Powerlifting vs. Bodybuilding – Which Training Style Is Best For You?

Powerlifting vs. Bodybuilding – Which is the right path to fulfilling your weight lifting and strength building goals?

powerlifting vs. bodybuilding - woman training with a barbell

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Powerlifting vs. Bodybuilding – Which is the right path to fulfilling your fitness goals? We will compare, highlight and identify the similarities, differences, strengths, and weaknesses between the two powers in resistance training and weight lifting and which will be best for your needs.

Powerlifting vs. Bodybuilding – Exploring the 2 top weight lifting giants

Powerlifting and bodybuilding are two distinct disciplines in strength training and fitness.

Powerlifting vs. Bodybuilding – Defining the disciplines

What is powerlifting

Powerlifting is a strength sport that involves lifting as much weight as possible in three specific lifts:

  • Squat – a compound exercise that targets the lower body muscles
  • Bench press – targets the upper body muscles, particularly the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
  • Deadlift – a full-body exercise that focuses on the posterior chain, including the hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and upper back.

The sport originated in the 1950s and has gained popularity worldwide. Organizations, including the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) and the International Powerlifting League (IPL), govern the competitions.

powerlifting vs. bodybuilding

Powerlifting competitors are typically grouped into different weight classes to ensure fairness.

Competitions require lifters to have three attempts for each lift, and the heaviest successful lift in each category counts toward their total. The lifter with the highest total weight lifted in their weight class wins the competition.

Powerlifting is a combination of strength, technique, and mental focus.

Competitors undergo rigorous training programs to improve their strength, power, and form in the three lifts. They also pay attention to proper nutrition and recovery to support their training and performance.

Note, however, that powerlifting is not limited to competitive athletes.

Many individuals incorporate powerlifting-style training into their fitness routines to help build strength, improve muscle mass, and enhance physical performance.

What is bodybuilding?

Bodybuilding is a sport and physical fitness discipline focused on developing and sculpting muscles through weight training, nutrition, and aesthetics.

Bodybuilders aim to achieve a well-defined, muscular physique with symmetrical proportions and low body fat levels.

They engage in rigorous training programs and follow strict diets to build muscle mass while minimizing body fat.

Participants in bodybuilding competitions showcase their physiques through a series of poses, highlighting muscle definition, size, and overall presentation.

Judges evaluate various aspects, including muscularity, conditioning, symmetry, proportion, and stage presence.

Bodybuilding combines resistance training, cardiovascular exercise, and specific techniques to help target different muscle groups.

It focuses on hypertrophy – muscle growth – through various training methods, such as progressive overload, high-intensity workouts, and strategic manipulation of sets, reps, and rest periods.

Nutrition is crucial in bodybuilding, with participants focusing on consuming adequate protein for muscle repair and growth and a well-balanced diet to support their health and optimize body composition.

Many bodybuilders follow specific meal plans, often divided into bulking and cutting phases, to achieve their desired physique.

Bodybuilding is a competitive sport and a lifestyle embraced by those seeking to transform their bodies, improve self-confidence, and promote a disciplined approach to fitness and nutrition.

While professional bodybuilding is highly competitive, many people undertake bodybuilding-style training for personal fitness goals, health, and aesthetic purposes.

Powerlifting vs. Bodybuilding – Targeting Muscles

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Powerlifting targets multiple muscle groups throughout the body.

The squat exercise activates the quads muscles at the front of the thigh, the glutes, and the hamstrings.

Bench Press
The bench press targets the pectoralis major muscles, anterior deltoids, and triceps brachii.

The deadlift engages the erector spinae muscles, glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps.


Bodybuilding targets specific muscles to promote their growth and development.

Bodybuilders usually focus on muscle “isolation” exercises to emphasize and stimulate particular areas.

The targeted approach helps create a balanced and aesthetically pleasing physique.

Muscle groups targeted in bodybuilding are the chest, back, arms, legs, and abdominals.

Bodybuilders work on developing all muscle groups, but they may prioritize certain areas or adjust their training based on their specific goals and desired aesthetic appearance.

It is worth noting that muscle symmetry and balance are considerations in bodybuilding to help create a balanced physique.

Powerlifting vs. Bodybuilding – The Similarities

powerlifting vs. bodybuilding

Athletes in powerlifting and bodybuilding share a passion for strength, fitness, and pushing their physical limits.

  • Strength Training
    Both powerlifting and bodybuilding involve resistance training as the foundation of their training programs.
    Both sports aim to increase strength and muscle mass through weightlifting exercises.
  • Progressive Overload
    Both powerlifting and bodybuilding employ the principle of progressive overload, involving the gradual increase in the demands placed on the muscles over time.
    That can include increasing weight, repetitions, or intensity to help challenge and stimulate muscle growth.
  • Muscle Hypertrophy
    Both sports aim to promote muscle hypertrophy -or muscle growth, through targeted training techniques, such as high-intensity workouts, volume training, and exercises that isolate specific muscle groups.
  • Nutrition and Diet
    Both powerlifting and bodybuilding regard nutrition and diet as crucial elements of the discipline.
    Both sports often adhere to specific dietary protocols to support muscle growth and optimize performance to help achieve the desired body composition goals.
  • Discipline and Commitment
    Both powerlifting and bodybuilding require discipline and commitment to training, nutrition, and recovery.
    Consistency and adherence to training programs and lifestyle choices are essential for success.
  • Periodization
    Both powerlifting and bodybuilding often utilize periodization in their training programs.
    It involves dividing training into specific phases or cycles to optimize performance, prevent plateauing, and allow adequate recovery.
  • Mental Focus
    Both powerlifting and bodybuilding require mental focus and concentration during training sessions and competitions.
    Athletes in both sports need to develop mental resilience and discipline to push through challenging workouts to push them toward their goals.
  • Injury Prevention
    Both powerlifting and bodybuilding emphasize injury prevention and proper technique.
    Athletes in both sports recognize the importance of maintaining proper form and using appropriate safety measures to minimize the risk of injuries.
  • Supportive Community
    Both powerlifting and bodybuilding have vibrant communities of athletes who support and inspire each other.
    Athletes in both sports often find inspiration and encouragement from fellow lifters and bodybuilders.
  • Personal Growth and Self-Improvement
    Both powerlifting and bodybuilding offer opportunities for personal growth, self-improvement, and self-confidence.
    Both sports can provide a sense of accomplishment, resilience, and a platform for personal development beyond physical attributes.

Powerlifting vs. Bodybuilding – The Differences

powerlifting vs. bodybuilding - barbell back squat

The two disciplines have some similarities, different goals, training methodologies, and competition formats.

Below is a breakdown of the main differences between powerlifting and bodybuilding.

There may be some overlap, but understanding these differences can help athletes choose the path that aligns with their goals and preferences.


Powerlifting focuses on building maximal strength in three main lifts: squat, bench press, and deadlift.
The main goal is to lift as much weight as possible in the three movements.

On the other hand, bodybuilding aims to develop a well-rounded, aesthetically pleasing physique, focusing on muscle size, symmetry, and definition.
The main goal is to sculpt the body’s appearance through muscle hypertrophy and low body fat levels.


Powerlifting training revolves around heavy compound lifts that target the primary muscle groups involved in the squat, bench press, and deadlift.
Powerlifters typically use lower rep ranges (1-6 reps) and higher weights to build strength.

On the other hand, bodybuilders adopt many exercises and training techniques to stimulate muscle growth and shape different muscle groups.
They often employ higher rep ranges (8-15 reps) and combine compound and isolation exercises.

Focus on Strength vs. Aesthetics

Powerlifters prioritize increasing their strength and performance in the three lifts.

Powerlifters build muscle, but their main focus is on absolute strength rather than aesthetics.

Bodybuilders focus on building well-defined and proportionate muscles.
They pay close attention to symmetry, muscle size, and low body fat levels to achieve the desired aesthetic appearance on stage.

Exercise Variation

Powerlifting training primarily revolves around the squat, bench press, and deadlift, with some accessory exercises to support strength development.

Bodybuilding training incorporates several exercises that target specific muscle groups from different angles, allowing for more diverse muscle stimulation.

Body Fat Levels

Powerlifters typically have higher body fat levels, as the focus is on building maximal strength rather than achieving a lean and shredded physique.

Bodybuilders aim for low body fat levels to showcase muscle definition and achieve a more sculpted appearance.

Training Intensity

Powerlifting training often involves training with very high intensity, pushing close to maximal loads to build strength.
Bodybuilding training involves a mix of intensity levels, including lighter weights for higher repetitions and moderate weights for hypertrophy.

Mindset and Mind-Muscle Connection

Powerlifting requires a strong mindset focused on strength, power, and overcoming heavy loads.

Bodybuilding often emphasizes the mind-muscle connection, focusing on feeling and targeting specific muscles during exercises to maximize muscle engagement and development.

Competition Format

Powerlifting competitions involve participants performing one-repetition maximum (1RM) lift in the squat, bench press, and deadlift.
The highest total weight lifted across the three lifts within their weight class determines the winners.

Bodybuilding competitions judge contestants based on their muscular development, symmetry, conditioning, posing, and stage presence. Competitors are divided into different weight classes and judged subjectively by a panel of judges.

Nutrition and Diet

Powerlifters usually consume sufficient calories and macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates, and fats – to support strength gains and aid recovery. They may not be as strict with their diet as bodybuilders since they prioritize strength over aesthetics.

Bodybuilders follow strict and structured nutrition plans to optimize muscle growth, reduce body fat levels, and achieve a lean and defined physique. They pay meticulous attention to macronutrient ratios, calorie intake, and timing of meals.

Powerlifting vs. Bodybuilding – The Limitations

Limitations of Powerlifting

lower back exercises with a barbell

While powerlifting is a popular and effective strength sport, it has some limitations.

Limited Focus on Muscular Development

Powerlifting emphasizes strength and performance in the three main lifts: squat, bench press, and deadlift.

While powerlifters build muscle mass as a byproduct of their training, the discipline does not target overall muscular development, symmetry, or aesthetics as bodybuilding does.

Potential for Imbalances

Powerlifting often involves repeated heavy lifting in specific movement patterns. That can lead to muscular imbalances if not addressed.

The primary focus on lifts can result in overdeveloped muscles in certain areas while neglecting others. Additional training or accessory exercises may often be necessary to address these imbalances and promote comprehensive muscular development.

Risk of Injury

The heavy loads and intense training involved in powerlifting can increase the risk of injuries.

The repetitive nature of the lifts and the demands placed on joints and connective tissues can lead to strains, sprains, and overuse injuries.

It is crucial for powerlifters to train with proper technique, gradually progress loads, and prioritize injury prevention measures.

Limited Cardiovascular Conditioning

Powerlifting focuses on developing strength and power rather than cardiovascular endurance.

While it can offer some cardiovascular benefits, powerlifting may not provide the same level of cardiovascular conditioning as activities like running, swimming, or cycling.

Supplementing powerlifting with additional cardiovascular exercises can help improve overall fitness and endurance.

Subjectivity in Judging

Powerlifting competitions rely on judges to assess the successful completion of each lift based on specific rules and criteria.

However, judging can involve some degree of subjectivity and inconsistency, which may lead to discrepancies in scoring and rankings.

Equipment Dependency

Supportive gear such as belts and knee and wrist wraps are allowed in powerlifting competitions. The equipment can enhance performance and provide stability, but it can also lead to a dependency on external aids.

Some argue that using supportive gear may distort the measure of pure strength and limit the sport’s accessibility to those without the correct knowledge.

Despite these limitations, powerlifting remains a popular and rewarding sport for athletes aiming to increase their strength, set personal records, and compete in a strength-focused environment.

You can mitigate the limitations through proper training techniques, balanced programming, and a comprehensive approach to physical fitness.

Limitations of Bodybuilding

bench press image-001

Here are a few limitations of bodybuilding.

Emphasis on Aesthetics

Bodybuilding emphasizes achieving a specific aesthetic look, which may not align with everyone’s preferences or ideals of physical fitness.

The attention to muscularity and low body fat levels can promote body image concerns and potentially contribute to body dysmorphia or an unhealthy obsession with appearance.

Extreme Dieting and Restrictive Eating

Bodybuilders often follow strict and structured diets, especially during the cutting phase, which can involve severe calorie restriction, macro- and micronutrient manipulation, and food eliminations.

These dietary practices can be challenging to maintain long-term and may lead to nutrient deficiencies, metabolic adaptations, and potential eating disorders if taken to extremes.

Time and Commitment

Achieving the desired level of muscularity and conditioning in bodybuilding requires investment in time and commitment.

Bodybuilders typically engage in intense training sessions, meal preparation, and recovery protocols that can be time-consuming.

That level of dedication may be challenging for athletes with busy schedules or competing demands.

Risk of Injury

Intense weight training and pushing the limits of muscular development in bodybuilding carry an inherent risk of injury.

Lifting heavy weights and performing repetitive movements under high intensity can strain joints, ligaments, and muscles.

Overtraining or improper techniques can further increase the risk of injury. That can hinder progress and well-being.

Subjective Judging

Bodybuilding competitions rely on subjective judging criteria, which may introduce some bias or inconsistency.

Different judges may have varying opinions on what constitutes an ideal physique, leading to discrepancies in scoring and rankings.

The subjectivity can be frustrating for competitors who may have put in so much effort but received varying outcomes.

Stereotypes and Misconceptions

Bodybuilding is often associated with extreme muscularity and the use of performance-enhancing substances.

That can cause misconceptions and stereotypes about the sport, leading to stigmatization or misunderstandings about the discipline and health practices of bodybuilders committed to natural and healthy methods.

Athletes who engage in bodybuilding face these limitations, and many individuals find great fulfillment, personal growth, and enjoyment in the discipline.

However, it’s essential to approach bodybuilding with a balanced perspective, prioritize overall health and well-being, and be mindful of the potential limitations and challenges.

Powerlifting vs. Bodybuilding – Which is better for strength building

Powerlifting is generally considered better for strength building compared to bodybuilding.

The training programs rely on progressively increasing the weight lifted in these movements, utilizing low to moderate repetitions with heavy weights.

Powerlifting targets the central nervous system helping to enhance neural adaptations, muscular coordination, and overall strength.

The emphasis on heavy compound lifts and low-repetition ranges allows powerlifters to develop significant strength in those specific movements.

Powerlifters often strive to lift the heaviest weights possible, and their training revolves around building strength linearly and progressively.

In contrast, bodybuilding focuses on muscle hypertrophy and aesthetics rather than pure strength.

While bodybuilders gain strength through training, the emphasis is more on developing muscle size, shape, and symmetry.

Bodybuilding training generally involves higher repetition ranges and several exercises to target muscles from different angles.

Thus, you should opt for powerlifting if your principal goal is to build strength and improve your squats, bench presses, and deadlifts.

But, if you aim to build muscle size, shape your physique, and prioritize aesthetics alongside strength, then bodybuilding may be more suitable.

Powerlifting vs. Bodybuilding – Which is better for muscle building

powerlifting vs. bodybuilding - barbell bench press

Bodybuilding may be better for muscle building compared to powerlifting.

While both disciplines can help with muscle growth, bodybuilding can maximize muscle hypertrophy better.

Bodybuilding programs involve higher repetition ranges, typically between 8 to 12 reps. Experts consider that as the optimal range for stimulating muscle growth.

The emphasis is on performing exercises that target specific muscle groups from various angles, allowing for greater muscle stimulation and development.

Bodybuilders also incorporate several exercises into their training to help target muscles and promote balanced muscular development.

They often focus on isolation exercises that isolate specific muscles and combine these with compound movements.

The targeted approach helps to sculpt and shape the muscles, leading to greater muscle size and definition.

In contrast, powerlifting focuses on building maximal strength in the three movements.

While powerlifters gain muscle size and strength, the primary goal is to increase strength in those specific lifts instead of maximizing muscle growth.

Thus, if your main goal is to maximize muscle size and achieve a well-developed, aesthetically pleasing physique, bodybuilding is generally the more suitable choice.

Powerlifting vs. Bodybuilding – Which is better for building power

Powerlifting is generally better for building power than bodybuilding.

Powerlifting programs prioritize low to moderate repetitions with heavy weights, which helps develop explosive power and strength.

The training focuses on lifting near-maximal or maximal loads, training the central nervous system to recruit more muscle fibers and generate force rapidly.

The training stimulates adaptations that enhance power output, such as improved muscle coordination, neuromuscular efficiency, and rate of force development.

Powerlifters also incorporate accessory exercises that target muscle groups involved in the main lifts, such as the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and upper back. These exercises enhance power and strength development by addressing muscular weaknesses or imbalances.

On the other hand, bodybuilding aims to maximize muscle hypertrophy and sculpt the physique.

Though bodybuilding can improve strength and power to some extent, it is not the primary focus. The training generally involves higher repetition ranges and several exercises targeting specific muscle groups from different angles.

Powerlifting is generally the choice for lifters who want to enhance explosive power, increase maximal strength, and improve overall power output.

The focus on low-repetition, heavy-weight training, and specific strength exercises in powerlifting is better suited for developing power-related qualities.

Powerlifting vs. Bodybuilding – Which is better for building explosiveness

Building explosiveness is better achieved through powerlifting rather than bodybuilding.

While both powerlifting and bodybuilding can help build strength and power, powerlifting training methods are more conducive to developing explosiveness.

Powerlifting focuses on low to moderate repetitions with heavy weights, which helps to develop explosive power.

The primary lifts in powerlifting require generating power to move heavy loads quickly.

Training with heavy weights and focusing on explosive movements allow powerlifters to develop the ability to generate force rapidly.

Powerlifting programs often include variations of the main lifts that emphasize explosiveness, such as speed squats, speed bench presses, and dynamic deadlifts.

These exercises involve lifting submaximal weights with maximal speed, further enhancing explosiveness and power output.

In contrast, bodybuilding focuses on muscle hypertrophy and aesthetics.

While bodybuilders may incorporate some explosive movements or plyometric exercises, more emphasis is put on controlled, slower repetitions to maximize time under tension and target specific muscle groups.

Thus, powerlifting training is more effective for lifters looking to build explosiveness and improve power output.

Powerlifting vs. Bodybuilding – Which is Better Overall?

powerlifting vs. bodybuilding - woman doing the barbell back squat

The answer depends on your specific goals and preferences. Both disciplines offer unique benefits and cater to different objectives.

Powerlifting is better if your primary goal is to increase strength in the squat, bench press, and deadlift.

It focuses on lifting maximal weight in these three main lifts and developing overall strength and power.

Powerlifting programs prioritize heavy loads, low to moderate repetitions, and specific strength exercises.

Powerlifting may be the better choice for lifters who enjoy the challenge of lifting heavy weights and want to focus on building strength.

On the other hand, bodybuilding is better for lifters intending to maximize muscle hypertrophy, achieve a well-sculpted physique, and emphasize aesthetics.

Bodybuilding involves several exercises targeting specific muscles from different angles.

It often involves higher repetition ranges, volume training, and isolation exercises to promote muscle growth and definition.

Thus, bodybuilding may suit lifters who prefer muscle size, shape, and overall physique development.

Ultimately, the “better” option depends on your goals, interests, and what you find most enjoyable and fulfilling.

Where necessary, speak with a qualified coach or trainer for guidance.

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  2. Travis SK, Mujika I, Gentles JA, Stone MH, Bazyler CD. Tapering and peaking maximal strength for powerlifting performance: a reviewSports. 2020;8(9):125.
  3. Disciplines. International Powerlifting Federation.
  4. Our Disciplines. International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness.
  5. Alves RC, Prestes J, Enes A, et al. Training programs designed for muscle hypertrophy in bodybuilders: a narrative reviewSports. 2020;8(11):149. doi:10.3390%2Fsports8110149
  6. Chappell A, Simper T. Nutritional peak week and competition day strategies of competitive natural bodybuildersSports. 2018;6(4):126. doi:10.3390%2Fsports6040126

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