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Strongman and powerlifters are stronger than bodybuilders. And they are heavier. But the extra weight can't simply just be fat? If it were just fat, then they wouldn't be stronger than the bodybuilder.

So in conclusion, the strongman and powerlifters must also have more muscles than the bodybuilder?

Is that correct?

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In order to gain muscle one should eat a lot. Usually one then both gains muscle and fat: bulking. Bodybuilders alternate between bulking and cutting. During cutting they loose fat. However they do not gain muscle during this phase and may even loose a bit of muscle in this process. Since heavyweight powerlifters do not care about being fat they only bulk. The fat does not make them stronger in itself but it does not matter.

Consider the bench press. From mechanics we know that torque is force x lever arm. The barbell produces a torque at the elbow joint that is proportional to the length of the lower arm. This torque has to be overcome by the triceps. Likewise the barbell produces a torque at the shoulder joint that is proportional to the length of the upper arm. This torque has to be overcome by the pec. So a person with really short arms have a huge advantage when it comes to bench press.
Notice the short arms on Sarychev to the left who benches 335 kg compared to Haftor who benches "only" 250 kg

Notice the short arms on Sarychev to the left who benches 335 kg compared to Haftor who benches "only" 250 kg. Likewise a person with really short legs have a huge advantage when it comes to the squat.

Muscles consist of fast twitch and slow twitch fibers. Fast twitch fibers are stronger but can only work for a short time (say 30 secs). After that they may need several minutes to recover. Powerlifters tend to have a large percentage of their fibers being fast twitch. Some bodybuilders have a large percentage of slow twitch fibers. This means that they are not as strong as a powerlifters but they can do a lot of heavy lifting without needing a break. Other bodybuilders have a large percentage of their fibers being fast twitch and they are very strong.

In order to make the fibers in a muscle contract an electrical signal is generated inside the motor cortex in the brain and sent trough the nerve system. No one is able to generate a strong enough signal to engage all the fibers in a muscle simultaneously. Instead the available muscle strength is multiplied by a factor < 1, the neural efficiency. Powerlifters train with very few reps say 1-2 part of the time. This increases their neural efficiency but do not increase the size of the muscles. For bodybuilders only size matters so they "never" train with this few repetitions. Also some people are born with a higher neural efficiency than others.

For a more in depth discussion of what makes someone stronger than others: Size vs. Strength: How Important is Muscle Growth For Strength Gains?

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It's hard to make a direct comparison because the range of strength and muscle mass ranges wildly, but bodybuilders can have a lot more muscle while powerlifters and strongmen can be significantly stronger despite having less overall muscle mass. Strongmen and powerlifters don't necessarily need to be heavier to outlift a bodybuilder.

An example comparison of two elites at the top of their game would be 8x Olympia Champion Ronnie Coleman

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and multiple world record holding powerlifter Kevin Oak.

enter image description here enter image description here

I chose these comparisons because they're both 5'11" (180cm) in height. They're both elite and world class in their respective sports. And it was easy for me to find stats.

Right off the bat, you can see that Ronnie has a lot more muscle. On stage he was between 285-300 lb (~130-135kg) and probably ~5% body fat. That means he had roughly 15 lb (7kg) of fat with about 280 lb (130kg) of lean mass. In his off-season he was about 320 lb (145kg).

Kevin Oak on the other hand competes in both the 220 and 242 class. Based on the photos he is maybe around 10-15% body fat. This puts his lean mass at best around 200-220.

Despite being almost 100 lb lighter, Kevin squats as much as Ronnie ever has. What this shows is that specialized training can make the muscle you have considerably stronger. The reason Ronnie isn't stronger is because that was not where his focus was. His training was designed to maximize mass, not strength. Likewise, Kevin's training is designed to maximize strength (specifically in squat, bench, and deadlift).

There is of course carryover. Building muscle mass will undoubtedly make you stronger. Being stronger will undoubtedly create muscle mass. Though depending on the training style, one will advance faster than the other.

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This is a bit of an over generalisation or demonstrates how simple looks can be deceiving.

Your question implies that body builders look like they should be stronger than powerlifters/strongmen, this I can only assume is because from a simple visual inspection without given perspective bodybuilders are visually heavily muscled, where a powerlifter or a strongman can be seen as big, but fat.

The truth of the matter is as always, a little more complicated than you would first imagine, but to keep this answer concise I will attempt to keep it simple with some examples.

  1. Eddy Hall, the famous strongman who held the world record for the deadlift at 500kg. Extremely strong man, but at his peak was carrying a lot of fat on his frameenter image description here

Now see again Eddy in a recent picture after cutting weight for his fight with hafthor bjornsson.enter image description here

I don't expect anyone thinks he can deadlift 500kg in his current condition as he dramatically dropped boy fat with which will cause muscle catabolism, he is 163kg in this last picture, bare that in mind when you look at this next photo.

Big rammy, who won mr.Olympia enter image description here

in a straight up comparison between these two men, I don't think many would suspect that Eddy has a 60kg weight advantage on Rammy in the first and 30kg in the second.

I show this example to demonstrate how being lean can make you look bigger while also attempting to demonstrate how the muscle belly can also give the appearance of being bigger despite having less mass behind them.

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  • I agree that Eddy Hall is bigger than Big Rammy before and after the weight cut. But I am saying the extra 60kg and 30kg of weight that Eddy has over Rammy all seem to be extra fat. My point is, despite the Strongman having overall more mass and being heavier, the Bodybuilder has more muscles. Muscles is make you strong, not overall mass which may include fat? So given that the Bodybuilder has more muscles, why is the Strongman stronger? – ganidat Jan 28 at 14:55
  • Because they don't actually have more muscle, just more visible muscle because they have WAY less fat. Also its worth noting that when eddy lost that 30kg not all of that will be fat, a fair amount will be muscle that has catabolised with the dramatic weight loss. – Crumble Jan 28 at 15:37

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