How to Choose Your Olympic Weightlifting Weight Class for Optimal Results
I'm sure it's not escaped your notice that the best weightlifters in the world tend to be as lean and muscular as possible for their weight class (with the obvious exception of superheavy lifters) Yes, neural factors and technique are hugely important too, but if you have two lifters of equal ability, the one who is more jacked is probably going to be the one who takes the win in that weight class. In this article, we're going to take a look at what the Olympic weightlifting weight classes are for male, female, and youth lifters. We're also going to look at how to choose the right class for you, as well as how to actually achieve that weight class comfortably.
Let's get started, shall we?
Men's olympic weightlifting weight classes
55 kg (121 lb) (non-Olympic)
61 kg (134 lb)
67 kg (148 lb)
73 kg (161 lb)
81 kg (179 lb)
89 kg (196 lb) (non-Olympic)
96 kg (212 lb)
102 kg (225 lb) (non-Olympic)
109 kg (240 lb)
109 kg and over (240 lb+)
Women's olympic weightlifting weight classes
45 kg (99.2 lb) (non-Olympic)
49 kg (108 lb)
55 kg (121 lb)
59 kg (130 lb)
64 kg (141 lb)
71 kg (157 lb) (non-Olympic)
76 kg (168 lb)
81 kg (179 lb) (non-Olympic)
87 kg (192 lb)
87 kg and over (191 lb+)
Youth Bodyweight Categories:
49 kg 40 kg
55 kg 45 kg
61 kg 49 kg
67 kg 55 kg
73 kg 59 kg
81 kg 64 kg
89 kg 71 kg
96 kg 76 kg
102 kg 81 kg
+102 kg +81 kg
How to Choose Your Olympic Weightlifting Weight Class
For the first year or two of your lifting, I generally recommend that you take a 'low stress' approach to weight class selection. As in, just train hard, eat decently, and see where your bodyweight falls naturally. The last thing you need to be doing as a beginner weightlifter is obsessing over competition weight classes. I promise you, no one cares how much the 126'000th rated weightlifter weighs!
After that point, I like to ask my lifters 4 questions...
1) How old are you?
There's a big difference between what I might recommend to a 43-year-old masters lifter versus a 14-year-old lifter. If you're a younger lifter, chances are you're going to keep on gaining weight naturally as you get older, so just keeping eating plenty of good quality food and come back to this question in a few years time. If you're 20+ years old, then your weight is more stable, and we can move onto the next question.
2) What's your current body composition?
In other words, how much muscle do you have on you versus how much bodyfat do you have on you? You'll fall into one of 4 categories...
a) Decent amounts of muscle and very little fat
b) Decent amounts of muscle but quite a bit of fat
c) Not much muscle and very little fat
d) Not much muscle but quite a bit of fat
If you're type a, fantastic, you're in the body composition sweet spot, and you don't need to change anything.
If you're type b, then your performance would likely be better if you lost some weight (unless you're competing at a super heavy weight class)
If you're type c, then you need to start gaining weight pronto. Your performance would very likely improve with more muscle.
If you're type d, then you've got it a little tougher, because you need to gain muscle and lose fat, which can be hard to do at the same time unless you're very new to training (typically less than 1 year in the gym) So you may have to alternate between periods of muscle building and fat loss for a while.
*If you're a Type c or d lifter, you might want to check out my weightlifting + bodybuilding programme. It's designed to help you pack on muscle in a way that helps your weightlifting performance.
3) Once your body composition is improved, How do you fit into the existing weight classes
As in, once you're a type a (decent muscle, low body fat) what is your bodyweight, and how does it fit into the current olympic weightlifting weight classes? You'll likely be in one of two situations...
a) Your bodyweight sits really close to a competition weight class. For example, you're a male lifter who weighs 82kg, which is very close to the 81kg weight class. Simple.
b) Your bodyweight sits awkwardly between two weight classes. For example, you're a 67.5kg female lifter, and need to compete at either 64 or 71kg. Not so simple. Enter question 4.
4) How easy is it for you to lose versus gain weight? And how does that impact your performance?
At this point in your lifting life, you should have a decent sense of how your body and your performance responds to weight gain and weight loss.
If you're someone who can easily lose a few kilos with small dietary changes, and whose performance stays relatively stable, then you'd likely be best dropping to the weight class below.
On the other hand, if you're someone who really struggles to lose weight even with significant dietary changes, and whose performance tends to suffer, then you'd likely be best moving up to the weight class above.
*The only time I'd ever really go against these rules, is in circumstances where a lifter needs to lift in a specific weight class for international competition reasons. I.e. you would have a far better chance of medalling in X weight class rather than Y.
How to Achieve Your Ideal Olympic Weightlifting Weight Class Comfortably
The biggest guidance I can give is to think long term and approach weight class changes slowly so as to minimise any negative impacts.
If you need to lose 5kg, don't go trying to do so in the 8 weeks before a competition, because more often than not you'll just end up wrecking your snatch and clean & jerk numbers. Similarly, if you need to gain 5kg, don't try to put it all on within a couple of months. You might gain all the weight, but I can promise you that it isn't going to be lean muscle, which means you're then going to have to diet down later anyway.
Instead, set yourself a realistic timeframe and break it down into smaller, manageable weight goals that won't interfere with your competitions. For example, if you need to lose 5kg...
4 Months before competition: Lose 2kg
3 Months before competition: Lose 2kg
2 Months before competition: Lose 1kg
1 Month before competition: Maintain bodyweight
You'll still achieve the same weightlifting weight class, but you'll do so in a way that doesn't mess up your actual lifting.
Alright, that's enough reading for today, time for action...
1) Work through the 4 questions above (in sequence). For most people, improving body composition by adding muscle and/or losing fat is going to be the biggest priority. After that, start to think about long term plans for which weight class you'll best fit into.
2) If you want more weightlifting training advice, workouts and programmes, feel free to join my mailing list.
3) And if you're looking for 1:1 weightlifting coaching, you can find more information about my services here.
'Til Next Time
Alex Parry, MSc, BA
Alex's experience includes 7+ years within strength & conditioning, including supporting 2 major universities, 2 national talent pathways and a selection of international level athletes.
He is also a tutor and educator for British Weightlifting