Why People Get Hooked on Weightlifting

A few days ago, the father of one of my teammates gave me a call to talk to about my performance at the National Championships as well as a few other ideas he had. He also happens to be a coach for a high level sports team, but said he had me to thank for his kids going from hockey and gymnastics to “weightlifting junkies”. I laughed and told him there were a lot worse things to be addicted to. It got me thinking though; what does make weightlifting so addicting?

The more I thought on it, the more you realize that it’s probably not any one aspect that makes the sport so attractive, but multiple factors and those are most likely different for every individual. In any case, I came up with a few reasons I believe athletes flock to the sport.

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1. Weightlifting Is for Everyone

In the beginning, I think athletes enjoy the sport because everyone can participate. Weightlifting is a sport that includes multiple age groups including 11 and under to juniors 20 and under, collegiate age 28 and under, senior age, and masters level starting at 35 years old. In addition, it also includes multiple different weight classes giving athletes the opportunity to compete against other athletes their own age and weight.

It’s broken down further by levels of competition beginning at local competitions that require no minimum total to regional events, national events, international events, and the Olympic Games. This allows athletes to determine the level of success they desire to train for. I’ve met athletes that highly enjoy local competitions and have no desire to compete at higher level events. The challenge for them comes from seeing improvement on their own barbell. Which leads me to my next reason I believe weightlifting becomes addictive.

2. Weightlifting Is Easily Measurable

Winning is fun. That’s obvious. But winning in weightlifting is determined as much by the success of the individual performance as it is by the medals. I would find it hard to believe that if an athlete goes 6 for 6 with personal record performances that they could leave a competition disappointed. That’s what makes the sport so amazing. You determine your own successes. You put the work in during the weeks and months leading into the competition and the barbell doesn’t lie.

If you train appropriately, the results will come. In addition to measurable, it’s also easily comparable. Some athletes find competition within themselves purely trying to beat their personal bests. In my opinion, this is the best method, because you are the only thing you can control.  

You cannot control outside events, and you cannot control other athletes. However, some individuals are motivated by the idea of beating another athlete or aiming to break American records, etc. It is very easy to pull up totals of other athletes competing in your age and weight categories and setting goals to achieve or surpass these totals. There is always a goal to aim for and it’s always shown in numerical value.

3. There Is Always Something To Improve Upon

Every athlete has a weakness in weightlifting. It could be a technical flaw, general strength, imbalances, or flexibility. Any of these factors could lead to missed lifts or stalls in progress. It’s the frustrating and beautiful thing about weightlifting. There is always something to work on. It is a sport you can never master and never truly win. You will always want more. Harrison Maurus set the Youth World Record clean & jerk at 192kg.

I bet he had his eyes set on 193 kilos the very next day. This same idea is why weightlifting coaches become junkies as well. They pour their time and money into preparing their athletes for the next big attempt. If you talk to the best weightlifting coaches, they have a plan leading into the next training cycle before the athlete even completes their final lift on the platform. The coaches share ideas, drills, and past experiences with each other to help themselves grow which in turn allows the athletes to grow. We learn just as much if not more from the misses as we do from the makes.

4. Weightlifting Breeds Confidence

I believe that all sports provide athletes with a sense of achievement and success that brings confidence, but there is nothing like overcoming that fear of failure day in and day out that will make weightlifters some of the most confident (and occasionally arrogant) people you will ever meet. Overcoming fears and consistently asking yourself to do more than you thought possible is a really special and unique experience to this sport. There are other individual sports marked by numerical performances, such as track and field and gymnastics.

Coming from a track & field background, I have tremendous respect for these athletes, but there is nothing quite like having a barbell as an opponent and knowing the exact weight staring back at you. Overcoming this fear is the nature of the sport, and the feeling is indescribable and addictive.  

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5. Aesthetics

Weightlifting will change the way you look at yourself. It will change you physically. You will gain strength, balance, coordination and speed and it will become noticeable in everyday life not only to yourself, but to others around you. As self-centered as it sounds, it’s nice to feel good about yourself and the strength you have. You put the time in to be strong, so why not let it fuel you? In addition to the physical changes, it will change you mentally as well. You will find that you have the strength and discipline to avoid things in life that would at other times aggravate you or distract you, and this ability adds to more positive self-esteem.

6. The Adrenaline Rush

Some athletes are addicted to adrenaline. As frightening as it can feel in the moment, I love the rush that comes from walking out for that first attempt. I love overcoming the insecurity and channeling the excitement into a lift. I’ve trained next to basketball players, track athletes, and even football players that decide to make the switch to weightlifting, and they all agree there are not many sports that can replicate this type of intensity. Read more about why everyone should compete here.

The athletes in weightlifting are a breed all their own. We are just different. We spend hours and hours training for 6 attempts that occur an average of 3-4 times a year. The respect we have for each other and the bonds we build between teammates and other competitors is really unique and fascinating. We take an interest in each other’s success and generally notice the smallest technical improvements and mental strengths developing in other athletes. It is a special community to be involved in and the friendships we make breed a different culture. Weightlifting isn’t something we do.

It’s who we are, and it’s addicting. Give a try. I promise you’ll be hooked.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured image: @sam_poeth / @liftinglife on Instagram

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