Strength Training vs Bodybuilding

Strength training vs bodybuilding

For any strength or physique-based athlete, strength training vs bodybuilding both have their vices. These training styles do differ... so, where does one style end and the other begin?  

They can often have some overlapping tendencies into one another: their ultimate use can only be determined by you and your goal.

 So let’s put strength training and bodybuilding under the athletic micro-scope and find out!


I would like to start by briefly touching on some of the differences in muscle physiology and some of the mental and psychological thought processes some of us have when we think of: strength training vs bodybuilding.

Most men prefer to watch a power lifting or a strongman competition over that of a bodybuilding competition.

This is a primal and ancestral way of thinking; we enjoy the action of strength-based entertainment.

Dead lifting truck tires

The strength training athlete or person competing in a strongman competition, more than likely will not train or diet remotely close to a professional bodybuilder...

Yet the competitive bodybuilder stands on the stage alone...

Wearing only a skimpy pair of posing trunks, posing there hearts out to show the world how impressive he or she looks from the many hours of exhaustive hard work.

Simply put: the actual hard work of a bodybuilder is seldom seen, it is the aftermath of this work and dieting that gets seen, nothing more.

Most people will never know all of the hundreds of hours of behind the scenes training and dieting that has to go into building a quality physique. Most males are usually, visually inspired when watching power and strength training feats. But...

Men and women are also deeply inspired and motivated by the striking visual effects of bodybuilding from a physique-based stand-point.

Lets define the differences between strength training vs bodybuilding to get a better understanding of where and which practices from each tool you can use to build strength, increase muscle and build a more athletically defined body.

The tools you use to do this should be more directly related to your goals, of exactly what you wish to achieve, in your strength training or bodybuilding!

The Internal Art of Bodybuilding

Training for Muscularity:

hypertrophy occurs as the muscle is trained consistently. The covering of the individual muscle fibers actually thickens and toughens as do the tendons supporting the muscle. This change yields greater protection for the muscle, increasing its strength and size makes it less susceptible to injury.

This is typically the way the body reacts to the new changes in stresses its receiving from weight training.

The increase in muscle size, however; between strength training vs bodybuilding is in no way proportional to increases in strength. Quite often very small increases in size may accompany great increases in strength.

As the muscle hypertrophy's, the fibers grow larger, rather than more numerous. Much of the increase in size can be accounted for by an increase in muscle sarcoplasm (fluid) in the fiber.

The total amount of stored glycogen and other chemicals involved in ATP production also increases dramatically. ATP or, (adenosine triphosphate), is simply: the energy stored in the muscle needed for muscular contraction.

As you continue further and deeper into your workout, the number and size of the myofibrils making up the muscle fibers increase. The ability to store more muscle sarcoplasm increases as well as your ability to generate more ATP (muscle energy food). this is the basic biochemistry for muscle growth.

The Body’s Adaptive Process to Stress


Guys naturally seem to have the mindset; 'if you’re strong you must be big'. So in order to get big, you must train as heavy as you can. This is partially true, but not totally, as each individual does differ slightly. I will go into this more a little further down.

Bodybuilders specifically train to build individual muscle mass and quality density and overall physique aesthetics, not to become weightlifters. All the way from beginners to advanced lifters in bodybuilding, can easily miss this fact.

The focused intention of your goal between strength training vs bodybuilding will ultimately be reflected by the intensity and type of weight training routine you use. Whether your trying to increase strength or muscle, your goal is so important to your eventual outcome.

Your body on any given day or moment whether you’re aware of it or not, has one specific purpose: 'to survive'. Whether you’re working outside, in the office or training in your gym, your body decides the impact of what it’s feeling by assessing stress...

E.g., if you’re cold your body shivers if you’re hot your body sweats.

This is the same in bodybuilding. The body is simply measuring the stress levels that you are applying to it. Your body will respond by selectively adapting in a way that best suits it's chances of survival...

So what does this have to do with bodybuilding, and increasing muscles size?

Molding your frame into a desired shape and imposing self-selected stress and continuously trying to increase your capabilities beyond their current state... increases this stress.

Increasing these limits in stress and hypertrophy are generally directly linked to: how strong you are mentally, meaning: (how much of the burning-sensation at the end of each set can you stand).

In other words; how much stress you can handle through-out your workout will more or less decide how much you can increase total muscular size.

I have seen it so many times over the years as the going gets tough, a lot of guys don't get tough with the going: this is where a lot of men say things like, you need good genetics, bodybuilding programs don't work, or you can't get big without drugs.

I'm not saying none of this comes into play in bodybuilding. But here's the thing; if you want anything out of life that's worth having, you have to work for it. Bodybuilding on its own is one of the toughest and cruelest mistresses their is, does pay back and handsomely with its own rewards.

If you want sheer size and quality to grace your body's frame you have to work for it. Genetics don't have as much to do with it as you might think. It is the belief in your goal and focus on that belief, that will decide and determine what type of body you build.

Mentally letting these ideas become the frame-work of your thought process while you’re training becomes very important.

The mental and physical communication you have with the stresses of bodybuilding, e.g. linking your mind to the muscle will be directly related to growth and strength increases...

Your eventual outcome of these increases, is often decided by your level of this physical communication.

A lot of so-called experts say: muscles being trained, don’t know the difference between a heavier weight and a lighter weight, this is not entirety true.

Your body knows very well from the central nervous system to the muscles and the tendons that they’re attached to, there is more load-bearing stress: so be sure you’re telling and communicating with your body on every rep of every exercise with a clear strong mental link as your training, to continue with these new stresses to encourage growth.

In Bodybiuding Muscle Size Equates To Volume Training

Building legs

Again: this is where so many get confused, you should inflict enough stress with resistance for hypertrophy to occur, but not so much that you become a weightlifter or strength-based athlete.

Generally how this is monitored and this can vary from each bodybuilding athlete is; train with 70 to 80% of your one rep max. As an example:

If you can bench press 250 pounds for a (ORM), your regular working weight should be in the neighborhood of between 180 and 210 pounds.

If you simply can’t get 10 or 12 reps. with this much weight, try decreasing it by 10 or 15 pounds and try again, this is about muscle hypertrophy not overall strength or power gains!

Believe it or not: the people in the gym that you go to; honestly don’t care how much weight you can lift.

How many sets?

This particular question is a bit of a toughie, this is a difficult question simply because: there are so many variables to it. As a bodybuilder, you should become more in-tune with yourself and see your physique honestly for what it is, but have the mental foresight to see what you want it to become.

With that in mind as a bodybuilder, you should also learn to assess weak and strong points in your physique. The amount of sets to be performed for different body parts that are weaker will vary in each person’s physique and muscle structure, including current conditioning level.

There are many different ways to attack weaker body parts with your Set ratios: at times I would do strength training sets of 6 to 8, and these would consist of compound multi-joint exercises such as...

The squat, dead lift, incline and flat bench press or bent over barbell rows, etc. these lifts would be directed to the weaker body parts first. I would then finish with specific isolation movements on these weaker body parts, this would range from 4 to 6 sets for smaller body parts: But…

On larger ones I would bump this set range up, most of the guys I trained with as bodybuilders seem to find they had the best luck with volume training. In other words, make a lasting attempt at keeping the pump in the weaker body parts a little longer. 

For a list of some of the better compound and isolation exercises see (free weight training).

Holding the bar

The thing here is: in bodybuilding, there’s really no one that can tell you the exact set range as an advanced intermediate or advanced bodybuilder; you need to experiment with your set range.

Strength training vs bodybuilding does have its place in bodybuilding, but primarily you’re not there to swing or heave the weights, but to cause hypertrophy or trauma to muscle fibers for new growth

Also with that in mind a rep range of somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 to 12 reps is a good place to start. Remember, this is about training for hypertrophy (muscle size), nothing more.

Try not to incorporate a lot of cheating movements with this type of training; If you’re not feeling a pump at this point…

Try setting the weight down and give a 10 or 15 second count and resume the set. Or you can also have a set of dumbbells or barbell next to you 10 or 20 pounds lighter and do a drop-set to further your pump  and volume training.

The Focus And Physical Aspect of Bodybuilding

In all aspects of weight training including bodybuilding if you wish to progress to a higher level of achievement; you need to learn, to step out of your comfort zone…

Not to the point you’re tearing muscle fibers to pieces and injuring yourself, but you must exert greater force, energy and intensity, than you may be used to, especially; for more stubborn muscle groups to grow.

A quote from Dorian Yates five times, Mr. Olympia winner: “the purpose of bodybuilding is not to annihilate but to stimulate”.

If you’re a bodybuilder specifically after muscle size you need to focus on the practice of (TUT), that is (time under tension) and focusing specifically on each repetition. Here are 5 ways to increase muscle hypertrophy.

Time Under Tension:

  • To increase muscle: avoid fully locking out or coming to a rest in any exercise, this ensures a longer time under direct tension.
  • To increase muscle: focus on the eccentric portion or lowering of each exercise, making it slightly longer in time, than the concentric portion.
  • To increase muscle: pay close attention to keeping your form strict.
  • To increase muscle: make an effort to stay mentally focused, make a strong mental link to the muscles being worked and squeeze close to the top of each concentric peak contraction.
  • To increase muscle: try to keep your rest intervals between 60 and 90 seconds max, keeping your pump stimulated. If you don’t have enough conditioning for these rest intervals, try to keep it less than two minutes if you can. This is generally the sweet spot and gives enough time to keep you using the desired loads to raise hypertrophy.

Results from training to heavy:

If you’re trying to build raw muscle and are under the assumption that lifting super heavy will get you there. Here are five different things that can rob the stimulating effects of hypertrophy from your muscle pump.

  • To heavy: your inability to focus and make a link to the working muscles are impaired, from the struggle of simply keeping the weight moving.
  • To heavy: you are effectively reducing the time under tension you’re simply forced to use momentum to cheat the weight into position.
  • To heavy: the second part of each exercise is: the ability to lower on the eccentric portion of each lift in a controlled manner. Again if the resistance is to much, this reduces your time, that the muscle being trained is under tension.
  • To heavy: brings or utilizes more muscles in each rep, which will reduce the accumulated effort of the pump you intend for each targeted muscle group.
  • To heavy: months, even years of hard physical effort can slip past you, and you may very well see little or no gains. Gyms all over Canada and the US are full of guys simply trying to hard and lifting to heavy and not focusing on the value of the extension and contraction of each exercise: try not to become one of them; if building quality muscle size is your goal!
Mind muscle link

Stay focused on every set and be sure to always add variety and continually monitor yourself and change your rep, set and exercise routines up. This always helps large in part with the mental monotony of this type of training.

In effect: bodybuilding is about learning specifically its chemistry and physiology. Most people's bodies respond mentally and physically better to changes in stimuli...

Meaning: you need to learn to change things up in and out of the gym. This includes the smallest things such as: rep and tempo speed of each set.

Shortening up your rest times as you become more conditioned, try to continually add to your progressiveness, including the type of music you listen to...

Over 90% of the bodybuilders I ever worked-out with always continued with gains if they weren't afraid to change. Change is where growth occurs, change will keep you as a bodybuilder stimulated mentally and physically, and returning to the gym.

It is not a question of if; but when you hit a training plateau. Solid rest and change are the two biggest things most bodybuilders miss on the road to recovery and growth. You can't have one without the other, a full recovery stimulates and regenerates new growth.

The problem with change in regards to strength training vs bodybuilding is: people are afraid to step out of there routines and comfort zones, or some people think that their routines will always work for them and never think to change them-up.

Nothing could be further from the truth, this is about continuously changing and evolving and as you do, so will your body. 

The Defining Difference in Strength Training vs Bodybuilding

Strength training

The art of strength training

Strength training is an essential part to any weight training routine. The whole idea of weight training in general: is to strengthen and condition the entire physical body.

Strength training has a greater neurological impact on the body and nervous system as the intensity is greater, but over a much shorter burst, whereas bodybuilding has its own discipline…

Bodybuilding is very mental in that: the stress or muscle burn lasts much longer in each set. Learning to deal with the burn, of close to absolute failure of every set, does take strict mental focus.             

With that said, you are also mentally stimulating, strengthening and conditioning the nervous system and Nero pathways. As your athletic conditioning and strength develops, the central nervous system adapts and coordinates to heavier lifting and the stress it inflicts.

The difference between strength training vs bodybuilding is: strength training is a lower gear while lifting; strength training effects the motor pathways carrying messages from the brain to the muscles and tendons.

If you're consistent; this usually becomes so frequently and vigorously bombarded that there's an increase in electrical impulse efficiency, of travel along these routes. see (power vs strength).

As efficiency increases with strength training, this results in a more effective use of force, much the same as experienced in other motor skill sports.

To increase overall body strength, once again: we will have to come back to the communication you have with your body regarding changes in stress related to the loads the bodies lifting.

To increase your success in strength training, set and make strength training goals and write them down, this solidifies this thought process for most of us; that this is an act you’re going to achieve, not to merely make an attempt at!

Make your strength goals realistic and move forward with your training, take the time to appreciate that these are new mentally and physically challenging stresses; if you compare strength training to bodybuilding.

When it comes to your body be sure to rest it, in order for these recuperative efforts to take effect for the next training session.

 Strength Training

  • First: you’ll be using less volume training, (not as many total sets).
  • Second: you will also be using heavier weight.
  • Third: you’ll be cutting your rep range down, and effectively increasing your load ratio higher in your one rep max.
  • Fourth: rest time may have to be increased to 120 to 180 seconds between sets. A full recovery has to be made between sets… But, not to the point you cool down.

Rest periods can seem and feel eternal between sets when you compare strength training vs bodybuilding programs. To make your strength training routine and efforts effective you should now be training with 85 to 95% of your (one rep max); this of course is after you’re well warmed up.

The difference in goal setting now becomes very different from that of hypertrophy training. You are not focusing on delivering efforts to building just size, the efforts now are more strictly focused on building strength...

As in all strength training efforts, you definitely will develop new muscle growth , 'depending on your intensity level', strength training produces a beneficial result of 'Myofibrillar hypertrophy'. 

Greater attention and focus on strength training should be given to making full range of motion movements on assistant exercises, meaning: (multi-joint exercises) or compound-based movements.

90% of your total sets should focus around assistance-based exercises. This is a list of exercises for:

Barbell bench press

 Upper body

  • Flat, incline and decline barbell press… Always use dumbbells after heavy barbell lifts in your strength training program - keep your best energy reserves for the more demanding movements, these usually include the barbells.
  • Weighted parallel bar dips.
  • Standing barbell shoulder presses, seated Smith machine shoulder presses.
  • Heavier bent-over-barbell rows, wide grip chins, T-bar rows and as a secondary movement, you could use dumbbells.

Lower body

  • The barbell or kettle Bell squat.
  • Vertical and angled leg sled presses.
  • Weighted or walking lunges performed after squatting.
  • Bent knee and stiff legged dead lifting with barbell.
  • Dead lifting with heavier dumbbells, performed in the same manner as the barbell lift.
  • Standing calf raises, donkey raises and tiptoe presses on leg press.

These are a great series of exercise classics to start with, performing basic strength training exercises such as these will increase overall upper and lower body strength.

I would personally pick three exercises for upper or lower body depending on what area you’re training; breaking the body down into upper and lower will allow you to focus more intensely on these individual areas…

Rather than just a blanket strength training workout for the whole-body will probably not produce the same impact as staying focused to just upper or lower body for each training session.   


keep in mind with most exercises regarding strength training vs bodybuilding, the focus of strength training should be on free weights including weighted or body-weight-based training. This is no-frills bare-bones simple, basic, strength training...

  • To develop: overall body and cardio strength.
  • To develop: condition the response time of the central nervous system and Nero pathways.
  • Strength training also develops mental strength, as the body learns how adapt and coordinate itself in the free weight arena.

Why Strength Training?

Leg press

Whether your strength training or bodybuilding, strength training has its own foundational place in all weight training programs.

Strength training vs bodybuilding, in my opinion can have many different goals attached to it. This of course depends on your age, physical condition, and what your specific goals are, but…

In strength training you do need to put emphasis on becoming stronger first: before focusing on hypertrophy training. The primary goal of strength training is: to abolish weak points in the strength curve of your main lifts.

As an example: in the bench press, If you’re struggling on the flat bench at becoming stronger, try using a spotter to help you with two or three sets on the last two or three repetitions, but focus primarily on the negative aspect of the press to build strength in both directions…

On other days, try doing incline or decline barbell presses, to add to the dynamics of changing your strength curves in these different areas if you feel you need to.

As with all strength training and bodybuilding exercises, try to imagine with each repetition of becoming more powerful. e.g. with the dead lift, squat, bench press etc.

Lean muscularity


The purpose of this page is to try to share with you the things that I have seen and experienced over the decades regarding strength training vs bodybuilding.

I do not take drugs, or dope in any way, In my weight training!

I shoot straight from the hip to give you honest fair information for drug-free lifters. It is unfair and unrealistic for the natural guys to expect to see the same results from the routines of other guys that use pharma's. 

Drugs are a choice you make, and a personal one. I begrudge no one for using or not using drugs; with or without them, you still have to make your way to the gym, period!

When I was younger - (in my 20s and 30s), my natural tendency in strength training vs bodybuilding, was to cycle specifically strength training with hypertrophy training 6 to 8 weeks, maybe 10 at the outset.

I would always notice after this many weeks of really pushing the limits of strength training, my body and joints simply; would need a break from the stress at this point, but...

If I felt I was still gaining in my strength training I would stick with these efforts a little longer.

The same goes for bodybuilding, if my efforts were simply not working, I would change it up. I would listen and respond to what the feedback of the training was telling me...

Let’s face it, it’s called bodybuilding for a reason, you must become very astute and in-tune to it.

As I became older, my body now seems to enjoy and respond better to incorporating strength training right into my hypertrophy training (AKA) concurrent training...

E.g., after a thorough warm-up and before I start training specifically for muscle size and quality; I will do three or four sets for weaker body parts with the poundage closer to my one rep max. At this point I’m only getting 3 to 5 repetitions no more.

I will keep these 3 or 4 sets in line with the body part or parts that I’m working that given day. I perform most strength movements like this on most of the bigger body parts, but not as much on the smaller ones...

Again, you have to assess your weaker or weakest areas and train them first, when your strength curve is fresh.

Always add intensity, some fun and variety to your training routine. This makes a huge difference to how often you’ll get to the gym and how hard you'll train to make these changes actually happened and appear before you, in the mirror.

So what’s more important strength training or bodybuilding?

The simplest and easiest way I can answer that after over three decades of training is: for the most part, this depends large in part by what your goals are. If you wish to develop overall quality muscle mass, then both are!

If you are more interested in general conditioning and using strength training as a tool to reach your conditioning or a sports related goal, then specifically strength training should be the tool you use the most.

You and you alone, must assess where your weak areas are, and where you’re strong; train accordingly, and don’t be afraid to experiment...

And understand, how important both aspects of these training tools are. I hope this helps to shed some light on the differences between strength training vs bodybuilding for you, 'Good Luck'! DWT 

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