If you’re looking to start a weight training program, understanding the difference between various types of lifting programs is essential. Powerlifting, bodybuilding, and powerbuilding are three popular methodologies that lifters use to achieve their fitness goals. In this article, we will break down the distinctions between these common training methods and program types so you can best assess the right one for your goals.
In this article, I'll discuss:
What is the difference for powerlifting, bodybuilding, and powerbuilding
How you should choose each training method based on your goals
What are the workout program differences for each training method
Best beginner and intermediate programs for powerlifting, bodybuilding, and powerbuilding
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Powerlifting is a strength sport that focuses on three main lifts: barbell squat, bench press, and deadlift. The goal in a powerlifting competition is to lift the heaviest possible weight for a single repetition in each of these lifts.
Focus on maximal strength
Develop proficiency in main lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift)
Gym beginners looking to build a strong foundation
Enhance athletic performance in strength-based sports
Powerlifting programs typically emphasize maximal strength development, with a focus on lower rep sets and heavier weights. Expect to do lots of volume on the squat, bench, deadlift, and variations of these exercises.
Focus on the competition lifts: barbell squat, bench press, and deadlift
Low repetition sets (1-5 reps) with heavy weights
Emphasis on maximal strength and technique
Beginner-level powerlifting programs focus on linear progression (workout-by-workout or week-over-week weight increases)
Intermediate/advanced-level powerlifting programs have periodization (training phases focused on high volume, high intensity, peaking, and recovery)
TSA Beginner Approach
5/3/1 for Beginners
r/Fitness Basic Beginner
TSA 9 Week Intermediate
Candito 6 Week Program
5/3/1 Boring But Big
Bodybuilding is a sport and aesthetic pursuit that aims to develop a muscular and visually appealing physique. Bodybuilders focus on maximizing muscle size, symmetry, and definition. For bodybuilding, getting stronger is a means of building muscle, but not the main goal.
Focus on muscle hypertrophy and definition
Develop a visually appealing, balanced physique
Improve muscle size, symmetry, and aesthetics
Enhance mind-muscle connection and isolation of muscle groups
Increase muscular endurance
Bodybuilding programs typically incorporate a wider variety of exercises to target specific muscle groups with an emphasis on moderate to high-repetition sets and lower weights, unlike in powerlifting programs where the primary goal is developing strength for big 3 lifts.
Focus on muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth) and definition
Wide variety of compound and isolation exercises to target different muscle groups
Utilize many gym tools, including barbells, dumbbells, machines, and cables
Moderate to high-repetition sets (8-15 reps) with moderate weights
Beginner-level bodybuilding programs are typically focused on compound exercises to build a strong foundation, along with some isolation accessories
Intermediate-level bodybuilding programs are typically high volume, with a mix of compound and isolation exercises to emphasize developing certain muscle groups
Helms Intermediate Program
Alberto Nunez Program
Powerbuilding is a hybrid approach that combines elements of both powerlifting and bodybuilding. The goal of powerbuilding is to improve overall strength while also developing a muscular and aesthetic physique. This type of training approach is especially popular for beginner and intermediate lifters.
Combine elements of powerlifting and bodybuilding
Develop both maximal strength and muscle size
Improve overall athletic performance and functional fitness
Maintain variety and balance in training
Cater to a broader range of goals and preferences
Powerbuilding programs are designed to increase maximal strength in the main lifts (squat, bench, and deadlift) while also incorporating higher-repetition accessory work to promote muscle hypertrophy. Workouts typically start with lower rep and heavier weight main lifts, then move on to higher rep and lower weight isolation exercises.
Emphasis on both maximal strength and muscle hypertrophy
Focus on the three main lifts (squat, bench press, and deadlift) and bodybuilding accessory exercises
Combination of low-repetition, high-weight sets for main lifts and moderate to high-repetition sets for accessory work
Beginner-level powerbuilding programs generally uses linear progression for compound lifts (week-over-week weight increases) and double progression for accessories
Intermediate/advanced-level powerbuilding programs uses periodization for compound lifts (training cycles to push maximal strength) and double progression for accessories
Dr. Swole Powerbuilding
Jacked & Tan 2.0
Choosing between powerlifting, bodybuilding, and powerbuilding training ultimately depends on your fitness goals and personal preferences. If your primary goal is to increase your maximal strength in the squat, bench press, and deadlift, powerlifting is the best option. If your focus is on developing a balanced, muscular, and visually appealing physique, bodybuilding is the ideal choice. If you're looking for a blend of strength and aesthetics, powerbuilding offers the best of both worlds.
The best training method depends on your goals, level, and personal preference. As a beginner to intermediate, the most important thing is finding a good program and following it. You’ll gain muscle when you get stronger, and you’ll get stronger when you gain muscle. Find a plan that you can realistically stick to.
There is a lot of crossover between powerlifting, bodybuilding, and powerbuilding. For example, many powerlifting programs have bodybuilding accessories, and many bodybuilding programs also have squats, bench press, and deadlift. Many powerlifters in the offseason will do bodybuilding because more muscle helps with maximizing strength when they get back to focused powerlifting training. Vice versa, many bodybuilders are also elite powerlifters (e.g. Ronnie Coleman) because focusing on the Big 3 and getting stronger helps with muscle gains. Lifters often switch back and forth.
The simple answer is: efficiency. The fastest way to gain maximal strength in the squat, bench, and deadlift is to follow powerlifting training. While adding muscle will help powerlifters, they often only care about adding muscle in areas that help the compound lifts, like lats and triceps. Powerbuilding programs may have isolation accessories that target smaller muscles like biceps and calves that powerlifters don’t care about. For some bodybuilders, they prefer not to barbell squat, bench, and deadlift as they can be very taxing on the body.
Yes. Even advanced lifters will switch between powerlifting, powerbuilding, and bodybuilding programs. They do this in the offseason, train weaknesses, or simply freshen things up. If you’re new, don’t be afraid to follow a particular training method and program for a few months, then switch to something else to see if you like it better.