The 3 Species of Weightlifters – Bodybuilder vs Power-lifter vs Olympic Lifter, What’s the Difference

What is the difference between a weightlifter, powerlifter and bodybuilder?

I have recently answered this question on Quora and I got a little carried away and it became quite long. I thought “why not share this to our OWN loyal and BADASS readers here in About Lifting?”

And the demon inside me said:

“Well, then WHY THE HELL NOT!!!???”

So here we go!

Bodybuilding is the art of sculpting a body with the most amount of lean muscle mass possible. Symmetry, overall “shape” and flow of the muscle curves are important for bodybuilders. They usually compete below 5% skinfold body fat (notice that I said SKINFOLD not TANITA)

Weightlifting, however, is often used interchangeably to refer bodybuilding type training and powerlifting type training but can also refer to Olympic weightlifting – which is a classic show of strength of who can do the most amount of poundage for explosive lifts like Cleans and Jerk, Overhead Snatch, etc.

Power lifters train and compete in doing the heaviest lift they can do for the basic lifts (the Trinity Lifts) like squats, presses and dead-lifts. In essence, powerlifting and olympic lifting tend to be the same. Although these two are using different type of lifts, they are of different nature and require different type of training altogether since moves that powerlifters compete on such as squats, presses and deadlifts are slow movements compared to lifts like Overhead Snatch and Cleans that Olympic lifters do.

Note: strongman is another story for another day

The biggest difference is also the way they train:
The take-away word here is SPECIFICITY:

The basis of a rational, intelligent, and logical approach to exercise or any other arena of human endeavor is the recognition that only the specific appropriate knowledge can lead you to engage in the appropriate action required to achieve a goal – Mentzer

Let us now examine some striking differences among how each athlete trains:

Bodybuilders train with muscular growth and development in mind. The most effective bodybuilding regimen is the one where he deliberately induces micro-tears to his muscle fibres thus they can later be repaired (this time little thicker and tougher) later in the recovery period.

Muscular micro-tears are induced by “Time under Tension” (TUT) and if one could optimize it, it will serve as a great tool in his disposal. One way to optimize TUT is to accentuate the negative portion of the reps. Reaching momentary muscle failure is also important in fact VERY important if one is training as a bodybuilder with muscle size gain in mind.

Power-lifters train to increase their “numbers” for their major lifts (squats, deadlifts, ad presses) or the poundage of their lifts.

Former Mr. Olympia Franco Columbu was also a Powerlifter

Franco benchpress


Power-lifting sessions usually last longer but don’t really induce much bodily inflammation unlike a bodybuilding style regimen. Power lifting and Olympic training regimen is supposed to stress your CNS (central nervous system) instead of your body and muscle itself.

In fact it is more effective for power lifters to train more often while avoiding muscle failure which always “leaves some in the tank” after every rep. This allows them to increase the frequency of their training thus “greasing the grove” like what the ol’ Russian lifters say and further strengthen their CNS.

Olympic weightlifting is also different from power lifting – Olympic lifting mostly involves EXPLOSIVE moves and therefore involves athlete-like training to achieve strength and explosiveness (when muscles strongly contract and the fibres are able to shorten more quickly – which mostly involves developing fast twitch fibers).
Although I don’t have much experience with Olympic lifting as it is a an entirely different arena altogether, but those are the main differences among the three species of weight lifters.

Tell us what you think in the comments section 🙂
Which are you among the three? What about your training regimen? Do you pretty much train like a bodybuilder, a power lifter, or perhaps an Olympic lifter? So, are you an athlete, a weekend warrior or a casual lifter? Did my descriptions for each make sense according to your experience? I would especially love to hear from those of you who do Olympic lifting. Eat your eggs, people!

BTW, My Props to a friend Aisa, for proofreading some of these articles, cheers!! Thanks! :p

A-Lifter- Don't forget to leave your comment/feedback below.  If this article was helpful, I am sure our book Real Talk Muscle will help you even more in your quest for muscle gain. Check it out you can read the first few chapters as well.
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