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Powerlifting vs. Bodybuilding: 8 Main Differences

powerlifter doing bench press

In the world of fitness, two disciplines stand out prominently: bodybuilding and powerlifting. Each has its unique characteristics, attracting enthusiasts with different fitness goals. Let's delve into the intricacies of bodybuilding and powerlifting to understand their differences and help you choose the path that aligns with your fitness aspirations.

What is Bodybuilding?

Bodybuilding is a form of physical exercise and sport dedicated to developing and enhancing the muscles of the body through a combination of resistance training, cardiovascular exercise, and nutrition. The primary goal of bodybuilding is to sculpt and build muscle mass, emphasizing symmetry, proportion, and definition. This is achieved through targeted weightlifting routines that focus on specific muscle groups, such as the chest, back, legs, and arms. Bodybuilders often follow a structured workout regimen, incorporating various exercises and training techniques to stimulate muscle growth and achieve a desired physique.

In addition to training, nutrition plays a crucial role in bodybuilding. Bodybuilders carefully manage their diet to ensure they consume the right balance of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) to support muscle growth, recovery, and overall health. The process of bodybuilding involves different phases, including bulking (increasing muscle mass) and cutting (reducing body fat to enhance muscle definition). Competitors showcase their physique in bodybuilding competitions, where judges evaluate factors like muscle size, symmetry, and presentation. Bodybuilding is not only a physical pursuit but also a discipline that requires dedication, consistency, and a holistic approach to training and lifestyle.

What is Powerlifting?

Powerlifting is a strength sport centered around three primary compound movements: the squat, bench press, and deadlift. The objective of powerlifting is to lift as much weight as possible in these three lifts, which are performed in a competitive setting. Each competitor typically gets three attempts at each lift, and the best successful attempt for each movement is combined to determine their total. Unlike bodybuilding, where aesthetics are emphasized, powerlifting focuses solely on the maximum amount of weight lifted in these specific exercises.

Scoring in powerlifting is based on a lifter's ability to successfully complete lifts within the rules and regulations set by the sport's governing bodies. Competitors are divided into weight classes to ensure fair competition, and winners are determined by comparing the total weight lifted relative to their body weight. Powerlifting requires a combination of strength, technique, and mental focus, making it a challenging and rewarding sport for those who participate.

Bodybuilding vs. Powerlifting: the Main Differences

The main difference between bodybuilding and powerlifting is that bodybuilders train to increase muscle mass and reduce body fat while powerlifters train to increase their one-rep max for squats, deadlifts, and bench presses. 

However, other key differences should be considered, especially if you’re trying to determine which type of training you want to do. 

Training Split

Bodybuilders often follow a split routine, targeting specific muscle groups on different days. The most common is a push, pull, legs split with a rest day in between. This allows you to run through the split twice. A bodybuilding split allows you to focus on each muscle group so that your body can grow and develop at an even rate. 

Powerlifters typically adopt a more condensed training split, emphasizing the three main lifts. Training sessions revolve around improving performance in the squat, bench press, and deadlift. This is because powerlifters mainly focus on maxing out their load for these three exercises.

Exercises Used

Bodybuilders and powerlifters use similar exercises, but there’s a key difference. Bodybuilders will do the exercises that powerlifters do, but powerlifters will not always do the exercises that bodybuilders do. 

As mentioned above, powerlifters primarily focus on the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Therefore, most powerlifting programs focus on these three exercises. Any other exercises incorporated into the program typically are accessory exercises or variations including:

  • Squat: Front squat, sumo squat, back squat, goblet squat
  • Deadlift: RDLs, stiff leg deadlift, single leg deadlift
  • Bench Press: Incline bench press, close grip bench press, wide grip bench press
  • On the other hand, bodybuilders incorporate a wide range of isolation and compound exercises to target individual muscles effectively. So, while bodybuilders will do squats, deadlifts, and bench presses, they’ll also do exercises like bicep curls, tricep extensions, and leg presses.



    Bodybuilders compete by showcasing their physique in bodybuilding competitions, where judges evaluate factors like muscle size, symmetry, and presentation. Bodybuilding is not only a physical pursuit but also a discipline that requires dedication, consistency, and a holistic approach to training and lifestyle. It’s not uncommon for bodybuilders to prepare for 12-16 weeks for a bodybuilding contest. 

    Powerlifting competitions center around the three main lifts, with participants judged based on the amount of weight lifted in each. The goal is to lift as much as weight possible for one rep. In a competition, you typically only have 3 attempts to hit your maximum capacity and winners are determined by whoever has the highest total between their squat, deadlift, and bench press. 

    You don’t have to compete if you’re a bodybuilder or powerlifter. Some people do either for fun and you can too! 

    Form & Technique

    Powerlifters and bodybuilders both care about their form and technique when doing heavy lifting exercises. However, the key difference here is that bodybuilders focus on increasing the range of motion for their lift while powerlifters focus on decreasing the range of motion.

    Bodybuilders want to target each muscle at different angles to maximize muscle growth, which is why they try to maximize their ROM. On the other hand, the smaller the range of motion you have, the easier it is to lift the weight. That’s why powerlifters focus on reducing their range of motion by arching their back or doing sumo deadlifts.


    Powerlifters use heavier weights since they have lower rep ranges–we’ll get into this later. Therefore, it’s common to see powerlifters lifting at 80-95% of their 1 rep max. On the other hand, bodybuilders are focused on muscle growth so they tend to have higher rep ranges. You can expect bodybuilders to work at around 65-80% of their 1 rep max. 

    Of course, this doesn’t mean that powerlifters train harder than bodybuilders. Since bodybuilders have more reps, they’re also training at a similar capacity to powerlifters. 


    Now that we’ve talked about loads between powerlifters and bodybuilders, it’s time to talk rep ranges. Since powerlifters are focused on lifting at their maximum potential, most powerlifters will have low reps ranging between 1-5. Bodybuilders use less weight so they have higher reps at around 6-15, depending on the exercise.

    Powerlifters still use high rep ranges, especially for accessory exercises or variations of their main three lifts. However, the ratio between high reps to low reps differs. For powerlifters, the ratio between high reps to low reps is typically 1:3 or 1:4. (1 set of high reps to 3 sets of low reps)

    For bodybuilders, this ratio is 3:1 or 4:1 (3 sets of high reps to 1 set of low reps). The reasoning is simple. Powerlifters are focusing more on improving their maximum-capacity lift so they don’t need to do high rep ranges as much. Bodybuilders need to build muscle, so high reps matter much more. 


    Powerlifters typically take a longer time to recover due to the intensity of their lifts. Powerlifters must recover properly, so maxing out every workout is not a wise choice since it can lead to over-training and joint injury. Most powerlifters will need 48-72 hours between maximum lifting sessions to properly recover. During this time, powerlifters can focus on other exercises to improve their lift while also taking in the proper nutrition and rest to heal the muscles. 

    Bodybuilders prioritize recovery through adequate sleep, nutrition, and targeted rest days for specific muscle groups. Somebodybuilders also use gear for recovery, though it’s banned for competitive use. Since bodybuilders don’t lift at the same load as powerlifters, they can typically exercise more frequently. However, bodybuilders should still give enough time to recover between sessions, which is why most bodybuilders will spend one day recovering during the week. 

    Rest Time

    Shorter rest intervals are common in bodybuilding. Bodybuilders will usually spend between 1-3 minutes between sets, depending on whether it’s an isolation or compound exercise. On the other hand, powerlifters take longer rest intervals between sets since they are lifting a load that is closer to their 1 rep max. This means powerlifters will spend between 4-8 minutes resting between sets so that they can exert maximum force during their lifts. 

    Final Thoughts

    So, powerlifting or bodybuilding? Which should you choose? The choice ultimately comes down to what you want out of your training. If you want to build a chiseled body with a well-defined physique, bodybuilding is the best choice for you.

    If you want to build raw strength and like lifting heavy weights, then powerlifting is better suited for your goals. At the end of the day, both are great for training the body and your health will benefit greatly, regardless of what you choose to do. Remember to training responsibly and rest adequately in between and you’ll do great!


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