The Rules of Competition

The following is a brief summary of the rules governing an olympic weightlifting competition.

For further reading, download the IWF Technical and Competition Rules & Regulations.


In weightlifting, athletes compete based on gender, body weight, and, in some cases, age.

Males compete in ten body weight categories: 55 kg, 61 kg, 67 kg, 73 kg, 81 kg, 89 kg, 96 kg, 102 kg, 109 kg, 109+ kg

Females compete in ten body weight categories: 45 kg, 49 kg, 55 kg, 59 kg, 64 kg, 71 kg, 76 kg, 81 kg, 87 kg, 87+ kg

Athletes 20 years of age or under are considered juniors. Over 20 are seniors, and 35 years of age and over are eligible for masters competition.


All sanctioned competitions require that every competitor be a current member of their respective provincial or state sport governing body. Some competitions, such as provincial or national championships, require competitors to meet qualifying standards in order to be granted entry. Other competitions are considered "Open", allowing anyone to compete regardless of experience or ability.

The Weigh-In

The official weigh-in of athletes commences 2 hours prior to the start of competition, and lasts for 1 hour. Athletes are weighed in a randomly determined order. Athletes must provide their first attempts for both lifts at the weigh-in. An athlete that does not initially make the intended weight class may be re-weighed as many times as necessary to make weight, but must do so within the 1 hour time limit.

The Uniform

There are a number of rules governing not only what is permitted in competition, but also what is required. This includes clothing, bandages, wraps, tape, belts, and footwear. All of this can be found in the IWF Technical and Competition Rules & Regulations.

However, to reduce confusion for athletes, coaches, and officials, the IWF has produced two additional documents, the IWF Outfit Guideline, and the IWF Outfit Clarification, which clearly explain the rules, complete with helpful pictures and diagrams. Any athlete planning to lift in competition should familiarize themselves with both these documents to avoid any last minute surprises.

Note that any deviation from, or exceptions to, these or any other IWF rules in an WNS sanctioned event will be clearly stated in the registration information. In particular, most WNS events permit athletes to wear shorts and t-shirt, rather than the "costume" or singlet.

Competition Sequence

In competition, athletes are given three attempts in the snatch, and three in the clean and jerk. All competitors complete their snatch attempts, in order from lowest weight requested to highest. This process is then repeated for the clean and jerks.

In larger competitions, competitors are divided into sessions. A session can have no more than 18 athletes. In a multi-session competition, each session completes both its snatches and clean & jerks before the next session begins.

Individual Attempts

Once an athlete's name is called by the competition announcer, that athlete has 1 minute to perform the lift. Three referees will observe the lift to ensure that it is performed correctly, completely, and within the rules. Upon completion of the lift, the athlete must wait for the signal from the officials before lowering the bar to the platform. Failure to do so will result in a decision of "no lift". Once the bar is lowered, the decision of the referees is displayed for both the athlete and the spectators. Each referee will select either a white light, indicating a good lift, or a red light, indication no lift. Two or three white lights means the lift is good.

After a first or second attempt, whether successful or not, the athlete or coach must inform the marshal of the weight for the athlete's next attempt. When an athlete is required to take two lifts in succession, the time allowed to perform the lift is increased to 2 minutes.

Final Results

An athlete's best lifts in the snatch and clean and jerk are added together to produce a final total. Some competitions award medals for individual lifts, but overall rankings are always determined by the two-lift total. When two or more lifters achieve the same total, the athlete who achieved the total first is declared the winner.