Powerlifting, Bodybuilding, and Strength Training

By: Natalie Ribble, MS, CSCS

“There are a million and four ways to work out and train, OrangeTheory, CrossFit, a hot girl walk, etc. but today we are going over three camps of training or competing: powerlifting, bodybuilding, and general fitness/strength training. 

For those who are just starting their fitness journey, you might be searching TikTok and Instagram for help and there is SO much information out there. One of the hardest parts of navigating the fitness world is learning which advice is for you and which isn’t based on your goals. So many of us as coaches are either in the camp of powerlifting or bodybuilding because we enjoy the competitive nature, we enjoy pushing ourselves for some sort of competition. So much of the advice out there pertains more so to one of these sports or the other, and if you’re missing that context this can become very confusing. The reality is that most of us coaches who compete in one or the other of these sports are loud and proud about it! We work hard and 99.999999% of coaches will have in their bio if they compete in one sport or another. And this isn’t to say that we can’t help you if you have different goals than we do, but it might help give you some context of where certain advice is coming from and whether it applies to you or not. 

Unfortunately, platforms like TikTok make it seem like you HAVE to do one or the other or that these two sports or methods of training are inherently in conflict with one another, which isn’t true. But when you scroll your FYP and see one coach saying “Lat Pulldowns are the best exercise ever” and then 10 videos later another coach saying “Lat pulldowns are not optimal” it can be SO CONFUSING! So we’re here to provide a little clarity and advice on how to navigate this as a client. Because the reality for you is that often what you see a bodybuilder does, or a powerlifter do, might *not* be optimal if your goals are just generally being stronger, fitter, and improving your health. Let’s dig into what we mean by that.

Some general background information, what is bodybuilding, and what is powerlifting? Bodybuilding is a physique sport. The goal of bodybuilding is to have the biggest muscles and the least amount of body fat present on a stage. Now there are different divisions of bodybuilding as well (physique, bikini, wellness, etc.) but generally speaking, more muscle, and little to no body fat. Powerlifting is a strength sport. The goal of powerlifting is to lift as much weight as possible for one rep in these three specific lifts: squat, bench, and deadlift. I often see powerlifters brag about powerlifting being about getting as strong as possible, which is true, but it is still sport-specific in that it doesn’t actually matter how much you can clean and jerk, or how much you can front squat. The strength in powerlifting is very task specific.

There is some overlap between these two sports, the only way to build muscle over time to be a successful bodybuilder, is to be strong AF. And on the flip side, it is 100% to your benefit as a powerlifter to spend some time in a hypertrophy phase (i.e. putting on muscle) so that you can be stronger. And I want to really emphasize how no matter what you do, strength should be the foundation. For every single type of goal or type of working out, strength should be at the forefront of everything you do. Regardless of which of these categories you fit in, and I don’t care if you’re 15 or 85, building strength and being strong will benefit you. Period. If you got nothing else from this, let it be that.

So if you’re just getting started and trying to figure out which of these camps you belong to, and which training style you should follow, strength is the best place to start. It takes the focus away from your body which is SO important at the beginning. Additionally, there is a level of base fitness and base skills that you need to acquire if you want to be successful in any fitness sports environment, which takes some time to build! We generally recommend against specializing too early. 

After that point, once you’re feeling like you’re ready for the next challenge, what are you curious about? I had always been powerlifting curious. The barbell made me feel SO badass and I loved to squat, bench, and deadlift. Even baby Coach Nat based all her workouts around SBD, so it was already what I kinda knew how to do. So when I sorta reached out to Erin to ask what her experience had been like, she gave me the boost of confidence I needed to decide that I actually could compete! I counted myself out for a LONG time. I trained SBD style for probably 4 years before I reached out to Erin about powerlifting, and having her be so enthusiastic about it and excited for me just gave me the little push and support I needed to finally decide to do it! So if you’re powerlifting curious, or just want to know more, please don’t hesitate to DM Erin or me and we would LOVE to talk to you about it. Below I included short pros and cons list of competing in powerlifting for your reading:



  • Get super strong
  • Don’t have to diet or cut to be successful (unless you want to)
  • Great community
  • Can compete at any bodyweight and at any strength level
  • Don’t have to take steroids because most federations are drug tested
  • It’s really you vs. you. Sure you can win in your weight class but so many of us are just there to set PRs and do better than we did the last time.


  • This shit is expensive (membership, belt, singlet, knee sleeves, shoes, etc.)
  • You will squat, bench, and deadlift ALL THE TIME so if you hate one of those you will probably hate powerlifting training… I bench 3x per week… it’s a good thing I love to bench.
  • If you like fast-paced workouts, lots of supersets and circuits, if you want a huge pump, you will also hate powerlifting training, bc that is not this lol
  • Workouts will be long… if you only have 30 mins a day to train, you also will probably hate powerlifting


I think the flip side of this coin is that competing isn’t for everyone. And here is where the general health/fitness stuff comes in because training to be healthy and fit, and training to compete is SO different. And there are some things that we do when we’re training to compete in either of these sports that I wouldn’t necessarily consider 100% health-pursuing behaviors! For example, you might see your favorite fitness influencer online eating nothing but tilapia and asparagus, and oatmeal for 6 weeks straight and think that that’s what you need to do to be healthy. But knowing that they are in deep bodybuilding prep for a show and that eating that way is actually NOT healthy and NOT sustainable is crucial context for consuming that type of content. And even on the powerlifting side, there are times when if I wasn’t competing I would 100% skip workouts. I am more likely to push through lack of sleep or soreness because I know I have a goal to kill it on the platform, than if I was just working out to be healthy. And is that a good thing all the time? Some would say yes, and some would say no, but it is the reality. The other downfall that I see a lot in powerlifting is the “cardio kills your gains” mentality. Because I do get it, it is hard to decide to do cardio after doing 2 hours of 10 sets of heavy singles on back squats. What I’m saying is that oftentimes aerobic fitness can suffer during peak powerlifting prep, which isn’t the “healthiest” thing either.

Now, not that we’re biased or anything, but we do think you are 4,000 times more likely to foster a healthy relationship with food and exercise with a powerlifting focus than with a bodybuilding focus. In powerlifting, you can compete in whatever weight class you want, you can eat within whatever dietary restrictions you want, and make GREAT progress at whatever weight you’re at. I have experienced a bit of a shift in powerlifting culture towards including more cardiovascular exercises and away from aggressive cutting and bulking techniques which I think is awesome. This is a dramatic statement, but it’s true. There is nothing about true stage bodybuilding prep that is healthy. There is nothing healthy about eating tilapia and asparagus every day for 4 meals a day for 6 weeks, there is nothing healthy about pushing your body through hours and hours of cardio on little to no food. And I’m not saying that people who choose to do it are bad or dumb or anything, just that often bodybuilding culture gets glorified as being super healthy and it just isn’t (not to mention that almost all of them are on PED’s or steroids but that is a conversation for another time).

One of the interesting things to me as a coach is that if you come to me just looking to get strong, look good, and feel good, I am likely going to program a combination of both of these styles of training. We would do some big compound movements (i.e. more powerlifting style) and then some accessory isolation movements (i.e. more body-building style). We will also build in some things like walks, cardio, and conditioning to help improve aerobic capacity! Ideally a combination of lower and higher intensity. All that to say, if your goals are general fitness and you’re just getting started, if your goal is to optimize your health gains, neither of these sports is going to do that for you. Lift for strength, lift for your health, and decide if competing is right for you for other reasons than optimizing health gains, which you can 100% do outside of these sports!”


Share this post

Subscribe to Stay In the Know