A review about Powerlifting vs Bodybuilding: What are the differences?

It is not uncommon for beginners to assume that powerlifting and bodybuilding are one and the same thing. While in fairness, the two sports are heavily dependent on some form of strength training involving the lifting of weights and this is perhaps why most newbies erroneously believe they are identical.

However, when it comes to the bodybuilding vs powerlifting debate, there are clear distinctions between the two. For example, the goals of powerlifting are quite different from those of bodybuilding.

This is why in this post, we will differentiate between a typical powerlifting program and bodybuilding workout plan to help you in deciding which one is right for you. But first, we begin by going back to the basics of bodybuilding and powerlifting.

The Basics of Bodybuilding

With professional bodybuilding, you have a sport in which you compete in an event where competitors are judged on competition day on the basis of their skeletal muscle definition, symmetry, and size.

You pose in front of judges who score you based on your physical appearance on the day of the competition rather than your physical performance, as is the case with powerlifting.

A beginner bodybuilder may be into bodybuilding as a way of achieving personal development through one or more of three bodybuilding goals, namely; cutting, bulking, and performance enhancement.

A typical bodybuilding workout plan will involve resistance training where you use equipment like machine-based weights, dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells in promoting muscle growth.

The idea is to spend most of your workout sessions engaged in lifting weights according to moderate to high repetition sets like 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 15 reps.

Also, whenever you workout, your rest period between sets is often short and this could be anywhere from 60 to 120 seconds.

In bodybuilding, you tend to spend more of your training time isolating different skeletal muscle groups. This is why workout routines like triceps extensions, lateral shoulder raises, and bicep curl variations are more prevalent during bodybuilding training.

In addition to this, bodybuilding also involves a high number of repetitions for a variety of compound movements, such as; presses and squats.

However, if you intend bodybuilding over a long length of time, then you would need workout sessions where you spend time lifting heavy, but with a lower number of repetitions.

This will boost your overall athletic performance including your endurance, stamina, energy, and strength in addition to boosting muscle mass.

What about Powerlifting?

With powerlifting, you have a highly competitive sport in which powerlifters attempt to lift a barbell to their optimum weight class for a single repetition. This is also referred to as “one rep max” or “1RM”.

There are three different lifts that powerlifters have to attempt to achieve a 1RM, and these lifts are bench press, deadlift, and back squat.

In a competitive powerlifting event, you have a panel of judges consisting of three judges saddled with the task of scoring competitors with either a “PASS” or “FAIL” score on the technique used by competitors on each of the three lifts mentioned.

A typical powerlifting program will focus solely on improving your strength on the three lifts of bench press, deadlift, and back squat. Your program will see you improve both your lifting technique and 1RM on all three types of lifts.

Your powerlifting training program may incorporate variations of medium-to-wide grip bench press, sumo ir standard-style deadlift, and low-bar back squat. Practice makes perfect, and your 1RM on each lift is bound to improve with training over time.

Powerlifters tend to spend more time and effort lifting heavy, but with low repetitions. Typically, anywhere from 1 to 5 reps would suffice while the rest intervals are often longer in comparison to bodybuilding. This lengthy rest period helps powerlifters to build and enhance their optimum strength levels.

Can you combine Bodybuilding and Powerlifting?

You can most definitely combine a powerlifting program with a bodybuilding workout plan. In a week of training, you can train twice by dedicating one day to lifting heavy in typical powerlifting style while the other day should be spent performing conventional bodybuilding workouts.

These two days should also be spent training specific body parts like your arms, back, and shoulders for your upper body and legs, and glutes for your lower body part.

When bodybuilding, you should try keeping your repetitions over 12, as this will help in giving you great pumps. For example, on your bodybuilding or light days, you can try out the following:

  • Flat benches with 3 to 5 sets of 15 to 30 reps
  • Smith machine incline presses with 3 sets of about 15 reps
  • Superset incline dumbbell flys with cable crossovers 3 to 5 sets of 15 reps each while resting between sets
  • Decline flys with 3 sets of 15 reps

On your powerlifting or heavy days, you can try out Incline barbell press (1RM), flat or decline barbell press (1RM), and so on.

You should also not ignore the importance of rest-pauses during your powerlifting workout days, as it can help power you through both size and strength plateaus. You should not complicate things on your powerlifting days, so ensure that you keep it simple for optimal gains.

Powerlifting Vs Bodybuilding: Difference in Workout Programs

While bodybuilders and powerlifters essentially engage in weight training for building muscle mass, boosting strength, flexibility, mobility, and stamina, the exercises that make up their workout programs tend to significantly differ.

As mentioned already, powerlifting involves the three compound lifts of bench press, deadlift, and back squat with a multiple variations, such as;

  • Bench Press:
    Long Pause Bench Press, Incline Bench Press, and Narrow Grip Bench Press.Deadlift:
  • Stiff Leg Deadlifts, Snatch Grip Deadlifts, and Deficit Deadlifts.
  • Back Squat:
    Tempo Squat, Pause Squat, and Front Squat.

In the case of bodybuilding, you will incorporate more isolation exercise routines that target specific muscle groups of the body.

Some of these workout routines include:

  • For your Back: Wide Grip Pulldowns and Seated Row.
  • For your Biceps: Cable Bicep Curls, and Dumbbell Preacher Curls.
  • For your Glutes: Glute Kickbacks and Barbell Hip Thrusts.
  • For your Hamstrings: Swiss Ball Leg Curl and Machine Leg Curl.
  • For your Shoulders: Lateral Dumbbell Raises, and Machine Shoulder Press.
  • For your Triceps: Dumbbell Skull Crushers and Rope Tricep Pressdown.

Which Is Best for You: Powerlifting vs Bodybuilding

At the end of the day, your choice of bodybuilding vs powerlifting depends entirely on you. If you want to achieve strength gains on the compound lifts of back squat, deadlifts, and bench press, then you should stick with powerlifting, especially if you’re preparing for a competitive event.

However, if your main goal is to grow muscle mass while achieving both symmetry, and muscle definition, then it is advisable that you focus on formulating a bodybuilding workout plan.

You could also combine both by preparing a workout plan that promotes skeletal muscle growth while also building your strength levels at the same time.

This training regimen may be run throughout the year, but if you’re preparing for a competitive bodybuilding event, then you should stick to lighter training sessions.


As you can see there are definite differences between bodybuilding and powerlifting. In summary, bodybuilding involves light weight training with more sets and reps compared to powerlifting which involves heavy lifting to achieve your 1RM on the three compound lifts of back squat, deadlift, and bench press.

Your choice of bodybuilding vs powerlifting will depend entirely on your needs and goals. But you can certainly combine the two for the best of both worlds where you grow muscle mass during the execution of your bodybuilding workout plan and build strength during the implementation of your powerlifting program days.

On a final note, make sure that before beginning your bodybuilding or powerlifting program, you consult with your doctor as well as a professional bodybuilder and/or powerlifter for more advice. You can chat with an IFBB PRO right here for free before you get started today.

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