At least once a week somebody says to me “You do that bodybuilding right?”
After a couple of minutes lecturing on the differences between body building and powerlifting they kind of understand the distinction.
I have never partaken in a bodybuilding competition but I have competed in an athletic physique competition and have trained bikini competitors. I have competed in multiple power lifting events and have trained national record holders. This gives me experience in both disciplines and a good idea of what the training involves.
So what are the differences?
Physique and bodybuilding competitions involve multiple judges. The judges look for certain things in a physique athlete such as muscle symmetry, stage presence, routine, and overall body composition. They score each competitor and the person with the highest score between the judges wins. There is a slight downside to this. The overall winner is based on someone’s opinion and leaves grey areas. The first physique competition I competed in I asked the head judge for feedback as I placed third. He told me that I had been first on his card but the other two judges had two people in front of me. However it was still great to hear I had been first on one of the judges cards and was happy with coming third overall.
In powerlifting here are different federations with different rules, although most rules are the same across the federations. Powerlifting requires you to test your one repetition max in the squat, bench press and deadlift. All three lifts require certain standards. For example a squat has to be at least parallel, a bench press has to pause on the chest and a deadlift has to be locked out at the top and put down under control. There are a few more rules but these are the main ones.
Each lifter will have three attempts at each lift. They will attempt three lifts at a squat, then the bench press and then the deadlift. After the lifter has completed all three lifts the highest weight lifted from each lift is added up. The person with the highest number wins. There are also separate weight categories and a formula to calculate strength in relation to body weight. There is a winner from each weight category and one overall winner, selected using the weight ratio formula. This leaves very little grey areas and as the saying goes “The bar never lies”.
Even though physique competing and powerlifting use the same tools (weights and resistance training) they are very different in the way they use them (like a hammer can be used for putting a nail in and taking a nail out.).
A similar comparison would be between marathon runners and sprinters. Even though they use the same tools (their legs) they look and train very differently. The two sports couldn’t be further apart, yet some confuse the two athletes.
The main purpose of physique training is to develop body parts and physical appearance. Physique athletes generally train muscles and body parts. The goal is to develop each muscle so it equals the opposing muscle and is in proportion to the rest of their body. Powerlifters and weight lifters train movements. A powerlifter performs exercises that will improve their three competition lifts. A powerlifter or weightlifter will not care what they look like, as the primary goal is to get stronger and increase the numbers on the bar.
On the flip side a powerlifter will still develop a muscular physique and a physique athlete would still perform some strength exercises to build muscle and work capacity.
Another difference would be mobility and routine. A physique athlete would spend time practicing their poses and routine for the big day. This can take hours of practice to nail the routine. Body builders spend hours practising their poses and making them free flowing and silk.
Powerlifters would spend extra time working on mobility that will help them get into better positions for their primary lifts and accessory exercises. A powerlifter would work on things such as ankle mobility so they can squat, and thoracic and lumbar mobility to create that arch in their back when benching, squatting and deadlifting. They could also require some flexibility work if they have tight hamstrings or hip flexors. This could prevent them from getting in to the correct position when starting a lift.
The diet is very strict for a physique athlete. It normally requires a “bulking” phase then a “cutting” phase. Some people add hoooge amounts of weight then drastically cut the weight x amount of weeks from a competition. Other people try and stay relatively lean throughout their training putting on a small about of body fat then cutting close to a competition. Both ways can work and it really depends on the individual and what they want to achieve.
A powerlifting diet can vary depending on what weight class the lifter is in. Some powerlifters need to eat better than others to make weight. Some eat shite most of the time and then drastically cut close to comp. Heavyweight powerlifters literally eat hoooge amounts of calories as they have to fuel strength gains and have no worries about making weight.
Both diets are are hard and require work. It’s just as hard to build muscle as it is to shred fat, if not harder.
Both sports may be different in the way they train and compete but they do have some things in common. Both require extreme discipline, hard work and balls. It takes guts to get up on stage in a load of fake tan and put yourself on show. It also take balls to get under a heavy bar or pick one up and break your last PB.
Athletes from both sports are seen as “fitness freaks” with no real application from the average office dude who might do kurlz and bench three times a week.
Both sports have comradeship and a tremendous pride in what they do.
I have HOOGE respect for both sports and even though I am now a powerlifter.
At least you now a little bit about the two sports and won’t insult someone by calling them a powerlifter or bodybuilder when they’re the complete opposite.
Jay Farrant CPT SET