The difference between bodybuilding and powerlifting can be confusing to some. The best and quickest way to describe this is bodybuilders go for symmetry putting on as much muscle as possible but keeping body fat levels in the low-single digits while powerlifters are going for pure strength. Bodybuilding is physique and cosmetic based. Powerlifting is simply to lift as much weight as possible. The diet and training techniques have some variations from one another due to their different objectives.
I want to give you my personal outlook here, which is the reason for writing this article. I was always a skinny kid throughout my childhood and couldn’t gain weight to save my life. So being big and strong is very important to me and probably always will be. On the same token, I don’t want my gut hanging over my belt either so in that sense I do care what my physique looks like. I’ve always felt I would be way too small if I ever got bone-ripped as what a bodybuilding competition would require, and in the past when I’ve tried to stick to a super strict diet (even with eating a lot of protein) my strength dropped substantially. So I choose to stay in the middle of the road with bodybuilding and powerlifting, using techniques for both causes. Since I simply do this for myself and do not compete in either, I can get away with it.
I’m not saying all powerlifters are fat, but they do tend to carry more over all weight simply because they’re missions has little or nothing to do with how they look. Powerlifters will certainly eat quality nutrients but they need an excess of overall calories to gain strength. It’s all about strength and power; it’s all about how much you can lift. The most popular powerlifting lifts are bench press, squats, and deadlifts. Of course there are also an array on strongman lifts which can be placed under the powerlifting category as well. And though other exercises are done, they’re performed for the sole purpose of strengthening the supporting muscles for those heavy lifts.
Bodybuilders on the other hand must go through a rigorous dieting phase several weeks before a competition in order to drop body fat. Unfortunately during this process strength can drop significantly too, as well as size. Bodybuilding has often been called an illusion because when you’re ripped with striations popping out, you will appear bigger and stronger due to your symmetry (smaller waist line with bigger legs, thicker back and wider shoulders equals quite an impressive look). However, this can be mentally and physically taxing as most of us hard core lifters know how losing size and strength can play mental tricks on us. When those XL shirts start feeling loose, you feel you’re going to end up in the nut-house.
The point of all this is that if you’re not competing and just weight train for your own benefit and sanity, you can certainly bodybuild as well as powerlift. Actually, some compete in both sports though these are usually genetically gifted creatures. However, I don’t want to say that it can’t be done, good genetics or not.
Some of the techniques that have proved to be successful for me are:
1) Lift heavy weights with low reps for your first couple of exercises, then for your last few exercises go for a few more reps while focusing more on muscle contraction.
2) Perform cardio, but use your strength as a gauge as to how much cardio you perform. If you’re losing strength you may want to back off cardio. If you’re gaining too much body fat then you’ll need to increase cardio. Nutrition plays an even greater role in both strength gains and fat loss, which is discussed next.
3) Diet is the hardest part. You need calories to get strong, bottom line. One way is to cycle your big carb days every 2-3 days (in other words, have a high carb intake for a 2-3 days then back off for a day or two, preferably on non-weight training days). This has been called the zigzag diet though I never recommend cutting carbs all together on any day. Another way you can achieve good results is by keeping your carb intake very high around your workout times, and the other times don’t take in as much. This concept works great if you train in the mornings. Otherwise just keep an eye on the mirror. After all, the mirror will always be honest with you. If don’t like what you see, adjust your diet accordingly.
4) Eat a ton of protein. You need high protein intake for both bodybuilding and powerlifting. I recommend at least 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
5) Use a variety of weight training techniques in your workouts such as negative reps, drop sets, rest-pause training, FST-7 style training, etc. You don’t have to change your entire workout every week but making subtle changes here and there can help shock your muscles into growth. Using various training techniques will also allow you to hit all muscle fibers.
There’s no better feeling than to be huge and strong yet also have a low enough level of body fat to see some striations. But this task is anything but easy. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline to take in enough quality calories to get stronger and build muscle while maintaining lower levels of body fat. It also takes dedication to train with intensity and to be consistent with your workouts. It’s a journey.
Train with Passion,