The Difference Between Body Builders and Power Lifters

A lot of people think that body builders and power lifters are one in the same, but in reality, these are two different disciplines. For anyone not involved in either sport, it’s an easy mistake to make, as there are some similarities. However, ask any power lifter or body builder and they will explain why they are so different.

In terms of similarities, both have a toned physique as a result of some serious training in the gym and with weights. However, even the most dedicated power lifter isn’t nearly as ripped as most body builders, because even though power lifters are muscular, they never achieve the same hypertrophy.

Neither genetics nor drugs can account for this – it’s the training that makes their physique different. In the case of body builders, higher rep ranges, isolation training, mind-muscle connection and intensified methods increase gains more than lifting.

You can increase size and strength at the same time, but if your aim is to look like a body builder, it’s important not to sacrifice your training intensity or obsess about your power lifting totals.

Although body building and power lifting are similar – in that both involve moving weights – they are completely different sports, with different goals. Body builders utilise cardio, weight training, diet, supplementation and proper recovery to meet their goal of a toned physique.

Power lifters, on the other hand, are big, burly men, who are pushing heavy weights and eating plenty of calories to remain bulky in order to lift even heavier weights. Generally speaking, power lifters aren’t as muscular as body builders on the whole and a body builder will dwarf a power lifter in terms of muscularity.



In terms of training, both power lifters and body builders go through a “peaking” phase. For body builders, this means the trainee will begin a “bulking” program, when he or she eats clean foods above their caloric maintenance level and lifts with increased intensity. The main goal is to gain as much muscle as possible.

In the case of a power lifter, the peaking phase requires the trainee to put the main focus on bringing up the core lifts and conditioning. During this period, the power lifter eats huge amounts of food and lifts with mind-boggling intensity. This is what the body builder does when on a “bulking” program.

A body builder incorporates the same lifts as a power lifter, but uses a different rep range. Body builders use the squat, bench press and even the deadlift.



The goals are different, with body builders training for pure size and power lifters training for increased strength. The power lifter’s training has a very low rep range – two to four reps and many singles are the basis of their routine. The reps are done with maximum weight and long rest periods.

The body builder is more concerned with appearance and diet. While power lifters’ strength is much more important than their appearance, for body builders it’s the opposite. Eating the correct diet will make or break a body builder’s appearance, so they must make smart dietary choices.

You will rarely see a power lifter doing cardio, whereas a body builder focuses on cardio, as well as diet and strength training. Cardio is the key for body builders, who will also lose more fat when preparing for a contest. Body builders train with compound movements and isolation exercises, which power lifters tend not to do.

Although power lifters train every part of their physique, they do it in a different way from body builders, focusing on full body lifts rather than several lifts that target certain muscles.


Body fat levels

Generally, power lifters have more body fat than body builders. In fact, some power lifters have too much fat to make an accurate assessment of their muscularity. Three of the world’s strongest power lifters in history are Ryan Kennelly, Donnie Thompson and Benedikt Magnusson.

In 2011, Kennelly was holder of the world record for the strongest bench press, Thompson was record-holder for the world power lifting total and the strongest squat, and Magnusson achieved the strongest deadlift. Yet most people would agree they did not have the most muscular physiques in the world.

Yet even if they dropped some of their body fat levels, this would mean they would probably lose muscle too, so they still wouldn’t have a body builder’s physique.

There are exceptions to the rule, such as power lifter Konstantin Konstantinovs, who is extremely muscular, displaying excellent conditioning.



In 1993, body builder Tom Platz, known for his massively muscular physique, entered into a squatting competition with power lifter Fred Hatfield, the first man to squat 1,000 lbs. Platz was known for his huge legs, which were much bigger than Hatfield’s, yet Hatfield won the one-rep max by hoisting 855 lbs, compared with Platz’s 765 lbs.

However, after taking a number of plates off the bar and reducing the weight to 525 lbs to test lower-body endurance, Platz beat Hatfield comfortably, performing 23 reps compared with the power lifter’s 11. This served to prove the theory that body builders are better at high reps completed smoothly, while power lifters are better at low reps, performed in an explosive manner.

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