Sex differences and impact of body mass on performance from childhood to senior athletes in Olympic weightlifting

PLoS One. 2020 Sep 3;15(9):e0238369. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0238369. eCollection 2020.


Background: Olympic weightlifting requires technical skills, explosive power, strength, and coordination. Weightlifters can be competitive within a range of morphological characteristics due to competition body weight classes. To date no studies have examined when sex differences arise in weightlifting and the impact of body mass on performances at different ages.

Objectives: To examine when sex-related differences emerge, to quantify the influence of body mass on performances at different ages, and to estimate the age at peak performance.

Methods: Competitions results from USA Weightlifting National Championships, Youth, Junior, and Senior from 2014 to 2019 were collected for weightlifters aged 6 to 30.

Results: At age 10 the median total weight lifted was 51kg and 54kg, respectively, for girls and boys. From age 10 to 12 a gender gap emerges with a sex difference of 11.7% at age 14 at 55kg body mass. At age 25 the sex-related performance difference is smaller for lighter athletes (23.6% at 69kg body mass) and larger for heavier athletes (29.9% at 81kg body mass). The median peak age for men is 26.5 years (95% CI: 25.7, 27.3) and for women 25.9 years (95% CI: 24.7, 27.3).

Conclusion: We quantified the impact of body weight and age and sex differences for youth and young adults, ages 6 to 30 years old, participating in national level Olympic weightlifting competitions in the United States. Body weight at younger ages has less impact on performance compared to older ages, and boys and girls perform similarly. When reaching the ages typically associated with the onset of puberty, boys' performances rapidly increase and the gap between genders widens. Women achieve peak performance at a similar age than men. Such results may help to establish progression trajectories for talented athletes and inform coaches, athletes and national governing bodies.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Athletic Performance*
  • Body Weight*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Weight Lifting*
  • Young Adult

Grants and funding

The authors received no specific funding for this work.