From what I understand it seems like:

  • Bodybuilding is used for conditioning your body to "look good" via the use of a wide variety of isolation + compound exercises.
  • Powerlifting is used for gaining strength via the use of only compound exercises such as squats and deadlifts.

However there does seem to be a lot of overlap.

From the forums online it seems like a novice should favor the powerlifts, but if you look at a program of established "weightlifters" such as Kai Green they seem to favor traditional programs with lots of isolation exercises--not to mention the popular bodybuilding personalities on Youtube such as scooby and the HodgeTwins.

My questions is, for someone starting to get serious about working out, how do you determine which program to start with and in what style? Does it make sense for everyone to start with powerlifts exclusively as suggested by Starting Strength. Do other--completely different--programs make more sense for folks with different goals other than just amassing strength?

3 Answers 3


There's actually a number of strength sports, where people who don't compete train similarly to competitors in those sports. A brief understanding of them will help you decide what would be a better match for you:

  • Bodybuilding is primarily building and shaping your muscle for aesthetics. However, there is a big nutritional component to bodybuilding that's required to get into contest shape. Bodybuilding is characterized by volume work in hypertrophy ranges. The higher reps per set keep the max weight down and recovery higher--provided you manage the volume correctly. You perform your poses in front of judges, and the person with the highest score for the day wins. There's actually a few variations of bodybuilding, and the criteria for judging are a little different for each.
  • Powerlifting is about getting the highest total in the squat, bench press, and deadlift. In competition, you have three attempts at each lift, and the heaviest weight for each of those lifts counts toward your total. Powerlifting can be performed using assistive gear or "raw" (in most feds, raw is just a belt and singlet, sometimes with knee wraps). The goal of powerlifting is to get very strong in those three lifts.
  • Strongman is a strength competition where the challenges vary from competition to competition. There is usually a weighted carry (using yokes, farmers walks, etc.), unconventional lifting (such as atlas stones, car deadlifts, etc.), overhead work, and some form of deadlift. It stresses your cardiovascular system as well as your raw strength.
  • Weightlifting or as most people know it, Olympic weightlifting is about getting the heaviest snatch and clean and jerk. It's essentially two lifts to get the heaviest total in competition. Both weightlifting movements require you to generate a lot of force in as quickly as possible, and then catch the weight either on your shoulders or above your head (depending on the lift).

There's even more than that, including events like the highland games and certain track and field events. The four listed above can be cross trained, and many athletes do so. Think of these disciplines as something you grow in to over time. Even if you don't fancy competing just yet, training as if you were going to compete is very motivating and helps focus your efforts.

Most people start out without any end goal in mind, all they know is that they want to get stronger/faster/jump higher/look better, etc. The disciplines above can help you focus your efforts and give shape to that nebulous goal. Anyone who has been consistently training for a long time has cross trained in one sport or another. For example, there are a number of strongmen who also compete in powerlifting, one example being Chad Wesley Smith. There are a number of powerlifters who train like bodybuilders in their off season such as Frank Zane and Dan Green. Some bodybuilders cross train for powerlifting, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger (who trained with Frank Zane).

Each of these disciplines have something to lend to make you a much better athlete. Jim Wendler advocates bodybuilding your assistance work, even though he primarily focuses on powerlifting. Brandon Lilly suggests eating like a body builder, training like a strongman, mobilizing like a weightlifter, and thinking like a powerlifter.

The lowest barrier of entry, requiring the least amount of technical skill would be bodybuilding. I do think, at least in the beginning you should focus on getting stronger first, and worry about the size/shape later. Starting with powerlifting movements like in Starting Strength is a good way to build that base of strength relatively quickly. It by no means requires that you pick a discipline and stay with it for the rest of your life.



Powerlifting would be better called strengthlifting. It is training for strength using a barbell. It is a sport consisting of the squat, bench press, and deadlift, though powerlifting training often includes other similar exercises such as the overhead press as well as supplementary exercises such as power variants of the Olympic lifts, isolation work, bands, chains, and even track work and yoga.

Bodybuilding is a beauty contest for men. It involves a wide variety of exercises, primarily barbells, dumbbells, and machines used for hypertrophy, as well as conditioning and strict diet protocols used for cutting weight.

There is significant overlap between the training regimes of the two, since size and strength, though different attributes, are not orthogonal. For instance, a powerlifter may use a "bodybuilding" routine during the off-season in order to build muscle size and give her body a rest from the low-rep, high-intensity work of one-rep-max powerlifting. Similarly, bodybuilders frequently use powerlifting exercises such as heavy, low-rep deadlifts, bench press, and back squats in order to promote whole-body growth and increase their strength so that they can lift greater volume with lighter weights.


When picking an approach, compare your goal to the goal of each practice. Do you want strength or to look good? It's not an entirely either-or proposition, but if health and athletics is more of a priority than looking big, it would be best to start with a powerlifting template and, if necessary, replace some parts of the program with specific elements bodybuilding exercises.

Bodybuilding has become synonymous with lifting weights in much of the world. People think of curls and the bench press when they imagine a weight room, and Arnold Schwarzennegger when they think of a lifter. This is not necessarily helpful for directing the general population to a program that fits their goals. Bodybuilding is a fine practice, but its wide array of isolation exercises performed with an emphasis on hypertrophy is not optimal for health or fitness for most people.

When picking tools, it's better to evaluate the specific exercise rather than the community or practice it comes from. Outside of bodybuilding, it's hard to justify a machine squat over a barbell squat. Outside of powerlifting, it's hard to find a reason to train strength without regard for other attributes. It's best to take what each sport does best: powerlifting's strength training, bodybuilding's conditioning and diet regimen for losing fat while retaining muscle.

  • Bodybuilding synonymous with weight lifting? I've heard Kai Greene say he will never be a weight lifter. Powerlifters are weight lifters or weight movers. Body builders focus on muscle mind connections and the contraction of the muscle not moving weight from point a to point b
    – Hituptony
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 16:49
  • @Hituptony All I mean by saying they're synonymous is that for the vast majority of laypersons, the word "weightlifting" brings to mind bodybuilding instead of weightlifting (the Olympic sport) or weight lifting (the practice used by powerlifters and other athletes). Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 20:00
  • true, I can agree with that.
    – Hituptony
    Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 14:26

It's the way your muscles are working.

Firstly, there is sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. This is aesthetic. This is bodybuilding. This is when water is forced to your muscles to create a bigger fuller muscle.

Then there is myofibrillar hypertrophy. This is strength. This is powerlifting. This is when your muscles actually increases in thickness, and you get stronger.

When you powerlift you will employ mostly myofibrillar hypertrophy. Body building is mainly aesthetic.

The way i did it was at first quite random, I had no idea what i was doing, after researching i found a program that consisted of 4 phases. 1st phase is foundation, supersets high reps, builds muscular endurance. 2nd phase is strengthening, heavy deep lifts with a pyramid structure. 3rd phase is to build with a hybrid approach high rep/lower weight AND low rep/heavy ass weight. 4th phase is the detail phase where you go high volume/high weight (utilizing the strength you just built up), but you cut your caloric intake as well to reveal your cuts and striations.

After this i will take a week off and just maintain, while i research my next program which will likely be oly lifts or powerlifting.

You need a foundation first, once you have that you can play with whatever works best for your body.

  • I want to upvote, but could you capitalize your sentences please? Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 21:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.