CrossFit has exploded within the fitness space in the past decade, and more likely than not you know someone who does CrossFit, or you do it yourself.

Fairly new in that it was created in 2000 by Greg Glassman, it’s now so well known that you’ll see CrossFit “boxes” in locations across the world. Even the most remote towns tend to have a CrossFit presence.

CrossFit workouts consist of a mix of exercises including gymnastics, cardio, and Olympic weightlifting.

While the sport incorporates strength exercises like Olympic weightlifting movements, the history behind Olympic weightlifting goes way back.

So where did weightlifting originate? Let’s take a quick look at its history.

The Age of the Strongman 

The history of weightlifting began in the 1800s with the emergence of the professional strongman competition. Held across music halls and vaudeville stages throughout the United States and Europe, these events were an extravagant display of strength.

Every participant was in it for the title, “strongest man in the world.” To get this coveted title some participants would go to extra lengths so secure it, like hollow dumbells or getting really efficient at a single lift. This would let them claim the title of the strongest man…in that lift.

Standardized Weightlifting 

After the start of World War 1, standardized weightlifting started becoming popular. Where the strongman competitions had no standardized program, amateur weightlifting allowed for better comparison between competitors. While standardization was now in play, each country had its own standards and exercises.

Olympic weightlifting started with lifts like bench pressing, snatches, squats, clean and jerks, and more. In fact, some contests had more than 15 lifts because competitors were expected to do everything.

The 1896 Olympics included a one-handed lift along with a two-handed lift, a change from the previous mashup of lifts. This was a step in the right direction, but what was still missing was a bodyweight category.  The British were the first to introduce this into the amateur weightlifting world.

The Rise of the Classic Lifts 

In 1901, weightlifting became truly standardized with the elimination of country-specific exercises. Over time, the focus became fewer lifts that relied on using the larger muscle groups. Exercises done lying down and one arm versions of two-handed lifts were done away with, as were movements that relied on flexibility rather than strength and endurance lifting.

What was left were the three classic Olympic lifts, the press, snatch and the jerk. The press was dropped in 1976 over controversy of the technique, but the other lifts remained.

Since then, the clean and jerk and snatch became the only competitive lifts…they remain the only two lifts in competition today.

Olympic Weightlifting Today 

CrossFit brought back endurance lifting and made Olympic weightlifting accessible to everyone. CrossFit competitions include a mix of Olympic weightlifting and endurance exercises like rowing and running. You don’t need to be a professional athlete to participate in these competitions, they’re open to everyone in the CrossFit community.

If you’re curious about CrossFit, take a look at how the sport has impacted some of our member’s lives, and check it out for yourself!