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Bodybuilding vs Weightlifting: Can You Do Both?

Confused about the difference between bodybuilding vs weightlifting?

I was too.

So… I did a bit of digging and found there is, in fact, a difference between them.

In this article, I uncover my findings and define the differences and similarities of bodybuilding, weightlifting, and powerlifting, as well as determine whether or not you can fall somewhere in between.

woman exercising with heavy weights

What is Bodybuilding?

Whereas weightlifting and powerlifting are fairly similar, bodybuilding takes on a whole other focus. A bodybuilder aims to improve their appearance over their strength.

The objective?

To develop symmetrical muscle size and shape.

They aren’t lifting super heavy, nor are they aiming for a personal best with their one-rep max. Instead, their training aims to achieve as much hypertrophy (or muscle growth) as possible.

They also strive to lower their body fat percentage through their training and their diet, especially leading up to competition time.

A typical bodybuilding training program incorporates the squat, the deadlift, and the bench press. Yet, it typically emphasizes isolation exercises, where only one joint or one muscle group is worked at a time.

These exercises are also often performed as part of a superset that consists of high reps and no rest.

man doing workout with Rogue Fitness olympic barbell

What is Weightlifting?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve likely assumed weight lifting is anything that involves lifting a few adjustable dumbbells or weighted bars at the gym. While this isn’t far from the truth, it isn’t entirely accurate.

Here’s the catch:

Yes, a weightlifter lifts weights.

But it’s about lifting weights with a goal in mind. And unlike bodybuilding, it isn’t about muscle size or symmetry.

Competitive weightlifters perform very technical lifts. Each weightlifter is placed in a given weight category, similar to powerlifting (as you’ll soon read). The goal is to perfect your technique and gain strength to lift as much as possible.

At the Olympic level, weightlifters perform two main lifts: ‘the snatch’ and ‘the clean and jerk.’ A weightlifter is allowed to complete each lift three times. Their best lifts are taken into account for their totals.

The key difference between weightlifting and powerlifting is the explosive power, strength, mobility, and flexibility required for weightlifting moves.

For some entire weightlifting training sessions, a person may focus on increasing the explosive power in one phase of one lift or improving their mobility in another part of the lift.

It’s very technique-oriented compared to powerlifting and almost a completely different sport when compared to bodybuilding.

What is Powerlifting?

Powerlifting is similar to weightlifting. Powerlifting aims to increase brute strength in the 3 main lifts: the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift.

The type of lifts is the main difference between competitive powerlifting and weightlifting. But like weightlifters, powerlifters are also categorized within their weight class.

The competition depends on how much they can lift. Again, the best one out of three tries is taken into account for their total score.

Generally, powerlifters won’t go for high reps like bodybuilders. Instead, they stick within the 2-5 rep range, and they also take adequate rest periods in between sets.

And that’s not all…

Whereas bodybuilders will restrict their diet and hit the cardio machines, powerlifters need all the energy they can get for their big lifts. You won’t see a powerlifter restricting their diet leading up to competition time.

woman doing weight lifting exercise with Olympic barbell

Which is Better?

“Which is better” depends on your goals. You can go back and forth on the differences between bodybuilding vs weightlifting.

But at the end of the day, it comes down to what you want to achieve and what will keep you motivated to workout.

Here are some tips on how to decide:

Choose Bodybuilding for Aesthetic Appeal

If your focus is to change your body shape and lose fat, bodybuilding may make more sense.

It involves a major diet component, as well as a major emphasis on symmetry across the body.

Perform Weightlifting for Overall Good Strength, Mobility, Flexibility, and Power

Since weightlifting aims for the perfect technique, you’ll focus on all fitness aspects. This is an especially good choice if you want to improve your overall health and fitness.

It doesn’t leave any aspects out and may help you develop a well-rounded routine.

Select Powerlifting for Brute Strength

Powerlifting is a great way to increase your strength and set goals for yourself. It uses the three main moves, the squat, deadlift, and press, which target the major muscle groups of the body.

These movements are also very functional when it comes to your day-to-day life.

Further, if you find you’re motivated more by strength goals, this is the one for you.

female athlete performing weight lifting exercise at gym

Can I Train for Both Weightlifting and Bodybuilding?

Weightlifting or bodybuilding? You can’t decide. So, can you do both?

Here’s the deal:

One trains for strength and the other trains for size. You can’t technically have the best of both worlds.

You train for strength and size in different ways. Weightlifting and powerlifting lift more for fewer reps. Bodybuilding lifts less for higher reps (Although don’t let that fool you – bodybuilding is still tough work!).

If you want to optimize for one or the other, it’s best to stick to a set routine, likely categorized under bodybuilding or weightlifting.

But…

You can do a mix of them. In fact, a lot of gym-goers and athletes do a cross between bodybuilding, weightlifting, and powerlifting.

Sometimes, it’s even necessary to avoid injury or to come back after an injury properly. A lot of individuals also do the three main lifts with heavier weights for fewer reps and lighter weights for more reps, alongside various isolated and compound movements.

For example, Crossfit mixes powerlifting, weightlifting, bodybuilding, and more.

Ultimately, it’s what makes you feel the best.

Make Your Choice Based on How You Feel and Your Goals

If you feel great busting out high reps and moderate weights, bodybuilding programs might appeal more to you.

If you feel pumped up lifting heavy and want to improve your strength, you might want to check out powerlifting or weightlifting programs.

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