By Bob Takano—Member USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame
There is such a thing as a best bodyweight for weightlifting. It is a fairly specific number that will vary from time to time in a lifter’s history.
At that best bodyweight the lifter will achieve the highest total possible for the athlete’s stage of training. The snatch will be approximately 80% of the clean & jerk. If the bodyweight drops, the clean & jerk will in all likelihood suffer unless the athlete is not in lean condition initially. An unwarranted gain in bodyweight can lead to a loss of body speed and thus compromise the snatch results.
What frequently happens, however, is that some coaches become pre-occupied with the numbers designated as the bodyweight limits for the weight classes.
Bodyweight classes were developed in order to allow a greater range of human sizes to compete somewhat fairly in the sport. In the inaugural modern Olympiad in 1896, there were no bodyweight classes and the placings were decided by the absolute weights lifted. This system obviously favored absolute strength, and hence the competition was limited to larger, heavier competitors.
The first bodyweight classes were introduced in the 1920’s and there were only 5 (for men only). 60, 67.5, 75, 82.5 and +82.5. This comfortably accommodated the range off competitors contesting. As time progressed the number of classes grew to 10, thus allowing a wider range of competitors to participate.
Nowadays it is not uncommon for many coaches to try to manipulate the bodyweights of their athletes to accommodate the bodyweight class limits for ranking purposes. This is all part of gamesmanship, but it may in fact inhibit athletes from achieving their best results.
At this point I’d like to make a few points that might serve as food for thought about the current competitive situation.
- Even though we have bodyweight classes for youth and junior competitions, artificially reducing the bodyweight as a regular practice can actually inhibit the overall development of the athlete. Only making weight for the most important competitions causes the least disruption in the organism if the athlete is fully mature.
- To train at the levels necessary to achieve championship results, most athletes need to train at an appropriate bodyweight that carries enough surplus to provide for the restoration of the organism during rigorous training.
- An athlete should never consider losing weight for competition if he or she is too tall for the bodyweight class in question. One of the better ways to determine if the lifter is in the appropriate class is to calculate the percentage of the snatch to the clean & jerk, provided that the technique in both lifts is proficient. If the percentage is significantly above 80%, then the athlete is too tall for that bodyweight class.
- Hard training athletes should be consuming 5 to6 meals per day in order to adequately digest enough calories and nutrients to accommodate the demands of rigorous training.
- An athlete participating in this type of feeding regimen only needs to skip a meal or two and lose some fluids in order to make the bodyweight class limit.
- Developing immature athletes should be lifting at the best bodyweight and not losing weight to fit into a given class. This is especially true if it is being done to score team points. Weightlifting is not a team sport. It is an individual sport and the obligation of the coach should be to achieve the best individual result possible.
I first got my wheels turning on this topic way back in 1972 when I was still coaching juniors. I was the chairperson for the local junior Olympics program. We regularly held six developmental meets and a championship meet in the Southern Pacific LWC. One of the regular participants was Ricky Lujan who was coached by his father Hank, the former Cuban national coach. Hank believed that it was detrimental to the overall development of the organism if juniors cut bodyweight to lift in a competition. He brought Ricky to the first national Junior Olympics championships in Lomita, CA.
Ricky weighed in at 166 pounds, or ¾ of a pound over the 165 ¼ lb weight limit. He could have reduced bodyweight easily and lifted in that class, but Hank refused and had Ricky compete in the 181 ¾ lb weight class, even though he was the lightest competitor. Ricky broke all 4 (we contested the press in those days) national records and won the class going away. He lifted the weights he was capable of lifting because he was lifting at the best bodyweight. Ricky went on to compete at the Junior World’s after breaking every national age group record in every class he entered.
Since that time I’ve been very selective about when I have my athletes cut weight. These days I would only consider having an athlete cut weight if he or she is a senior, and then only rarely . It would have to be a national event or national event qualifier to cut weight. I would much rather have my athletes just continue to lift heavier and heavier weights without having to be concerned with the arduous process of making weight. Of course we are not encouraging athletes to gain excess bodyfat, and they won’t if they are training as hard as is necessary.
Coaches, especially those working with a large number of juniors, should be concerned with the overall development and physical maturation of the athlete. This means encouraging the athlete to develop muscle and lift in a balanced manner.