Powerlifting, Bodybuilding, and Powerbuilding: What's the difference?

Written by the Boostcamp staff
Sep 28,2023|15 min| 2259

What makes these sports so unique?

If you’re looking to start a weight training program, understanding the difference between various types of lifting programs is essential for your overall progression. When it comes to weight training, powerlifting, bodybuilding, and powerbuilding are three popular methodologies that lifters often use to achieve their fitness goals, such as building strength and muscle mass. 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, we will 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


black adjustable-weight barbell

Powerlifting

What is powerlifting?

Powerlifting is a strength sport that focuses on three main lifts: barbell squat, barbell bench press, and deadlift. The goal in a powerlifting competition is to lift the heaviest possible weight for a single repetition in each one of these lifts. 

Why do powerlifting?

  • 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 programming

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. 

Key elements of powerlifting programs include:

  • 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)

Best Beginner Powerlifting Programs

TSA Beginner Approach
5/3/1 for Beginners
r/Fitness Basic Beginner

Best Intermediate Powerlifting Programs

TSA 9 Week Intermediate
Candito 6 Week Program
5/3/1 Boring But Big

topless man wearing black and white cap

Bodybuilding

What is bodybuilding?

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.

Why do bodybuilding?

  • 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 programming

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. For example, on a leg day in a bodybuilding program, you may be instructed to utilize the leg press over the barbell squat. You also will focus far more on the mind-muscle connection in a bodybuilding program than a powerlifting or powerbuilding program, though powerbuilding does emphasize this as well.

Key elements of bodybuilding programs include:

  • 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

Best Beginner Bodybuilding Programs

Helms Beginner Program
Rampage
Strong Curves

Best Intermediate Bodybuilding Programs

Helms Intermediate Program
Alberto Nunez Program
Ravage

a man is doing a pull up in a gym

Powerbuilding

What is powerbuilding?

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.

Why do bodybuilding?

  • 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 programming

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.

Key elements of powerbuilding programs include:

  • 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

Best Beginner Powerbuilding Programs

GZCL Program
PHUL
Dr. Swole Powerbuilding

Best Intermediate Powerbuilding Programs

Bullmastiff
Jacked & Tan 2.0
nSuns

Where to Find Good Powerlifting, Bodybuilding, and Powerbuilding Programs

When it comes to finding proper programs for powerlifting, bodybuilding, and powerbuilding, it may be difficult to do so. There are a lot of programs out there that do not cater to everyone, do not use progressive overload properly, and just overall are not ideal. If you are a lifter or a beginner to the gym, check out Boostcamp, the lasting lifting app you'll ever need. On Boostcamp, you can find free and proven programs for powerlifting, bodybuilding, and powerbuilding. You can also create your own routines, log custom workouts, and track all your training analytics.


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.

FAQ

What is best: Powerlifting, bodybuilding, or powerbuilding?

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. 


Is there crossover between bodybuilding, powerlifting, and powerbuilding?

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.


Why not just do powerbuilding to simultaneously get stronger and bigger?

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.


Can I switch between these training styles or combine them in my workout routine?

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.

Powerlifting, Bodybuilding, and Powerbuilding Wrap Up

Overall, powerlifting, bodybuilding, and weightlifting are three great methods to pursue in your lifting career. Each one brings a different physique and strength aspect to the table, so it is up to you to decide what your goals are and what you want to purse. When it comes to choosing a powerlifting, bodybuilding, or powerbuilding program, there are plenty to choose from, and Boostcamp is a great platform to look.

Will you be trying any of Boostcamp's programs?

Be sure to follow Boostcamp on Instagram and Subscribe on Youtube!