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A pair of adjustable dumbbells with 2 kg plates

Weightlifting generally refers to activities in which people lift weights, often in the form of dumbbells or barbells. People lift various kinds of weights for a variety of different reasons. These may include various types of competition; promoting health and fitness; developing physical strength; or developing a muscular physique, possibly with the goal of engaging in competitive bodybuilding.[1]

According to an article in The New York Times, lifting weights can prevent some disabilities, increase metabolism, and lower body fat.[2] When compared to machines, free weights improve not only strength but muscle function as well.[3] Lifting weights can also improve self-confidence and make people feel better about themselves.[4]

Weightlifting as a sport[edit]

Competitive powerlifter Derek Poundstone, with the bulkier and less defined physique typical of the sport

The goal of weightlifting competitions is usually the lifting of weights themselves, with the winner being determined by the amount of weight lifted, provided that they employ the correct movements in achieving the lift. Strength competitions pre-date written history. The idea of competitive weightlifting originated in Ancient China and Greece, as men lifted stones to prove their strength and manhood.[5] There are records in many civilizations of feats of strength performed by great heroes, perhaps mythological, such as Heracles, Goliath, Orm Storolfsson and Milo of Croton.[6] Competitions on which modern strongman events are modeled, Scottish Highland Gatherings, were formalized around 1820 by Sir Walter Scott. In 1848, Queen Victoria attended the Braemar Highland Games.[7] A sport known as "odd lifts" developed, in which competitors would be allowed three attempts at each of a wide variety of events involving the lifting of heavy weights, akin to a strongman competition. Eventually odd lifts became standardized to three, constituting one of the primary strength-based sports of lifting weights, powerlifting, consisting of three attempts at maximal weight on three lifts: squat, bench press, and deadlift. Another variation of this sport, Olympic weightlifting, has been an official sport in the summer Olympic Games since their initiation in 1896.[5][8] Athletes compete in Olympic weightlifting in two specific ways of lifting the barbell overhead: these are the snatch and the clean and jerk. The snatch is a wide-grip lift, in which the weighted barbell is lifted overhead in one motion. The clean and jerk is a combination lift, in which the weight is first taken from the ground to the front of the shoulders (the clean), and then from the shoulders to overhead (the jerk). The clean and press, wherein a clean was followed by an overhead press,[9][10][11] was formerly also a competition lift, but was discontinued due to difficulties in judging proper form.[12][13]

The modern sport originated in the United Kingdom and the United States in the 1950s. Previously, the weightlifting governing bodies in both countries had recognized various "odd lifts" for competition and record purposes. During the 1950s, Olympic weightlifting declined in the United States, while other strength sports gained many new followers, as people did not like the Olympic lifts.[14]

Weightlifting for strength, health, and appearance[edit]

Bodybuilder Lukáš Osladil posing onstage with a variation of the Most Muscular pose, having eliminated most body fat

Strength training is also recorded as far back as ancient Greek and ancient Persian times.[8] Weightlifting is used as an end to achieve different goals. For example, in weight training, a type of exercise using weights to increase muscle strength, and in bodybuilding, a form of body modification for aesthetic reasons. Strength training, bodybuilding, and working out to achieve a general level of physical fitness have all historically been closely associated with weightlifting. However, it is possible to engage in a training regimen for any of these purpose using exercises or equipment other than weights. Conversely, because the goal of bodybuilding is often to generate a particular appearance, a person who engages in weightlifting only to increase strength, or for competitive purposes, may not achieve the physical appearance sought in bodybuilding. Weight training aims to build muscle by prompting two different types of hypertrophy: sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar.[15] Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy leads to larger muscles and so is favored by bodybuilders more than myofibrillar hypertrophy, which builds athletic strength. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is triggered by increasing repetitions, whereas myofibrillar hypertrophy is triggered by lifting heavier weight.[16] In either case, there is an increase in both size and strength of the muscles (compared to what happens if that same individual does not lift weights at all), however, the emphasis is different.[17]

Notably, weightlifting purely to develop physical strength can lead to the development of a very different body type than weightlifting for bodybuilding, with powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters tending to have endo-mesomorphic bodies, and bodybuilders tending to be more mesomorphic.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See Brian J. Sharkey, Steven E. Gaskill, Fitness and Health (2007), p. 142, "Weightlifting with machines or free weights is the common form of isotonic training".
  2. ^ O'Connor, A. (n.d.). How to Get Strong. Retrieved from NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/guides/year-of-living-better/how-to-build-muscle-strength
  3. ^ Schott, N., Johnen, B., & Holfelder, B. (2019). Effects of free weights and machine training on muscular strength in high-functioning older adults. Experimental Gerontology, 122, 15-24. doi:10.1016/j.exger.2019.03.012
  4. ^ Waehner, P. (2019, December 31). Why You Should Lift Weights and Strength Train. Retrieved from Very Well Lift: https://www.verywellfit.com/top-reasons-to-lift-weights-1231112.
  5. ^ a b Paciorek, Michael J.; Jones, Jefferey A. (2001). Disability sport and recreation resources. Cooper publishing group.
  6. ^ "Strongest Men in History Hoisted Cattle and Crushed Stones to Show Their Might".
  7. ^ Crieff Highland Gathering Archived 2007-12-03 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ a b "The History of Weightlifting". teamUSA.org. 2009-10-02. Archived from the original on 2010-04-12. Retrieved 2009-10-02.
  9. ^ "Clean and Jerk". exrx.net. Retrieved 15 September 2014.
  11. ^ "Clean". exrx.net. Retrieved 15 September 2014.
  12. ^ Rippetoe, Mark; Bradford, Stef (2011). Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training (3 ed.). Wichita Falls, Texas: The Aasgaard Company. p. 74. ISBN 978-0-982-5227-3-8.
  13. ^ Silvester, L. Jay (1992). Weight Training for Strength and Fitness. Boston: Jones and Bartlett Publishers. p. 6. ISBN 0-86720-139-8.
  14. ^ Unitt, Dennis (2019-04-04). "The History of the International Powerlifting Federation". Powerlifting.Sport.
  15. ^ Roberts, Michael D.; Haun, Cody T.; Vann, Christopher G.; Osburn, Shelby C.; Young, Kaelin C. (2020). "Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy in Skeletal Muscle: A Scientific "Unicorn" or Resistance Training Adaptation?". Frontiers in Physiology. 11. doi:10.3389/fphys.2020.00816/full. ISSN 1664-042X.
  16. ^ "Weight Training Intensity or Volume for Bigger Muscles?". Retrieved February 24, 2012.
  17. ^ "Powerlifting vs. Bodybuilding: Differences, Pros, and Cons". Healthline. 2021-02-11. Retrieved 2021-04-23.
  18. ^ P. Bale, and H. Williams, "An anthropometric prototype of female power lifters", Joumal of Sports Medicine, 27 (1987), 191-196.

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