Why are Olympic Weightlifters so Ripped?

Why are Olympic Weightlifters so Ripped?

Let’s make no mistake about one of the (if not the most obvious) reason we begin to pursue physical training. We want to look and feel better. It’s not, and never will be, one or the other. They’re bi-directional.

When one begins to think about the physique that epitomises ‘fitness,’ the mind will begin to conjure images individuals with lean physiques and great muscle definition. Most of the time, what you envision is likely a bodybuilder whose stock image has been circulated on Google images, a fitness celebrity, or a photoshopped model.

But perhaps you’re one of the few who have noticed a class of men and women with big legs, shoulders and upper backs, competing with each other to see who can hoist the heaviest barbell above their heads. These, my friends, are Olympic Weightlifters.

Apart from the ridiculous feat of lifting very heavy weights above their heads, you might ask – ‘why are weightlifters so ripped?’

First, let’s begin by defining what the term ‘ripped’ might be.

Ripped, to my collective understanding, is the appearance that an individual has low body fat percentage and high muscle mass. This is usually achieved by having a high percentage of lean body mass (LBM) and low body fat (BF) relative to total mass.

Second, why does it seem that most weightlifters are ‘ripped?’

Let’s be very clear on who we are looking at first. If you’re watching competitors on television or searching professional Olympic Weightlifters on Google, what you’re seeing are likely the ‘cream of the crop’ and were genetically predisposed to lean physiques. There are many Olympic Weightlifters (professional and amateur) who do not resemble Gods on Mount Olympus.

As mentioned previously, ‘ripped’ is a combination of two things, high lean body mass and low body fat.

It just so happens that the factors driving success in competitive Olympic Weightlifting favours this rule. In order to lift the heaviest weight possible, Olympic Weightlifters will spend their careers building absolute strength. Absolute strength is a product of neural drive and muscle mass. We achieve neural drive by consistently forcing ourselves to exert close to maximal effort, and we build muscle by exposing our bodies to progressively more volume over our training years.

In other words, it is in our best interest to lift heavy and gain as much muscle as we can.

Our efforts to gain muscle however, come with a caveat. In order to gain a competitive advantage in our respective weight classes, we aim to build more muscle than our fellow competitors, although we are all restricted by a limit. Any weight that is unnecessary fat (I say unnecessary because some fat gain is inevitable) is not beneficial. To mitigate this risk, athletes monitor the rate at which they gain weight. According to our understanding of human physiology, it is impossible to gain large amounts of muscle in a short time naturally once we are advanced in our training. Therefore, sharp increases in weight, especially for advanced trainees, are likely more ‘fat’ than muscle, and hence counter-productive.

If you were to substitute the competitive Olympic Weightlifter with a Powerlifter or power athlete with a restricted weight class, you would see the same pattern. The training process behind appearing ‘ripped’ is the same.

And there you have it. Olympic Weightlifters are so ‘ripped’ because it is in their best interest to build muscle while keeping their body fat percentage low. This is enforced by the competitive rules of the game.

Although I have not come across many Olympic Weightlifters who pursued the sport for the sake of looking good, for any of you reading this who would like to do so, I do recommend speaking with a coach. If that is not an option, then YouTube has plenty of great resources that you can use to begin your journey. Conversely, if you’re scratch your head trying to figure out where to start, you might be interested in our Olympic Weightlifting Online Course Level 1 for a structured breakdown.