Bodybuilding Vs. Powerlifting: strength or physique?

Although complementary, most find training for both simultaneously quite difficult.

Both bodybuilders and powerlifters take great care of their bodies. Of course, they both have insane routine workouts to keep building their muscle mass and each has a respective regimen to get them moving as efficiently as possible in addition to the supplementation they include. For many of us, we don’t really know the difference between these two sports.

As you hear each word for the first time, your mind jumps to a conclusion of what you think, or have been told, what each sport entails. Bodybuilding is known as the physical sport, the toned aesthetic full of poses to bring out those muscles. Weightlifters prove that strength knows no bounds by picking up incredible amounts of weight and putting it back down.

While these are true, there are certainly more there than it seems, both in similarities and in differences. For someone about to start either, you should consider which workout plan you like the most, as well as your goals. If you want to build strength or tone your physique, each requires its own diet as well.

While stereotypes in the minds of everyday people exist around these two, even in the world of fitness, bodybuilders and weightlifters have different ideas from each other. Bodybuilders look at powerlifters and think they just eat what it takes to get fat and don’t care about the proper etiquette of what it takes to conduct yourself in a gym, while powerlifters look at bodybuilders and see ego-driven competitors who don’t spend enough time in the gym. While that’s certainly not true, the common link between these two unique sports is hard work, both in and out of the gym.


What is bodybuilding?

Bodybuilding mainly focuses on build muscle and lose fat to maintain size and prepare for competitions. Humans are obsessed with the ideal physique and bodybuilders try to create it, which makes it a sport focused on looks. It’s all about symmetry, so while muscle size is important, muscle groups need to be balanced to create that aesthetic look. Overall performance is not the intended goal and although strength and fitness can result from their time in the gym, bodybuilders are judged in competition on their appearance.

Well-known bodybuilding competitions include the Arnold Classic, Mr. World, and of course, Mr. and Mrs. Olympia. These competitions have seen great bodybuilders like Lou Ferrigno, Lee Haney, Flex Wheeler, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronnie Coleman.


What is powerlifting?

Powerlifting is a strength sport and the goal is to be as loud as possible in order to lift the heaviest weights for a single rep. While maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important, a weightlifter seeks overall size and strength as opposed to a symmetrical toned physique. They are judged solely for the rules, and competitive events include the big three exercises: the squat, bench press, and deadlift (1).

Each continent has a series of competitions and the World Championships include a variety of competitions from the IPF Classic Powerlifting World Championships and the IPF Open Powerlifting World Championships. As an Olympic sport, athletes seek the gold medal to claim the highest sport in the world. Some of the great lifters include Eddie Hall, Brian Siders, Mark Henry, Zydrunas Savickas and Ed Coan.


At their respective cores, the values ​​of each sport are actually very similar. A strong work ethic is essential to being both a successful weightlifter and bodybuilder and experimenting with various aspects of your routine is crucial for growth. Whether it’s workouts, diet, or supplementation, experimenting and failing only makes you better. Both use similar exercises and pay attention to the smaller muscle groups in their bodies. Bodybuilders can do it for symmetry and weightlifters can do it for support (2), but nonetheless, it gets done.


When it comes to performance and training, both sports require athletes to go through what is known as a “peak phase,” where each athlete seeks to increase the intensity of their workouts, thereby increasing their caloric intake ( 3). Bodybuilders begin the bulking program where they will eat well beyond caloric maintenance levels and their lifts will intensify dramatically. A powerlifter will do exactly the same, where they will largely focus on core lifts and general conditioning while increasing calorie intake. Although weightlifters may consume more calories overall, both athletes follow exactly the same principle.


The main overall difference is that bodybuilders train for size and symmetry while weightlifters train for pure strength. For bodybuilders, appearance is everything and a strict and consistent diet is their main concern to keep their gains in the gym at the right level for competition. Weightlifters care about their diet, but need a lot more calories to continue seeing their growth, and their physique is not their primary focus. For muscle building and drills, lifters focus on full body workouts to build overall strength to support their competitive “big three” lifts. Bodybuilders will do the same type of workouts, but target muscles with accessory lifts to continue their mission of perfect symmetry.


While it is possible to be both a weightlifter and a bodybuilder, it can prove difficult in the long run given the different training and diet requirements required for each respective sport. While bodybuilding focuses on overall looks, powerlifting tends to drift more towards pure strength. Knowing your primary goal is key to fully understanding what you want to get out of each. For those who find it hard to choose, consider strength training that combines both strength-based and muscle-building workouts. Ultimately, if you want to be successful in competitions, you must devote 100% of your time and dedication to just one. If your goal is to look strong and toned, try a hybrid and maybe one will catch on.

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*Images courtesy of Envato

The references

  1. Ferland, Pierre-Marc; Comtois, Alain S. (2019). “Classic Powerlifting Performance: A Systematic Review”. (The source)
  2. Simao, Roberto; Spinetti, Juliano; de Salles, Belmiro F.; Oliveira, Liliam F.; Matta, Thiago; Miranda, Fabricio; Miranda, Humberto; Costa, Pablo B. (2010). “Influence of exercise order on maximal strength and muscle thickness in untrained men”. (The source)
  3. Henderson, Zachariah J. (2016). “Achievement and decline in endurance athletes: a review”. (The source)

Teresa E. Burton