I figured I’d write a quick article on the difference between powerlifting and bodybuilding because I talk a lot about each of these two disciplines on my blog… and am going to be talking about powerlifting even more.
Very simply, let’s define them both here:
- Bodybuilding: sport where the goal is aesthetics, to look muscular, lean, larger and “ripped”. Competitions are judged by who looks better…
- Powerlifting: sport where the goal is to lift the heaviest weight in one of three of the powerlifts, bench press, deadlift or squat. Competitions are judged by who lifts more…
Another way to define them is that bodybuilders prance around on stages in little bikinis with fake tans and oil all over their bodies… and… powerlifters eat McDonalds every day, shave their heads and grow gotees. But let’s look a little deeper…
Difference In Exercises
You would think the two sports would be similar because they’re both about lifting weights right? Well, the differences in exercise choice are probably the first thing you’ll notice between the two.
Bodybuilders generally employ a different exercise for each and every part of their body to try to build it up and get it larger and more ripped. On “Chest day” for instance they might do bench presses, incline bench presses, dumbbell flyes, and then finish up with a pec dec machine or something like that.
Powerlifters stick more to the basics of the squat, deadlift and bench press — with any “assistance work” (i.e. other exercises) being focused on making those lifts better. Either extra exercises or variations on those movements to “work” certain parts of the lifts. For example: low box squats with a pause in the bottom position to train to get stronger out of the deep, bottom position of the squat.
For bodybuilders, it’s all about “how can I look better–get more development” and strength is a by-factor or secondary concern. It’s about how much muscle can I gain while losing a lot of fat so I can get huge, ripped, and vascular (veiny).
For powerlifters it’s all about how much weight can I lift. How can I get stronger… how can I improve my technique… how can I get better than the next guy at putting more weight on the bar and lifting it.
You’ll hear many bodybuilding pros say that nutrition is 80% of bodybuilding because what you put into you mouth has a BIG effect on the fat that gathers around your waist… or the muscle that grows on your biceps. So nutrition is a big part of bodybuilding and always will be, because the focus is on looking large and strong but with very low bodyfat.
In Powerlifting, nutrition is seen as a part of being in the right weight class at the meets. If you are a lighter lifter then it’s important to eat healthy to stay in the lighter weight class — yet the emphasis on nutrition is still on fueling your athletic performance.
For the heavy weight lifters it’s no-holds barred when it comes to food. Here’s some real advice from some of the strongest powerlifters who ever lived:
“I asked Dave Tate what he thought about nutrition. He rolled his eyes at me and walked away… Later he said, ‘Nutrition is overrated!’ Louie Simmons added only this, ‘Cholesterol turns into Testosterone!’”
— Doug Jackson from “Getting Schooled Westside Style”
“The nutrition thing has been blown way out of control. While you should eat healthy foods, you don’t have to eat like a bodybuilder. I’d bet most of the lifters we have get less than one gram per pound of body weight of protein, and eat whatever they want. The cleanest eating people I know are also some of the weakest. This is why we don’t say a lot about it. If it was important as the mags say it is, then I’d have the information all over the site. We’re here to help you get better, not feed you a bunch of supplement and nutrition BS.”
— Dave Tate from the EliteFTS Q&A
“I don’t like to write about the overrated topic of nutrition. Training is 99% of the battle.”
— Dave Tate from the EliteFTS Q&A
Why I Like Powerlifting Stuff
While I have no intentions of getting as big wide as I am tall, shaving my head and growing a gotee (oops! Already got one of those!) I like powerlifting.
Why? Bunch a reasons:
- Focus on strength: strength is the basis of all other physical skills (and building it builds mental strength too).
- Emphasis on posterior chain: most bodybuilders only work the muscles they can see in the mirror, i.e. pecs and “guns”. Powerlifting focuses a lot on getting the backside of your body strong which is good for your overall athletic performance and especially back health.
- Lifting heavy stuff is cool: nuff said
- They don’t do bicep curls in the squat rack.
- Emphasis on technique: to get heavy weights up you gotta have technique or you get seriously hurt
- Builds a good base: most people don’t know it but virtually all the world-champ bodybuilders started out in powerlifting and olympic weight lifting
Which One For You?
You probably don’t fall into either category completely. You probably don’t want to get “freaky huge” like professional bodybuilders and you probably don’t want to set a new world record in the squat or deadlift…
My guess is you’d like to be a little healthier, a little stronger, a whole lot leaner and just feel good about yourself. Am I right?
Leave me a comment to let me know what your goals are — whether you’re interested more in powerlifting or bodybuilding — and what you want to achieve!