately, false marketing promises led to several legal claims, resulting in financial settlements to Weider's weight-loss products' customers.


(Reuters/Alamy Stock Photo)



The origin of weightlifting can be traced back to ancient Chinese and Greek culture, whose written texts recorded physical strength, endurance, and skill. Weightlifting was included as an official sport in the Olympics, originating in 1896.

Weight training

Weight training involves a series of exercises intended to strengthen muscles and increase muscle mass. The exercises may involve resistance training using the body alone with gravity as the opposing force (push-ups and pull ups), using free weights (barbells or dumbbells), or using exercise machines with weights or pulleys that force the body to work against their resistance. Free weights generally require more effort to lift, pound for pound, than weights on machines.

Weight-training exercises are intended to work certain muscle groups. Each exercise has a specific form that should be maintained by the athlete. The athlete decides how many repetitions (reps) and sets will be included in the exercise. A repetition consists of a single cycle of lifting and lowering a weight in a controlled manner, moving through the form of the exercise, and a set is a number of reps performed without a break. Tempo refers to the speed at which the set is performed. Beginners typically start out with one to five reps per set and one or two sets per exercise, raising the number of reps and sets and increasing the tempo as they gain strength and endurance.

Olympic weightlifting

In the snatch, the athlete lifts a barbell from a platform to a locked position overhead in a smooth continuous movement. The barbell is pulled as high as the lifter can manage (in most cases, to mid-chest level) and is then flipped overhead. The snatch requires excellent balance, as well as great muscular strength and explosive speed.

Competitors are classified by body mass in Olympic weightlifting. There are eight divisions for men and seven for women. Athletes in each weight division compete in both the snatch and the clean-and-jerk, and prizes are usually given for the heaviest weights lifted in the snatch, the clean-and-jerk, and the two events combined.


Powerlifting is a competitive sport that tests limit strength rather than explosive strength. Three lifts are used in a powerlifting competition: the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift. In the squat, the lifter begins standing with the loaded bar resting across the shoulders. At a referee's command, the lifter lowers the body into a squatting position and returns to an erect standing position. The bar is then returned to the rack at the referee's command. In the bench press, the lifter lies on his or her back on a flat bench, lowers the weighted bar to the level of the chest, and pushes the bar back upward until the arms are straight and the elbows locked. In the deadlift, the athlete lifts the weighted bar from the floor and assumes a standing position with the knees locked and the shoulders back. At the referee's command, the athlete returns the bar to the floor, while maintaining control of it with both hands.

Competitors in powerlifting are classified by age, sex, and body weight. There are 11 weight categories for men and 10 for women. The age categories are sub- junior (15–18), junior (19–23), open (24–39), and masters (40+).


Bodybuilding is a sport involving modification of the body through muscle hypertrophy (overdevelopment). This overdevelopment is achieved through a combination of weight training and a specialized diet. Competitive bodybuilders usually spend most of the year increasing muscle mass (known as bulking) and then reducing body fat about 10 or 12 weeks before a competition by reducing calorie intake. This second process is called cutting. The specialized diet used by bodybuilders contains more calories than the average person of the same weight would require. The bodybuilder's diet is high in carbohydrates and usually includes protein supplements to help build muscle tissue. As of 2017, recommendations are that protein intake should be in the range of 1.2–1.4 g of protein per kilogram body weight. Most bodybuilders eat five to seven evenly spaced small meals a day, usually two to three hours apart, rather than three larger meals.

A bodybuilding competitor is judged on physique rather than on athletic performance. The judges ask competitors to assume a series of standard poses and score each participant on their overall condition, size, and body symmetry. Bodybuilders typically spend a fair amount of time practicing posing before a competition. They also use tanning lotions or oils during a competition to make their muscles stand out under the stage lighting.


Preparation for a weight training, weightlifting, or bodybuilding workout includes the following:

People should consult their primary care physician for a general physical examination before undertaking a weight training or weightlifting regimen. Those considering bodybuilding should consult a dietitian about specialized nutrition and protein and/or food supplements, as well as the practice of eating smaller meals frequently. Adolescents who have not yet reached their full growth should consult a specialist in sports medicine or a coach with expertise in this area to reduce the risk of accidental or overuse injuries during weight training or weightlifting competitions.


Some people may experience muscle soreness after a workout, particularly if they are new to weight training or were previously deconditioned. Although some discomfort or a slight burning sensation in the muscles is normal during weight training or weightlifting, a sudden sharp, severe pain or popping sensation in a muscle, tendon, or ligament is not normal. A person who experiences these symptoms should stop the exercise at once to prevent further injury.

Physical injuries

Weight training is generally a safe form of exercise when done while maintaining good form with appropriate spotting and other supervision; however, the number of people treated in hospital emergency departments for injuries sustained during workouts is rising. Overly ambitious training, failure to warm up properly, or improper execution of the exercises can lead to pulled muscles, joint damage, or overuse injuries. Competitive weightlifting is a fairly high-risk sport; a study of injuries among athletes in the 2008 Olympic Games classified weightlifting as one of the riskiest sports, along with tae kwon do, soccer, hockey, and boxing. Fatal weightlifting accidents are rare, but fatalities have been reported from barbells falling on an athlete's head or chest due to muscle fatigue while the person was working out without a spotter.

There are differences between men and women with regard to weightlifting injuries. A study published in 2009 reported that women are more likely to be injured accidentally, whereas men are at greater risk of sprains and strains from overexertion. Women are at greater risk of foot injuries, whereas men are more likely to be injured in the chest region. With regard to age, children between the ages of 8 and 13 are at greater risk of injuries than older teenagers or young adults. Like adult women, children are at greater risk of accidental injuries rather than sprains or other injuries caused by overexertion. The authors of this study conclude that “the majority of youth resistance training injuries are the result of accidents that are potentially preventable with increased supervision and stricter safety guidelines.”

DOMS is a specific form of pain common in weightlifters and bodybuilders. Also called muscle fever, DOMS is a sensation of pain or tenderness in the affected muscles that begins between 24 and 72 hours after a workout and resolves within 2 or 3 days. The most recent theory regarding the cause of DOMS is that it results from the breakdown of muscle fibers during the strong contractions involved in weight training. The body's response to this breakdown is inflammation. DOMS typically causes stiffness, swelling, strength loss, and pain in the affected limb or muscle group. Stretching as a warm-up before weight training is thought to lower the risk of DOMS. A common recommendation for treating the condition is contrast showers, alternating between hot and cold showers to increase blood circulation in the affected area.

Failure to drink enough fluid before and during weight training or weightlifting can lead to dehydration. Overly shallow breathing during weight training has in a few cases led to blackouts or even brain aneurysms and stroke.

Steroid abuse
Anabolic steroids—
Synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of male sex hormones in building up body tissue, specifically muscle tissue.
A weight training exercise in which the athlete, in a stabilized bent-over position, lifts a loaded barbell from the ground and then stands fully upright holding the barbell. It is one of three events in a powerlifting competition.
The illicit use of steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs in athletic competitions.
Explosive strength—
In sports medicine, the ability to exert maximal muscular force in minimal time.
Abnormal development of the mammary glands in males, resulting in breast enlargement. It is an occasional side effect of anabolic steroid abuse.
Limit strength—
The amount of muscular force that an athlete can generate for a single all-out effort.
The outward shape, form, or appearance of the body.
Resistance training—
A form of strength training in which the athlete performs an effort against an opposing force generated by resistance to being pushed, pulled, stretched, or bent. It is done to strengthen and tone muscles and increase bone mass.
A person who monitors and assists an athlete during weight training or powerlifting exercises to prevent injuries and accidents.
An exercise in which the athlete begins in a standing position with a bar loaded with weights resting on the shoulders. The athlete then bends the knees until he or she is in a squatting position, then stands erect again. The squat is one of three events in powerlifting competitions.
Tanner scale—
A series of five stages used to measure the development of primary and secondary sexual characteristics in children and adolescents. It is named for the British pediatrician who developed it in the 1960s.

Numerous health risks are associated with doping, or the use of anabolic steroids. Those risks range from hypertension (high blood pressure), high blood cholesterol levels, and an increased risk of liver damage and cardiovascular disease, as well as baldness and reduced sexual function. Sex-specific adverse effects include gynecomastia, or breast enlargement in males, and shrinkage of the testicles; in women, these effects include deepening of the voice, hair loss, temporary cessation of menstruation, and growth of body hair. Steroid hormones taken during pregnancy can harm the fetus, causing the development of male features in a female fetus and female features in a male fetus. In adolescents, the use of anabolic steroids can lead to premature closure of the growth plates at the end of the long bones, leading to stunted growth. Evidence also indicates that anabolic steroids can lead to psychiatric disorders, including depression and other mood disorders.

There is growing concern among healthcare professionals that steroid abuse is no longer limited to professional or semiprofessional athletes; it is now widespread in the general population, particularly among males. In Europe as well as North America, most men who take illicit anabolic steroids do so for the sake of improving their appearance rather than for athletic performance.


In addition to the general precaution of consulting a physician before participating in any form of vigorous exercise, several additional precautions are needed before beginning weight training, weightlifting, or bodybuilding:



Weight training and weightlifting regimens offer specific physical benefits: increased muscle mass and strength, stronger tendons and ligaments, increased bone density and metabolic rate, and better postural support. Some people also notice improved endurance and lowered blood pressure, as well as greater muscular strength.

The benefits of bodybuilding for many people include a more attractive physique, as well as increased muscular strength and better posture.

See also Anabolic steroids ; Bodybuilding ; Dumbbells ; Olympics ; Protein .



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Farncombe, Lawrence. Powerlifting 1RM Method. Tolworth: Grosvenor House, 2016.

Lilien, Gary L. Optimal Weightlifting. London: Forgotten Books, 2016.

Matthews, Michael.Bigger Leaner Stronger: The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Male Body. Des Moines: Waterbury Publications, Inc., 2015.

Smith, William, and David Kirschen. Strength Training Bible for Men: The Complete Guide to Lifting Weights for Power, Strength, & Performance. New York: Hatherleigh Press, 2015.


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Cassas, Kyle J., and Amelia Cassettari-Wayhs. “Childhood and Adolescent Sports-Related Overuse Injuries.” American Family Physician. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2006/0315/p1014.html (accessed March 6, 2017).

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National Strength and Conditioning Association. “Combating Anabolic Steroid Abuse.” South Eastern School District. http://www.sesdweb.net/cms/lib06/PA01000019/Centricity/Domain/76/Steriod_Awareness.pdf (accessed March 6, 2017). This 17-page document includes information about the nature, effects, and health risks of steroids, as well as advice about policies for deterring the use of steroids among high school and college athletes.

National Strength and Conditioning Association. “Video Library”. NSCA,org . https://www.nsca.com/Videos (accessed March 6, 2017). This collection of 47 videos illustrates different weightlifting and strength-training exercises and techniques.

TeensHealth. “Strength Training.” The Nemours Foundation. http://kidshealth.org/teen/food_fitness/exercise/ strength_training.html (accessed March 6, 2017).


American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), 401 W. Michigan St., Indianapolis, IN, 46202-3233, (317) 637-9200, Fax: (317) 634-7817, http://www.acsm.org .

American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI), 833 St. Vincent's Dr., Ste. 505, Birmingham, AL, 35205, (205) 918-0000, Fax: (205) 918-0800, http://www.asmi.org/ .

International Weightlifting Federation (IWF), Maison du Sport International, Av. de Rhodaine 54, Lausanne, Switzerland, 1007, 36 1 353 0530, Fax: 36 1 353 0199, iwf@iwfnet.net, http://www.iwf.net .

National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), 1885 Bob Johnson Drive, Colorado Springs, CO, 80906, (719) 632-6722, (800) 815-6826, Fax: (719) 632-6367, nsca@nsca-lift.org, http://www.nsca-lift.org/ .

U.S.A. Powerlifting (USAPL), 1120 Huffman Rd., Anchorage, AK, 99515, (260) 248-4889, Fax: (260) 248-4879, http://www.usapowerlifting.com/index.shtml .

World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), Stock Exchange Tower, 800 Place Victoria, Suite 1700, MontrealQuebec, Canada, H4Z 1B7, +1 514 904 9232, Fax: +1 514 904 8650, info@wada-ama.org, http://www.wada-ama.org/ .

Rebecca J. Frey, PhD
Revised by Laura Jean Cataldo, RN, EdD
Revised by Karl Finley

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.