Powerlifting vs Bodybuilding

By: Tristan Rocheleau (RHEP, Powerlifter)

For those who are just starting in the gym, you may hear the terms “powerlifting” and “bodybuilding”, and you may see the people who use these terms training at the gym, but what are the differences between the two, really?

For starters, the terms “powerlifting” and “bodybuilding” are actually referring to the sports in which people compete in. For powerlifting – athletes compete against others using the three lifts- squat, bench press, and deadlift – while trying to outlift more than the other competitors. Athletes here are separated by gender, age, and weight, to ensure they are competing against others similar to themselves.

For bodybuilding, athletes compete against others while using poses – all of which will help showcase things like muscle symmetry, leanness (the definition of muscle), as well as how well you are able to showcase your body and overall presence on stage. Athletes here are also separated by similar methods.

These terms are used so regularly, so let’s define what each sport requires:

Powerlifting is about building absolute strength, while bodybuilding is about building muscle and reaching a specific physique and bodyfat percent.

A better way to describe the two sports is: strength training vs hypertrophy (muscle building).

Let’s start from the beginning. What is the difference between strength training and hypertrophy?

Strength training is focused on, well, building strength. This will usually involve working with larger compound movements like the squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, rows, and variations of those exercises. Most of your strength is developed during sets of 1-6 repetitions.

Hypertrophy is the growth of muscle, so, building muscle. This will usually involve working with a wide range of exercises, with higher volume, and with most sets being repetitions of 6 or more, even upwards of 25+, as well as going to failure with some or most exercises.

Can you train both ways simultaneously? Absolutely. Studies have shown the importance of building muscle while trying to increase your strength. The idea is that if you have more muscle mass, you have a greater ability to build more strength with it. Imagine you have an empty cup – it can only hold so much water. Want more water? Get a bigger cup.

In regards to building muscle, it is less important to focus on strength, but should still be a focus for overall health and fitness. Both methods of training require similar approaches when it comes to rest and nutrition, and for the most part, will be utilizing similar exercises.

Are these two training styles separable? Not really, no, but that’s good. While most strength is developed within the 1-6 rep range, you are still building strength when working with sets above 6 reps. Likewise, while most hypertrophy occurs with sets above 6 reps, you are still building some muscle if you work under 6 reps. This is where training can get really fun, as you can play around with sets, reps, exercises, and intensity levels, to find a routine that you really enjoy.

At the end of the day, it’s important to train for both strength and muscle building – so throw in a mix of low reps and high reps in your training to get the best of both worlds.

Need help figuring out what training style or routine best suits you? Find me on instagram at @tristyr or at @torquebarbell. Let’s keep moving.