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Monday, November 2, 2015

The evolution of weightlifting culture from weird to cool in 20 years

Are you new to the sport of weightlifting? Have you been lifting for less than 3 years?
Did you start weightlifting because after 6 months of Crossfit, you realized that you really just liked lifting more than doing the actual WODs?
Did you start lifting because strong is the new skinny?
Did you start weightlifting because it is cool?

I'm so glad I don't have to compete in a bathing suit and biker shorts anymore

Well,  if you answered yes to any of the above, you are probably in the majority of lifters these days.  Behold, you have benefited from the years of weightlifting evangelists, like myself, working to make the sport popular alongside the burgeoning enthusiasts pouring out of crossfit   (yes, I take responsibility for encouraging the thousands of crossfitters I meet a year to get a USAW card...hey, crossfitters love Risto Sports cause its underground and fair trade...its what all the cool kids are wearing before everyone else knows it's cool... )

Interestingly, weightlifting was not always cool. Weightlifting = cool is really a phenomenon of the last 2-3 years.  Understanding the evolution of weightlifting culture is not only a fun read, but it is also important to understand the sport and how to get the most out of it.

A little compare an contrast of society's attitudes towards weightlifting today and 20 years ago

Back in the 1990's, weightlifting was not cool. It was not popular. Most people would think that you were weird to even spend an inordinate amount of time training for an Olympic sport that no one in the USA cared about. If you said you were a weightlifter, less than 2% of the people you met would know what a snatch or clean and jerk was-- and they would refer to you as a "bodybuilder" or "powerlifter".

For this reason, weightlifters referred to themselves as Olympic weightlifters to help avoid any confusion with powerlifting or bodybuilding. Today, many would say that the term"Olympic weightlifting " is redundant as most people in the fitness industry now understand that "weightlifting" refers to the sport contested in the Olympics and not powerlifting or bodybuilding.

Interestingly, as the distinction of weightlifting is , now, understood as "Olympic weightlifting", the USOC , coincidentally, started enforcing its trademark on the term "Olympic". In other words, don't include "Olympic" in the name of your weightlifting focused brand or website.

Back in the 90's, your options for singlets and weightlifting shoes were extremely limited-- unless you lived in Eastern Europe. In America, when I got my first pair of weightlifting shoes, I had the option of choosing from the 1994 white and red adidas model or the 1996 white and red adidas model out of the USA weightlifting (then USWF) mail order ad.  For a very brief period, they also had ads for "safe shoes". Understand this -- the then US Weightlifting Federation (renamed USAW in 1998), sold weightlifting shoes mail order because there was almost nowhere for athletes to get them. adidas shoes were about $120, which would be about $216 today! Yes, they were always expensive. Again, we used adidas because that is all that USAW sold and adidas was a USAW sponsor at the time.

So, if you didn't like color combinations of white and red, you would basically have to call an uncle in Russia or Poland to pick-up a cool pair of old style soviet weightlifting shoes- you know the boot like ones with stripes and a strap that lifters had been using since the 1890's!  

Singlets were another thing. They were impossible to find; later, in the 90's adidas ones became more accessible at a steep price. Most people lifted in wrestling singlets. Wrestling singlets showed a lot of man-titty, so many women did not wear them unless they had a t-shirt underneath.   Women's weightlifting was not yet an Olympic sport (2000 was its debut). Most women lifted in one piece bathing suits, many with biker shorts underneath.  Today, one piece bathing suit-like singlets are coming into style for women ; it's pretty laughable since many women in the 90's would have done anything to be able to buy a singlet that covered their chest and quads.

Access to a place to lift and coaching was the biggest issue in the 90's.  There was no UFC gym, there was no crossfit box, most college and high school weight rooms did not have bumper plates. Most of the time, lifters were  coached out of 2 places : 1) some guy's garage that some how found a way to buy bumper plates and a bar by some magic pixie dust, or 2) at some sort of semi-publicly funded gym like the Wesley Center or Lost Batallion Hall or the Team Savannah center.  Most of the coaching was incredibly hit or miss. Because there was no internet, it was so hard to find a decent coach and there were so few, it was luck of who was in a 1 hour driving radius(reality check: most people didn't use the internet until 1998, people didn't start massively texting until 2009). Finally, you would be hard-pressed to find any of the information now available today on weightlifting- few books, few articles.

Gradually, in the late 2000's, weightlifting started becoming more acceptable. Crossfit started becoming the cool new thing from the west coast and helped grow a market for weightlifting apparel. And, because of the internet and the expediency of doing trade in the 2000's, companies like Risto Sports could finally offer some much-needed alternatives in footwear and singlets. 

2008 was one turning point. Companies looking to make a buck were starting to notice an expansion in the niche weightlifting market. After more than 20 years of not having a weightlifting shoe on the market (that I know of),   nike, the company known for running shoes, brought out the romaleos model.  Their initial marketing campaign was a bit laughable; with one youtube video, a nike shoe designer referred to the snatch as a "split-snatch". It is interesting, they literally sold on their brand name and having smartly sponsored Team China, which was the most successful weightlifting team in 2008. I laugh when I read bloggers referring to nike having made weightlifting shoes for a long time, as they really have only been on the market for a few years.

2013 was a real turning point. By the American Open 2013, 2 platform national meets were becoming the norm. There were far more athletes qualifying for national meets, and it became a thing to have said that you qualified for a national meet- way more so than in earlier years. The depth of the classes also went up significantly , even though the American records only budged in a few areas (time will tell on how long more members will translate to much higher level of lifting at the top). 

Women and lifting has changed. I acknowledge that you can still , today, read facebook posts about women who were told lifting will make them bulky, etc.... etc.. I will say , OVERALL, attitudes of women in weightlifting have greatly improved.

Here's an example from my life:

1990's point of view on middle school girl weightlifter:
I remember being in middle school, and people asking, "why don't you play softball", "play a girl's sport", "aren't you going to get bulky", or "that's going to stunt your growth".

2010's point of view on middle school girl weightlifter:
  20 years later, society's reaction to my multi-time National Youth champion daughter as, "that is so sick", "that's amazing", and "how do you do that".

In summary, be thankful for the amazing amount of options and positive attitudes you face as a 2010's weightlifter.  You can get a weightlifting shoe in almost any color, and even fair trade ones! You can get a singlet that covers your ass and boobs (wow, what a deal)! You can easily find a great coach, and if they don't live near you, they can coach you via internet between visits to them.  Overall, accessibility to knowledge on weightlifting has increased.

Only down side is there are way more purveyors of snake oil out there, and increased information does not mean increased knowledge.  Again, you got the internets to help you as your guide and cool knowledgeable people like me to help you network! =)

8 comments:

Cody the Clydesdale said...

Haha. I chuckled the entire time I read this. I'm guilty as charged. New to weightlifting. Found it after suffering a TBI while cycling for triathlon. After suffering massive depression and gaining 140 pounds from being sportless, I tried CF. The only thing I really liked about CF was weightlifting. Now I'm a weightlifter and weightlifting is all I think about. oh, I'm trying to qualify for the national championships- you mentioned that in your post too. hahaha. Your spot on.

Gwen Sisto said...

Thanks for the comment. Glad to hear CF and lifting got you past a injury and depression, its amazing what lifting can do for a person. Well, you are certainly not alone on your lifting career path --Welcome to the dark side, hahaha.

Fun fact: We actually discourage our lifters from cycling on their off days because its too easy to get injured from falls, or, simply, it tires out the legs too much.

Edward said...

Weight lifting for women are really beneficial in many ways that helps to maintain body figure,....
weight Lifting For Women

D.E. Heeren said...

Being around weightlifting in one form or another for 40 years, I find it amazing how much weightlifting has grown because of CF. But, many of those entering weightlifting from CF will never be champions because age is a big factor. Still, weightlifting has always been cool to weightlifters. CF will never be cool to weightlifters.

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