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Home » OSL Blog » Powerlifting vs. Bodybuilding: What are the Differences?

Powerlifting vs. Bodybuilding: What are the Differences?

May 29, 2019

  1. Do you prefer training as a powerlifter or a bodybuilder?
  2. Is your goal to be stronger or to look better?
  3. Is the strict diet involved in being a bodybuilder a factor in your choice to pursue bodybuilding or powerlifting?

In the Golden Era of bodybuilding, physique and aesthetics were paramount. The classic bodybuilders physique included a V-shaped body – with broad shoulders tapering down to a narrow and fit waistline.

Arnold schwarzenegger
Arnold had the classic bodybuilding physique for his Mr. Olympia win in 1970.

Compare that to a powerlifters physique, which focuses on overall mass to be able to pick up massive amounts of weight. Of course, when you put a powerlifter next to a bodybuilder, you can usually tell the difference. Almost always, the powerlifter will look much bigger than the bodybuilder.

Now, depending on your goals, going after a bodybuilder physique over a powerlifter physique is totally fine.

Are you looking to increase your muscles to be able to add more weight to your workout routine? Then focus on bodybuilding.

Would you rather be able to show brute strength without worry of your body shape? Then powerlifting sounds like it’s more up your alley.

A powerlifter’s physique has a decent mass and is less lean to support lifting heavy weights.

Of course, there are stereotypes on both sides. Some bodybuilders think powerlifters are:

  • increasing their ego with every pound
  • gorging themselves mindlessly on food to bulk up
  • care not for proper gym etiquette

Some powerlifters think that bodybuilders:

  • only care about how they look
  • are weak/not as manly
  • don’t spend enough time in the gym

Whichever side you are on, one thing we hope everyone can agree on. Do what you enjoy, do it well, and work hard at your craft.


If competition is what you are after, there is no shortage of different comps you can enter. This is true regardless of what body type or goal you are after. Young or old, there is a fitness competition out there for you.

The International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) and the NPC (National Physique Committee) hosts various events in America and all over the world. This includes the popular Arnold Classic and Mr. Olympia. Bodybuilders train hard all year to compete and every year there is almost guaranteed to be an upset.

Take for example, the 2018 Arnold Classic, where William Bonac upset former Arnold Classic champions Dexter Jackson and Cedric McMillan. Displaying a thick, dense physique that was perfectly peaked on the night of the competition, Bonac posed with passion and energy and was able to pull off an upset, surprising many with his impressive win.

William Bonac
William Bonac’s physique dense and lean physique at 2018 Arnold classic.

Powerlifting has become increasingly popular over the years. There are several different powerlifting organizations across the world after it’s popularity soared in the ‘80s. Powerlifting was also featured in the World Games. The International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) was founded in the ‘70s, to separate powerlifting and bodybuilding.

Those who would rather focus on maxing out in specific exercises are geared towards powerlifting vs bodybuilding. Aesthetics and physical appearance mean nothing to powerlifters except as a means of intimidation. Their focus is on strength only.

Competition Criteria

Bodybuilding competitions are much different than powerlifting competitions. There are many different categories for bodybuilding. They all require different outfits, poses, and focus on specific muscle groups.

Competition posing
Posing in IFBB competitions is an essential part of categories and evaluation.

Here is a list of just some of the various different competition categories:

  • Men’s physique
  • Women’s physique
  • Bodybuilding
  • Classic physique
  • Women’s Bikini
  • Women’s Wellness
  • Women’s Fitness
  • Women’s Figure
  • Men’s Beach Body
  • Men’s Sports Model

Powerlifting competitions don’t focus on posing, outfits, or even physical appearance at all. Competitors are judged solely on how heavy of a weight they can lift in each of the three powerlifting movements:

  • Bench press
  • Squat
  • Deadlift
powerlifting competition
In powerlifting competitions, evaluation is solely based on the heaviness of weights.

Powerlifters are segmented by:

  • Weight class
  • Age group
  • Level of experience
  • Sub segments
    • Raw – no supportive equipment used
    • Geared – supportive equipment used in competition

Competition Judging

Judges determine who performed the best one rep weight lift in each category and segment. Form is judged, and only “good” form reps are counted toward standings. Final determination is a weighted score based on their best reps and awarded for weight class and best overall.

To some, bodybuilding takes much more effort and focus to be able to rank in competitions. Being judged solely on your appearance – proportions, aesthetics, and posing – can be difficult for many to compete and rank in standings.

Take the words of OSL ambassador and Golden Era legend Tom Platz. He talks in this video about the use of nonverbal communication with the judges while posing in competitions. It looks easier than it is!

tom platz posing
Posing in competitions is a form of non-verbal communication with the judges.

Powerlifters need to focus on building up their strength to pick up as much weight as possible, without worry about physical appearance. Of course, the more muscle you appear to have, the more you should be able to to lift.

It’s true that competitions for powerlifting don’t have as much criteria and categories to compete.  There is no doubt that it takes a lot of determination and commitment to be able to make it to competition.

The Process

When comparing powerlifting vs bodybuilding, the process of getting to competition is surprisingly similar. The simplified process is:

  • Mentally prepare for the process
  • Eat correctly for what phase you are in
  • Recover smartly
  • Rest enough
  • Workout enough for results, but not so much that you risk injury or burnout

Mental Preparation

Both bodybuilders and powerlifters need to mentally prepare for the battle they will endure in competition. That preparation does look different for both.

mental preparation
Mental preparation is crucial for competitions of either types.

For bodybuilders, they are more focused on their physical appearance. They pay extreme attention to their diet more so than their workouts. Achieving really low body fat while packing on the right amount of muscle is the only way to compete successfully.

Then, perfecting the proper pose is only done by practicing. For most bodybuilders, working out is the last priority the closer competition gets.

mental clarity competition
Mental preparation and posing are more vital closer to competition than training.

Powerlifters, on the other hand, focus more on increasing their strength as their competition gets closer. They spend most of their time working out and forcing their bodies into lifting punishing poundage.

They have to have the mental fortitude to continue lifting, even when their body is screaming at them to stop. Food is fuel and is needed purely to keep the lifter going from workout to workout.


Whether or not you want to become a powerlifter or bodybuilder, the way you eat is crucial to your success. Even though the type of foods you eat will look vastly different for each person, a healthy and nutritious diet is paramount.

Bodybuilders and powerlifters can both agree – focus on foods that increase muscle growth and recovery while reducing overall body fat.

Bodybuilders usually go through several phases of bulking and cutting when preparing for competitions. It makes sense that their diets will change to reflect what phase they are in the cycle. They are meticulous about their diets. Any failure to maintain a proper diet through each cycle can make or break their chance at placing in competition.

Diets for competitions focuses on food that supports muscle mass and overall growth.

Powerlifters tend to not have to go through phasing as bodybuilders do. The main reason is they won’t be judged on their appearance and body shape. However, they do have to deal with “peaking”, where their diet increases massively to bulk.

Not eating proper foods can derail increasing muscle mass and make lifters much more prone to injury and burnout. Still, they aren’t as worried about what they are eating so much as the volume of what they eat. This is due to the sheer amount of calories they burn preparing for competition.

meal planning
Meal planning and prepping is a make it or break it element of competitions.

Depending on your goals and how much is needed to bulk, bodybuilders and powerlifters can both feel like their lives revolve around eating, sleeping, and working out. They need to eat higher calorie counts and the correct ratios of fat/protein/carbs for their phase cycle. They also need to ensure that work outs are productive and thoughtful to avoid injury. Training and prepping for competition can feel like a full time job!

Diet Tips

Here are some solid nutrition tips that can benefit bodybuilders and powerlifters alike. Both bodybuilders and powerlifters have to conform to weight restrictions in competitions, so their diets have to be in line and tailored to make sure they stay within guidelines to compete.

Unsure of how much fat and the right types you should be eating per day? We’ve got you covered there too.

Recovery and Rest

Both powerlifters and bodybuilders can agree that recovery and rest is an important part of the process to get them to competition.

Rest and recovery are vital for injury prevention.

Without allowing the muscle’s adequate time to rest and recover, injury is likely. Any type of injury can derail goals and competition acceptance. Working rest and recovery into their schedule is necessary. Though difficult for some, especially powerlifters who tend to spend more time in the gym.

Here’s a few easy and quick ways to help your muscles recover:

  • Make sure you get at least 7 hours of sleep each night.
  • A good massage chair can be an easy way to help muscles recover during the evenings.
  • Epsom salt baths can also help to relax muscles and joints
  • If you have access to a sauna or steam room, just taking 10 minutes to sit can aid in muscle recovery
  • Stretching in the mornings and evenings can also help to relax and recover muscles. Don’t just stretch right before you work out.
  • Yoga and meditation can also help to relax both mind and body
Vintage Bliss
Vintage Bliss supports recovery by allowing competitors to have a healthy sleep cycle.

A product like Vintage Bliss™ can be a great supplement to use for those who need help with sleep. Reaching the deep sleep cycle is key to activating muscle repair and recovery.

Working Out

Powerlifters focus on their three core exercises when prepping for competition:

  • Bench press
  • Squats
  • Deadlifts

There is little to no variation in what they do, other than changing out the weight plates. They do low reps with serious poundage and long rest periods.

For bodybuilders, they may incorporate the same three moves as powerlifters, but they also add many other exercises as well. Cardio is usually included in their exercise routine in order to help them reduce their body fat even more. They also change up the types of exercises, reps, and rest periods depending on what muscle group they are focusing on.

Powerlifting vs Bodybuilding vs Weightlifting

What is the difference between powerlifting vs bodybuilding vs weightlifting?

All these terms are related, however each have a very different meaning. According to Dictionary.com, each term is defined as:

  • Powerlifting – a competition or sport involving three tests of strength: the bench press, squat, and two-handed deadlift.
  • Bodybuilding – the act or practice of exercising, lifting weights, etc., so as to develop the muscles of the body.
  • Weightlifting – the act, art, or sport of lifting barbells of given poundage in a prescribed manner, as a competitive event or conditioning exercise.
Weightlifting focuses on lifting barbells within a constructive manner.

What about CrossFit?

CrossFit is not only a way of working out, it’s an entire lifestyle. People who attend “boxes” for CrossFit work out doing various exercises similar to both bodybuilders and powerlifters. They also conform to a specific way of eating to help improve their overall results.

According to founder Greg Glassman, every person who practices CrossFit should adhere to eating:

  • Meat
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Some fruit
  • Little starches
  • No added sugar
wholesome food
Wholesome food is a must in the CrossFit lifestyle.

When comparing bodybuilding vs powerlifting vs CrossFit, you find that it is a hybrid of both powerlifting and bodybuilding. Combining powerlifting and bodybuilding exercises, CrossFit uses high intensity workout plans which are effective for a lot of cult followers.

CrossFit is a cross between powerlifting, bodybuilding, and high intensity training.

The bench press, squat and deadlift are all staples to the CrossFit workout plan. Coupling the exercises with a solid food plan can create great results for people who are able to stick to both.

However, that is where the similarities end. CrossFit is focused on speed and endurance with minimal rest. There is not much focus on the actual function of the exercise other than proper form.

Powerlifting focuses on strength and the ability to pick up a ton of pounds in specific exercise formats.

Bodybuilding is all about appearance and posing at competition. Sure, it takes eating right and working out to get to competition. But once there, appearance and proper posing is what gets you noticed.

Bodybuilding vs Powerlifting Workouts

Bodybuilders are able to use various different exercises to build their perfect body. While a lot has changed since the Golden Era, the focus is still mainly on:

  • Working specific muscle groups (isolation exercising)
  • Using free weights and machines
  • Intensity levels
  • High volume reps and sets
  • Low volume reps and sets
  • Compound exercises

They simply have more options available to them to bulk up, depending on their goals. They can work a different muscle group each day and mix up an almost endless amount of exercises. Bodybuilders also change their focus as they reach goals.

Focus on reps and form are fundamentals of bodybuilding.

Bodybuilding is all about rep integrity – feeling each rep and proper form above all else. Recovery is also a huge factor in bodybuilding, which helps with muscle repair, increasing muscle mass, and reducing body fat.

With powerlifting, the exercises focus on just three core moves:

  • Bench press
  • Squats
  • Deadlift
Deadlifts are one of the 3 main moves in powerlifitng.

To be the best, powerlifters focus on doing low volume reps with long periods of rest in between. Like bodybuilding, recovery is crucial to help with increasing muscle mass in huge volume.

Do I Have to Choose?

For some competitors, being just a powerlifter or just a bodybuilder is not enough. Some start out with one sport and then move to the other, or choose to compete in both sports. Let’s take a look at two guys who don’t label themselves as just a powerlifter or bodybuilder. Have you heard of Ronnie Coleman and Johnnie Jackson?

Johnnie Jackson
Johnnie Jackson was the”World’s Strongest Professional Bodybuilder” for many years.

Johnnie Jackson, a former armed forces soldier, has been competing in both bodybuilding and powerlifting competitions for over 20 years. Getting his start in powerlifting in the late ‘90s, he chose to slim down and start competing in bodybuilding in 2002. He has earned the title of “World’s Strongest Professional Bodybuilder” several years running.

Ronnie Coleman
Ronnie Coleman won Mr. Olympia 8 years in a row.

Ronnie Coleman may be retired now, but he is well known in bodybuilding. After all, he won the title of Mr. Olympia eight years in a row. Some even consider him the greatest bodybuilder of all time. Competing since the early ‘90s, like Jackson, he got his start in powerlifting and then shifted focus to bodybuilding.

Coleman’s tale is one of greatness but not without sacrifice. He has had several hip and back surgeries that have required him to give up powerlifting and bodybuilding permanently. The relentless punishment he put his body through provided him with many trophies and wins. However, the many years of brutal strain on his body has cost him the ability to walk unassisted.

If you choose to do both, be kind to your body. You give up so much to create a body that can withstand the rigors of competition. Provide lots of rest and recovery, eat well, and take as much time off as possible in between comp preparation.

So, What’s the Verdict?

Depending on your goals and how much muscle you want to pack on, you might choose bodybuilding over powerlifting. There’s no clear right or wrong here, it’s purely up to you to decide which ones better.

If you want to develop a great physique reminiscent of the Golden Era, then focus on bodybuilding. Do you just want to get huge muscles and compete on brute strength alone? Then it sounds like you should be a powerlifter.

Let’s do a recap of each type and then let us know in the comments which one you think is a winner over the other. Make sure to tell us why!

1. Focus is on appearance
2. Exercise dependent on goals
3. Diet is primary in order to build muscle and reduce body fat
4. Focus on endurance
5. Rest and recovery is essential
6. Judged on appearance and posing
7. Many categories to compete in
1. Focus is on strength
2. “Big 3” core exercises
3. Building muscle is primary, diet is secondary
4. Focus on brute strength
5. Rest and recovery is essential
6. Judged on rep weight and form
7. A few categories to compete in

Do you consider yourself a powerlifter vs a bodybuilder? Let us know in the comments!

Disclaimer: None of the individuals and/or companies mentioned necessarily endorse Old School Labs or COSIDLA Inc. products or the contents of this article. Any programs provided for illustration purposes only. Always consult with your personal trainer, nutritionist and physician before changing or starting any new exercise, nutrition, or supplementation program.
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