Most people who are familiar with strength sports have probably heard the argument that powerlifters are stronger than bodybuilders. And there’s good reason for this. Powerlifters can move a ton of iron…literally!
Add to this the fact that you don’t see bodybuilders competing in powerlifting competitions very often, and this argument starts to gain traction. Yet despite this, bodybuilders remain the most muscular human beings on the planet, hands down.
So this raises the question: why are bodybuilders more jacked than powerlifters when powerlifters can out lift bodybuilders in the big three lifts?
- Bodybuilders = Low/Medium (60-80% of 1 Rep Max)
- Powerlifters = High (80-100% of 1 Rep Max)
- Bodybuilders = High (5 to 15 Reps)
- Powerlifters = Low (1 to 5 Reps)
Number of Sets:
- The number of sets varies for both bodybuilders and powerlifters and can range anywhere from 2 sets per exercise all the way to 10 sets depending on the program, rep range and intensity used.
- Bodybuilders = Low (1 to 3 Minutes)
- Powerlifters = High (3 to 10 Minutes)
Ok, great. So we know how the two sports differ in terms of training, but why do bodybuilders have so much more muscle than powerlifters?
The answer lies in the total volume of weight that’s lifted during each training session. For example, let’s say we have two athletes – a bodybuilder and a powerlifter – both performing a bench press routine.
The bodybuilder performs 4 Sets of 12 Reps @ 225 lbs resting 2 minutes between sets, while the powerlifter performs 4 Sets of 5 Reps @ 315 lbs resting 5 minutes between sets.
Assuming each repetition takes 2 seconds to perform, the bodybuilder will have lifted a total of 10,800 lbs in 7 min 36 sec (or a rate of 1,421 lbs/min), while the powerlifter has lifted 6,300 lbs in 15 min 40 sec (or a rate of 402 lbs/min).
What does all of this add up to?
At the end of the day, bodybuilders simply move more weight in less time than their powerlifting counterparts. And in order for them to do this, their bodies adapt by building more muscle.
The bodybuilder doesn’t care how much he can lift. All he cares about is building as much muscle as possible. And the best way to do that is to lift as much total weight as possible in the least amount of time.
So while loading the bar with as much weight as possible is great for building strength (and the ego), if it means you can only crank out one rep then your limiting the total amount of weight you can move in a training session.
Bodybuilders have learned this lesson over the years, and have discovered that the most efficient way to move a lot of weight in a short amount of time is to lower the weight and crank up the reps.
So the next time you hear someone say that powerlifters are stronger than bodybuilders, just remember that its not always what you can lift in a single rep that counts. But how much iron you can move during an entire training session. That’s what bodybuilding is all about.