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Weightlifting vs powerlifting vs bodybuilding

Weightlifting vs powerlifting vs bodybuilding


Weightlifting vs powerlifting vs bodybuilding

I’m often asked by clients to write programs for strength and muscle gains. Interestingly enough, when we consider that strength training is a long and arduous process, most of my clients can actually be considered as ‘beginner’ lifters. Now here’s the thing: for people that are beginner lifters, I.e. Less than 3-5 years lifting experience, almost ANY program followed consistently and progressed effectively will result in good gains in strength and size. So next time you beginners are thinking of changing your program, my advice is don’t bother. Mix it up and make a few subtle changes, but by using basic periodisation and progression your going to get that result you always looked for. Plus you can give yourself a round of applause for sticking at something. (I hear you clapping yourself now).

There are essentially 3 main styles of lifting programs. Weightlifting,  powerlifting and bodybuilding. Now most peoples programs will be a mixture of all three but its likely that there will be a bias toward one style over another. I’m aware of strongman, highland games etc but lets keep this simple!

Ok, so you want to feel like an invincible god-like meta human. That’s fine. Let’s look at some of the common ways of manipulating your program sot you get some serious gains.

Weightlifting bias programs.

Weightlifting has seen a massive resurgence in popularity recently with the growth of crossfit and functional training. Weightlifting is cool again. So if you like the feeling of throwing weights above your head as fast as you can while everyone screams at you from the sidelines then great! Weightlifting is fun and will get you some great gains in strength and size. Weightlifting programs are generally made up of very low repetitions of the clean & jerk and snatch movements and all possible derivatives. There will be some leeway for different exercises but because it’s essentially a sport, the idea is to develop the skill and get better at there two lifts.


  • Its challenging
  • Great for improving power, speed flexibility and intramuscular coordination (excellent for sports)
  • You will get stronger, and to an extent bigger (although not optimal for hypertrophy)
  • Very social due to the long rest periods (expect lots of talking)


  • Needs to be coached. It’s not really something you can self-teach.
  • Not too much room for different exercises in your program.
  • Very high skill requirement. It takes a LONG time to get good at this, expect frustrating times!

In conclusion – use this type of training if you’re really into weightlifting, crossfit, or are a high level athlete. Probably not optimal if you’re looking for size or maximal strength.

Powerlifting bias programs.

Powerlifting bias programs basically consist of squat, (back squat) bench press & deadlift. The three lifts that make up the sport of powerlifting are great for maximum strength and good for hypertrophy. Generally, because powerlifting relies on one all-out effort in these three lifts, powerlifting programs usually rely on reps of 5 and below (and often singles and doubles, much like weightlifting). Expect to lift very heavy weights, and while there is a skill element to these techniques, most people feel they are a lot easier to learn than the weightlifting techniques.


  • There’s nothing like feeling strong. Powerlifting will make you very strong.
  • It’s relatively easy to learn, but as you progress you will need coaching and probably a spotter!
  • A lot of powerlifting is based on pure strength, naturally this is good for putting in mass.


  • Essentially it’s just three main lifts. So those who need variance will have to stick to assistance exercises.
  • To be really good at powerlifting you might have to put on weight including body fat. Not ideal if looking good is your primary goal.
  • Like weightlifting its a long hard grind. Due to the nature of the weights used, expect to be very sore as you progress.

In conclusion – use powerlifting as your base if functional strength is your goal. While still improving  speed and power it’s all about strength. It’s fun and the powerlifting look is one of density and muscularity. If you want to take it up as a sport, expect your fair share of joint aches and injuries. It won’t do very much for any aspects of fitness other than strength, so don’t neglect your conditioning.

 Bodybuilding bias programs.

Bodybuilding bias programs are all about improving body composition and to some extent muscle mass. The bodybuilding regime is usually varied and really plays to the tune of the person doing the program. I would say walk into most gyms and the majority of lifters will be doing a bodybuilding program of some sorts, even if they don’t know it themselves! Bodybuilding programs can be varied and are essentially focused on improving the aesthetics of the athlete. While body builders often look the part, functionally they are not the quickest or strongest of athletes. But if the beach body is all you desire, then this type of training might be for you.


  • Variety in bodybuilding programs keeps people interested.
  • It’s all about looking good. This will in turn make you feel good.
  • It really ties in with healthy eating and good nutrition, which is music to my ears!


  • As mentioned before if performance or functionality are your goals, it’s probably not the optimal training program.
  • There is a long history of drug use in bodybuilding and many people are casual users. Don’t be dragged down that road.
  • You can get drawn into doing 1000 exercises. It’s worth finding your weaknesses and working on those. Don’t get blinded by the program with a hundred bicep variations!

So whatever plan you choose there will always be pros and cons. Interestingly as I alluded to at the start of this post, any program will garner results, especially if you’re new to weight training. The best idea is for you to try all forms of training and find what really makes it interesting for you. If adherence to any program gets the best results, then perhaps by doing what we love, we’ll be more likely to achieve some serious results. So do whatever it takes, or whatever you like to feel, look and be great.