Powerlifting Vs Bodybuilding

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Bodybuilding Vs Powerlifting

Bodybuilding Vs Powerlifting 

Let's set some expectations straight: this isn't going to be as theatrical as the Godzilla-esque moniker suggests. Rather, the key goals of this essay are to A) clearly describe the distinctions between bodybuilding and powerlifting, and B) determine how those differences [should] effect each sport's training and nutrition regimens. And, let's face it, neither is actually a sport, but we don't have time for that today.

Because the majority of our content is aimed at both bodybuilders and powerlifters, it's worth going through some of the differences in training and nutrition for bodybuilding and powerlifting. Let's get this party started.

What is the definition of powerlifting?

Powerlifting is a lot more straightforward to define. Powerlifting is essentially a competition in which contestants compete to see who can squat, bench press, and deadlift the greatest weight. While individual triumphs in each category are exciting, your "total" is calculated by adding your highest weights on each lift. If you've ever come across an Instagram account of a mid-tier level powerlifter, chances are they put their total in their bio. It could also be a component of their user name. Doesn't that say a lot about powerlifting?

What is Powerlifting, and how does it differ from other sports?

It's much easier to define powerlifting. Powerlifting is a sport in which athletes compete to see who can squat, bench press, and deadlift the greatest weight. While individual triumphs in each category are exciting, your "total" is calculated by adding the highest weights you've attained on each lift. If you've ever come across a mid-tier level powerlifter's Instagram account, their total is almost certainly listed in their bio. It's possible that it's even in their user name. Doesn't that tell you something about powerlifting?

Now, the preceding definition suggests that in order to be a powerlifter, one must put on a singlet and compete. This is comparable to the chasm in bodybuilding, but I believe the one in powerlifting is a little more straightforward. Powerlifting isn't as popular as bodybuilding, and most people who "do" powerlifting have competed or plan to compete in the future. Unfortunately, we could argue over these basically meaningless distinctions all day, so let's move on.

It's worth noting that there are [at least] two distinct classes in powerlifting: geared and raw. There has recently been an effort to differentiate raw from raw + wraps, but that isn't worth discussing here. Regardless, geared powerlifting requires the use of squat suits, bench shirts, and deadlift suits, whereas raw powerlifting merely requires the use of a belt, knee wraps (or sleeves), and wrist wraps. Elbow sleeves are permitted in some federations. We see amazing squat and bench numbers in geared powerlifting, but deadlift suits don't help as much since there's no eccentric component in a deadlift.

As a result, a geared powerlifter almost always outsquats and occasionally out-benches his or her deadlift. A raw powerlifter, on the other hand, usually deadlifts more than squats and nearly always benches less than squats or deadlifts. At the very least, we hope...

Finally, the main distinction between bodybuilding and powerlifting is that in a bodybuilding competition, you must present yourself in the best possible light. In a powerlifting competition, on the other hand, you must give it your all. As a result, it's worth discussing a few common training variables and how they may differ between bodybuilders and powerlifters.

What is the definition of bodybuilding?

I'm sure there's some strangely worded Google definition for bodybuilding that I'm not interested in looking up. Bodybuilding is, at its most basic level, the act of constructing one's body through a structured workout and nutrition program. I believe that the "regimented" part of this term helps to distinguish bodybuilding from general fitness; most gym goers would be quick to point out that they aren't bodybuilders, and many bodybuilders would be outraged if they were put in with the typical gym goer. "It's different this time, BRO!"

Bodybuilding competitions take it a step further. Competitive bodybuilding is growing your body, consuming as much body fat as possible, and then competing against other competitive bodybuilders on a stage. You're all mostly undressed and covered in spray tan and body oil. Isn't that completely normal? Every bodybuilding competition needs you to do a specified list of postures alongside other competitors, but many also ask you to perform a brief solo routine (60 seconds or less). 

It varies on the category, but the most ripped and jacked contender usually wins. Symmetry is important, however many people would tell you that symmetry was more important in the 1980s and 1990s, whereas today's bodybuilding is all about mass.

Competitive bodybuilding is considered the pinnacle of physique sports by many. The penultimate incarnation of humanity. 

Each contender in a bodybuilding competition should be the most jacked and lean they've ever been, which necessitates the use of particular training and nutrition methods to reach this goal. Finally, the distinction between bodybuilding and competitive bodybuilding raises the question of whether or not you are a true bodybuilder if you have never competed. While philosophizing on such teeth-grinding problems is beyond the scope of this article, there is a distinction to be made.

Differences in Training

Ranges of Reps

This is one difference between powerlifting and bodybuilding. While most bodybuilders work in the 8-12 rep range, research reveals that training in the 3-30 rep range can help you grow faster if you train near to failure (Schoenfeld et al., 2017). Rotating rep ranges may also have some benefits, especially for advanced bodybuilders (Simao et al., 2012). 

Regardless, the 8-12 rep range is probably the ideal middle ground for increasing tension (high enough weight) while also promoting metabolic stress (burn/pump) when it comes to stimulating growth. The optimal mix of tension and metabolic load for packing on muscle slabs should be tension and metabolic stress.

Bodybuilders, on the other hand, should workout with a variety of recovery periods. According to research, 3-minute rest times are the most effective for growing muscle (Schoenfeld et al., 2016); however, shorter rest periods can be used on occasion. Shorter rest periods, such as 30-60 seconds, increase metabolic load during training. 

If you want to maximize the pump and burn in a workout, keeping rest times brief can help. While this may not be the most effective development stimulus (Wackerhage et al., 2019), it can be beneficial for a deload phase or simply bringing variety to your training.

Overall, rest periods in bodybuilding and powerlifting will most likely differ significantly. Powerlifters seek to avoid interfering with the huge weights they're pushing by minimizing tiredness between sets. Bodybuilders, on the other hand, do occasionally employ shorter rest periods, particularly during isolated workouts that do not require a large interset recovery tax.

Selection of Exercises

Exercise selection is mostly determined by individual goals and needs for both powerlifters and bodybuilders. Compound actions are used often by bodybuilders; nevertheless, research suggests that compound movements do not fully develop all of the muscles involved (Brandao et al., 2020; Clark et al., 2012). As a result, isolation exercises will be employed frequently in bodybuilding to ensure that a physique is well-crafted and symmetrical.

On the other side, powerlifting can be a little more rigid. If you want to be a competent powerlifter, you should be able to perform the major three with some regularity. You must be extremely proficient in the squat, bench press, and deadlift in order to make them second nature on competition day. Aside from this need, powerlifters frequently choose "direct" accessory exercises aimed towards improving one of the big three lifts. A lifter who uses good mornings to improve his squat is an excellent example.

Accessory or isolation exercises will be used to target weak regions in both powerlifters and bodybuilders. The concept of a weak point, however, varies per group. A bodybuilder employs accessory workouts to strengthen "lagging" muscular groups, or those that aren't developing as quickly as others. Everybody has body areas that don't grow as quickly as others; as a result, you'll need to practice specialized exercises to ensure that no muscle group is left behind.

Powerlifters, on the other hand, use accessory workouts to improve "weaknesses" in specific motions. Let's say you're having difficulty locking out your bench press. You'd use floor presses, board presses, or even Spoto presses to improve your lockout strength in this situation. In essence, you're strengthening whatever weak link is preventing you from achieving your full potential on the big three.

Focus on the inside vs. the outside

Bodybuilders are frequently encouraged to exercise with the "mind-muscle connection," which is well-known. This is essentially a type of internal focus in which a person concentrates on the muscular contractions involved in a particular movement. This approach has regularly been proven to improve muscular activation (Calatayud et al., 2017; Marchant et al., 2009), although it does have one major disadvantage.

 In comparison to having an exterior focus, research has shown that using an internal focus can result in reduced strength and power (Becker et al., 2015; Marchant et al., 2009).

With this in mind, powerlifters are frequently advised to do the polar opposite during lifting: adopt an exterior focus. An external focus mostly relies on external signals — for example, in a squat, you might instruct a bodybuilder to concentrate on their glutes or quads – an internal focus, right? A powerlifter, on the other hand, would be told to "push the floor away" — an exterior focus.

While long-term adaptations between different types of focus have yet to be investigated, it's probably a good idea for bodybuilders to use an internal focus and enhance their mind-muscle link, especially if they intend to compete. Powerlifters, on the other hand, should definitely use cues that encourage outward focus. Here are some bench and deadlift examples:

  • Push yourself away from the bar (on the bench).
  • (Deadlift): Keep the bar close to your hips during the deadlift.


Yes, more internet memes mocking powerlifters who don't exercise any cardio are on the way. While amusing, this is at least partially justified. Due to the long-term central and peripheral exhaustion that cardio might cause, it probably interferes with strength adaptations more than size (Ellefsen & Baar, 2019; Hakkinen et al., 2003). Given this, there are clear disparities in cardiac training between the two groups.

Cardio is frequently associated with a cutting period among bodybuilders, although it isn't any more effective at burning calories than lifting weights (Greer et al., 2015; Kirk et al., 2009). Adding cardio to your workout while primarily maintaining your strength training volume will almost surely increase your overall calorie expenditure. Dropping lifting activities in favor of greater cardio, on the other hand, is unlikely to result in significant fat loss.

We frequently hear that steady-state exercise puts us in the "fat-burning zone," when we rely on fat for energy. While it's true that fat burning peaks at 45-65 percent maximum effort (Purdom et al., 2018), the quantity of total energy expended at this rate is so low that it's essentially insignificant in terms of overall fat loss when compared to other types of exercise. 

Interval training is more effective for overall fat loss than regular cardio, according to a recent meta-analysis (Viana et al., 2019), and it doesn't take nearly as long or need you to spend as much time in the "fat burning zone."

As a result, while bodybuilders frequently employ traditional cardio for fat loss, this method is likely outmoded. Some bodybuilders may incorporate cardio into their workouts for health reasons, but let's be honest: they're undoubtedly in the minority among younger bodybuilders.

When it comes to cardio for powerlifting, the general consensus is "have enough work capacity to live and recover after training, but that's all." Powerlifting, on the other hand, has no endurance component at all. Better cardio/work capacity, on the other hand, is linked to better recovery – not just between sets (McLester et al., 2008), but also between workouts (Kilpelänaho, 2012). 

With this in mind, many powerlifters employ sleds, weighted carries, and other kinds of "loaded" cardio that are nonetheless unique to powerlifting while still being less boring than typical cardio. That isn't to imply that bodybuilders can't undertake loaded cardio; it just seems to be more common in the powerlifting community.

While there are a few additional areas where powerlifting and bodybuilding differ (training frequency, periodization methods, etc. ), we'll gloss over those for now and go on to a discussion of nutrition disparities. Who knows, maybe there will be a Part 2 to this post that goes into those final details in greater depth.

Differences in Nutrition

The search of an ideal physique vs the hunt for a gigantic total is one of the most significant distinctions between bodybuilding and powerlifting. As a result, feeding approaches differ slightly between bodybuilders and powerlifters on occasion. However, it's vital to remember that the majority of powerlifting is weight class-constrained — yeah, we usually see the enormous men heaving insane weights in the superheavyweight class, but powerlifting only has one or two weight classes. 

Most other lifters undertake some type of cutting to make weight for their class, and they usually stay thin in the offseason. Let's look at some of the biggest nutritional disparities that exist (or should exist) between bodybuilders and powerlifters with this in mind.

Total Calorie Consumption

Many people will argue that this is the primary distinction between bodybuilding and powerlifting, citing the famed bulking diets used by legendary powerlifters JM Blakley and Dave Tate. I absolutely fell into this trap in my early powerlifting days — my daily diet of donuts, chocolate milk, frozen pizza, Panda Express, and more chocolate milk undoubtedly helped me gain weight and strength. Was it, however, absolutely necessary?

Outside of superheavyweight powerlifting, I don't think the calorie consumption of bodybuilders and powerlifters will differ significantly. Although a bodybuilding diet is undoubtedly "cleaner" at the highest level of each discipline, the largest bodybuilders are still crushing thousands of calories each day - see an example of a Ronnie Coleman diet or a sample Jay Cutler diet. 

This calorie surplus is required to promote muscle growth and strength increases, particularly at the highest levels of competition in each sport, where, ahem, "medicines" aid recuperation and gains.

In the end, both powerlifters and bodybuilders will consume an excess of calories throughout the offseason. Because powerlifters aren't as concerned with body composition as bodybuilders, the source of that surplus may fluctuate slightly between camps. 

Most powerlifters will need to cut weight for a meet at some point, and bodybuilders will almost likely need to trim if they want to dazzle on the stage or on the beach. A bodybuilding cut will most likely be more stringent, as many powerlifters aim for a water cut rather than a fat cut (Gee et al., 2020).

Gee and colleagues (Gee et al., 2020). I've seen top-level powerlifters lose 30 pounds of water in only a few days to make weight for a meet — only to regain the majority of it the night before the competition. Various "supplements" can absolutely speed up the progress of a water cut, but that's wayyyyy outside the scope of this article.

Regardless, bodybuilders and powerlifters have comparable cutting diets at beginning, but bodybuilders will continue to restrict calories in the long run, whereas powerlifters will utilize a water cut. Water cutting is widespread in bodybuilding, especially at the upper levels, however it's more commonly employed for cosmetic reasons (comes dry/peeled) than for weight loss (Chappell & Simper, 2018; Roberts et al., 2020).

Unless you're in a specific bodybuilding weight class, of course. Isn't it amazing how this constantly changing?

Let's move on to other nutrition practices before we dive too deep into water cuts. Otherwise, we'll be here all day, and I'm not interested in going down that rabbit hole.

Splits in Macronutrients

This section will be brief; I'm not sure that there is a significant difference in macro splits between bodybuilders and powerlifters. Obviously, the heaviest powerlifters go a little crazy with their carb and fat intake (they have to keep their weight under 350 pounds, right? ), but I'd assume that the majority of bodybuilders and powerlifters eat a high protein, high/moderate carb, and low/moderate fat diet. 

This is for a good reason: studies has consistently shown that high-protein diets are the best for maximizing muscle mass (Jager et al., 2017), which is critical for both powerlifters and bodybuilders.

Bodybuilders usually have the option of cutting carbs, fats, or a combination of both when it comes to cutting to accomplish their calorie deficit. Because both procedures have been proved to result in successful fat loss, the bodybuilder often has the choice of which path to choose (Roberts et al., 2020). In powerlifting, a similar alternative exists, although calorie and/or macro restriction can definitely hinder performance (Moore et al., 2019), so cautious planning is required. 

Some may advise powerlifters to limit carbs a little more to preserve fat intake and, as a result, joint and hormone health (Helms et al., 2014), but lowering carbs too drastically can impair training performance and recovery. Your workout will have tapered down to a more reasonable level by the time you're lowering carbs to such a low level. Something to think about if you're considering a powerlifting cut.

Regardless of training discipline, both groups should aim for a high protein intake throughout the year, but especially during a cutting period when retaining lean mass is even more critical (Roberts et al., 2020). You can't look nice on stage if you don't have any muscle, and you won't be able to set a new personal best if your muscles have deteriorated due to a poor diet.

Meal Scheduling

In the world of bodybuilding, precise meal timing has all but disappeared. In powerlifting, I don't believe it was ever that rigid, but both factions generally advocated some form of post-workout food. 

While this is perhaps more crucial for individuals who conduct fasted training, it's still a good idea to consume some protein and carbohydrates after your workout. You might as well take advantage of the boost in protein synthesis and tissue sensitivity that occurs during this time, and eating at this time will never prevent you from gaining weight.

Furthermore, in both sides, meal frequency has largely gone out of favor. In the early 2000s, I recall reading bodybuilding magazines that consistently advised "keeping your metabolism stoked" by eating multiple little meals throughout the day.

 Unfortunately, this advice was based on a single research from the 1980s that no one has been able to reproduce since then (Schoenfeld et al., 2015). Regardless, both powerlifters and bodybuilders should benefit from a regular eating schedule (3 hours between meals), as this is likely the best way to maintain protein synthesis throughout the day (Moore et al., 2012).

Finally, both groups would benefit from taking some form of protein before retiring for the night. Protein eating before bedtime has been proven to boost protein synthesis overnight in studies (Trommelen & Van Loon, 2016). 

Because whey could digest too quickly for your 7-hour+ nap, it's best to have a slower digesting protein, such as casein or a complete meal. Due to the long-held idea that nocturnal eating contributes to fat development, some bodybuilders may be hesitant to eat a whole meal before bed. You should be fine as long as your meal isn't complete rubbish that exceeds your goal calorie consumption.

Last Word

Finally, we're not sure whether this is more of a "how to" guide or a "this vs that" essay. It changed a little as we were writing it, so maybe it can be used for both? I'm not sure, and I'm not sure it matters. If anything, we hope that we were successful in discussing some of the key distinctions between bodybuilding and powerlifting, as well as how those differences effect training and nutrition.

Some may presume that most of this is common information, and we would agree to some extent. However, it's useful knowledge to have for those who are new to the sport or the gym, especially if you plan on dealing with either group on a regular basis. And you'd be shocked how many folks in the science area have only a rudimentary understanding of bodybuilding or powerlifting. 

Understanding the fundamentals of each strength sport, as well as the common behaviors of its participants, will undoubtedly aid researchers in better directing their efforts to benefit the entire strength community.

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