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April 4 to 15 2018

The new wave of weightlifting

16 Jan 2018 by Fiona Self

Welcome to the new wave of weightlifting.

Once perceived as a domain for muscle-clad super heavyweights, weightlifting’s popularity is widening, thanks largely to a fitness revolution.   

Since 2011, the Australian Weightlifting Federation has documented an increase in sport participation by over 270 per cent, a surge that the Commonwealth’s top lifters are attributing to CrossFit.   

Reigning Commonwealth Games champion, New Zealand’s Richie Patterson, owns a CrossFit gym and has been on the board of New Zealand Weightlifting for four years. 

The growth Australia has seen is mirrored across the Tasman, and Patterson agrees CrossFit has a lot to do with it.

“When I came on the board we had about 200 competitive members. Now we’re up to around just under 600,” Patterson tells GC2018.

“CrossFit I guess made the Olympic lifting more accessible to a lot of areas in New Zealand and obviously gyms.

“It’s grown weightlifting exponentially.” 

More than four million people participate in CrossFit worldwide. To put it into perspective, that’s almost the entire population of Queensland.

35-year-old Andrea Miller has been selected to represent New Zealand at GC2018 alongside Patterson, and wouldn’t have discovered weightlifting if it wasn’t for CrossFit.

The Delhi 2010 hurdles bronze medallist left athletics because of injury, and stumbled into the world of CrossFit in 2013 as part of her recovery.

“I think CrossFit been the best thing ever for weightlifting. It’s pulled in massive numbers and exposure to people to the sport who otherwise wouldn’t have,” says Miller, who now owns a CrossFit gym with her husband, Australian weightlifting coach Regan Hams.

Miller believes CrossFit has challenged the perception of weightlifting, especially among females.

CrossFit studies report equal participation between both men and women and Miller is one of many elite female weightlifters who came to the sport via CrossFit, including former Commonwealth Games gymnast Alethea Boon (NZL), and Australia’s Tia-Clair Toomey, who wears the crown of ‘fittest woman on Earth’ after winning the 2017 CrossFit Games. 

New Zealand’s Andrea Miller will compete in her second Commonwealth Games at GC2018
New Zealand’s Andrea Miller will compete in her second Commonwealth Games at GC2018

“I think particularly for females it’s been a massive drive for weightlifting. It introduces it to people like myself, who otherwise never would have given it a go,” says Miller.

“What you see in the media in terms of weightlifting is not at all the reality of the sport. We envisage the super heavyweight but what we don’t understand is that’s one weight category of eight. All the other categories are actually pretty tiny.

“People don’t realise that.”  

Standing at just 149cm, Australian lifter Erika Yamasaki, 30, has never fit the super heavyweight mould.

Erika Yamasaki competes at the 2017 Oceania and Commonwealth Weightlifting Championships.
Erika Yamasaki competes at the 2017 Oceania and Commonwealth Weightlifting Championships.

She has been weightlifting since she was 13-years-old, well before the CrossFit boom, and the Melbourne 2006 bronze medallist welcomes the way the sport is evolving.

“What you see on TV is everyone lifting these incredible weights above head and so, it is quite daunting for someone who doesn’t understand the sport or hasn’t seen the sport before,” says Yamasaki.

“It’s really opened the eyes up of a lot of people to see what weightlifting is about and just to get the understanding that it is a multiple weight class event.

“48kg is so small, so it doesn’t matter what size or shape you are, anyone can compete in weightlifting so I think that’s probably one of the biggest things that CrossFit has done.

“If you look at both Tia-Clair [Toomey] and Alethea Boon, they’re both in the 58kg weight division so they’re not big women. With Tia making the Rio Olympics it just goes to show it doesn’t matter what body shape you have, anyone can have a good shot at weightlifting.”

CrossFit’s most successful devotees are becoming social media celebrities, documenting their training and competitions on Instagram. Toomey, as one example, has upwards of 410,000 Instagram followers.  

Social media has invited fitness enthusiasts inside the worlds of the elite, with numerous blogs, websites and YouTube channels adding to the buzz around the sport.

As CrossFit continues to introduce its clients to weightlifting, in 13,000 CrossFit gyms across 120 countries, social media has also had a lot to do with the sport’s growth.

Significantly, it’s shattering the long-serving weightlifting stereotype.

“People in CrossFit generally love to put up an image or something that defines them, and most of the time it’s an Olympic lift, or a weight above your head, it’s quite a powerful sort of image,” explains Patterson.

“You see this spreading of imagery that never used to be there, now you see a lot of Olympic lifting online and that through Facebook and Instagram.

“There was a period of time where sports like weightlifting suffered because they didn’t get the screen time. Then all of a sudden social media filled that void and now it’s just taken off again. It’s really good.”

Reigning Commonwealth Games champion Richie Patterson celebrates a lift at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Reigning Commonwealth Games champion Richie Patterson celebrates a lift at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Both Patterson and Yamasaki were introduced to weightlifting while they were at school. Patterson saw some of the senior students putting on a demonstration in the hall while he was at secondary school, and Yamasaki was scouted in through a talent identification program. 

As the sport continuing to rise in popularity and participation, the future of weightlifting looks brighter and brighter. It’s an exciting time for the sport, with a new generation of athletes making their way up the ranks through even more avenues than before.

“I found weightlifting through someone demonstrating it on stage. Others will find they come into a class and learn about snatch or clean and jerk and they go, oh, I’m actually pretty good at this, or I enjoy it to some degree, and I make it to the weightlifting platform,” says Patterson.

“Now we’re getting an uptake of the next generation of parents that have been exposed to Olympic lifting through CrossFit that have got young teens that are now encouraged to come and do some functional training and try Olympic lifting, so we’re getting that generation coming through now, which is pretty cool.” 

You could see the Commonwealth’s strongest athletes in action at GC2018 Weightlifting at Carrara Sports and Leisure Centre. Tickets are selling fast.

Related articles: 

Andrea Miller's amazing journey from hurdles to weightlifting

Numbers stacking up for Erika Yamasaki

- Richie Patterson sets the bar for NZ weightlifting