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The Difference Between Weightlifting and Weight Lifting

by admin

woman with a barbell at a weightlifting competition

Weightlifter Beatriz Piron (from the Dominican Republic) winning gold in the 49kg weight class at 2019 Pan-Ams
Photo: CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP (Getty Images)

This will be an extremely pedantic post, and one that I am terribly sorry to have to write. I’ve been into weight lifting (two words) for a long time, but over the past year or two I have gotten into weightlifting (all one word). It turns out these are two very different things.

Weightlifting, all one word, is the sport that is contested in the Olympics where people in what look like old-timey swimsuits pick up barbells loaded with kindergarten-colored weights. In one of the events, the snatch, the bar is lifted from the ground to overhead in one swift movement. In the other, the clean and jerk, the bar is lifted to the shoulders and the lifter pauses to breath and maybe grimaces a bit before shoving it sky high. (You can lift more weight the second way, which is why they are separate events. Each lifter’s best snatch and best clean and jerk are added together to find out who wins.)

If you’ve never heard of this or never thought of it when you said or heard the word “weightlifting,” bear with me here.

There are many different strength sports. One is powerlifting, where people compete in the squat, bench press, and deadlift. There is strongman, where people (not just men) lift a variety of implements like stones and kegs and log-shaped barbells, chosen according to the promoter’s whims. And there is bodybuilding, where the weights are lifted in the gym year round, and then the competitors diet off as much body fat as they can and get up on stage to show off their muscles in an event formatted like a beauty pageant.

You can also, of course, just lift weights. This isn’t weightlifting; it’s “lifting weights” or “lifting” or “strength training.” You can, if you must, call it “weight lifting.”

I hate that I have been forced to become so pedantic about this. Weightlifting is an awful, terrible, no-good, very-bad name for one of many sports in which people lift weights. Powerlifting, by the way, is almost as badly named; the Olympic lifts showcase power, and the “power lifts” showcase strength. So people like me are left protesting that we are weightlifters, not powerlifters or bodybuilders, and the average person curling a dumbbell in the gym has no clue why we care so much about whether or not there is a space between “weight” and “lifting.”

The problem, ultimately, is that nobody ever came up with a better name for the sport they have in the Olympics. Some people will call it “Olympic lifting,” leading to confusion when you tell your friends that you do it but also that you are not going to the Olympics for it.

Crossfitters have found a workaround by casually referring to “oly lifting,” which I support in theory, but weightlifters have not embraced the term. We compete in weightlifting, and clarify what we mean by saying “you know, weightlifting weightlifting,” while miming the motion of a snatch. I’m sorry. This is the best we have for now.

 

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