What Is the Difference between Bodybuilders and Weightlifters?

While powerlifting and bodybuilding both use weight training principles, their end goals are different. Therefore, it’s important to understand exactly how these two styles of lifting differ in order to maximize your training efforts. In this article, we’ll explore 4 differences between powerlifting and bodybuilding training.

What is Bodybuilding?

According to good ol’ Merriam-Webster, here’s the definition of bodybuilding:

The development of the body through exercise and diet, specifically: the development of the physique for competitive exhibition.

As we discussed, you don’t have to compete to be a bodybuilder (although you can if that’s a goal of yours). Whether you want to compete professionally or have body goals you want to reach, bodybuilding is all about getting fit, transforming your body, and shaping it to look the way you want it. That’s a process we all can engage in. So, to answer the question about if bodybuilding is a sport or a hobby—it really is both.

What is Weightlifting?

Weightlifting, also called Olympic-style weightlifting or Olympic weightlifting, is the only barbell sport in the Olympic programme. The two competition lifts are the snatch and the clean and jerk. Competitors are divided by weight class and gender and the one who lifts the most weight when the results of each lift are added together is the winner of each category.

Weightlifting is a technical, strength/power sport which requires excellent coordination, flexibility, balance, speed and of course strength. It should not be confused with more generalised weight training or with the sports of powerlifting or bodybuilding.

Bodybuilding Benefits

You don’t need to be an aspiring bodybuilding champion to take advantage of the benefits of bodybuilding. It’s an excellent way to build muscle and improve your fitness, even as a non-competitive individual.

While bodybuilding and powerlifting training techniques overlap at times, the main benefits of bodybuilding include building muscle, focusing on nutrition, and incorporating more aerobic exercise.

Benefits of Powerlifting

Powerlifting training using heavy weights and lower repetitions is incredibly beneficial — even for non-competitive lifters.

A few of the potential benefits of powerlifting training are meeting performance-based goals and increased functional strength and bone density.

The Difference between Bodybuilders and Weightlifters

male bodybuilders

Competition

Powerlifting and bodybuilding are both competitive sports.

In powerlifting, you compete in the squat, bench press, and deadlift, with the goal of lifting as much weight as possible for 1 repetition.  When you compete in powerlifting, you have 3 attempts to reach your max capacity. The winner is determined by adding up the heaviest squat, bench press, and deadlift attempt, which gives you what’s called the "powerlifting total".

In bodybuilding, you compete in different physique categories, such as bodybuilding, fitness, wellness, and bikini.  Each of these categories has a different type off “look” that the judges will be basing their criteria on. Generally speaking, the criteria is based on how much ‘muscle mass’ is acceptable and the types of posing routines that are required.

Not everyone who enjoys powerlifting and bodybuilding training decides to compete. But, for those that do, it’s important to learn the specific standards of each activity as outlined in the sport guidelines and rules.

Technique

Both powerlifters and bodybuilders care a lot about implementing proper exercise technique. This is because neither can risk an injury, which might potentially put them out of their sport for several weeks or months.

However, powerlifters use lifting technique that limits the range of motion on exercises, whereas bodybuilders use lifting technique that increases the range of motion on exercises.

In powerlifting, the less range of motion that is used the less work that is required to move the weight from point A to B.  As a result, every angle of the movement is analyzed in order to reduce the range of motion so that more weight can be lifted. This is why you’ll see powerlifters arch their back in the bench press or use the sumo deadlifting technique.

For bodybuilders, the opposite is true.

They want to take an exercise through its full range of motion in order to stress the muscle at different lengths.  This will lead to greater muscle damage producing greater hypertrophy adaptations (muscle growth).

Rest Intervals

The rest intervals refer to the time spent in between sets.

When you’re lifting a load that’s a higher percentage of your 1 rep max, you generally need more rest in order to recover before attempting your next set.  The opposite is true when you’re lifting a lower percentage of your 1 rep max. Lower weight equals less rest.

Therefore, powerlifters will typically take between 3-7 minutes of rest between sets, while bodybuilders take between 1-3 minutes.

As such, it’s not uncommon to see powerlifters take 1-hour to do 10 sets of bench press, whereas bodybuilders would have already finished 3-4 exercises in that same time period.

Recovery

Recovery is an important aspect for both powerlifters and bodybuilders.

For powerlifters, it’s critical to strategically plan the frequency of their max lifts.  It wouldn’t be appropriate to max out every workout week after week. This would certainly lead to over-training, burn-out, and increase the risk of joint and tendon injury.

For bodybuilders, it’s important not to do too much volume, too fast.  This could create muscle soreness lasting an excessive of 48 hours. If that’s the case, then any future workouts will likely take a hit because you can’t train as hard with sore muscles.

Final Thoughts

Bodybuilding and powerlifting are both incredibly difficult sports that require lots of time, focus, and dedication. However, they are fundamentally different in their goals, and as a result, powerlifters will typically be stronger than bodybuilders when matched for size and experience.

This is because they train compound movements with higher intensities, lower reps, longer rests, and are far less inclined to spend extended periods of time in calorie deficits and dieting down to very low body fat percentages.

Competitive bodybuilding and powerlifting focus on singular goals and may neglect other aspects of overall fitness. If you’re simply looking to improve your fitness, be sure to alternate between training styles and incorporate some cardio exercise.