Bodybuilding vs Strength Training

The Bodybuilding vs Strength Training debate. I have run into many online coaching clients that have a legitimate fear of getting too big. I have heard some version of the phrase “I don’t want to look like a bodybuilder” after stating that I’m taking a client down the strength training path.

The truth is that bodybuilding and strength training is not at all the same when it comes to goals and outcomes.

Interest in Bodybuilding and Strength Training

Bodybuilding and strength training have massively progressed in recent years. There are far more supplements available alongside training programs, machines and uniquely formulated diet plans. These have all been put together and released to further push the physical limitations humans possess by allowing us to grow bigger and stronger.

However, this understanding of bodybuilding and strength training are misunderstood. Strength training as a mode of working out is recommended for all people. Harvard Health, of Harvard Medical School, states that “Strength-training that works all major muscle groups—legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms—at least two days a week.” Read more here.

The comparisons of bodybuilding vs strength training?

With that being said, those who aren’t well versed in this area will most likely assume that both bodybuilding and strength training are the same things. They might even go as far as to say that if an individual possesses big muscles, they must be strong.

Thoughts and suggestions like this are very common in those who are unaware and the differences between the two are much further apart. This goes in the way of both training and the desired outcome.

With that being said, this article will cover and discuss precisely what bodybuilding is and what strength training is so you can finally put this question to bed, let’s get into this.

What is bodybuilding?

Bodybuilding itself is very self-explanatory, it’s the building up of the body tissue through resistance weight training. However, the way that this is performed combined with numerous other factors set this sport apart from strength training, let me explain.

A bodybuilder will enter the gym and destroy the muscle through various training methods. Typically, they will work one to two muscle groups although this will vary depending on the individual’s preference.

A bodybuilder’s workout will be performed with a moderate weight and there will usually be a high number of reps and sets performed. This will not be done with heavyweight as it will simply be impossible to perform a higher rep count with a heavyweight.

Repetition Ranges and Outcomes

The ideology behind utilizing a much higher rep count is based on the fact that state, higher reps will in fact cause more muscle growth. This factor is based on the fact that to properly grow muscle, you must force it to endure strenuous movements and pain through lactic acid.

This increase in lactic acid, combined with the workload and stretch placed on the muscle breaks it down. The muscle then grows within the next 48 hours when combined with an adequate level of calories, protein and rest.

The repetition chart below shows the number of repetitions on the left and the outcome along the top x-axis.

Training effect and it's relationship to number of repetitions

If your goal is size and endurance you are best suited to shoot for the 12 to 15 rep range. Likewise, if you are just interested in pure size like a bodybuilder your rep range will most often fall in the 8 to 12 range, which is where hypertrophy or muscle growth occurs.

Understanding 1 repetition Max and Training Effect

The chart above only tells part of the story. With each movement up or down the rep range on the left the percentage of ones, the one-repetition maximum is lowered. Simply put if you are lifting something 3 times vs 12 times you will use more of a percent of your total ability.

The chart below incorporates the percent of 1 rm (repetition maximum) spoken of above.

one rep max along side percentages for it with training effect chart

All in all, a bodybuilder will enter the gym and train entirely based on their desire to build muscle, not to get stronger. However, an increase in muscle or size necessitates an increase in strength over time. However, that doesn’t mean that a 1 rep max will go up notably and quickly. Rather, it means you will get bigger.

deadlifts for strength training

What is strength training?

Strength training is a much more simple concept that involves a different set of work than bodybuilding. Bodybuilding requires a complete focus on moving the weight from point A to B. Strength training requires moving the weight from point A to B without care of how it gets there. Although getting it “there” safely is always the goal.

Types of Strength Training

In my world, there are two things I think of when I get an email asking about strength training. First, I think this is someone that wants to compete as a powerlifter or is interested in getting very strong.

Secondly, I think of the average Joe or Mary that is wanting to take the advice of sound health logic and simply do some resistance training aka strength training alongside healthy cardio.

Both of these are technically strength training, however, you will take a far different path with one than the other.

Strength Training for Competitors and Heavy lifters

As mentioned earlier, bodybuilding typically requires a high number of reps and sets, strength training is the opposite. This form of training will be completed with a low number of reps and sets. Specifically, five sets with around 2-4 reps total per set.

The above example is just an example and will vary from person to person. However, this is a very typical layout for a strength trainers routine. Their workouts will also differ from that of a bodybuilder as strength training movements consist more of utilizing compound movements.

Compound movements are exercises like the bench press, squat and or deadlift. These are movements that require a large number of different muscles to perform the movement and utilizing these movements for strength training allows the individual to build up their overall body strength more effectively.

General Resistance based Strength Training for Health

The point of general resistance based strength training as opposed to strength training for heavy lifting is to provide better overall health. General strength training of this sort is recommended for all adults. It is recommended that in addition to 150 minutes of cardio and two sessions of strength training.

how much exercise is needed?

Benefits of General Strength Training

The benefits of general strength training are many. I’m including a few of those I find to be the most important to general health and longevity.

  • lowers injury risk
  • Increases bone strength
  • Better cardiovascular health
  • helps control blood sugar levels
  • improves mental health
  • improves flexibility and mobility
Strength training with pull ups

So Bodybuilding vs Strength Training?

The only real similarity that both bodybuilders and competitive strength trainers have in common is that of their diet. Both will require a high protein high-calorie diet. However, in this case, the strength trainer will typically require much more calories from food as this very factor allows for maximized strength. However, a general strength regimen is different than these too and should be adopted by everyone. The great news is that general strength training can be performed with a home gym.

over 50 strength training

Bottom Line: Bodybuilding vs Strength Training

Bodybuilding has a focus on building bigger muscles symmetrically around the body. Specific competitive strength training is the focus of getting stronger and being able to lift more weight. Finally, general strength training is the process of making your body stronger so you can live a full and healthy life.

The sets, reps, and weight used by the three will vary. More specifically, the bodybuilder will utilize higher volume workouts and the strength trainer will perform shorter yet more intense reps and sets with a higher weight.

The overall target for a bodybuilder is to get in the gym and cause muscle pain so it will grow. A strength trainer will enter the gym focused on being able to handle slightly more weight than last time.

With that being said, it’s worth mentioning that a bodybuilder will get stronger although his/her strength will be less compared to that of someone who trains specifically for strength. This case is the same for that of a strength trainer.

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