Inside USA Weightlifting’s Talent Combine

USA Weightlifting is currently holding an online talent competition for high school students. The competition, offered at, evaluates athletes on three lifts: the bench press, back squat and power clean.
Big prizes are offered to winners, making the competition worth entering:
  • The top athlete per weight category will receive a trophy and an invitation to attend a camp hosted by USA Weightlifting at the headquarters of Rogue Fitness in Columbus, Ohio.
  • The overall winner’s high school will receive a full set of weights and a barbell, while the runner-up’s school will receive a barbell.

Already entries are streaming in from across the country, with video entries available to view at

The competition, however, is unlike anything offered before by USA Weightlifting and raises a few questions.  I caught up with Suzy Sanchez, USA Weightlifting’s Director of Development Programs, for more information on the competition:

Q: Why did you decide to hold this competition?

We wanted to create an opportunity for high schools and high school athletes to get involved with USA Weightlifting in another fashion other than through a competition or weightlifting club.  Most athletes fall into weightlifting and thier first experience is usually at a competition in front of a ton of people and that can be off putting for some kids. This is a way for them to join the community without the intimidation factor.  It also gives high schools a chance to win new equipment, which is thier incentive to encourage their kids to participate. Lastly, it’s another way for us to recruit new talent that may not have been exposed to weightlifting previously.

Q: Two of the lifts in the competition are powerlifting movements—bench press and back squat. High schools with strong power lifting programs likely will compete for this prize.  The prizes—a barbell set and weights—may be used to grow a powerlifting program instead of an Olympic weightlifting program.  Why did you choose these lifts? 

These lifts were chosen through a survey we did with the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS). Coaches were surveyed and asked what lifts they used most frequently in the weight room and the three lifts selected came from those results.

Though there are states with powerlifting programs in high schools, there are also states that offer mixed weightlifting/powerlifting programs as well like Kansas and Florida.  In addition, there are states that offer just weightlifting like MN, ND, AZ, and CO. At the end of the day the people that partcipate will have done so through USA weightlifting, and that helps us grow.  If it only affects a few people, that’s a few more than we had before! 

Q: The power clean and squat are both components of the Olympic lifts.  However, the bench press has little transfer to the Olympic lifts.  Why is it tested in the competition?

This is one of the most common lifts that high school athletes use in the weight room.  Plus, it was one of the lifts mentioned in the survey we performed with the NFHS.

Q: The criteria for winning as a school is very interesting.  Basically, the schools with the biggest participation will win the contest, not necessarily the schools with the strongest individual lifters.  Why did you set up the competition this way?

We want schools to enter as many athletes as possible.  The bigger the athlete pool, the greater chance we have of finding potential new talent.

Q: Should high school athletes who are athletic but have little barbell experience attempt this competition?

The lifts that were selected are not as technical as pure weightlifting movements, so I believe that athletes who have little barbell experience shouldn’t have a problem participating.  However, if an athlete is unsure of how to execute the required lifts, I suggest they recah out to one of our coaches through USA Weightlifting’s coaches directory.

Or they can check out one of our clubs on April 14th for Try Weightlifting Day to get help.

Q: What do you hope to achieve with the competition?

We hope to achieve more exposure for weightlifting in high schools, new talent recruitment, and member engagement and outreach within local communities.

If you haven’t already entered the competition, do it!  Talk your friends into participating, too.  The more kids in your school who participate, the more greater chance your school will have of winning.

The competition runs March 14-April 16 at


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