What lifts are performed in Olympic competition?

As any fitness enthusiast knows, there are dozens of ways to lift weights for strength training. However, the sport of weightlifting recognizes just two lifts for competition: the snatch and the clean and jerk. At the Olympics, lifters are tested in both disciplines in a combined competition. The athlete who lifts the most total weight over the two lifts is crowned the gold medalist. 


The snatch, traditionally contested first in Olympic competition, is a two-armed lift during which the athlete must raise the barbell overhead in one fluid motion, then rise to an upright standstill. To execute the snatch, the lifter takes a bent-over position behind the barbell with both arms spread wide, grasping the bar palm-down. The lifter then uses power and balance to whip the bar overhead while in a seated position, with bar, hips, and feet in one vertical plane. Controlling this motion is the most difficult part of the lift. Once the athlete manages to gain control in the seated position, the final step is to press with the legs into an upright vertical stance, which must be done without hesitating after the first motion.

Clean and jerk

The clean and jerk comprises the final round of Olympic competition. It is a two-motion lift – the clean and the jerk – and allows for the use of much greater weight than the snatch. The first part, the clean, is done by pulling the bar up to the shoulders, with bent elbows underneath the bar, in an upright stance. From that position, the jerk requires the athlete to push the bar overhead and hold a vertical stance until at least two of three referees indicate approval. Lifters may take as long as they choose in between the clean and the jerk movements.

Completing a lift

Once an athlete's name is called to the platform, he/she has 60 seconds to begin an attempt. An attempt is considered to have begun once the bar reaches the height of the knees.

A valid lift is only recorded when an athlete successfully achieves the final position (bar held above the head with arms fully extended) and holds it until at least two of the three referees give the "down" signal to lower the bar. Any other outcome is considered a failed attempt, or "no lift." 

Incorrect movements and violations

Even if an athlete appears to have successfully completed a lift, the competition officials may rule an attempt invalid if any of several incorrect movements or violations are spotted. Common ones include:

  • Stopping the upward movement of the barbell during the initial pull, as if performing a deadlift
  • Initially raising the barbell overhead with bent elbows, then extending the arms in a separate motion (known as a press-out)
  • Failing to fully extend the knees at the completion of the lift
  • Leaving the platform or touching the area outside the platform with any part of the body before the lift is completed
  • Touching the thighs or needs with the elbows or upper arms
  • Dropping the barbell backward, behind the athlete
  • Dropping the barbell from above shoulder height

Reviewing decisions

In addition to the three-person referee panel that rules on each attempt, a five-person jury observes the competition in order to ensure that the referees' decisions are correct and consistent with the rules of the competition. If all five members of the jury unanimously vote that an officiating error has taken place, the referees' decision is reversed. The jury has the benefit of video review.

Athletes and their coaches may also challenge refereeing decisions they deem incorrect. This automatically triggers a jury review. Each athlete can request a maximum of one challenge during the course of the competition.

Olympic competition format

Weightlifting events at the Olympics consist only of a final, split into two rounds (snatch and clean and jerk). The rounds are separated by a 10-minute break at the conclusion of the snatch.

Athletes have just three attempts per round to lift the most weight they can. The final ranking is determined by adding each competitor's best snatch attempt with his/her best clean and jerk attempt to achieve a combined total. The athlete with the highest combined total is the winner.

In the case of a tie, the competitor who lifts the total weight first will receive the higher ranking

Determining the calling order

At the beginning of each round, the athlete who requests the lowest starting weight is called to the platform first. Weight is added to the bar progressively and can only be increased, never decreased. Athletes lift in order of requested weight until each competitor has made three attempts. The barbell can only be increased by one kilogram (1kg) increments.

An athlete that fails all three of his/her attempts in either round is disqualified from the competition. If this occurs in the snatch round, the athlete does not compete in the clean and jerk.

Weightlifting weight classes at the 2024 Paris Olympics

Weightlifting athletes compete in bodyweight categories, or weight classes, for competitive fairness. In 2022, the IOC and the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) approved a new slate of weight classes for the Paris Olympics, reducing the total number of medal events from 14 to 10. The five men’s and women’s weightlifting classes of the Olympic program are as follows: 

Weightlifting weight classes for Paris 2024
Men's Women's
61kg (134 lbs.) 49kg (108 lbs.)
73kg (160 lbs.) 59kg (130 lbs.)
89kg (196 lbs.) 71kg (156 lbs.)
102kg (224 lbs.) 81kg (178 lbs.)
102+kg (224+ lbs.) 81+kg (178+ lbs.)

At the Paris Olympics, each weight class will feature a total of 12 competitors.

Are there weigh-ins for Olympic weightlifting?

In order to verify that athletes do not exceed the bodyweight limit for the category in which they are entered, all participating weightlifters are required to weigh in exactly two hours before the competition begins. The weigh-in is also where athletes — often via their coaches — declare how many kilograms they will try to lift during their initial attempts for both the snatch round and the clean and jerk round.