What's the Difference for Your Body Between Powerlifting & Bodybuilding?

What's the Difference for Your Body Between Powerlifting & Bodybuilding?

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Muscle size, symmetry and leanness are key in bodybuilding.

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The main difference between powerlifting and bodybuilding is that the former is based on performance and strength, while the latter is judged on appearance. Despite being different sports, some individuals compete in both powerlifting and bodybuilding. While there is some crossover between the strength needed for powerlifting and the size for bodybuilding, both methods of training have different affects on your body.

The Platform vs. the Stage

As a powerlifter, your sole focus is on how you perform on the platform in your three competition lifts -- squats, bench presses and deadlifts. Bodybuilding, on the other hand, involves sculpting the body, and competitors need high levels of muscle size, symmetry and definition, notes fitness expert Gin Miller in a blog post on the Empower website. Therefore a powerlifter won't be overly concerned with how he looks, whereas for a bodybuilder, it's the be all and end all.

The Fatigue Factor

Training to the point of muscular failure -- where you can't perform another rep with good form -- is a key element in bodybuilding routines. Going to failure on certain exercises can boost muscular hypertrophy, notes sports scientist Chris Beardsley on the Strength and Conditioning Research site. For powerlifters, however, pushing the body in this manner and training until their muscles fail may be detrimental. When training for strength and power, focus on quality, not quantity, advises athletics coach Brian Mackenzie on his website. Training to failure for a powerlifter encourages poor form, which won't help come contest day.

Battling Body Weights

Powerlifting and bodybuilding both incorporate weight classes. These vary depending on what federation you're competing in, but splitting competitors into weight categories helps to even out the competition. Therefore, while powerlifters don't need to be as lean as bodybuilders, a powerlifter may still have to achieve a low level of body fat to meet a certain weight cut-off. Powerlifting diets tend to be less specific, notes athlete Jarell Lindsey on the Muscular Strength System website. Powerlifters will generally be more comfortable carrying excess body fat in the off-season too, whereas bodybuilders remain relatively lean year round.

Size Against Strength

While a bigger muscle is generally a stronger muscle and vice versa, the type of muscle growth between bodybuilders and powerlifters can vary. Bodybuilders usually train with moderate weights in the six- to 12-repetition range, while powerlifting routines call for mainly lower reps with heavier weights -- usually five reps and under, with loads exceeding 85 percent of a one-rep max. This heavy style of training tends to increase myofibrillar hypertrophy, which is an increase in density of muscle tissue, while the bodybuilding-type workouts boost sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, where the fluid levels in the muscle cells increase. This is why you can get some very strong powerlifters who don't look particularly muscular and bodybuilders who have impressive physiques, yet may not have such a good strength-to-weight ratio.