Today’s article will compare Bodybuilding vs Powerlifting, Strongman, Weightlifting, Callisthenics and CrossFit – what they do for you, what they’re like, and the right path for you.
We’re a natural bodybuilding website, so we specialize in bodybuilding – but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. There are so many different routes through strength and resistance training, and dozens of ways you can approach your own workouts and physique goals.
While we do specialise in Natural Bodybuilding, we love all strength and physique sports, and will be taking you through the most popular options for a new trainee’s journey.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Training Styles
We often talk about specializing at Natural Flex, either about a workout program or your whole training style. You can’t be good at too many things at the same time – but you can decide what you want to excel at!
As a beginner, it can be helpful to learn about the different paths ahead of you and what each has to offer. We’ll also cover the drawbacks, too, and any unique challenges or disadvantages they might have.
If you’re more advanced, this is still important – it’s never too late to learn about other options out there where you might enjoy pivoting your training towards something different. You can always just implement some of your favourite exercises or lessons from other styles – even to help your bodybuilding program.
We’re also going to discuss and describe what type of physique you will develop with each style of training – as well as the main strengths and weaknesses. You’ll be able to make a smart decision for yourself, but also be aware of the downsides that come with each style.
What they all have in common: Getting better!
Whatever style of training you take up, the important thing is that you start with a basis of smart and consistent training. All of these basic styles of training require a foundation of strength and movement practice – and that comes from practice and a few months of general physical preparation.
You don’t need to specialise too early – as beginners can get better at everything they start practising with. What matters – for the first 1-6 months – is focusing on the most important exercises of your main practice, improving your eating habits, and building up recovery routines like sleep and mobility.
Remember that – even though we make a big deal out of the differences – we always have more in common than different! It’s smart to learn where you can and from who you can, and to be welcoming and kind along the way!
1- Natural Bodybuilding: What Is It All About?
Bodybuilding is a type of training that focuses on two major factors:
- Building more muscle mass
- Reducing bodyfat
Then the rest of the focus is on proportion, symmetry, and the posing that helps show off your physique as well as possible. These are the scoring factors in competitions, while also directing your effort and diet choices to help improve your physique.
What’s it good for?
It can either be getting a massive physique with ridiculous proportions, a great taper, and some ridiculous shreds – or simply not a massive physique but smaller aesthetic.
Bodybuilding is all about improving the way your body looks and is going to be a huge long-term change in terms of what you look like. You’ll improve your silhouette, significantly improve your mass and proportions, develop better muscular appearance, and put real work into excellent conditioning.
Although most people will focus on saying it’s just about looks, real natural bodybuilding is also about getting stronger and a great gain of strength is a real asset bodybuilding will give you.
Natural bodybuilding is also a real unique challenge today. So many people in bodybuilding never push it that far or take drugs too easily and early. We rarely get to see what incredible natural physique we can get if we give it a 100%!
That is in itself a beautiful challenge – to push the natural limit-limited beliefs further and see where you can actually get to achieve naturally.
What are the weaknesses?
Bodybuilding physiques don’t have any physical weaknesses, but do lack some of the performance benefits and practices that other training styles offer. Although strength is very important in bodybuilding and does add up a lot overtime, you will of course not get as strong as if you were only focusing on bench press, squat, deadlift, like in powerlifting.
But that is why there are different training styles. It’s not really a weakness, but rather a choice to make! It’s just that objectively, we could say bodybuilding is for sure more about looks than real strength performance.
The lack of performance-based measurements like we see in other specialisations like weight-lifting or powerlifting can be a drawback to some people. On stage, you’re really just showing the way you look and no one really cares about how much you can squat or bench! (I kinda do, because I like performance, but you’re in bodybuilding today, we’re only judged on physical appearance!).
It also requires big commitment in diet and other factors, mostly on a cut, and does have a big steroid problem, even in natural bodybuilding where people still manage to use the drugs and pass drug-tested competitions.
What is the physique like?
A natural bodybuilder’s physique is one of the best in the world – because it’s the whole goal!
Bodybuilders train to look good and pose on stage, and that means they need to be well-rounded and offer the complete physique with good development in the whole body.
This is an advantage over other types of training we’ll look at today because some types of training – like weightlifting or callisthenics – have weaknesses in their physique.
Natural bodybuilding, in particular, is very universally appealing and doesn’t have the same ‘mass monsters’ that you see in bodybuilders who use PEDs.
This makes them very appealing to a wider range of people, who might not like the super-muscular physiques of open weight untested bodybuilding.
Natural bodybuilding is a style of training that focuses on using weights, machines, and bodyweight exercises to build more muscle mass and strength. Then, it’s about burning fat and maintaining your strength as much as possible to show off those muscles. You should try this style of training if you’re looking to get in better shape, look great and gain good strength.
The training is a mixture of heavy strength orientated sets mixed with high rep hypertrophy weight training, alongside any of the interesting methods we’re going to mention today. If you’re building strength overtime and additionally working your muscles with mid-range of high reps, then you’ll progress in natural bodybuilding!
It’s a versatile and enjoyable way to train that focuses on a good balance of muscle-building, proper diet education, and improving your recovery. These make natural bodybuilding the golden standard we’re going to use to compare with other types of training – and why we love it here at Natural Flex!
2- Bodybuilding vs Powerlifting
Bodybuilding and powerlifting have some similar methods – but completely different goals. They both rely on building muscle, but bodybuilding focuses more on the mass of the muscle, its proportions, and the way that conditioning shows it off.
Meanwhile, powerlifting is all about using muscle and technique to lift weight. The focus on muscle-building is secondary to strength-building, which happens when that muscle is used for high-force lifting and good technical practices.
The target is to lift as much weight in the “big 3” – squat, bench, and deadlift.
Powerlifters focus on building muscle early on in programs and have to compete in weight classes, so they are often pretty muscular and at a moderate body fat percentage. The difference is that fat-burning diets can easily upset a powerlifter’s performance, so they don’t get as lean or as quickly.
The training of the two is similar in some areas, and divergent in others. Both are likely to use compound exercises but powerlifting typically focuses on lower rep ranges to fully focus on strength, while bodybuilding emphasises more high rep training to build more muscle along the strength.
Most bodybuilders will train for strength alongside muscle mass – since the two increase together. You will actually often meet bodybuilders who practise powerlifting methods.
Equally, almost all powerlifters will have dedicated muscle-building (hypertrophy) training phases to help build bigger, stronger muscles – and to help protect joints, but clearly not as much as bodybuilders.
Powerlifters can practice their exercises more often than bodybuilders, because they only focus on very few exercises and rarely go for high reps. They only really tire their nervous system, whether bodybuilders tire both their nervous system and muscles, which means they can train less frequently than powerlifters.
That’s why you will sometimes see powerlifters practice their bench, squat or deadlift, 3 times a week or more. Powerlifters highly rely on high frequency training that specialises in the 3 big movements.
Who is stronger?
Powerlifters are stronger, but this is all about what you’re testing and specialising into.
Many bodybuilders train for general strength and experience great strength gains. Bodybuilders tend to be stronger in some accessory exercises – like for example, dumbbell bench flyes, pull-ups, rows…
These are more important for bodybuilders, and they get to become stronger in those movements.
The trainees of a type of movement will be the strongest in that movement, because strength development is specific to the exercises you’re using. Because powerlifting is all about what you can lift – not how you look – it typically trades in effort on proportion to improve.
It is then hard to compare who is stronger. Powerlifters will usually be stronger for the compound movements while bodybuilders will be stronger and more specialised in isolation exercises and will have better resistance to higher rep training.
Bodybuilding Physique vs Powerlifting Physique
Lots of people have compared the powerlifting physique vs bodybuilding physique – because they’re the most common styles of training to see in a gym. The bodybuilders obviously have better physiques if you’re going by size and conditioning.
However, not everyone likes the bodybuilding aesthetic – and it comes at the cost of strength performance, if you’re going to be leaning down quite often. This is specific to good, experienced bodybuilders 😉 – not just a guy that comes in to train once a week and calls himself a bodybuilder. Training to look better isn’t the exact same as real natural bodybuilding!
Bodybuilders typically have bigger arms than powerlifters – especially on the biceps. Powerlifters may not train the biceps as much since they only need to keep them in balance – and will typically focus on exercises like heavy Pendlay rows or T-bar rows to balance out.
Bodybuilders are also typically leaner, since they have to get down to competitive conditioning every now and then. However, elite powerlifters in weight classes (i.e. not super-heavyweights) will stay relatively lean for most of the year so they can stay close to their competitive weight.
- Usually leaner – except during some huge bulking phases
- Bigger relative to weight, due to less fat and more ‘show’ muscles
- Particularly large in the upper body relative to powerlifters
- Less biceps, generally smaller arms, and less developed small detailed muscles (calves, forearms, rear delts)
- Thicker and higher bodyfat % most of the time
- Big frame with particular focus on hamstrings, quads, glutes, and spinal erectors
Long story short: if it’s used for bench, deadlift, or squat, a powerlifter will have a lot of it. Just don’t ask them to show you their abs.
Last thing, note that powerlifters have good potential to build muscle. Indeed, once they’ve built a great amount of strength, transitioning to bodybuilding can be very interesting. It will take some time to adapt to this new higher-rep hypertrophy style of training, but once they get it, they have great potential to blow up.
The strength they’ve acquired through powerlifting transfers to hypertrophy training and can get them very fast muscle building results.
3- Bodybuilding vs Olympic Weightlifting
Bodybuilding and Weightlifting – or Olympic weightlifting – don’t have much in common. They are far less closely related than bodybuilding and powerlifting.
In Bodybuilding vs Olympic Weightlifting, the training styles are further apart and represent a hard contrast between power and size. Weightlifting is even less muscle-focused than powerlifting in this regard – especially in the upper body – but involves building a big and powerful set of legs, hips, and back muscles.
Weightlifting is all about moving heavy weights fast – in the 2 lifts: Snatch and Clean and jerk. These are paired up with a lot of pulling exercises (like deadlifts but specific to weightlifting) and a relatively small pool of accessory exercises: rowing, presses, a little bit of arms, and core exercises.
Bodybuilding obviously has more focus on these exercises, making the physiques considerably different between the two.
Who is stronger?
Just like before, when comparing bodybuilding vs weightlifting, weightlifters are typically stronger – at least for squats, deadlifts, overhead press. Because that’s what they practice a lot, all the time.
They have more focus on strength and power, and often compete 1-1 with powerlifters on exercises like the squat and deadlift, but fall short on upper body exercises like bench presses.
Bodybuilders will be stronger than weightlifters in exercises like the row, the bench press, and other specific lifts that are only used as accessories. Overall, weightlifters are stronger when comparing compounds – and there’s always the question of who is on drugs. When comparing natural bodybuilders and natural weightlifters, the gap gets even bigger in favour of weightlifting.
Weightlifters typically train in lower-rep compound movements, and this means less hypertrophy overall but a greater strength focus. This also shows up in the different physiques of these two types of training…
Olympic Weightlifting Physique vs Bodybuilding physique
Weightlifting has less focus on physique and hypertrophy even than powerlifting. It’s all about how you move and how much you lift, while hypertrophy will happen as a side-effect of getting stronger, or during early phases of a 12-16 week training program.
The “Olympic weightlifting physique” is big legs, a big back, strong hips and hamstrings, and a little hypertrophy on the pressing muscles. This also depends on how fast the lifter is: faster, more powerful lifters typically need less muscle mass to move a weight and some “technicians” are very thin indeed.
On the other end of the spectrum, some of the larger classes include shorter men with much larger muscles. Examples from the past do happen where a weightlifter looks incredibly large, muscular, and aesthetic. However, these are rare exceptions. Let’s not forget that the guys we also see in top competitions might get bigger hypertrophy results as a consequence of drug use. This explains why despite being weightlifters, you’ll see some of them showing what looks like a real bodybuilding physique at the Olympics – with a monster pair of biceps! But these are exceptions.
Weightlifters may have legs and backs sizes that look comparable to – or better than – natural bodybuilders . This is the result of the accessory work – squatting and pulling – that they do. However, these are not the whole physique and weightlifters typically have less aesthetic upper bodies.
- Much larger upper bodies and especially chest muscles
- May have smaller legs – especially in natural categories – but depends on individual training
- Lower bodyfat and more pronounced v-tapers
- Thinner cores with less focus on deep muscular development and stability
- Massive legs from all the squatting they perform
- Sometimes excellent backs with large muscles and deep-cut definition
- Bodyfat percentage is mostly irrelevant but lower weight classes can be very lean
- Strong v-tapers in the lower weight classes where bodyfat is typically lower
4- Bodybuilding vs Strongman
Bodybuilding vs Strongman takes different focuses to the extreme. Strongman is a sport of lifting odd objects and doing cool, needlessly ‘over the top’ exercise for both spectacle and to push the limits of what a human can do. That often involves throwing heavy weights over bars, or pulling trucks and at the highest level, just like current bodybuilding, a ton of drugs.
None of these things have the primary common goal of building a great looking physique like with bodybuilding’s focus on how you look. However, as a result of their training, strongmen are absolutely massive – muscular men with enormous bodies, more muscle mass than your average bodybuilder, and a shared love for performance-enhancing drugs that help them do things that would be impossible otherwise.
There are a lot of exercises that are different, but a lot are also similar, like the bench press, deadlift, squat, and heavy rows. This is why strongmen and bodybuilders end up with a lot of gains both in hypertrophy and strength.
The main difference is that strongman is more complete for functional and cardio performance. More than in most bodybuilding training programs (except for the cardio for the bodybuilders who decide to use it when cutting) – and regularly trains core and power exercises that bodybuilding doesn’t.
Who is stronger?
There’s no question about it – strongman athletes are stronger than bodybuilders. Unlike others on this list, they train most of the things a bodybuilder trains – but to the extreme and usually without weight limits, which makes a big difference. They also put more emphasis on compound movements, which is what makes them stronger overall.
They have a lot of functional exercises and a well-rounded physique that requires being strong everywhere. While powerlifters and weightlifters are strong in specific areas, strongmen are just strong.
Strongmen are more dynamic, stronger, and often better conditioned for long bouts of real-world strength than their bodybuilding counterparts. They don’t look as good – to some people – because they’re still not as isolation focused as bodybuilders, but they certainly have a ridiculous amount of muscle, strength, and dynamic movement under the chub!
Who should go for strongman?:
Strongmen is perfect for anyone who
- Loves variety in their training and has an adventurous streak
- Doesn’t want to get bored doing the same thing over and over and over again
- Likes the outdoors – lots of strongman activities happen outdoors, especially in summer
- Wants to get a strong physique that looks good both bulky and lean
- Wants to stay fit with better conditioning and odd-object movements
- Looking for big, strong muscles without the specific or “narrower” approach of WL/PL
Strongman is a very good complete practice for a complete gain in muscle and strength and to not forget about the cardio side of things. And while we mentioned there is a lot of drug use in the strongman category, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it naturally!
[Editor’s note: I have never met a strongman that isn’t a nice person. The sport is just full of some of the nicest, biggest, strongest people you’ll ever find in your life.]
Strongman Physique vs bodybuilding physique
The strongman physique is loads of muscle – more than most bodybuilders – with a layer of chub over the top. It’s a big, strong, bulky look that really is as strong as it looks. Bodybuilders will still usually look more aesthetic than strongmen, because they will care about working those rear delts, or the brachialis, and every little part that can make a difference!
The well-rounded strength of the strongman physique transfers to hypertrophy gains in longer sets and regular training. As we say at Natural Flex, strength is a very important lever for building muscle – you need to keep getting stronger and bigger together..
Most of the time, a strongman will have a bloaty/bulky physique mostly for heavy weight categories where there is no weight limit to stop at.
However, smaller weight classes (sub-100kg for men) include some very big, strong, lean competitors that look incredibly aesthetic in a ‘blocky’ way with big cores and the kind of physique you might expect on an Olympic wrestler.
- Leaner with a more defined set of muscles and deep separations/striations
- More focus on v-taper: small waists and big lats/shoulders
- Less lean, – most elite strongmen are taller, thus bigger than a lot of bodybuilders
- Typically enormous people with 6ft+ stature and very well-rounded muscular development
- Strongest people alive in the widest range of strength tests – there’s no question!
- Weight class strongmen are typically lean, muscular, and defined (drugs help though…)
- Thick cores, legs, hips, backs, chest, and arms. Massive traps. No weaknesses but less focus on v-taper and aesthetics.
5- Bodybuilding vs CrossFit
CrossFit is often used as the joke in fitness but, if practised safely, remains a fun practice to push your limits in strength and cardio. The combination of strength, gymnastics, and conditioning make CrossFit very popular – not to mention the class and community side of things.
While we’re not experts on CrossFit, nobody can deny that it’s become one of the most popular training styles. It borrows a little from many places, and has some interesting overlap with bodybuilding, powerlifting, weightlifting, and strongman.
CrossFit is hard to balance, you want to be as durable as possible but also be as strong as possible. Training for both at the same time is possible – and sometimes a good thing – but it can start to become a competition of strength vs endurance in your workout and recovery plan.
This is one of the reasons CrossFit is not always appreciated – it’s not dedicated to a single thing. But most importantly, it also has some sketchy execution on many exercises because they’re doing some very technical movements the fastest way possible, which hardly ever works. Weightlifters think CrossFitters lift poorly, gymnasts think they perform gymnastics poorly, and bodybuilders just don’t like anyone without sick shreds (that one’s just a joke).
Who should get into CrossFit?
CrossFit is perfect for you if you:
- Love variety in your training
- Really enjoy endurance training and the sucky nature of grindy, mixed workouts (MetCon)
- Want a community feel to your training with classes and community culture
- You have some sport experience and want to try something new and accessible
- You’re not ready to commit to any other style of training just yet
- Build some strength and an aesthetically pleasing physique
CrossFit blends all kinds of training options and the quality and focus of your training depends on the gym – or CrossFit box – you go to. This varies wildly which is one of the risks of training CrossFit, even more than other styles of training.
With weightlifting, strength training, gymnastics, conditioning, and endurance, it’s a very complete style of training. There’s an immense amount to learn and practice, however, which is why CrossFit trainees typically struggle to perform well in any given area.
CrossFit is about getting good at variety and preparing for everything. The trade-off is that you’ll never get elite at one thing (apart from the Crossfit concept) itself – but it’s a fun, exciting way to get into amazing shape with a community and a lot of interesting training choices along the way.
CrossFit Physique vs Bodybuilding Physique
CrossFit trainees typically look like smaller strongmen – due to the mixed focus on strength and endurance. The body type is typically lighter at around 80-90kg, with a less common focus on show muscles from bodybuilding or other types of training.
CrossFit is very complete and with the cardio side of things, CrossFitters usually have to remain lean for both performance reasons and due to the sheer calorie-output that mixing different training produces. CrossFitters with years of practice usually have very aesthetic physiques with maybe a higher focus on core, lats, and shoulders, but overall – a complete physique.
Bodybuilders have more exaggerated proportions that make them aesthetically pleasing, but CrossFitters look very fit. It’s in-line with the type of training they do and the way they balance different priorities. While bodybuilders look like superheroes or comic book characters, CrossFitters typically look similar to athletes from sports like wrestling and have much more endurance.
Some crossfit competitions are also reminding us of what triathlons are in the endurance sports side of things. Crossfit events sometimes include running and swimming.
- Much larger due to the focus on size and appearance
- Stronger overall
- Thinner waist and more v-taper when lean
- Typically lean with great cardio resistance
- Well-rounded development
- Blocky look makes CrossFit physiques look strong, solid, and athletic
5- Bodybuilding Vs Calisthenics
Calisthenics exercises are included in most bodybuilding training programs, like pull-ups and dips.
Any exercise where bodyweight is the main source of resistance, that’s calisthenics, and it’s a huge part of how bodybuilders get bigger, stronger, and improve proportions.
The main difference is that trainees in calisthenics typically specialise in those movements – and may not train with free weights or machines at all. This definitely saves money – and, as long as progress follows, the physiques it produces are very aesthetic with a pronounced v-taper, big arms, big upper back muscles, and decent developed pecs.
The downside is that this type of training is hard to use for developing the legs, hamstrings, and hip muscles properly. You just can’t load them as effectively and specialising in calisthenics often cuts you off from the well-rounded muscular development of bodybuilding.
It’s also important that calisthenics is more skill-based than Bodybuilding. It’s all about how you move and what you can do with your body – not just how it looks. There’s a lot to learn and practice, and you don’t see the development of coordination, body control, balance, and all the other best benefits of calisthenics.
Just like weightlifting and CrossFit, you can’t flex the most important skills and benefits of Calisthenics!
So… Who should do calisthenics?
People who are into outdoors and like this more primal way of training. It contributes well to real life situations, too, and is great for preparing for exercise like rock climbing, grappling, and other types of grip-sport.
It’s also great for anyone who doesn’t want to pay for gym membership and would rather train at home or outdoors. It can also be a great entry point to gymnastic strength training, which is an amazing but very challenging type of training and sport.
Calisthenics Physique vs Bodybuilding physique
The upper body musculature of the calisthenics trainee can sometimes be as large and well-defined as a bodybuilder – especially in the lats, chest, triceps, biceps, and abs. These are the main muscles you will develop with calisthenics. Shoulders will also develop well, all callisthenics movements involve shoulders, and if you have good shoulders development potential, it will show!
The calisthenic physique is top-heavy, however – lower body training is far weaker. Calisthenic physiques are typically limited in leg development and may only be able to practice weight-free squatting, lunging, and single-leg pistol squats.
Adding weighted leg exercises can help round out this physique.
Of course, the size of the back, arms, chest, and shoulders is enough for many guys who just want to look better. Not everyone wants a massive pair of legs [editor’s note: but we do], and calisthenics training is perfect for guys who just want to fill out their t-shirts and look better.
It’s also usually a lean physique; the more you weigh, the harder it gets to perform the insane calisthenics feats of strength. This means calisthenics guys usually are lean year-round. Which can sometimes be a mistake because bulking and cutting cycles are still possible and should be recommended more often to those doing callisthenics. If you’re bulking doing callisthenics, you should just consider the weight you gain as additional weight you’d had to your belt, and not as a bad thing. Surely it will feel like you’re losing strength on your pull-ups, for example, but that’s not the case, you just weigh heavier. You’ll see how much strength you will have gained during the bulk once you cut down! So callisthenics: don’t hesitate to bulk up like bodybuilders!
6- Weightlifting vs CrossFit
Before we end this article, we wanted to keep comparing a few of these practices together.
Let’s get into weightlifting vs crossfit, which look quite similar at first glance, but also have a lot of differences.
While CrossFit uses some weightlifting movements, the two are completely different. Weightlifting is all about strength and power, but CrossFit leans more towards endurance and higher rep training – they may use some similar exercises, but the training philosophy is completely different.
It’s easy to see they’re very different in competitions. There’s no running in weightlifting, which is all about weight and technique for one, single lift at a time. Meanwhile, CrossFit incorporates gymnastics and endurance into their competitions and training – producing a more well-rounded but less technically-precise approach to training.
CrossFit has a wider focus and the competitions change all the time. While CrossFit sometimes involves snatches and cleans, it doesn’t have the same one-rep focus, it works for endurance and conditioning, and it produces a completely different mentality to weightlifting.
Weightlifting Physique vs CrossFit Physique
While the CrossFit and weightlifting methods are different, the physiques still show some similarities in the lower body and then the lats and upper back muscles.
Weightlifters and CrossFitters both have good lower body development (although weightlifters more, since they are much stronger) and core strength at the foundation of their physiques: quads, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles. These are more pronounced in weightlifting, however, due to the increased strength and hypertrophy work with reduced endurance demands and calorie-spend.
The result is that CrossFitters and weightlifters look like 2 versions of the same physique: the CrossFit physique is typically less bulky in the lower body but leaner, while weightlifters are more densely muscled in the lower body but may not be as well-conditioned and defined as CrossFitters. CrossFitters also do a lot of callisthenics exercises and more isolation movements than weightlifters which explains CrossFitters might end up with more aesthetics.
But obviously, there’s lots of person-to-person differences.
The upper body typically goes to the CrossFitter, but many elite weightlifters have unbelievable upper body development from heavy dips (like Lu Xiaojun) or pressing exercises (like Dmitry Klokov).
- Massive legs
- A great back and hip muscles
- Strong shoulders and upper back
- More reliably muscular upper body (more dips!)
- Big upper backs
- Smaller legs and lower backs due to more endurance-demands
- Usually leaner (to keep up with the more orientated endurance exercising priorities!)
7- Powerlifting vs Strongman vs Weightlifting: similarities and differences
Powerlifting, Strongman, and Weightlifting are what we could define as the 3 main strength sports presented in this article. They’re the ‘gym sports’ with the most popular following, interest, and a focus on strength. Bodybuilding and CrossFit overlap, but they don’t (fully) test strength in the same ways.
Powerlifting is the most ‘pure’ strength sport – it tests how strong you are in 3 of the most common movements you’ll ever see in a gym. The squat, bench press, and deadlift cover most of the muscle groups in the body and they offer a good insight into how strong someone is. They may be missing an exercise – specifically something like a row, pull up, or other upper back exercise.
However, on balance, Powerlifting is the most obvious strength test. Weightlifting is more about speed-strength and power, while Strongman includes more dynamic exercises that test conditioning with objects, like sandbag carries, these aren’t strictly strength but strength-endurance tests and they do make it a more complex sport.
This is the important point: powerlifting is strength, weightlifting is speed-strength, and strongman is just about high general strength (strength, power, endurance, and skill).
The main similarities between these kinds of training styles are the focus on compound exercises and strength in movements. They test in specific exercises (unlike CrossFit) and everything they do is about measured weighted performance (unlike Bodybuilding which at the end of the day, is about the looks on stage in competitions).
While they may take different approaches to the kind of lifting they do, they’re all focused on moving big weights through different movements. There’s a vague kinship between these types of training styles, even if they have massive disagreements on some factors (like squat depth or types of deadlift).
There’s always a lot of camaraderie between these lifters in the gym and it’s important to remember that the simple similarity of “heavy compound lifts for better performance” should unite people.
Communities of powerlifters, weightlifters, and strongmen are great ways to learn from different perspectives and training styles – and maybe pick up some new exercises or methods you didn’t consider!
Weightlifters make fun of powerlifting squats, while sumo deadlifts from powerlifting are a running joke for Strongman. Equally, powerlifters make fun of strongmen for deadlifting in straps and hitching. Weightlifters are just about the only people on the planet (along with shot-putters) who can probably put more overhead than strongmen.
There’s not much equipment overlap between these types of training – weightlifters need bumpers and platforms, powerlifters need iron plates and a rack, and strongmen need both – plus a huge range of odd objects to carry, throw, or load.
The differences come down to what movements you’re training for, the level of dynamism, the approach to shared exercises (like the squat or deadlift) and even a simple difference in mindset.
Strongmen tend to be happy-go-lucky characters, while powerlifters vary immensely, and weightlifting is quite a precise but in-group sport.
Differences are down to individuals as much as sports, but there’s always something to bond over in the smaller details of struggling with weights.
The shared effort and sense of community that develops in a gym that caters to all 3 of these categories is fantastic and it’s always great to be around people who humble you – like a powerlifter with a huge bench, a weightlifter who squats more than you at half bodyweight, or a strongman who can push press your best squat.
How to make the most of different types of training for bodybuilding
You might not have the full equipment for strongman or Olympic weightlifting at your gym. You probably don’t want to switch, either, if you’re a bodybuilder. However, you can still make training more exciting and borrow from other styles of training, whatever your main focus.
We love natural bodybuilding first and foremost, but there’s still a lot of fun to be had with other training styles. Olympic style squats, log lifts, sled pulls, pushes, and rows, or simply pushing your strength lifts to some 1-rep maxes in a little squat-bench-deadlift session.
You can make your own way in any of these training styles and the result can be a lot of fun and a way to freshen up your training and revitalise your enthusiasm for it. Calisthenics, weightlifting, powerlifting, strongman, and CrossFit all have unique training methods that you can study and learn from.
It’s important to be open minded enough to try something for its own merits – and not just say no because it’s “not what bodybuilders do”. You can implement some of these practices and they will have good crossover.
The physiques, strengths, and skills of these different sports speak to the things they can do for you. Everywhere you look, there are opportunities for you to use them for your own gains!
One last important piece of advice we should give you if you feel like adding some new stuff to your bodybuilding training from all these practices, is to make sure you still keep the basic foundations of your bodybuilding training. You want to keep measuring your progress in the most important bodybuilding movements you practice. and only then should you add additional exercises from other fields. if you completely stop the practice of your main bodybuilding exercises, you will most likely lose condition and habits on them and lose a lot of strength, resulting in losing muscle.
There are a lot of different ways that you can train – but there are a lot of similarities and principles that they all use. These different communities and training styles are all worth paying attention to as a natural bodybuilder, or whatever you find yourself most attracted to.
Whatever you choose, the most important thing is proper deliberate practice, nutrition, and recovery to get the best progress. Even if you’re not looking to change or diversify, you can have fun with different training styles and pick up amazing exercises that change how you progress over time.
We’ve listed the 4 most popular types of gym training – bodybuilding, powerlifting, weightlifting, and CrossFit – as well as calisthenics (a non-gym training system) and their respective physiques. There’s a lot of variety here and you can build whichever body, skillset, and community appeals to you the most.
What matters is appreciating the options out there for what they can offer you – and being engaged with the people and communities that offer them. There’s some animosity out there, but we’re all just trying to get better and the more we understand each system and group, the easier it is to get along – and learn something useful for any kind of training!