The Weightlifting Competition Boom – Part 1

Is There A Weightlifting Competition Boom?

If it feels like there are more weightlifting competitions, it’s because there are.

My recent experience of running and attending weightlifting competitions over 4 straight weekends got me thinking. The competitive marketplace for weightlifting competitions is hot and we are experiencing a weightlifting competition boom.

We talk about this at length on the OLIFT Podcast (Episode 27) which I co-host with Anton Jefferson.

You can listen to that episode here:

That podcast episode lead me to write this post which brought up so much stuff I decided to break this into two parts. Part 1 will cover the expansion of competitions and what that means for lifters while Part 2 will focus more on the business side and what those who run meets go through.

First, a little setup…

My Weightlifting Boom Theory

In the episode, I mention a loose theory about the growth of Weightlifting. It goes something like this:

The Crossfit boom/discovery of Weightlifting lead to a technique seminar/class/certification boom which I think peaked somewhere in 2014 or early 2015. There are still plenty of courses and seminars going on but they are not as heavily attended in 2017 as they were then (even if the USAW is offering an all-time high number of courses).

People piled into courses to learn technique or how to teach it. Many stayed in the sport and wanted to learn how to train, program, and get ongoing advice/coaching. So demand shifted from “teach me technique,” to “help me train.” More clubs opened as stand-alone Weightlifting facilities or as barbell clubs inside a Crossfit box. Also, remote coaching/remote programming became a thing.

Tangent: Old schoolers will argue online programming is a sham. I’ll say this; if market demand for a service exists and people are willing to pay for that service then it’s viable. This is especially true if the buyers perceive value and actually improve while paying for the help.

I see all of this as a natural evolution contributing to increased participation in and availability of competitions.

The Expansion of Competitions

Today, the Metropolitan 6 LWC in New York, where I grew up, sanctions one competition a month. When I started in 1992 we had 4 competitions a year: February, May, September and November. Those meets, which still exist, were scheduled within known qualifying periods for the 2 or 3 National events people cared about¹ at the time. This made planning competitions for a year easy.

If we wanted a local meet outside of those we took a road trip to New England, Pennsylvania, or (God help us) New Jersey, to find it.

Also, these meets were not a business. They were low frill affairs held at Lost Battalion Hall. Running one was a pain in the ass and few people wanted the responsibility.

Fast forward to 2012. During the calendar months of March and April that year there were just 41 local meets held around the USA.

In 2016, over that same time period, there were 123 local competitions². This year (2017), there are 110. The availability of local meets this time of year has basically tripled over 4 years.

Oh and these don’t include the Arnold (which is a local meet for now), The Masters Nationals (a quasi USAW National meet), The American Open Series I, and the National Universities/U25. Also, don’t forget the National Juniors the last weekend of February which drew 400 lifters. Combining those 5 big events you are looking at approximately 2,000 entries with some overlap.

Now look at the USA Weightlifting National Calendar for 2017 with Masters events mixed in:

February – National Juniors
March – National Masters Championships
March – American Open Series I
April – National Universities & U25 Championships
May – Senior National Championships
June – National Youth Championships
July – American Open Series II
September – American Open Series III
November – American Masters
December – American Open Finals

Ignoring local competitions, there are 3 or more big stage opportunities during the year for lifters of just about every age group and skill level.

When will we hit saturation and when will local meet directors start feeling pinched by each other and the USAW?

Entry Fees and Lifter Experience

From simply wanting to compete or needing to compete in order to qualify for another event there are several reasons to enter a meet. This post is not about why or how often you should compete. It’s about the new and possibly excessive options available to you as a lifter.

We suggested in the podcast episode that entry fees around $75 seemed high for local competitions but we didn’t do enough to compare and contrast fees across options for other competitions and other sports.

Let’s do other sports first. A few simple Google searches unleashed a host of expensive finds. I didn’t want to go too crazy but here are some things I found.

Powerlifting – I found a few USAPL competitions at $80 for a full meet. Overall comparable to slightly higher than most Weightlifting meets I found.

Half Marathon – $125 per person.

Spartan Race – My cell phone plan was easier to figure out but I think entering a race costs a million dollars if you early bird for a Sunday morning start time and don’t bring any friends to watch. Here’s a link, you figure it out. It’s not cheap but it is a well orchestrated and produced experience.

After that, I went to Eventbrite and did a search for “Crossfit” in NY for all event types and any price. The results varied wildly from sponsored fundraisers to throwdowns. So did the prices. Low end $25 all the way up to $300 ($150 per person for a 2 person team) for a challenge event. I didn’t compare all of it so I’ll call it a wash but say I think overall well marketed and planned events are more expensive than comparable weightlifting meets.

Originally I was looking at it as a comparison to paying  $30 15 years ago for local meets. Using a simple inflation calculator that equates to $43 in 2017 money. Oversimplified, I figured $40-$45 today was the right price for entry fees but I’ll update the comment.

Simple low frill meets like the ones I competed in 20 years ago should be $40-$45 if held the same way today. Now we (often) have much better production quality.

Depending on what you get a $50 – $100 entry fee for a Weightlifting competition really isn’t bad. Neither is the set $99 (if paid online) for USAW National events. It surprises me to come to that conclusion.

Sometimes, and I’ll get into this in my next post, $100 is frankly too low.

The concern I have with local competition entry fees is the experience/value offered doesn’t always match the cost. In either direction.

As an example, a meet run in Texas this March with a $65 entry fee promoted a specific number of warm-up platforms, all weights from a specific IWF certified equipment brand, live webcast, medals to winners, photos and videos available for sale, cash prizes, electronic scoring system and a few other add-ons.

A meet I attended in NY with a $60 entry fee ran smoothly but offered materially none of that stuff.

I’m not suggesting a lifter from NY would go to Texas to compete in one of these but that a $5 difference in price might be a significantly different value/experience.

A competition can range from a small gym meet to a big stage production so when deciding upon a competition think about what you’d like to have then go shopping and do research. Compare costs and decide if it works for you.

For example, have you ever heard of the facility or the meet director? How many sessions will there be? What time would you be lifting? How are awards being done? Are entry fees refundable? Is online registration available and is there an upcharge for paying online or via credit card?

Also, consider how much certain things matter to you. Cash prizes sound great but are irrelevant to most of the lifters in every meet they’re offered. A live stream and awards for Masters might be. Find out what the meet director is offering in advance or ask others who’ve been there before. If bigger events like AO Series interest you consider the entry fee is $100 but the cost could very easily exceed $1,000 for the weekend if you have to travel.

The availability of meets and competition for your participation all over the country allows you to decide what makes the most sense for you.

¹ The National meets our team considered relevant were the National Juniors, Senior Nationals, and American Open. Strictly an opinion.

² We had different numbers when we recorded the podcast. I’m not sure what happened but when I re-ran the search after recording the numbers changed. It’s possible a few more could still be added.