Why Are Powerlifters Stronger Than Bodybuilders? The Science Behind Raw Power

The sports of powerlifting and bodybuilding might have some overlapping similarities. But they are very different from each other, both in terms of objectives and principles.

Generally, you would feel that an average bodybuilder will appear larger than a powerlifter of the same stature. That’s because they design their workout programs to build muscle mass and maximize hypertrophy gains.

Does that, in principle, indicate that bodybuilders are also stronger than powerlifters?

In most cases, that is not the case. A powerlifter will generally be able to lift heavier weights than a bodybuilder.

There are several reasons behind this observation. In this article, we’ll get into the nitty gritty of why powerlifting, as a sport, produces stronger athletes compared to bodybuilding.

Without further ado, let’s dive straight into it.

Are Powerlifters Stronger Than Bodybuilders?

Are Powerlifters Stronger Than Bodybuilders

Yes, powerlifters are generally stronger than bodybuilders. They are able to lift more weight and have more functional strength despite looking somewhat smaller than an average bodybuilder.

Powerlifters mainly train to improve their strength without paying much attention to how their bodies look. The three main lifts of the sport – squats, deadlifts, and bench press – act as compound movements that target all the major muscle groups of the body.

By focusing on maximizing their 1RMs (1-Rep Maximum) and technique efficiency for these exercises, powerlifters gain significant functional strength, in addition to being able to lift more than an average bodybuilder [1].

Bodybuilding is an entirely different sport in this regard. Athletes in that category need to maintain an aesthetic physique – with proportionate development of all major and minor muscle groups as well as a low body fat percentage.

The goals and demands of bodybuilding do not allow athletes to focus on their strength. Obviously, bodybuilders are strong enough and can lift a decent amount. But when squaring off against a traditional powerlifter, their 1RM ranges won’t even come close when it comes to the three main exercises.

Now that we understand the basics, let’s move on to the science behind why powerlifting generates more strength compared to bodybuilding.

Why Are Powerlifters Stronger Than Bodybuilders?

Why Are Powerlifters Stronger Than Bodybuilders

Powerlifters can usually trump bodybuilders when it comes to raw strength. And that means being able to lift more weight while also having enhanced functional strength for carrying out day-to-day activities.

So, what are the reasons that led to this conclusion? Let’s find out.

Powerlifters Don’t Focus On Aesthetics

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two sports is that powerlifting is all about strength, while bodybuilding focuses on building a physique that is well-rounded and aesthetically appealing.

Bodybuilders often follow targeted muscle development to maintain the ideal physique – slim waist, wide shoulders, and shredded abs.

Powerlifters do not need to conform to these standards.

That is one of the reasons why they can lift so much. Generally, you would see that powerlifters have larger torsos than bodybuilders, specifically because bodybuilding requires you to be shredded.

But according to research, the larger the circumference of the torso, the more strength the lifter can apply while performing compound exercises [2].

Because bodybuilders need to meet these standards, they often need to compromise with some extra strength that they could have had instead.

Powerlifters Follow a Strength-Centric Training Program

Bodybuilders apply a strength-based resistance training model. Powerlifters, on the other hand, focus on maximizing their strength by using the heavy-weight, low-rep formula and staying close to their 1RM while training.

For powerlifters, their performance in exercises like squats, bench presses, and deadlifts is the focal point of their training programs.

They follow the concept of periodization to craft their workout routines. They strategically taper down the intensity of their training sessions to be at their maximum potential at specific moments, usually before a competition [3].

When they are performing, powerlifters are at their strongest and are able to lift more than any other bodybuilder.

More Focus On Compound Movements

More Focus On Compound Movements

Bodybuilders do work on their squats, bench presses, and deadlifts. But for them, compound exercises are not the focal point of their training routines.

They still perform a lot of isolation exercises to get well-rounded muscle development. They also engage in exercise variations to stimulate muscle growth in a more effective manner [4].

By focusing more on compound lifts, powerlifters naturally become better at them and improve their 1RMs on a regular basis. Bodybuilders, on the other hand, do not spend enough time performing compound movements that could help them develop whole-body strength effectively.

However, it’s important to note that powerlifters also perform these isolation exercises and their variations. They are known as “accessory exercises” in powerlifting and are important as there is a strong synergistic correlation between muscle size and isometric strength [5].

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No Nutritional Restrictions in Powerlifting

To make their bodies look a certain way, bodybuilders have to work really hard on formulating their diet and meal plans.

Powerlifters don’t have to worry as much about what they eat as long as they are getting their recommended daily dose of calories. In general, you’ll find that 30% of all calories that powerlifters consume come from fat sources [6].

So, powerlifters can maintain a body fat percentage of anywhere between 10-15% on a normal day. Male bodybuilders, on the other hand, cannot cross the 3%-8% threshold during competition months.

Conventionally, you can say that powerlifters have more fat in their bodies, which allows them to perform better in strength exercises [7].

Moreover, after the traditional bulking season ends, bodybuilders have to go on a heavy diet schedule. They often consume fewer calories than their bodies require to burn fat quickly and become shredded on the day of the competition.

While this may make their bodies look good, their strength and lifting abilities take a significant hit. Powerlifters, on the other hand, are always high on energy because of an all-season type of diet.

Powerlifters Take Longer Rests

Bodybuilders usually limit their resting time to 2-3 minutes between individual sets, as it’s the most efficient value for hypertrophy-centric workouts [8].

Powerlifters, on the other hand, do not move on to the next set until their muscles have recovered fully. They can take anywhere between 5 minutes and 7 minutes before they hit the weights again.

Because of these longer rest and recovery times, powerlifters are better prepared (mentally and physically) to lift heavier weights compared to a bodybuilder.

Low-Rep Training

Powerlifters always work close to their 1RM ranges when it comes to squatting, deadlifting, and bench pressing. That is until their periodization routine is tapering off and they reduce training intensity by some margin.

By only exercising in the 1-5 rep range, powerlifters are able to lift heavier weights. Bodybuilders, on the other hand, traditionally complete 8-15 repetitions during each set. So, they need to pick lighter weights to reach the end of the workout without fatiguing their muscles.

Because of this strategic workout routine, powerlifters are always able to prioritze strength-building over hypertrophy.

Exercise Execution

Exercise Execution

Powerlifters and bodybuilders often perform the same exercises. But the way in which they perform those exercises, as well as their ranges of motion, differ significantly.

For example, powerlifters often assume the low-bar back squat variation as it allows them to go deeper while lifting heavier weights. Similarly, medium-to-wide grip bench pressing and sumo or standard-style deadlifts are preferred by them [9].

Powerlifters are known to leverage the workout to reduce their range of motion and only focus on lifting the weight, not holding it.

Bodybuilders, on the other hand, deliberately increase the range of motion and use more difficult variations to stimulate effective muscle growth. That is why they are weaker than powerlifters when it comes to lifting heavier weights.

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Winding Up

When you put a bodybuilder and a powerlifter next to each other, the difference will be staggering. Bodybuilders will appear far more impressive – broad shoulders, slim waists, shredded bodies, and abdominal muscles.

Powerlifters, on the other hand, will appear a bit fatter and smaller in size. But does that mean that they are comparatively weaker?


Powerlifters focus on strength-building, while bodybuilders are all about building that perfect physique. The difference in the core objectives of the two sports is what makes powerlifters and bodybuilders so different from each other.


  1. Goncalves, A., Gentil, P., Steele, J., Giessing, J., Paoli, A., & Fisher, J. (2019). Comparison of single- and multi-joint lower body resistance training upon strength increases in recreationally active males and females: a within-participant unilateral training study. European Journal of Translational Myology, 29(1). https://doi.org/10.4081/ejtm.2019.8052
  2. Relationships between anthropometry and maximal strength in male classic powerlifters. (2020, December 1). PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33414873/
  3. Williams, T. D., Tolusso, D. V., Fedewa, M. V., & Esco, M. R. (2017). Comparison of Periodized and Non-Periodized Resistance Training on Maximal Strength: A Meta-Analysis. Sports Medicine, 47(10), 2083–2100. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0734-y
  4. Baz-Valle, E., Schoenfeld, B. J., Torres-Unda, J., Santos-Concejero, J., & Balsalobre-Fernández, C. (2019). The effects of exercise variation in muscle thickness, maximal strength and motivation in resistance trained men. PLOS ONE, 14(12), e0226989. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0226989
  5. Akagi, R., Kanehisa, H., Kawakami, Y., & Fukunaga, T. (2008). Establishing a New Index of Muscle Cross-Sectional Area and its Relationship With Isometric Muscle Strength. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(1), 82–87. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0b013e31815ef675
  6. Oliver, J. M., Mardock, M., Biehl, A. J., & Riechman, S. E. (2010). Macronutrient intake in Collegiate powerlifters participating in off season training. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 7(S1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-7-s1-p8
  7. Hoor, G. a. T., Plasqui, G., Schols, A., & Kok, G. (2018). A Benefit of Being Heavier Is Being Strong: a Cross-Sectional Study in Young Adults. Sports Medicine – Open, 4(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-018-0125-4
  8. De Salles, B. F., Simão, R., Miranda, F., Da Silva Novaes, J., Lemos, A., & Willardson, J. M. (2009). Rest Interval between Sets in Strength Training. Sports Medicine, 39(9), 765–777. https://doi.org/10.2165/11315230-000000000-00000
  9. Ferland, P., & Comtois, A. S. (2019). Classic Powerlifting Performance: A Systematic Review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 33(1), S194–S201. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000003099