Strength Training vs. Bodybuilding: A Comprehensive Guide

Strength Training vs. Bodybuilding: A Comprehensive Guide

Resistance training is one of the most beneficial things an individual can do to improve their physical strength and conditioning. Resistance training can take on many different forms and target various training goals. However, the two most common approaches to resistance training are strength training and bodybuilding. 

While there are some similarities between strength training and bodybuilding, there are many differences regarding training goals and outcomes. Strength training focuses on enhancing an individual's strength and overall athletic performance, whereas bodybuilding training focuses on muscle mass and aesthetics. Strength-focused athletes want to get stronger and more explosive; bodybuilders wish to increase muscle mass and reduce body fat. 

Which is better? Well, that all depends on the training goals of the individual. Below, we will further discuss strength training and bodybuilding, providing information to assist you in determining if strength training or bodybuilding is the right choice for you. 

Introduction to Strength Training and Bodybuilding

Strength training involves developing absolute strength, explosive power, speed, and conditioning. This training style can be applied in many ways depending on the sport's requirements. For example, a Conjugate method-based training program can be designed to help improve the serve speed of a tennis player or the overhead press of a strongman competitor. 

Strength and performance training removes limitations and allows an individual to train at various intensities, velocities, and volume levels. The only requirement is that the training plan improves athletic performance. This provides both the athlete and coach the freedom to create an optimized training plan based on the athlete's current state. 

It is important to note that strength training is not all about developing absolute strength. At Westside, we aim to improve all strengths on the force-velocity curve, with the end goal being the development of a complete athlete. We do not sacrifice strength for speed, speed for strength, or strength for conditioning. We build complete athletes capable of performing at a high level in their sport and the gym. 

Strength training can also be highly beneficial for the average gym goer. Just because someone isn't worried about sports performance doesn't mean that getting stronger and in better physical condition isn't beneficial. Added strength and improved conditioning make day-to-day activities less taxing and help to prevent injury.

Bodybuilding training involves developing muscle mass using hypertrophy-focused and cardiovascular-focused training methods to increase muscle mass while reducing body fat. While strength training is focused on sports performance, bodybuilding training is strictly concerned with muscular size. The end goal isn't to be as athletic as possible but to develop as much muscle mass as possible with the least amount of body fat.  

Bodybuilding is also very much focused on the athlete's diet. While strength-focused athletes need to follow a proper diet to allow training to be as effective as possible, bodybuilding takes dieting to a whole new level. Throughout the year, bodybuilders will increase and decrease caloric intake, constantly manipulating their diet depending on their current training phase. 

Bodybuilders typically go through a bulking phase, followed by a cutting phase to reduce body fat gained during bulking. The goal is to gain as much muscle mass as possible during the bulking phase, then work through a cutting phase to reduce excess body fat accumulated while preserving as much muscle mass as possible. While this may sound simple, it can become an extremely complicated process at the higher levels of the sport. 

While the average gym goer following a bodybuilding training program has more room for error, competitive bodybuilders must follow an extremely rigid lifestyle to achieve the desired results during each training phase. Bodybuilding seems simplistic on the surface, but anyone familiar with competitive bodybuilding knows it is a very complex and precise process that requires significant dedication and focus.

The Key Differences Between Strength Training and Bodybuilding

Training Objectives:

Strength training is concerned with the development of strength and the improvement of athletic performance. Put simply, the training is performance-focused, with increased muscle mass and improved physical composition being the bonus. Bodybuilding training is concerned with developing new muscle mass and improved physical composition. This training is aesthetics-focused, with increased strength being the bonus. 

Remember that despite differing training objectives, strength and bodybuilding training borrow from each other. For example, a strength-focused athlete can benefit from increased training volume, resulting in greater levels of hypertrophy and an increase in overall muscle mass. Similarly, a bodybuilder can benefit from training at higher intensities to improve strength and muscular density.

However, athletes focused on strength training seek improvements in strength and athletic performance. In contrast, athletes focused on bodybuilding look for improvements in muscular size and overall physical composition. 

Training Techniques:

There will be many similarities between exercise selection for strength training and bodybuilding training. The difference lies in how these exercises are programmed and the desired training outcomes. A strength-focused athlete will utilize the squat to develop strength and explosive power. 

This training will include both max and dynamic effort style training. Meanwhile, a bodybuilder will also utilize the squat, except the focus is on developing lower body muscle mass. This training will use the repeated effort method, with the volume and intensity selected to lead to more significant levels of hypertrophy. 

Another critical difference in training techniques is focusing on the full range of motion versus the required range of motion. Typically, bodybuilders focus on a full range of motion to achieve optimal stimulation and growth. With strength training, much of the training will be focused on the required range of motion, with joint-specific training also added in. 

Basically, a bodybuilder will squat as deep as possible to target as many muscle groups as possible, while a strength-focused athlete will train to develop strength in a range of motion that is relevant to competition standards. If the goal is to squat the most weight, it makes sense only to squat as deep as required and not waste any additional effort. However, it makes sense for the bodybuilder to squat as deep as possible to achieve optimal lower-body stimulation. 

Because the bodybuilder is not concerned with high-intensity training, there is less risk associated with their choice to train in full ranges of motion. These athletes will use lower intensity weight performed at high volume, allowing full range of motion training to be achieved without significant risk. Meanwhile, strength-focused athletes will train at higher intensities, which could cause injury if an athlete suddenly goes from squatting to competition legal depth to focusing on squatting heavy weights as deep as biomechanically possible. 

Another key difference between strength training and bodybuilding is the use of machines. While strength training includes the use of machines, the use is typically not at the level you would expect to see in a bodybuilding-style training program. 

For example, an athlete focused on strength development will almost always squat and deadlift using free weights. Meanwhile, a bodybuilder will likely opt to squat using a Smith machine, which allows for precise targeting of specific lower body muscle groups. This is not to say that strength training will not include the use of machines because it most certainly will. However, the use of machines will not be similar to a bodybuilding-style training program. 

Impact on the Body:

In terms of impact on the body, both training styles feature many benefits, along with some potential risks. With strength training, the key benefit is improved strength and conditioning and sports performance. With bodybuilding, the key benefit is increased muscle mass and improved physical composition. 

When it comes to injury, strength training and bodybuilding share similar risks but for different reasons. As mentioned previously, strength training involves the use of high-intensity training. When executed correctly, this training is highly beneficial to an athlete. However, when implemented incorrectly, injury can occur. Strength training requires an athlete to make intelligent choices regarding weight selection during training and execute each lift with proper form at all times. 

Bodybuilders can, of course, also get injured. However, these injuries are typically related to excessive fatigue due to high training volume or the athlete following a calorie-restricted diet. Unlike strength training, where the focus is to eat for performance, bodybuilders must follow diets to accomplish their training objectives. This means that unless the bodybuilder is currently bulking, it is likely that the diet is a bit restrictive. 

As the bodybuilder nears competition, the calories become further restricted, which can begin to cause issues with fatigue and dehydration. This combination can cause injury or lead to health complications. 

This is why strength training is often the better choice for most gymgoers. The bodybuilding lifestyle can be challenging unless an individual is knowledgeable and looking to compete in bodybuilding. When calories become restricted and training volume remains near the same, the average gymgoer can run into issues with excessive fatigue levels or injure themselves. 

Strength training is more forgiving, allowing for athletes to consistently consume enough calories to achieve the current training goals. Considering strength training is focused on enhancing strength and athletic performance, the diet followed is one that allows for consistent hydration levels and caloric intake to be maintained. 

Strength training is a game of getting as close to the mark as possible on a consistent basis, while bodybuilding requires a higher level of training and dietary precision, discipline, and planning to achieve the desired training outcomes.

In the long run, strength-focused athletes will likely fare a bit better than bodybuilding-focused athletes. This is because strength athletes are concerned with the improvement of their physical abilities, while bodybuilders are concerned with the improvement of their physical appearance. 

Years of improving physical strength and athletic abilities improve long-term health and performance, provided the athlete can avoid serious injury. With bodybuilders, the years of restrictive diets combined with high levels of training volume can lead to injury or metabolic damage. 

Choosing Between Strength Training and Bodybuilding

When determining the path of resistance training you plan to take; it is vital to consider your lifestyle and training goals. For most athletes, strength training is the best option. This training is focused on improving sports performance, which makes the most sense if your success depends on how well you perform, not how jacked you look. 

However, if your goal is to compete in bodybuilding, or you just want to add on muscle mass without training at high levels of intensity, then bodybuilding-style training is the right choice. It is also possible to blend both training styles, often referred to as powerbuilding. As mentioned previously, this training style is often implemented during a bodybuilder's offseason bulk cycle. 

You will have to focus most of your training on one goal or the other. This means you must prioritize improving your athletic performance or physical appearance. While we can blend some aspects of strength training and bodybuilding, it is important to choose to primarily focus on one or the other if you are a competitive athlete. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the main difference between strength training and bodybuilding?

A: Strength training focuses on improving strength and athletic performance, while bodybuilding focuses on improving muscle mass and physical composition. 

Q: Can you focus on strength training and bodybuilding at the same time?

A: Yes, this is referred to as powerbuilding. However, if your goal is to become competitive in strength or bodybuilding competitions, it is important to primarily focus on one style of training.

Q: Should a bodybuilder train heavy at times?

A: YesHigh-intensity training leads to improved muscle mass and muscle density. Legendary bodybuilder Ronnie Coleman was famous for performing heavy powerlifting-style lifts in the offseason and during competition preparation. Aside from genetics, this heavy training definitely contributed to his success to some degree. 

Q: Should strength-focused athletes include high-volume training in their program?

A: Yes, strength athletes need to increase their muscle mass and work capacity. The Westside system achieves this during accessory work, where the repeated effort method is implemented. 

Q: Can bodybuilding-style training be used to build a base of strength and muscle mass?

A: Yes, athletes new to barbell training can benefit from following bodybuilding-style training programs as they initially begin training. Not only will this training improve strength and muscle mass, movement quality, and mobility benefit as well due to the high rep counts. 

Q: Should strength athletes sometimes reduce high-intensity training to focus on hypertrophy?

A: No. Unless an athlete is injured or experiencing excessive fatigue, there is no reason to reduce training intensity significantly. A properly designed strength training program should provide plenty of hypertrophy-focused training. 

Accomplish Your Goals

The style of training you choose to perform should directly reflect your competitive goals. If you want to become a better athlete or compete in strength sports, strength-focused training will likely lead you to success. If you are an athlete who can gain muscle mass easily while staying relatively lean regularly, bodybuilding training will help maximize your potential. 

It depends on the athlete and their training goals. There is no doubt there are athletes who focus on strength training and athletic performance that could transition to bodybuilding and succeed. Similarly, some bodybuilders could transition to strength sports with relative ease and succeed. 

Ultimately, what matters most is that you choose the method that delivers the results you are looking for while best preparing you for competition. If you plan on never competing, the choice comes down to what style of training provides you with the best results while also having a good time training. 

You really can't go wrong with either choice. If you focus on strength training, you will become stronger and more capable. You will become physically larger, leaner, and more muscular if you choose bodybuilding. There is no right or wrong choice, just the choice that is right for you and your training goals and lifestyle. 

Regardless of your training style, be sure to dedicate yourself to the process. The most important part of training, no matter the training focus, is being able to remain disciplined and do what you need to do to succeed. A half-hearted training effort combined with an unrestrictive lifestyle will only get you so far. 

Whether you are focused on strength training or bodybuilding, both require discipline and dedication. While bodybuilding may be more restrictive, it is just as crucial for strength-focused athletes to remain strict and disciplined with their diet and training. If you want to be the best version of yourself physically, you must work to become the best version of yourself mentally. 


Simmons, L. (2007). Westside Barbell Book of Methods. Westside Barbell.

Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. C. (2009). Supertraining. Verkhoshansky.

Zatsiorsky, V. M., & Kraemer, W. J. (2006). Science and Practice of Strength Training. Human Kinetics

Search The Blog
Like What You're Reading?

Sign up for our newsletter and get new articles sent straight to your inbox weekly.

Search The Blog
Like What You're Reading?

Sign up for our newsletter and get new articles sent straight to your inbox weekly.