For those of you who have never weight trained seriously before, terms like bodybuilding, weight lifting, strength training, strongman, powerlifting, and working out tend to be used interchangeably. While all of these disciplines use resistance training to achieve the desired result, they actually have very different definitions.
For example, powerlifting and weightlifting are similar, but unique sports, where the athletes compete to lift the most weight in their respective barbell lifts. More precisely, powerlifting focuses on attaining maximum strength when performing one-rep maxes on three core lifts: squats, bench presses, and deadlifts. Weightlifting or Olympic Weightlifting, puts an emphasis on technique for two types of lifts: snatches and clean-and-jerk. Therefore, strength is not the only factor in weightlifting – speed and explosiveness are also critical. The power lifts and most strongmen events do not require speed or explosiveness. That is why strongmen and powerlifters don’t compete in Weightlifting or Olympic Weightlifting. Therefore, the Olympic lifts are more technically demanding and explosive than the power lifts since they have to be executed much faster.
Strongman is also a unique sport, where the lifts are more varied and tend to involve odd implements, like kegs, cars, logs, and stones. Strongman training is a combination of functional movement patterns such as pushing, pulling, and pressing, providing real-world usefulness even if the objects are comically heavy. It’s easier to train as a powerlifter because every gym has the equipment for powerlifting – not every gym has giant tires or Atlas stones.
Bodybuilding is a competitive sport as well, but there is no athletic component to the actual competition. While bodybuilders do lift weights to achieve the desired results, the actual bodybuilding competition is closer to a pageant than a sporting competition. Bodybuilders are judged on their balance of muscle size, symmetry, and definition. The difference between bodybuilding and other strength sports could be likened to the difference between an auto race and a car show.
The primary focus of bodybuilding training is to build as much muscle as possible while maintaining an aesthetically pleasing physique. Without going into unnecessary detail, bodybuilding training works primarily by exhausting the muscles, which forces them to grow larger and more resistant to short-term fatigue. Bodybuilders use a wider range of exercises, including free and machine weights than any other discipline because they need to develop even smaller muscles to enhance body features. It’s fair to say that bodybuilders concentrate more on muscle size and body features than on actual strength.
Strength training, as the name implies, places strength gain as the primary goal. Weight lifting, powerlifting, and strongman, while different sports, all use strength training as their main form of preparation. While the details of the programs will differ, especially with regard to the lifts, the overriding philosophy will be the same.
Strength training is less about building more muscle than it is about teaching your body to recruit existing muscle cells as efficiently as possible. The main desired adaptations from strength training happen at the neuromuscular level. Effective strength training allows athletes to gain strength without necessarily adding a significant amount of body weight. Gaining muscle is still important, but simply getting bigger is not the primary goal.