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For those involved in weight training, there’s a choice that comes somewhere down the line and it’s one between bodybuilding and powerlifting.
So, what’s the difference, and which is going to be the best option for you? They are, of course, both forms of resistance training but powerlifters focus on building strength and bodybuilding training focuses on developing muscle mass and muscle growth.
Let’s take a look at how these differences manifest themselves.
If you’re just starting out on building muscle, we’d recommend checking out our strength-building guide for beginners as you have a way to go before you need to decide between these two disciplines.
Otherwise, the first big difference comes in competition.
You can enjoy both competitive bodybuilding and powerlifting competitions and each sport is regulated by a different governing body.
To be the best powerlifter, you need to undertake three types of lift – squat, bench press, and deadlift. The objective is simple, lift as much weight as possible in a single rep. Your best score in each category is added to each other and that’s your “powerlifting total” for the competition.
In bodybuilding competitions, on the other hand, you are not going to be working with weights but instead, you will be judged on your “look” (your physical appearance) in a range of different categories.
Competitive bodybuilders are judged against criteria that decide how much muscle mass is allowed in a category and their ability to carry out the poses assigned to that category.
You may not want to compete but if you do? It’s important to know how each training style differs when it comes to being judged.
Both types of lifter will use isolation exercises and weight training to become better but the way they work is quite different.
A powerlifter is all about the bench press, squat, and deadlift, and as such? Every exercise that they do is bent on improving these activities.
Bodybuilders, on the other hand, may use a bench press but there will be much less emphasis on developing excellence in this respect. Instead, they work on different groups of muscles – their back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, glutes and hamstrings.
Aerobic and resistance training are standard parts of nearly every athlete’s technique but a powerlifter will focus on limiting their range of motion as they carry out their three key lifting techniques because this prevents injury when lifting large payloads.
A bodybuilder will do the opposite and look to maximize their range of motion in their exercises – as their posing and hypertrophy requirements demand flexibility and without it? They can injure themselves.
As you might expect a powerlifter will train to focus on those three lifting actions only, and typically, will only train one action per day (though there may be many exercises for each action).
They tend to use a fairly low rep range of 1-5 reps to produce strength adaptions.
A bodybuilder, on the other hand, works out 2-3 muscle groups on any given day.
They will use higher reps (6-15) because this is more likely to lead to hypertrophy.
You should note, however, that a bodybuilder can borrow from a powerlifting regime and vice-versa. Sometimes, one needs more muscle, and the other needs more strength.
As you might expect from the two training styles, powerlifting uses more weight than bodybuilding does.
A powerlifter can be expected to use up to 95% of their 1 rep maximum, whereas a bodybuilder may use as little as 65%!
Don’t forget that how much weight you move is not the only thing that influences how hard you work – reps play a part too. Bodybuilders don’t have an easier ride than powerlifters overall.
The higher the percentage of your 1 rep max that you lift? The more your muscle needs to relax before it can take on another set.
A bodybuilder typically takes 1-3 minutes to rest between their sets, whereas a powerlifter may need 3-7 minutes.
Both types of training involve planned recovery cycles where they reduce the muscle building for a period and it may involve lifting weights that are a little lighter than normal or engaging in low-stress exercise activities that take place away from the gym.
Bodybuilding benefits (see this full list of benefits of bodybuilding) include reducing body fat as you gain muscle size and while maximizing muscle mass is important, it tends to be lean mass.
Powerlifting will also see you lose fat, but less so than bodybuilding because the muscle gain is more focused.
Both forms of training are equally valid but bodybuilding aims to deliver more muscle growth and classic powerlifting performance is all about strength training.
Which is best for you? Only you can decide that and it helps to undergo a general program of strength and resistance training prior to making that decision.
If you want to know how a bodybuilding program can turn out – you might want to check out these awesome vegan bodybuilders on Instagram.