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Common Differences

Bodybuilders and powerlifting perform the same exercises with different style

By Tucker Loken

Training for size and training for strength are two different concepts. Training for size doesn’t mean you’re trying to move the most weight possible, it means you’re trying to use the weight to stimulate the most muscle fibers possible. Training for strength means you’re trying to move the most weight through space and find advantageous leverages that will help you do that. Focusing on blasting one muscle group at a time won’t do much for moving a lot of weight, just like trying to push the most weight won’t do much for getting you as big as you can be. Below are some common differences in the way a bodybuilder and a powerlifter approach the bench press, squat, and deadlift


Bodybuilding: A bodybuilding squat is generally a “high bar” squat, and the upper body stays upright while the knees are allowed to come fairly far forward. Some powerlifters will squat like this as well, but it’s particularly advantageous for bodybuilders to squat like this, because it engages their quads more. It doesn’t take much weight this way to really feel the quads working, which is why you’ll almost never see a bodybuilder squatting nearly as much weight as a powerlifter.

Powerlifting: The powerlifting stance is typically wider than a bodybuilding squat, but not always. The focus is much more on core and hip strength and using the quads as just part of the movement rather than the most important part. Powerlifters will usually do a “low bar” squat, where the bar placement is farther down their back than the bodybuilder holding the bar up high on the traps. Powerlifters will focus on their hips hinging back and making sure that everything is working as once rather than isolating one muscle group.


Bench Press

Bodybuilding: The biggest difference between a bodybuilding bench press and a powerlifting bench press is flared elbows versus tucked elbows, and a different degree of back muscle engagement. Bodybuilders will flare their elbows more and keep their back flatter on the bench because they are focusing mainly on their chest. The front delts and triceps are only there to help them finish the movement.

Powerlifting: Trained powerlifters will focus heavily on how much their lat muscles are engaging in order to provide stability and explosiveness in the movement. They will tuck their elbows to facilitate this. Powerlifters also focus on having a strong arch and having everything from their toes and legs to glutes and core tight and flexed along with their back and chest. They will arch their backs more to shorten the range of motion so that they don’t have to press the bar as far and will engage their legs and push into the ground as they press upwards to provide acceleration in the movement. The bench press is one of the most technical and difficult powerlifting movements to master, while in bodybuilding it is generally pretty simple.



Bodybuilding: The deadlift is almost a completely powerlifting movement. Few bodybuilders deadlift seriously, because it’s a full-body movement and difficult to isolate a muscle group while you do it. Bodybuilders will usually do half-rack deadlifts to focus on their back muscles, or stiff-leg deadlifts to focus on their hamstrings. There is no specific “bodybuilder deadlift,” but generally bodybuilders will default to trying to use their back muscles to haul the weight up rather than using leg drive and making it a full-body motion.

Powerlifting: The deadlift is arguably the most fun part of a powerlifting meet to watch. There isn’t a better test of strength than simply picking something up off the ground. A standard powerlifter will deadlift with their hip position fairly low, and they will drive their heels into the ground while keeping their back rigid and stiff. If someone does it correctly, the entire posterior chain of hamstrings, glutes, erectors, lats, and traps all engage to haul the weight up.

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