To the untrained eye, powerlifting vs bodybuilding can seem like essentially the same sport. Both powerlifters and bodybuilders aim to develop muscle, but there are key differences in their sport and how they sculpt their bodies.
In theory, a powerlifter and a bodybuilder can be the same person, since both sports generally encompass strength. A powerlifter’s primary focus is lifting as much weight as possible in the squat, bench, and deadlift. Their body weight and body fat percentage is more of a personal preference, although having more muscle relative to their body fat lends itself to lifting heavier weights. Powerlifters may be more concerned about their weight if they are trying to stay in a weight class.
Bodybuilders ultimately aim to have a lower percentage of body fat relative to their muscle mass. Professional athletes might compete in different categories, such as physique or classic bodybuilding, but each subcategory is still considered bodybuilding. Although weight is important, it is often less of a concern, with more of an emphasis on aesthetics.
Powerlifters are generally less strict about their diet, but they will go through cycles of cutting and massing, depending on their goals. Their diet may be dictated by their training schedule so they can perform well in the gym. During massing phases when a powerlifter is trying to gain more muscle, they will eat in a caloric surplus. Cutting involves eating in a caloric deficit, while being mindful of macronutrients to minimize muscle loss.
Bodybuilders will alter their diet in a similar way. They go through cycles of cutting and massing. If they are competing, their diet may drastically change to shed fat. Cutting in an effort to reduce body fat is what allows their muscles to be visible on stage and achieve the right aesthetic for their category. Bodybuilders will also manipulate their diet leading up to a competition to minimize water retention, which can obscure their physique.
The exercise routines between powerlifters and bodybuilders can be drastically different. Powerlifters often focus on their squat, bench, and deadlift, and may do few additional exercises or cardio. Accessory exercises can be important for their training program to strengthen certain muscle groups and prevent injury. Powerlifters often have highly regimented training blocks so they can peak at the right time before a competition.
In contrast, bodybuilders generally focus their exercises on creating a certain physique. Their focus will depend on which muscle groups need to be developed more and they might spot train certain muscles. Cardio can be more of an important addition to their routine if they are cutting before a competition, but cardio is rarely a primary focus.
Ultimately, powerlifting vs bodybuilding are similar because they can be considered strength sports, but each athlete has a different objective. These differences between focusing on increasing strength versus creating a specific aesthetic will dictate differences in their diet and workouts.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to get started with powerlifting, give this video a shot. It explains most of what a beginner needs to know and do.