The Four Physical Characteristics of Weightlifting (And How to Develop Them)
Updated: Apr 14
Weightlifting requires a unique combination of multiple different physical characteristics. Which is probably why it has been described as one of the most athletic sports on the planet. It’s probably also for this reason that in studies weightlifters have performed exceptional well at a huge variety of other olympic sports.
So with that in mind, what are these four physical characteristics? Also, before I forget, I've put together a free 40 minute training video on developing strength and weightlifting technique whilst avoiding injury, which you can check out here.
1) Body awareness
Knowing where your body is in space and time (okay maybe just the first one) isn’t something we often think about as a skill, but its a hugely important part of almost all sports and activities. Having a good understanding of how long your arms and legs are is important for coordination, whilst understanding where your centre of mass lies is crucial for balance.
Think of it another way. You know how when kids have a growth spurt they’re constantly bumping into things? Well that’s because their body awareness is basically reset every single time they grow. Its only after a few weeks of movement that they get used to their new proportions and centre of balance.
Especially for new and beginning lifters bodyweight based exercises like lunges, squats, press ups, one legged RDL’s, planks, bird dogs and dead bugs can be immensely helpful in building a sense of body awareness. Plus to be honest they never hurt the more experienced lifter either.
(Coaches often refer to weightlifting as 'Barbell Gymnastics.')
You can have all the body awareness in the world, but if you’re stiff as a brick then you’ll still be a pretty atrocious weightlifter. Movements like the snatch require large range of motion through the hips, ankles, shoulders and mid to upper back.
Luckily building mobility is pretty easy, you just need to commit to ten to fifteen minutes every day to stretch all the offending muscle groups and get nice and loose. Each stretching session should also incorporate some dynamic stretches like overhead squats, just to make sure you’re putting all the mobility into practice.
If you’re mobile and you’re aware of your body then you’re off to a great start, but you’ll still need to be strong to succeed as a weightlifter.
First up comes leg strength, with a focus on quads. At the elite level triple bodyweight squats aren’t uncommon, and front squats don’t fall that much further behind either. Put simply, if you want to clean 100kg, then you better be able to front squat AT LEAST 100kg (although more reasonably you’d want to front squat 120kg)
Next up comes shoulder strength. If you want to support huge weights above your head then you better get a strong pair of shoulders. If you want to Jerk 100kg then sets of 60-70kg push press definitely need to be happening.
You’ll also need a strong lower back and a strong core in order to transfer force and stabilise movements, not to mention prevent back issues.
Now strength takes time to build, so should pretty much constantly be worked on. I like to start beginner lifters with a basic linear progression using something along the lines of 5x5 or starting strength, whereas early intermediates might be switched onto something like texas method to progress on a more weekly basis. Higher level lifters would be put onto more complex percentage based systems or wave loading.
If you’re strong, mobile and aware of your body then the last piece of the puzzle is explosiveness. Weightlifting doesn’t just require you to move things, it requires you to move things FAST.
Unlike squatting or deadlifting you can’t just grind out a repetition for five seconds. You need to be quick or gravity wins (Yes, gravity is the enemy) and the bar comes crashing down.
The snatch, clean and jerk develop a lot of power and explosiveness in of themselves, but you can also throw in some plyometrics like vertical jumps, broad jumps and box jumps to improve your explosive ‘snap’ of the hips.
What Body Type is Best For Weightlifting?
To be honest, there's actually quite a diverse mixture of body types that successfully compete in the sport of olympic weightlifting (provided they have the 4 physical characteristics described above of course)
With that said, there are certain commonalities amongst the best lifters, as they tend to...
Have longer torsos
Have shorter femurs
All of which in combination means that they can maintain a more upright position in the snatch and clean catch positions, and they have to pull the bar less far to get it there, both of which make the lifts a little easier.
Side Note: Weightlifting Vs Weight Lifting
Since I've had a few questions about it, the four characteristics above apply specifically to the sport of olympic weightlifting, in which you perform the snatch and clean & jerk for maximum weights. Weight lifting in general, also known as resistance training or weight training, is much broader and includes bodyweight exercises, machine exercises and free weights. I'll talk about its characteristics briefly below just for clarity.
What Are The Characteristics of Resistance Training?
Generally speaking, the characteristics of good practice in weight training are really simple...
Apply a load to the joints and muscles
Move through a full range of motion
Perform anything from 1 to 30 reps (Although 5-15 is most common)
Maintain a controlled tempo
Putting it all together
To succeed as a weightlifter you need to have great body awareness, mobility, strength and explosive power. It can also help if you have short femurs and a longer torso.
To develop these physical characteristics for weightlifting you can use bodyweight movements, daily stretching, weekly linear strength progression and plyometrics respectively.
And if you don't have a training base at all, consider starting with basic resistance training/weight training for a few months first.
Hopefully, that's given you enough direction to help improve your physical characteristics for weightlifting. If you've got any questions or comments just drop them below.
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'Til Next Time