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Weight Lifting and Weight Training - Chapter 15

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Chapter Fifteen

Rules of the Olympic Lifts

Here are the rules governing performances of the three Olympic lifts taken from the official handbook of the International Weight-lifting Federation, together with necessary clarification and comment.


The Clean
The barbell shall be placed horizontally in front of the lifter's legs, gripped palms downwards, and brought to the shoulders in a distinct movement while either splitting or bending of the legs.

The barbell shall rest on the clavicles, the chest, or on the arms fully bent,with the feet together or apart on the same line with the legs straight.

A lifter who is not able to rest the barbell on his chest must inform the three judges before the beginning of the contest, I this case, the barbell shall be brought to the level lf the sternoclavicular bone.

The referee should wait until the lifter is motionless and in a position of stability, then immediately give the signal (with a clap of the hands) to start the press proper. If the lifter moves his feet after the signal has been given, even if the arms are not extended, the lift must be disqualified.

The Press
The referee having given the signal, the barbell shall be lifted until the arms are completely extended, without any jerk or pause, bending of the legs, excessive backward bending of the body or displacement or movement of the feet.

The final position shall be held, the lifter remaining motionless until the referee gives the signal to return the barbell to the ground.

It is appreciated that some differences of opinion will always be present when the slight leaning back permitted is considered. However, providing that lean-back is directed to driving the barbell vertically upwards, then the lift is good. Excessive, or continued bending of the back is cause for disqualification.

Incorrect Movements

  1. Cleaning in several movements. In this case the referee should not give the starting signal and should order the barbell to be returned to the ground.
  2. Starting the press before the referee has given the signal.
  3. Any bending, however little, of the legs before or during the press.
  4. Flexing of the arms after the referee's signal.
  5. Flexing the body by bending or extension.
  6. Leaning backwards excessively under the barbell.
  7. Uneven extension of the arms.
  8. Incomplete extension of the arms.
  9. Twisting of the body.
  10. Moving the feet.
  11. Rising on toes or heels.
  12. Returning the barbell to the ground before the referee's signal.

Although these rules generally are quite clear, there are several points that need some discussion to provide further clarification -- also in relation to the different interpretations that are made by lifters and officials from the many countries in which weight lifting is practiced...and indeed from among lifters and officials from the same country.

I will go through all the points as they arise in order of performing the lift, taking the 'clean' part first. There are rarely any complications in this stage, although we do sometimes see lifters disqualified during this early phase of the lift.

The taking of the barbell form the platform to the commencing position for the press should be made in one distinct and clean movement, with the barbell coming to rest at the point from which the press is to be made.

This point can be anywhere between the line of the nipples and the top of the sternum bone. Take note that the barbell must rest on the body and not be held away from it, unless a lifter is so physically constructed that he is unable to rest the barbell on his chest.

In such a case, the lifter is allowed to hold the barbell away from his chest on a line level with the top of the sternum.

It is not permitted to clean the barbell to a point, say, just above the nipples in the first movement and then move it further up the chest to adopt the commencing position for the press, as this obviously constitutes two movements.

Another point to remember is that a lifter can also be disqualified if the barbell touches any part of the thighs or body before coming in to the chest. Such instances are rare and even so, my experience is that many referees do not disqualify a lifter for this fault.

If is true that touching of the barbell on the thighs or body is no help to the lifter (in fact, it is more of a hindrance). But the rules are clear enough. The movement must be"clean" above the knees.

As soon as the pressing position is adopted, and the lifter is motionless, the referee will give the signal for the press to commence.

This starting position must be held without any exaggerated body-lean and with the legs braced and held on a level plane (that is, with both feet on a line parallel with the lifter's front).

Immediately the referee's signal is given, the lifter is free to press the barbell in his own time. for practically every lifter that will be as soon as possible after the signal in order not hold the weight for an unnecessarily long period.

There are few lifters who seem to be able to press better by delaying their start for a few seconds, but these are exceptional cases.

If the lifter, after receiving the referee's signal, then adopts a different body position by leaning either backwards or forwards before starting to press the barbell, he invites disqualification.

After the press has been started the lifter is allowed to lean backwards to a degree that is not exaggerated. If he already held a backwards bend in his starting position that was as much as could be permitted, then obviously he must not lean back any farther.

Some lifters however, adopt a fairly upright position at the commencement of the press, so they will be permitted to lean back during the press to a further extent.

A Controversial Rule
This clause of the rule which defines the permitted lean-back as 'not exaggerated' is in my view a weak spot, because is is virtually impossible to get any universal agreement or interpretation as to what constitutes 'exaggerated.'

The rules do say that provided the lean-back is directed to driving the barbell vertically upwards, the the lift is good. But with so many different physical types, there are certainly many differences in the body positions adopted, with some lifters able to adopt a considerable backbend while still driving the barbell vertically upwards.

Some lifters try to 'get away' with a pressing movement that is aided with a quick leaning forwards of the body, immediately followed by a leaning back as the press is made. This is not allowed.

Others try to gain an impetus to the start of the press by dropping the barbell an inch or two (sometimes combined with an unlocking of the knees and / or a dropping of the shoulders) then immediately driving the barbell upwards. None of these maneuvers is permitted, either.

The press must be started purely by the pressing muscles of the arms and shoulders (combined legally, of course, with contractions of the essential bracing muscle groups of the thighs, buttocks and lower back). This is not only the letter of the law, but the spirit as well.

Such maneuvers as I have mentioned are made only in an attempt to gain extra pounds and in the hope that the officials will be lenient enough to allow them.

The other points regarding the barbell stopping during the pressing movement, uneven extension of the arms, feet movement, rising on the toes or heels, twisting the body or failure to hold the barbell in the concluding position for the referee's signal, are clear enough and need no further comment.


The Two Hands Snatch, second of the three Olympic movements, does not have the adjudication problems of the Press and consequently there is much less variation in the standard of officiating. There are a few points, however, that require some discussion and clarification. But first, the international rules:

The barbell shall be placed horizontally in front of the lifter's legs. It shall be gripped, palms downwards, and pulled in one movement from the ground to the full extent of the arms vertically above the head, while either splitting or bending the legs.

The barbell shall pass with a continuous movement along the body, of which no part other than the feet shall touch the ground during the execution of the movement.

The weight which has been lifted must be held in the final position of immobility, the arms and legs extended, the feet on the same line, until the referee gives the signal to return the barbell to the ground.

Important remark: The turning over to the wrists must not occur before the barbell has passed the top of the lifter's head.

The lifter may recover his legs in his own time.

Incorrect Movements

  1. Cleaning from the hang.
  2. Pause during the lifting of the barbell.
  3. Movements of hands along the barbell during execution of the lift.
  4. Uneven extension of the arms.
  5. Incomplete extension of the arms.
  6. Movement finishing with a press-out
  7. Flexing and extension of the arms while regaining legs.
  8. Touching the ground with the knee.
  9. Leaving the platform.
  10. Grounding the barbell before the referee's signal.

It will be seen that the fundamental principle of the Snatch is that it shall be a clean and continuous movement, so that once the barbell has left the platform it must travel non-stop to arms' length

The clause of the rules concerning the pressing-out of the barbell is the one that does give some variation of interpretation.

Generally, a press-out can occur under the following circumstances: (a) When the wrists are turned over too soon, i.e. before the barbell has passed the top of the lifter's head, and (b) when the barbell is pulled not quite to full locked arms, stops momentarily, and the movement then completed by pressing out.

The fundamental reason for both these causes of disqualification is the failure to pull the barbell high enough in the first stage of the lift before the split or squat movement is started, often combined with a slowness of movement in reaching the necessary full split or squat position to fix the weight on locked arms.

In case (a), the turning over to the wrist has to be closely watched by the referee and judges to ensure that the movement is technically correct, because as the wrist turns, the head and body of the lifter will be moving downwards as the barbell is traveling upwards.

This means that until the referee has had some experience of watching for this particular point it isn't particularly easy some instance to spot the exact relative position of the barbell to the head.

However, it will be found, generally, that if the wrists turn over too soon, the barbell will be pressed out from the line of the top of the head (or even lower) and will appear as a lengthy and slow press-out.

In case (b), often it will be found that a lifter will quite properly delay the turning over of his wrists until the barbell is clear of the top of the head, yet still be unable to prevent the barbell stopping before it reaches locked arms.

Apart from the obvious fact that the weight may just be too heavy, one major reason for this type of failure is that the lifter doesn't lower his body fast enough, or low enough (or both) into the split or squat position in order to affect a snappy arm lock, so if the barbell stops before reaching locked arms and is then raised higher by a press-out movement, then that clearly is not a good lift.

The other points of disqualification listed above are fairly clear and don't need further clarification - except perhaps pont 5 and 7.

Point 5 refers to a lifter snatching the barbell almost to arms' length, then recovering to the erect position still holding the barbell on arms that are not quite locked.

Point 7 refers to instances when a lifter quite correctly takes the barbell to full locked arms but allows his arms to unlock a noticeable amount, then proceeds immediately to lock them again, or even a few seconds later while recovering to the erect position.

This of course, constitutes two attempts at locking the arms and is cause of disqualification.


The final lift of the Olympic three and generally without many controversial points. I have made comments on the points that do sometimes cause variations of adjudication.

First the international rules:

First Part - Clean
The bar shall be placed horizontally in front of the lifter's legs. It shall be gripped, palms downwards, and pulled up in a single movement from the ground to the shoulders, while either splitting or bending the legs.

The bar must not touch the chest before the final position; while either splitting or bending the legs.

The bar must not touch the chest before the final position; it shall then rest on the clavicles, on the chest or on the arms fully bent.

The feet shall be returned to the same line, legs straight, before the jerk is begun. The lifer may do this in his own time.

Second Part - Jerk
Bend the legs and then extend them, as well as the arms, so as to bring the bar to the full stretch of the arms vertically extended.

Return the feet to the same line, arms and legs extended and await the referee's signal to return the bar to the ground.

After the clean and before the jerk, the lifter is allowed to make sure of the position of the bar.

Incorrect Movements (i) Clean

  1. Any apparent effort of pulling
  2. Cleaning from the hang.
  3. Touching the ground with the knee
  4. Any clean in which the bar touches the body before in final position at the shoulders.
  5. Cleaning while bending; touching the knees with the elbows.

(ii) Jerk

  1. Any apparent jerking.
  2. Uneven extension of the arms.
  3. Pause during extension of the arms.
  4. Flexing and extension of the arms.
  5. Leaving the platform.
  6. Grounding the bar before the referee's signal.

The first point to consider on the clean is (1) of Incorrect movements' - that is, any apparent effort of cleaning.

Sometimes a lifter will start the movement by actually raising the bar a distance from the platform, then change his mind; maybe because of indecision or perhaps because the bar feels one-sided due to incorrect hand spacing, or maybe because it just feels too heavy.

Many lifters and officials believe that an attempt is not made until the bar has reached knees' height. There is a ruling (under general rules for all lifts) that 'The referee will declare as not passed any attempt not finished, when strain has visibly been exerted, and in particular those attempts in which the bar has arrived at the height of the knee.'

It is clear form this that if the bar has been lifted even only a few inches and the referee considers strain has been exerted in the attempt, then the lift is not good and must be considered as an attempt.

It is permitted, of course, to test the weight before attempting the lift by raising the bar from the platform a few inches - and many lifters do carry out this practice. Referees must not be confused by this and generally it is fairly obvious what the lifter is doing.

Another major point to consider on the clean is that concerning the arrival of the bar at the chest or shoulders. Notice that the rules state: 'The bar must not touch the chest before the final position and shall then rest on the clavicles, chest or the arms fully bent.'

The interpretation here is that wherever the barbell is first pulled to, then that is the position from which it shall be jerked.

Most lifters pull the barbell right up to the clavicles at the top of the chest, but we do sometimes see lifters clean the bar to a point lower that this.

This is permissible, but once the bar touches the chest then it must not be moved farther up prior to the clean. In all cases the minimum height must be that of the line of the nipples.

The lifter is allowed to make sure of a comfortable position for the barbell either at the chest or the shoulders by a slight movement or readjustment, but referees must watch this closely to ensure that it is only a settlement of the barbell and not an obvious moving up to any great extent.

On the jerk, one of the major points to watch is (1) any apparent jerking. I remember much controversy over the position of a lifter making his initial dip of the body prior to the actual jerk, then changing his mind, stopping and preparing himself for a further effort. This constitutes an attempt...and should be ruled out.

As it not possible to jerk near-limit or limit poundages without making a preliminary body dip, then this movement must be considered as part of the attempt to jerk the barbell. So if the lifter makes this dip, then stops and starts again it must be construed as an attempt not finished and accordingly disqualified.

During the actual jerking movement after the barbell has left the shoulders, notice that Rule 3 does not permit any pause during the extension of the arms.

A press-out finish is permitted...that is, the barbell can slow down during the extension of the arms (but without actually stopping) and the movement completed by pressing out.

Rule 4 of the jerk concerns a lift in which the arms lock out correctly, but then unlock and relock. This is not permitted.

One further point (and this applies to all lifts). If, after the referee's signal to return the barbell to the platform, the lifter allows the barbell to fall to the platform, the lift will be declared not passed.

More chapters from this book below...
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