Bodybuilding vs Strength Training – Introduction
Strength training vs bodybuilding – what’s the difference between them?
And which one is better for a beginner in fitness?
Imagine that you have finally started to invest the time and resources in taking care of yourself.
For example, instead of splurging on Starbucks Salted Caramel Mocha Frappuccinos sugar and fat bombs, you instead buy quality food to feed your body and pick up a great pair of walking shoes.
Your scale numbers are dropping, and you’re feeling more comfortable in your clothes.
And now you want to accelerate your fat loss, strength gains, and overall body transformation.
Should you start lifting weights, and if yes, which is better – strength training or bodybuilding?
The Benefits of Lifting Weights
Lifting weights is arguably one of the best things you can do for your health.
- Increase your functional strength
- Improve your bone mass
- Help you control your weight
- Strengthen your joints
- Lower your blood pressure
- Increase your insulin sensitivity
- Strengthen your heart
- Improve your balance and coordination
- Reduce your stress levels
- Help you sleep better
- Improve your self-confidence and determination
In short, challenging your muscles by lifting weights is BIG MEDICINE and is unparalleled for virtually every aspect of your physical and mental health.
Live long and live strong by working out with weights!
That said, there are several types of weight training.
Each one shares similarities, but they also have different purposes.
Your body responds to the stresses placed upon it, which is the fitness principle of specificity.
Therefore, if you are training for a particular outcome, there is a type of training that’ll suit you best.
This article compares and contrasts strength training and bodybuilding so that you can choose the right approach for your specific goals.
What is Strength Training?
Strength training is a general term used to describe working out with weights.
Other names for this type of workout include weight training and resistance training.
However, strength training should not be confused with Olympic weightlifting or powerlifting.
While both involve aspects of strength training, they’re also competitive sports that use specialist training methods.
As the name implies, strength training aims to build strength.
Strength is the ability of your muscles to generate force and usually is expressed as your one-rep max or 1RM.
Lifting anything heavy enough to challenge your muscles will make them stronger.
As such, you can build strength doing low, medium, or high reps using light, moderate, or heavier weights.
Providing the last few reps of your sets are sufficiently demanding, your body will respond by getting stronger.
That said, if you want to build high-end strength, the best way to do it is with heavy weights and low reps.
This set and rep scheme range usually means sets of five or fewer reps per set and using 85% or more of your 1RM.
However, such big weights are not suitable for beginners, as lifting too heavy too soon could cause injury.
The Foundation of Strength Training
Compound lifts are the foundation of a strength training program, such as:
These exercises develop multiple large muscles simultaneously, making them more time-efficient as well as more functional.
Full-Body and Split Routines
While some strength trainers follow a split training routine, working different muscle groups on specific days, full-body workouts are also popular.
Full-body workouts are an effective style of training because it is time-efficient and means you only have to work out 2-3 times per week.
- Squats 3 sets of 12 reps
- Bench press three sets of 12 reps
- Deadlifts three sets of 8 reps
- Bent-over rows three sets of 12 reps
- Leg curls three sets of 15 reps
- Shoulder press three sets of 15 reps
- Lat pulldowns three sets of 15 reps
- Lunges 2 sets of 10 reps per leg
- Bicep curls two sets of 12 reps
- Triceps pushdowns two sets of 12 reps
- Stability ball crunches three sets of 15 reps
However, more experienced exercisers may prefer to divide their training over more days per week, focusing on different movement patterns for each workout.
Overhead press and assistance exercises
While strength training results in muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth), that isn’t its primary goal.
Instead, strength training is more about improved performance than appearance.
What Is Bodybuilding
Bodybuilding is a type of strength training.
However, bodybuilders are mainly concerned with the size and appearance of their muscles rather than strength.
Bodybuilders ARE stronger than average exercisers but are sometimes not as strong as they look.
Bodybuilders tend to use light to moderate weights and do medium to high rep ranges.
6-12 reps per set with 67-85% of their 1RM is the standard prescription for hypertrophy training.
This set, rep, and 1RM percentage scheme causes mechanical overload and metabolic stress, which are needed to increase muscle size.
You create progressive overload by gradually increasing the amount of weight you lift, building muscle mass and improving your overall strength.
Where general strength training tends to involve just a couple of compound exercises per muscle group, bodybuilders often use a combination of compound and isolation exercises to train their muscles from a variety of angles.
Compound and isolation exercises are the best way to stimulate muscle growth.
For example, if you want to get stronger and deadlift more weight, you might do five sets of five deadlifts with heavier weight, meaning 85% or more of your 1RM.
Sample Bodybuilding Routine
But, if a bodybuilder wanted to build a bigger back, they might do a workout like this:
- Deadlifts 3 sets of 6
- Pull-ups 3 sets of 8
- Seated rows three sets of 10
- Pulldowns 3 sets of 12
- Single-arm rows three sets of 12 per arm
As you can see, bodybuilders tend to train their muscles with much more volume and use a greater variety of exercises.
Such a voluminous, varied approach to training means that bodybuilders tend to use split workouts, training specific muscle groups or body parts on different days.
Arms & abs
Some bodybuilders use full-body workouts, but split routines are more common.
Dedicating an entire training session to just 1-2 muscles is generally best for hypertrophy as volume is an integral part of the muscle-building process.
Bodybuilders are not particularly concerned with how much weight they lift.
Instead, bodybuilding training aims to cause muscle microtrauma and fatigue in all available muscle fibers.
It is this microtrauma and fatigue that triggers the hypertrophic response responsible for muscle growth.
However, the bigger a muscle becomes, the greater its strength potential.
So, while bodybuilders don’t train for strength, they do get stronger as they get bigger.
However, muscle size is not the only factor that affects strength.
Weightlifters and powerlifters are often much smaller but stronger than bodybuilders because they specialize in lifting heavy weights; that’s training specificity in action!
Strength Training vs Bodybuilding – FAQs
Not sure which is the best type of training for you?
These FAQs should help you decide!
Q1. Which is better for appearance?
While strength training will make your muscles bigger, that’s not the main aim of that type of workout.
In contrast, bodybuilding is all about appearance.
In competitions, bodybuilders are judged solely on their aesthetics and not their strength.
If you want bigger muscles, bodybuilding is the way to go.
Q2. Which is better for strength?
Bodybuilding builds strength, but it’s incidental to hypertrophy.
In contrast, the main aim of strength training is increasing strength.
That said, to get much more powerful than you are today in terms of strength, you’ll need to work out with heavy weights and do low reps.
For example, see How Many Deadlift Reps and Sets Should You Do; A Beginners Guide if you want to focus on building functional strength with the King of all exercise – the deadlift.
Q3. Strength Training vs Bodybuilding – Which is better for health?
Bodybuilding and strength training can improve your health.
The demands on your body are relatively similar.
Bodybuilding may be slightly less healthy because it emphasizes appearance over function.
Also, competitive bodybuilding often involves less healthy practices like getting extremely lean, using performance-enhancing drugs, and extreme diets and training.
That said, natural, recreational bodybuilding can and should be a very healthy pursuit, just like strength training.
Q4. Which is better for beginners?
Beginners can modify both types of training, bodybuilding or strength training, to suit their needs.
Indeed, a beginner bodybuilding program is a beginner strength training workout!
Providing you start off lifting lighter weights to moderate loads, spend time mastering the basic exercises, and don’t try and follow a program meant for more advanced exercisers, strength training and bodybuilding are both suitable for beginners.
Q5. Which is better for athletes?
While bodybuilding emphasizes muscle size, strength training focuses more on function.
As such, strength training is best for athletes.
Bigger muscles are not always stronger muscles.
Huge muscles can end up being “dead weight” and are no guarantee of better sporting performance.
In contrast, if you want to run faster, jump higher, or kick harder, getting stronger will help.
- Saquon Barkley used squats to become an electrifying NFL runner and
- Stephen Curry applied deadlifts to rehabilitate his ‘glass’ ankles and become one of the most celebrated MVPs of the NBA
- Allyson Felix’s deadlift program helped her become the GOAT female track athlete with 11 Olympic gold medals
Q6. Can you combine strength training and bodybuilding?
You certainly can!
This combined approach is usually called powerbuilding.
A Powerbuilding program involves both heavy strength training and bodybuilding exercises to build muscle strength and size simultaneously.
This type of workout is a great way to train when you want the best of both worlds.
- Squat five sets of 3 reps (strength)
- Romanian deadlift three sets of 5 reps (strength)
- Leg press three sets of 8 reps (hypertrophy)
- Leg curls three sets of 8 reps (hypertrophy)
- Hack squat three sets of 10 reps (hypertrophy)
- Calf raises three sets of 12 reps (hypertrophy)
Q7. Strength training vs Bodybuilding diets – are they different?
You are what you eat, and if you want to get the best results from your workouts, you need to support your training with a healthy diet.
The nutritional demands of strength training and bodybuilding are very similar.
You need carbs to fuel your workouts, protein for muscle repair and recovery, and natural fats for health.
That said, building muscle generally requires a calorie surplus.
In contrast, you can get stronger while in a calorie deficit.
Strength Training vs Bodybuilding – Wrapping Up
Strength training and bodybuilding both involve working out with weights.
They use similar exercises and even share many of the same benefits.
After all, strength training will make your muscles bigger, and bodybuilding will make you stronger.
That said, if you are more interested in muscle size, bodybuilding is the way to go.
Alternatively, if you are more concerned about function and performance, strength training is probably best.
Unable to decide between these different training methods?
A Powerbuilding Program could be the solution.
Either way, lifting weights is excellent for every aspect of your health and something that every exerciser should include in their workout schedule.
Whether you want to build muscle size or improve your athletic function and performance, I recommend starting with a basic strength training workout.
To that end, one of the best strength training programs is Coach Mark Rippetoe’s 3×5 Workout: The Only Strength Training Program You’ll Ever Need.
Of course, Coach Rippetoe’s method is not the only effective way to train with barbells.
For the most valuable guides to begin weight training, see The 10 Best Strength Training Books for Beginners in 2021.
- Hypertrophy Training – Essential Muscle Building Principles + Program
- Vegan Bodybuilders Prove the Power of a Plant-Based Diet
- Deadlift to Lose Belly Fat – The Fastest Way to Lean Out Your Body
- What is Kinesiology? How Knowing Kinesiology Improves Your Training
- Strength Training for Men Over 50 + Full-Body Workout