Powerlifting vs Bodybuilding: Which Is Right for You?

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Last updated on February 7, 2023

In layman’s terms, there might not be much difference between bodybuilding and powerlifting – they both do the bench press and deadlift, as well as lift heavy weights. In logic reasoning, however, these two have a world of difference, and a bodybuilder may not take kindly to being referred to as a powerlifter (or vice versa). Therefore, let us first look at the basics of each before delving into the differences and similarities, including the training program required, the movements, the exercises, the routine, and the different types of lifting.


powerlifting deadlifts

As you have probably seen in Olympic lifting like the deadlift, powerlifting aims at one thing: strength. The sport focuses on three major lifts as part of a powerlifting program, namely squat bench press, and deadlift, which will target a specific muscle group with each specific type of weight training method. In such a powerlifting competition, the winner is the lifter with the highest score in all three categories. They stand on a platform and try to lift weights with judges looking keenly to ensure that all rules are followed.

Some features of powerlifting include:

  1. Setting goals and the training cycle: To maximize training and develop goals as well as good schedules, powerlifters usually pick a contest in which they plan to participate. They then set a goal that their training should achieve by the set date.
  2. Dieting and supplementation: Powerlifting athletes are keen to take foods rich in carbohydrates and protein and those with medium amounts of fats. They do not eat the usual three meals. Instead, they break them down to portions that are taken regularly to keep the body constantly fueled.
  3. Rest: It is essential for recovery and refreshment
  4. Preparing for the contest: This includes training in the gear that will be worn during the competition.
  5. Mental readiness: Powerlifting requires a particular kind of perseverance as well as determination.


bodybuilding weights

The ultimate goal of every bodybuilder is to lose as much fat and water as possible while also gaining muscle. From their shoulders to their calves, they also aim at increasing their strength and size as well as improving their metabolism and energy levels, through a high rep to failure, isolation exercises, overall fitness, diet, and so on. It is a continuous process that requires meticulous diet and workout plans. The appearance of the body is much more critical and, as anyone could observe, bodybuilders are usually the perfect picture of intensive workouts.

When it comes to competition, bodybuilders are judged by their body appearance—the more muscular and stronger looking, the better. Other factors such as symmetry, skin tone, posture, and attitude are also used to determine the winner.

Bodybuilding Routine is made up of four main fundamentals:

  1. Planning: As in any other project, preparation is the most crucial factor in the success of bodybuilding. It includes determining the priorities, setting the goals you plan to achieve, tracking the progress and managing the expectations.
  2. Training: This involves creating a suitable plan that serves all the bodybuilding goals one plans to achieve. It should also include recovery. Being consistent is important.
  3. Nutrition: This is the most emphasized aspect of bodybuilding. Any amount of training will bear little or no fruit if the dieting is all wrong. As mentioned earlier, bodybuilding requires a careful meal plan that is carefully laid out regarding the components such as calories. Hydration is also essential.
  4. Recovery: This involves getting enough and good quality sleep as well as proper management of stress and social life.

Bodybuilding vs Powerlifting: The Difference

1. Purpose for training

Powerlifters train to maximize their strength. Their contests will require them to lift heavy loads through different sections, and the one who can raise the heaviest is proclaimed the winner. The goal is to be the guy who lifts the most weight.

Bodybuilders, on the other hand, are after the size. Emphasis is placed on the number of muscles over fat and water content in the body. The goal here is to develop the most muscular, fat free body. The weights are just a toll in pursuit of that goal.

2. Priorities

A bodybuilder prioritizes the appearance of their body rather than to maximize strength. A powerlifter, on the other hand, is more concerned with how much weight they can lift. This is the main reason why some enmity is known to exist between the two with the bodybuilders being called names like “pretty boys” and the powerlifters “fat” and “overweight.”

3. Nutrition

Powerlifters do not really care much for dieting. All they need is heavy and regular meals (usually high in carbohydrates) to ensure that they always have enough energy.

Bodybuilders, on the other hand, are very keen on what they eat. Their diets primarily consist of high amounts of proteins and carbohydrates but low amounts of fat. This is to aid in building muscle while reducing the fat in their bodies. Their appearances are considered very delicate.

4. Workout routines

Training for bodybuilders may target specific groups of muscles, while that of powerlifters targets their whole body. Few of them actually do cardio compared to bodybuilders who have incorporated it fully into their routines to burn fat.

The Similarities

  1. For both sports, experimentation is essential. It helps to determine what works for each regarding training and dieting.
  2. Both sports require a remarkable amount of mental strength. For bodybuilding, it may mean perseverance through challenging periods of self-exertion on stringent diets. For powerlifters, it may mean bearing through frustration and getting the courage to try the gut-wrenching weights again.
  3. Recovery is vital in both sports. You should have proper rest periods. Training and dieting will never be enough without enough rest, sleep, and stress management.

Which One Is Right for You?

Back to the question. Powerlifting vs. bodybuilding: which one is right for you?

Well, some factors will determine the answer. They include:

1. Goals

Your goal will be the most significant determinant of what type of sport you should indulge in. If you would like to build your strength without necessarily caring about your appearance, then powerlifting is your ideal sport.

If you are more interested in your appearance and want to work on your muscle mass while increasing the fat loss in your body, you should consider bodybuilding.

2. Nutrition and dieting

As mentioned earlier, bodybuilders are very keen on what they eat. If you aren’t in a position to keep a constant watch over what you eat then powerlifting is the ideal sport for you. You should, however, know that even powerlifters have to maintain a continuous flow of energy which means that they keep a keen eye on the carbs in their diet.

3. Commitment

Both sports expect dedication, but people consider bodybuilding more as a lifestyle than a sport. It is a continuous process of careful dieting and training and requires a certain degree of consistency.

4. Training

In evaluating the intensity of training for powerlifting vs. bodybuilding, it would be safe to say that it depends on individual requirements, mental and physical endurance as well as their goals. The heat usually goes up when contests are near. Powerlifting targets the whole body while bodybuilding targets specific muscle groups.

Powerlifting and Bodybuilding Tips for Success

As we’ve seen, there are some key differences between powerlifting and bodybuilding. However, they are similar enough that the following tips will help you to get more out of your training, regardless of whether you are into bodybuilding or powerlifting.


  • Focus on basic compound movements such as the squat and deadlift. These are the exercises that will allow you to lift heavier weights than isolation moves. And when it comes to both getting stronger and getting bigger, you have got to lift heavy weights. Compound exercises involve flexion of at least two joints. In addition to the squat and deadlift, you should add the bench press, lat pulldown and shoulder press and farmers walk.
  • Focus on using free weights, whether you are training working out in a home gym or a commercial gym. Free weights will help you to develop your foundational strength and muscle mass.
  • Stick to a training program for no more than six weeks. After that length of time, your muscles will become accustomed to the training regimen and your results will stagnate. At that time, it is important to mix things up in order to keep getting results.
  • Take the time to learn proper exercise form. This is vital whether you are a powerflifter or a bodybuilder. Start with very light weights until you have got the mechanics of the exercise right. On exercises like the squat and deadlift, you can even start with just the bar.
  • Be sure to make constant and progressive increases in your resistance levels. Every workout, you should strive to either add an extra pound or two to the bar or to squeeze out an extra rep or two. Unless you do that, your muscles will have no reason to respond to the increased stress by getting bigger and stronger.
  • Leave your phone at home. If you have ever trained at a commercial gym, you’ll know that a lot of guys waste too much time between sets looking at their cell phones. The result is that their rest between sets is too much. Rather than each set building upon the last one, you are starting from scratch each set in terms of intensity. That is an inefficient way to train. So, whether you are able to lift in a home gym or at a commercial gym, leave your phone behind!
  • Balance out your body parts when you train. A lot of guys focus on the showy muscles such as the chest, shoulders and arms. This leaves the back and legs behind. As a result, they get weaker and smaller. Not only does this not look good, it also creates muscular imbalances that can easily lead to injury.
  • Be patient and consistent. Getting stronger and more muscular takes time. When you first start out, you will see an initial increase in muscle size and strength. But then the results will slow down and you will have to work harder to get the results you want.

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Powerlifting and bodybuilding are great sports for the development of the entire body. Bodybuilders physique is considered more aesthetic then powerlifters, but their strength and conditioning level is much lower in most cases. If you having trouble deciding whether powerlifting or bodybuilding is the right sport for you, the first thing you need to do is determine what your main goals are.

If your primary goal, with the right diet strategy, is weight loss and muscle growth you should try with bodybuilding. On the other hand, if your main focus is on strength gains and huge muscle size you should go with powerlifting. But no matter what you choose, you want to stay focused and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Make sure you have the right fitness equipment to support you in doing these challenging exercises to reduce the risk of injury. You need the right gloves, back support and weightlifting shoes. You will increase your core strength by doing these workout routines but it is also important to make sure you get the correct workout nutrition. We have articles on at smartfitnessresults that will give you valuable nutrition tips.

Joe Martin is a NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) Certified Nutrition Coach (NASM-CNC) and Certified Personal Trainer (NASM-PST) with over 15 years’ experience in personal training and nutrition. Joe was also a former New York Giants Football Player and has his own fitness website Jerseyjoefitness.com

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