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Bodybuilding vs Weightlifting

By Edited Aug 4, 2015 1 0

Bodybuilding and weightlifting are two entirely different sports. Yes, both types of athletes lift weights, but that's where the similarity ends. Bodybuilding and weightlifting evolved from two different philosophies of training involving weights, and the difference can be seen in the training styles, nutrition, and drastically different physical appearances of the two types of athletes.




Bodybuilding is all about appearances. The goal of the bodybuilder is to develop his or her muscles in the most aesthetically pleasing manner possible. Typical of a bodybuilder's physique are large, defined muscles, a “v” taper, low body fat, and clearly visible veins. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronnie Coleman, and Jay Cutler are prime examples of what a bodybuilder looks like.  

Credit: Arnold Schwarzenegger

How To Train Like A Bodybuilder


Bodybuilders have often been ridiculed for being relatively weak compared to strength athletes and Olympic lifters despite being much larger in than both in general. This is true because the goal of the bodybuilder is to build larger muscles and not necessarily stronger muscles.


How is this possible? Isn't a large muscle the same as a strong muscle? Not always. There are different ways to train a muscle, some are better for muscle growth while others are better for developing muscular strength. Bodybuilders focus primarily on increasing the size of the individual fibers of their muscles by inducing sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. This is done by training their muscles with relatively low weights for high numbers of repetitions. They focus on strict form and intense muscle contractions in order to induce maximum hypertrophy. A typical chest exercise for a bodybuilder might include a relatively light 190 pound bench press done for 20 repetitions in 5 sets. On the other hand, it is not unusual to see a strength trainer do a heavy 350 pound bench press for 3 repetitions in 5 sets. Bodybuilders tend to do way more repetitions per exercise than weightlifters. This is the reason why you will often see an extremely muscular person at the gym struggle with a 20 pound dumbbell curl while a much smaller person next to him curls a 50 pound dumbbell with ease.


Professional bodybuilders are much stronger than the average human being, but they do not train with the intention of becoming the strongest person alive. In fact, a bodybuilder is often at his weakest during competition season when he is looking his absolute best. The reason for this is nutrition.




Nutrition plays an extremely important role in the bodybuilder's quest for aesthetic perfection. Growing muscles requires a lot of nutrients, and bodybuilders will often go through a bulking phase where they eat more calories than their body consumes in order to provide their muscles enough nutrients to continue growing. Professional bodybuilders will often eat in excess of 6000 calories a day, and accumulate quite a bit of body fat in the process, only to burn it all off in time for competition season. This cutting phase, which often involves complicated diets and extreme deprivation, burns off all the fat and leaves only the lean muscle mass that had developed during the bulk. Some muscle loss is inevitable during the cutting phase, which is why bodybuilders are weakest when they look their best. The difference in appearance in pictures of professional bodybuilders during competition season and during their bulking phases is dramatic. The photo on the left is a bodybuilder before his bulk, the middle is during his bulk, and the last picture is after burning off all of the excess fat.  

Bulking and Cutting
Credit: Unknown



Weightlifters are a completely different kind of athlete. While the goal of the bodybuilder is to build muscle, the goal of the weightlifter is to get stronger and faster. The typical weightlifter's physique is much smaller than a bodybuilder's physique. Their muscles are dense, compact, and extremely efficient. Appearances generally do not matter to a weightlifter, and there are great variations in the amount of body fat each athlete carries on his or her body. Examples of weightlifters include Holley Mangold, Kendrick Farris and Lu Xiaojun. 

Dean Bowring
Credit: www.liftingpictures.com

How To Train Like A Weightlifter


Weightlifters aspire to be able to lift weight as fast and as efficiently as possible. They train explosively, with a focus on heavy compound movements with few reps. The reason why they train this way is because weightlifters are primarily concerned with myofibrillar hypertrophy. Whereas sarcoplasmic hypertrophy results in larger muscle fibers for bodybuilders, myofibrillar hypertrophy results in more efficient muscle fibers for weightlifters. You do not use all of your muscle fibers when you flex your muscles. Some fibers contract with less force than others. Weightlifters train with heavy low rep compound exercises because those kinds of explosive movements teach the body's central nervous system to activate more muscle fibers and cause them to contract more forcefully. To illustrate, inducing myofibrillar hypertrophy is like putting a larger engine in a car. The size of the car does not change, but it moves faster because it has a more power under the hood.




Nutrition plays a very important role in the world of competitive weightlifting, but its purpose is not to sustain muscle growth like it does for bodybuilders. In competitive weightlifting, the goal of the strength athlete is to be the largest and strongest person within his or her weight class. If a person falls into the middleweight category, she wants to get her weight as close to the upper middleweight limit without going a pound over, which would make her one of the smallest and weakest athletes in the weight class above her. This is why weightlifters tend to have higher levels of body fat and less defined muscles. Strength trainers eat to maintain their weight, not to increase it.


Anomalies And In-Betweeners


Some athletes do not clearly fit into either the bodybuilder or weightlifter categories. Some are clearly a part of one category, but exhibit traits from the other. Some simply cannot be categorized.


For example, Ronnie Coleman, a professional bodybuilder, also exhibits an unusual amount of strength for a bodybuilder. This may or may not be attributable to his day job as a police officer. In this video, he is shown performing an incredible 800 pound deadlift, for two repetitions. This is an amazing feat for a weightlifter, but the fact that it was performed by a bodybuilder makes it even more impressive.  

Konstantin Konstantinovs is a Latvian powerlifter. He holds the world record for the heaviest, unbelted raw deadlift at 939 pounds. What makes him an anomaly is his record breaking strength, combined with his muscular development and low body fat levels.


Konstantin Konstantinovs
Credit: Konstantin Konstantinovs

Clearly, the world of bodybuilding and weightlifting extends far beyond what is mentioned in this article. Choosing one path does not mean you must forego the other, and many successful bodybuilders and powerlifters started their careers in the other "category". Hopefully, you are more knowledgable about the two types of athletes and are now able to distinguish between them. 



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