What Is The Difference Between Strength Training And Bodybuilding?

The two most common forms of exercise are strength training and bodybuilding. Strength athletes use strength training to get stronger and bodybuilders use bodybuilder style training to build muscle and burn fat.

But what exactly is the difference between strength training and bodybuilding?

It’s actually pretty simple!

Strength training is any style of training where building strength is the goal. When performing strength training workouts, your whole purpose is on lifting more weight and getting stronger. Performance is the #1 most important thing for a strength athlete.

Bodybuilding is different! It’s all about building a balanced and muscular physique! The whole purpose is to look better and build an aesthetic body. Whether your goal is competing or just to look better naked, bodybuilding training will get you there.

Now that we know the difference, what do these styles of training look like for the average athlete?

Let’s find out!

What Is Strength Training?

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Strength training is something I recommend for any person looking to get in better shape, build muscle and lose fat. In general, strength training uses lower sets and reps than bodybuilding training.

Sets of 4-6 for main barbell movements is generally accepted as the best rep range for building strength. For other movements, sets of 6-8 work well also! It just depends on what the exercises are and the results you get from them.

An example is an overhead press which is predominantly a shoulder exercise. All of my clients and myself get much better strength gains from doing higher reps in the 10-15 rep range. This is most likely due to the slow-twitch muscle fibers found in the deltoids.

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They respond much better to higher reps for building muscle and gaining strength. If all you ever do for shoulders is super low reps, you’re missing out on a ton of strength gains! Pay attention to your progress when choosing exercises and rep ranges.

Another example is triceps strength, triceps are considered a “performance muscle.” Basically, they’re faster twitch and benefit from higher intensity movements. Close-Grip Bench Press for sets of 4-6 for strength and 6-10 for muscle is usually a great way to build bigger and stronger triceps.

The other thing to consider is with strength training, our main concern is building up strength in different movements. Our secondary concern is building muscle to further facilitate your ability to get stronger down the road.

When I say building movements, I mean your big barbell basics! Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift, Overhead Press, and Barbell Rows to name a few. As long as you’re getting stronger at these movements and their variations, you’re on the right path!

Setting Up A Strength Training Program

Now that we know what strength training is, let’s build a sample strength training program for them!

For standard hypertrophy training, we increase our volume to build more muscle. For strength training, it’s the exact opposite. Because we’re focusing on increasing the intensity, we need to start with higher total sets and decrease them as the weight goes up.

This is what that might look like for a standard Bench Press progression!

  • Week 1: Bench Press 6 Sets @200 lbs
  • Week 2: Bench Press 5 Sets @210 lbs
  • Week 3: Bench Press 4 Sets @220 lbs
  • Week 4: Bench Press 3 Sets @230 lbs
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Because higher intensities are much more demanding on your Central Nervous System, we never want to go to failure when strength training. Each of these sets should have an RPE of 7-9 max! Any heavier than that and you’re going to have issues with recovery and injuries quickly!

Here’s a quick list of tips to consider when working on strength training.

  • Push hard and fast every rep. Your goal with strength training is applying as much force as possible into the barbell. By doing this, it primes your CNS for building strength and power. If you lift slowly you’re not going to build as much strength in the long run, lift explosively!
  • Rest 3-5 minutes per set. When performance is the goal, rest periods need to be considered. The amount of rest you take depends on your performance in each set. If you’re doing sets of 4-6 and you’re dying at rep 3, rest longer. The more rest you get the better for building strength. If it takes you more than 5 minutes, get in better shape or back the weight off.
  • Leave your ego at the door. A lot of people say you need to have an ego to get stronger in the gym, I think this is bullshit. Ego lifting has caused more injuries in the gym than anything else! If you want to get stronger for life, you need to lift safely and minimize your injuries. I’ve been training for over 10 years, Bench over 300, Squat over 400, and Deadlift over 500 without a single injury. Lift safe and leave your ego at the door!
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When setting up a strength training program, it’s incredibly easy to pick exercises to build strength. Here’s the list of my top 10 favorites to build strength.

Basic strength training movements boil down to movement patterns. Here are the main ones you should have in your program:

  • Horizontal Press (Bench Press)
  • Vertical Press (Overhead Press)
  • Horizontal Pull (Barbell Row)
  • Vertical Pull (Pullup)
  • Squat (Barbell Squat)
  • Hip Hinge (Deadlift)

As long as you do 1-2 exercises for each of these movement patterns per week, you’ll be stronger and prevent imbalances much better than any other training program!

Here’s a sample 4 day training program applying these movements patterns to a strength training program.

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4
Bench Press
5 [email protected]
Squat
5 [email protected]
Overhead Press
5 [email protected]
Deadlift
5 [email protected]
Dips
5 [email protected]
Stiff Leg Deadlift
5 [email protected]
Close-Grip Bench Press
5 [email protected]
Front Squat
5 sets @200
Barbell Row
5 sets @150
Pulldown
5 sets @200
Landmine Row
5 sets @75
Pullups
5 sets @bodyweight

This is a very simple plan that you can tweak to your liking! What it boils down to is not pushing to failure, increasing the intensity and lowering the sets as you progress. As long as you do these 3 things, you’ll get stronger.

If you ever wondered what a strength training program looks like, this is it! Try it out!

What Is Bodybuilding?

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Now that we have strength training out of the way, what exactly is bodybuilding?

The main focus of bodybuilding is building muscle and creating balance in the body. To do this, there’s a much bigger emphasis on isolation exercises than strength training.

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That doesn’t mean you have to only do isolation exercises, however! On the contrary, it’s definitely possible to do bodybuilding training using only barbell movements!

It just depends on what your body responds to. If you can build big biceps and triceps with just compound movements there’s no need to do isolation exercises for the arms.

Here are the main things to pay attention to when it comes to bodybuilding training:

  • There is a much bigger emphasis on building individual body parts. While strength training focuses on building strength for performance, bodybuilding is all about building a muscular and balanced physique. If you are lagging in muscle in your calves, that will be a major detriment to what your body looks like. Increasing the amount of work you do for your calves is something you’re going to want to consider. Fixing weak points and balancing them out is important for bodybuilding training.
  • Sets of 6-20 are the best for building muscle. While sets lower than 6 reps can build muscle, the amount of work you’ll need to do will be much greater. 10 sets of 3 reps is much harder to recover from than 3 sets of 10 after all. When volume is matched and intensity is taken into account, higher rep sets build more muscle on average than lower rep sets. That doesn’t mean sets of 20 where all the reps are easy however, you should be pushing 3, 2, or 1 rep away from failure each set.
  • Increase sets until you start having recovery or performance issues. This is something I wish I did years ago for building muscle. A lot of programs recommend certain sets and reps you should do per exercise. While this is good and all, it’s definitely going to cause many people to over and undertrain. Not everybody has the same types of muscle fibers, muscle insertions, etc. You have to make the training match what your body is capable of. If you do 6 total sets of quad work per week and your quads aren’t growing, you need to increase your volume until they are! The easiest way to increase volume is by increasing sets. For most muscle groups, 10-20 work sets per body part seem to be the sweet spot for maximal muscle gains. This doesn’t mean automatically starting at 20 sets of quad work starting tomorrow, however! It means start at 6-8 and increase by 1-3 sets per week. Eventually, your reps are going to start decreasing and you’re going to stop recovering properly. Your goal is to find the maximum number of sets you can do per body part and work up to it with new exercises in the future!
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Here’s an example for that last tip! And this is important so pay attention!

Increasing Volume For A Bodybuilding Program

Let’s say you already know you need 20 sets of chest work until you stop recovering properly. This is the maximum volume you can recover from.

Starting with week 1 we’ll go over a standard bodybuilding cycle, increasing the sets you do each week until you get to 20.

Week 1:
10 sets
Week 2:
13 sets
Week 3:
16 sets
Week 4:
19 sets
Week 5:
Deload 10 sets
Bench Press4 sets5 sets6 sets7 sets4 sets
Incline
Bench Press
3 sets4 sets5 sets 6 sets3 sets
Dips3 sets4 sets5 sets6 sets3 sets

As you can see, we’re slowly increasing the sets per week and pushing our sets hard until we get close to our maximum recoverable volume (MRV) in week 4. From here, we deload and perform around half of our MRV to cut back fatigue and prepare for our next training cycle.

This is where changing exercises can be important! If you jump into your next training cycle and you’re still improving performance-wise, stay the course. Eventually, you’ll have to change out some movements to keep making progress and build more muscle.

If you’re making progress and things are going great don’t change anything!

Conclusion

As you can see, bodybuilding and strength training are vastly different when it comes to how to progress! They both use weights but the goals and applications are much different!

Remember the basic rules for each, strength training is all about building a stronger body. Bodybuilding’s focus is on building a more muscular, and balanced physique.

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Regardless of what you choose to pursue, there’s definitely something to be learned from the other camp.

Don’t assume you have to only do strength training. As I said earlier in this article, you need more muscle over time to continue getting stronger.

So if you’ve been spinning your wheels trying to build strength and it’s not happening, maybe you need to focus on bodybuilding training to build some muscle and fix your lagging muscle groups.

By the same token, if you’re working on bodybuilding training forever and want a change of pace, focus on a strength training program for a change. By getting stronger, you can go back and do more reps with more weight than before. This will allow you to build more muscle in the long run as well!

I hope you all enjoyed and of course if you have any questions, comments, or concerns feel free to drop a comment down below! It’s greatly appreciated!

Until next time,

-Dante Redgrave

danteredgrave

danteredgrave

I'm a Strength Coach and Content Creator with freedom on my mind! Without strength training, I hate to think of where I would be without it. What kind of person I would be, what kind of shape I would be in. It scares me, and that's why every day is a new chance to better myself. Anybody that's interested I am taking online clients now! Just shoot me an email and know you won't find a better deal online or offline. Guaranteed:)

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