In today’s article, we’re going to be covering a couple of topics that you, meatheads, will be especially interested in.
Yep, we’re looking for powerlifting, as well as bodybuilding.
Specifically, we’re going to be comparing the two and will be looking at powerlifting vs bodybuilding.
Lifting weights is a fantastic way to get in shape.
It turns out that lifting weights is also a great way to pack on muscle mass, increase your strength, and impress your buddies in the process.
When it comes to what is the difference, people often confuse the two and figure that they’re both just virtually the same thing. We’re here to tell you today, that they aren’t.
There are many key differences associated with powerlifting and bodybuilding, which is why we’re compiling this article today.
If you want to learn more about this, you’ve come to the right place.
Check this out and see what you think.
Table Of Contents
Despite the fact that we now have a wealth of knowledge literally at our fingertips in the form of the internet, people still, in this day and age, consider bodybuilding to be the same as powerlifting.
In reality, comparing the two is like comparing chalk with cheese.
Sure, they both require you to lift weights, but running a 100-meter sprint and taking part in a 42-mile marathon both require you to run, yet they’re both extremely different.
Powerlifting is a sport based on generating strength and power.
Bodybuilding is a sport in which the goal is to literally look better than everybody else that you’re competing against.
Now that we’ve established the fact that bodybuilding and powerlifting are both very different activities and pastimes, it’s now time to look at a few key differences between both.
We’re going to kick things off today, by taking a look at what powerlifting is.
Powerlifting is a sport in which the objective is to simply lift as much weight as you possibly can.
It is a sport based around strength that focuses on three different lifts performed with a barbell.
These three lifts are:
The key is to perfect your form and technique on each lift and to basically outlift your competitors on the day of competition.
Now, we know what you’re thinking: Surely the huge 400-pound monsters will have a distinct advantage over the 200-pounders, and you’d be right.
Outweighing somebody by upwards of 200 pounds kinda’ means that you’ll likely be able to lift more than them.
To help make things a little fairer and to even up the playing field, powerlifting competitions are divided into different weight divisions, similar to how boxing is.
To go a step further however, there are even age classes in certain organizations, so youngsters can’t compete against veterans, and vice versa.
There are many different federations within powerlifting, and we certainly don’t have time to look at them in detail, but classes will indeed vary from federation to federation.
As you probably know, when it comes to lifting weights, different people have different ideas as to what constitutes a perfect lift.
When bench pressing, if you were to bounce the bar up off your chest and jerk your body upwards when pressing the bar, this would obviously make it easier to lift the weight, and so it wouldn’t count as a good lift.
To ensure that there are no discrepancies when it comes to a good lift, though, during a powerlifting meet, each lifter that performs the three lifts will have their lifts judged by three judges.
Judges don’t score the lifts out of 10, or anything like that. instead, judges are in control of two lights: red light and white light.
In order for a lift to be deemed as a good lift, a powerlifter will need to get at least 2 out of 3 white lights.
If the judges give them 2 or more red lights, the movement is counted as a ‘no lift’.
Just to ensure that there is no confusion or discrepancies, each lifter is allowed to attempt the lift three times. Of each lift, the most amount of weight lifted will be counted.
At the end of the contest, the highest weight lifted on each lift will be added together, to give a total amount of weight.
Basically, their 3 best weights from each lift will be combined together, to provide a total.
The powerlifter with the highest total in their class will be awarded the win.
As we’re looking at which is better, we now need to look at what bodybuilding is. Bodybuilding isn’t just a way of working out.
To truly become a bodybuilder, you need to change your entire lifestyle.
Bodybuilding is a sport in which the goal is to build a muscular, ripped, symmetrical, and aesthetic physique that is deemed to look better than everybody that you’re competing against.
Now, just like powerlifting, bodybuilding contests are scored by judges.
Buy the way, if you're looking to bulk up, you should read our latest guide on choosing the best weight gainers.
When a bodybuilder competes on stage, he or she will perform a posing routine, will perform a series of poses designed to show off each specific muscle group, before finally going head to head with other bodybuilders on stage at the same time.
When judges score bodybuilders, they are typically looking for muscle mass, muscle definition, and symmetry.
Unlike powerlifting, it comes down to the personal preferences of each judge.
The goal isn’t to simply get as huge as possible, you also need to be conditioned, have good symmetry, have great definition, have mass, have rounded muscle bellies, not appear flat or watery, and to not appear bloated.
Just like with powerlifting, there are many different bodybuilding federations, though the big leagues are the IFBB, which has seen some all-time greats over the years, including Jay Cutler, Dorian Yates, Lee Haney, Kevin Levrone, Ronnie Coleman, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, to name just a few.
Before they step on stage, bodybuilders will be ‘pre-judged’ which is basically to allow the judges to get a look at them, and their poses and routines, before the main show.
This is to see what kind of shape the bodybuilders are in, and also, to see how much they improve, or regress, between pre-judging and the finals.
On the night of the finals, bodybuilders can impress judges further by showing off their signature poses, and going through their own choreographed posing routine.
Here, judges will total up their scores for each bodybuilder from pre-judging, and the final and the competitor with the highest score will be awarded the win.
So, now that we know the key differences when it comes to powerlifting and bodybuilding, we’re now going to look at the different aspects of training.
First up, we have powerlifting.
As you might expect, powerlifters train very differently to bodybuilders.
Powerlifters generally don’t care how they look, as they aren’t judged on how big their biceps are, or how impressive their rear lat-spread pose is.
Powerlifters are judged based upon how much weight they can lift.
Popular powerlifting training protocols include:
5 x 5 training is often incorporated into powerlifting training programs, especially for powerlifters that consider themselves to be amateurs. 5 x 5 training basically requires you to perform 5 sets of 5 reps for your compound exercise of choice.
The 5 sets are all working sets, and should only be performed after you’ve performed your warm-up sets.
So, for bench press, for example, the idea would be to select a weight in which you can perform no more than 5 reps in total.
Between each working set, you will rest for a very long time, sometimes as long as 5 minutes.
Needless to say, powerlifters will tend to focus on the big 3 exercises, though other heavy compounds such as barbell military presses, may also be incorporated, as these can assist with pressing movements.
Progressive overload training may have a complex and fancy name, but in reality, it is a very simple, yet highly effective, training protocol.
The basic idea behind progressive overload training is that you make progress for each training session you perform.
This could come in the form of heavier weights, more working sets, or more repetitions.
If for example, your previous deadlift personal best 1 rep max was 180kg, the next time you train deadlifts, you may wish to aim for a new personal best 1 rep max of 182.5kg.
If you don’t feel that you could hit that, you could instead aim for 180kg for 2 reps, as opposed to one.
Again, this principle applies to any exercise, and it works wonders for increasing your strength and power.
We know that powerlifters are going to spend the majority of their time training, performing an endless bench press, deadlift, and squat variations, because those are the 3 exercises they will be judged upon.
However, to get the most from their training and to help them with each lift, powerlifters also perform a lot of accessory work.
Accessory work is basically the act of performing exercises that will help you perform any of the big 3. When you bench press, for example, you generate power from your triceps, so accessory work for bench could involve training your triceps.
When you squat, you need powerful hamstrings and quads, so you may work those to help you squat more.
Also, you can check more about the Squat VS deadlift.
Now, we won’t sit here and go on and on about the many different types of bodybuilding routines out there because that would take an age as there are so many different bodybuilding training splits to follow.
Instead, we’ll look at bulking and cutting.
When a bodybuilder is not competing for several months, he or she will be in the “off-season”.
Now, they can bulk.
The idea behind a bulk is that bodybuilders will increase their caloric intakes, train heavy and hard, and train with the goal of putting as much muscle mass on as possible.
If this comes with added water retention and fat gain, so be it.
When a bodybuilder is preparing for a contest, they will begin to diet down and ‘cut’.
When cutting, the intention is to lose as much fat as possible, whilst preserving as much of the muscle mass as possible, that they built when bulking.
Bodybuilders typically begin cutting anything from 12 – 16 weeks out from a contest and aim to drop around 5 – 1.5 pounds of fat per week.
The end result is hopefully vascular, shredded, lean, muscular, and defined physique.
When it comes to the differences in the physique, a ripped bodybuilder about to step on stage will look way, way different to a powerlifter, who will likely look big and bulky.
To finish up our look at powerlifting vs bodybuilding, we’re going to quickly talk to you about the differences in diet.
Typically, powerlifters are bulky, muscular, and sometimes plain fat.
Powerlifters do not care how they look, they just care how much they can lift.
Because of this, they will consume several thousand calories per day and will eat way above maintenance, as calories mean energy, and energy means strength.
Powerlifters will consume plenty of protein, usually, around 1.5g – 2g of protein per pound of body weight, as protein is essential for muscle growth, hypertrophy, and repair.
They will also take in plenty of carbs and fats for energy.
Whilst powerlifters try to eat cleanly, they certainly aren’t counting calories or worrying about gaining weight, so don’t be surprised to see them being a little “relaxed” when it comes to healthy produce and fast food.
In bodybuilding, diet is everything.
No matter how hard you train, if your diet isn’t on point, you simply won’t make any progress.
When bulking, bodybuilders will create a caloric surplus and will eat above maintenance.
Most bodybuilders eat healthy produce, just in larger quantities so as to stay relatively lean whilst still bulking up.
When cutting, they’ll reduce their calories and eat slightly below maintenance so as to lose fat, without losing muscle mass.
Protein intakes remain high when bulking and cutting.
In terms of similarities between bodybuilding and powerlifting nutrition, supplements such as Creatine, whey protein, and mass gainers, will often be used.
Reda is an ACE Certified Nutritionist, Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt and bodybuilder with 11 years of experience. He's been published on many influential websites such as lifehack.org, Wealthy Gorilla, Good Men Project and more.