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Strength Training Landscape: Powerlifting vs. Bodybuilding

By Marc Perry / July 1, 2017

While there are many different types of strength training methods, two dominate the fitness landscape; Powerlifting and Bodybuilding. What’s interesting about the general methodologies of each group is that they are almost polar opposites of each other.

As I explain in this article, I think the ideal strength training program for most people lies somewhere in the middle of these two extremes (I’ve trained both ways for years). If you don’t understand some of the exercise terms I use, you can check out my article 15 Strength Training Terms You Should Know.

Powerlifters: “Form Follows Function”

Powerlifters, (aka “strength guys”, or “function guys”) love lifting really heavy weight, performing compound movements like bench presses, squats, and dead lifts with lower rep ranges and lower volume. Powerlifters on average boast large forearms, necks, and butts and some look like they eat a moose for breakfast every day.

Powerlifters also rest a lot between sets, even up to 5 minutes. Cardiovascular activity is limited to very short, strong bursts, known as interval training. Strength guys are all about function, helping you jump higher, run faster, get stronger, be able to catch your next meal.

The less extreme example is an athlete, who may have a more aesthetic and athletic body, but most exercises are compound movements, with many Olympic lifts and other momentum based lifts thrown in (like the snatch, clean and jerk etc.).

These strength guys argue that form follows function. The biggest challenge with focusing too much on strength is that the risk/reward spectrum is skewed toward risk for most people.

If you’re a guy, or gal sitting in an office all day, using complicated compound movements like deadlifts and hang cleans is an accident waiting to happen. The reward is NOT worth the risk! This is especially true if you don’t have a strength coach who has spent a couple months coaching you, which most people don’t.

Olympic style movements can take months, if not years to master and again, are not worth the risk unless you want to become a competitive athlete. Every time I see someone deadlifting at the gym invariably with terrible form, I cringe. I never recommend any beginner attempt Olympic lifts without the guidance of a strength coach.

Bodybuilders: “How Does The Inner Head of My Biceps Look?”

On the other hand you have bodybuilders who lift a ton of volume, higher reps, perform isolation exercises, tons of exercises per muscle group, and do long, slow, boring cardio, known as “steady state” cardio. Reps are very strict, slow, and controlled, without any momentum. Bodybuilders mostly care about how they look and it doesn’t matter as much how they feel, or if they have strength imbalances.

Fitness models in general also lift like bodybuilders who typically focus on one muscle group per day, such as chest on Monday, back on Tuesday etc. Powerlifers on the other hand complete full body strength training workouts, so that they hit all muscle groups in one workout. I prefer full body for beginners and intermediate exercisers, then a modified body part split for those who are more advanced, so that you are hitting 2-3 muscle groups per workout session.

Strength Training Landscape Chart:

Below is a chart summarizing the extremes of the strength training landscape:

So How Should YOU Strength Train?

Ultimately, that’s up to you and what your goals are. I think the most efficient, safe training method for most people that maximizes form and function lies somewhere in the middle. My strength training philosophy can be summarized by completing short, intense workouts with moderate volume and minimal rest between sets, focusing on compound exercises. I love interval training like the strength guys, but I also love lifting slow and controlled (most of the time) like bodybuilders, which is much safer in my opinion. You can check out my Efficient Strength Training article series along with 8 Weight Training Tips to Never Forget to learn more about my personal strength training philosophy and tips.

I hope this analysis was useful for you to improve your knowledge of strength training!


  • Edward says:

    Very interesting website Marc....enjoy reading it. Good luck with it. That Montauk Downs golf course is a tough one....

    • Marc Perry says:

      Thank a lot, Ed. I had a great time playing at Montauk Downs. I still can't believe how hard some of those approach shots are. When I played the Sands Point Golf course after coming home, I felt like a scratch golfer because it's so much easier than Montauk Downs. Definitely keep me posted and let me know if I can be helpful. Enjoy the weekend!

  • dozenz says:


    For powerlifting you list the Tempo as fast, momentum based, which I believe is more accurate for Olympic Weightlifting (cleans, Snatch, etc) not Powerlifting (bench press, squat and deadlift).

    Powerlifting is actually all about slow and controlled movement, to the point where official competitions have strict requirements on the motion of the weight as well as commands and body position (told when to start/rack/bench/etc). Your lift will be disqualified on bench and squat if the bar changes direction during the motion (ie. when coming back up you pause, drop and rise again), or if you lost control of your body (lifting your butt/foot while benching, repositioning your feet while squatting/deadlift).

    While you can train using fast, momentum based motions and sometimes it is good to train that way once in a while (bouncing out of a squat), the majority of your training for powerlifting will be slow and controlled, especially as you approach the competition and train for the commands.

    Other than that I think you have powerlifting and bodybuilding correct (I have trained in both and curently train/compete in powerlifting).