Strength Training vs Bodybuilding- Which Will Give You The Best Gym Bod?

With everyone from seniors to housebound moms now converted to strength training, if you want a gym physique, which is the best form of training to spend your time on?

A little aside here, multiple Mr Universe Mike “Titan” O’Hearn, which you will know from such famous TV shows as American Gladiators, and countless front cover magazines merges the two styles of training into his workouts, which he calls, Power Building.

From the onset strength training and bodybuilding set out to accomplish different goals. Strength athletes want to be strong without necessarily having to carry a lot of muscle mass- think of gymnasts – seriously strong – and extremely muscular physiques, but they aren’t generally as big as bodybuilders.

Rowers, sprinters, soccer players, free runners, MMA fighters and boxers also find strength training beneficial. Olympic Weightlifters at the lighter levels can lift weights most people can only dream about yet they are built like stick insects. What’s the common denominator here-

Strength ain’t always related to size. An ant after all can lift 20-50 times it's bodyweight.

Bodybuilders want the most amount of muscle possible. They are some competitors who compete in the classic style, based more on an overall proportioned physique, and not necessarily a mass monster. Then there are the huge gigantic bodybuilders who just want to be as freakishly big as possible.

To bodybuilders hypertrophy is everything. Are these guys freakishly strong? Mostly not. Some may have bigger arms than strongmen but they are nowhere near as strong. Bodybuilders ego they say is in the mirror, power lifters and strength athletes in how much they can lift.

Some bodybuilders over the years have been freakishly strong, like Ronnie Coleman, and even as far back to the 70's, Franco Columbo, Arnold's old training partner. Franco was a power lifter before becoming a professional bodybuilder.

Ronnie Coleman proponent of heavy lifting is now in bad shape, and can barely walk, after going through multiple hip and knee surgeries after his hugely successful bodybuilding career, in which he lifted the coveted Mr Olympia crown 8 years in a row. Something that may never be repeated.


Other notable bodybuilders that trained hard and heavy over the years include 70s advocate of high intensity training Mike Mentzer, Tom Platz and Dorian Yates who adopted Mentzer's high intensity blueprint, Heavy Duty.

Styles Make Fights

This old adage about the fight game is true to the old strength training v bodybuilding debate. Many bodybuilders think they are adopting strength training into segments of their workout, and vice versa for strength trainers and power lifters.

Bodybuilding training is different than strength training. The ultimate goal of bodybuilding is to get a pump. Bodybuilding routines focus more on high volumes, the number of reps and set. Bodybuilders will routinely set 12-15 reps and above as the target to reach in sets.

Strength trainers will go low more like 5-8. Try lifting a 300 kg squat for 15 reps. Not only can few mortals accomplish such a feat, but it is also not safe for your body. One wayward motion at this extreme payload and you can damage your back for 6 months.

strength training versus bodybuilding

Bodybuilders want to tear down their existing muscle fibers so that once they leave the gym the repair process begins which forces the muscles to come back bigger and stronger resulting in larger muscle mass- hypertrophy in a nutshell.

Strength training taxes the neurological and central nervous system. It doesn't force the body to build muscle mass to cope with the load, it forces the body to get strong and commit its neurological and muscular system to cope with the load. It's about muscle power, not muscle size.

Soviet Union Research On Strength Training Shows 90% of Max Is Key

The research by the soviet union into motor unit recruitment (amount of muscle fibers recruited by the central nervous system to lift load) showed that strength trainers need to lift 90% of their 1-rep max to get the most benefit from strength training.

If your max deadlift is 200kg you would rep out 180 Kg. This will create the optimum anabolic environment where hormones would flow through your central nervous system and develop your strength. As your body gets stronger your muscle force develops, and this study shows in can occur in as little as 4 weeks.

Why Should Bodybuilders Incorporate Strength Training Into Routines

Bodybuilding focuses on the physiology of the body, strength training on its neurological aspects. But strength training can have fantastic results for bodybuilders. Think about it this way. Do you ever plateau?

If not you are lying to yourself or not really training that hard. If you are extremely smart you will be cycling the training intensity, building up reps, sets and poundages over several weeks, and cutting back when you've reached a peak, dropping down, and then building back up.

The goal of each cycle is to beat what you did in the last cycle- more reps or more weight usually. But after a while results become nominal. So you can either hop to the latest training fad, or try a new system every few weeks.

But consistency breeds results. If you keep chopping and changing your training program you will short change your gains.

So by adding in strength training into your routine for a few weeks- not a few reps and sets during your normal routine- but a complete 2-8 weeks training cycle- a cycle within a cycle- you will force your muscles to recruit more motor units.


By doing this you will increase muscle force. When you go back to your medium to high volume training routine you will be able to lift more weight. Along with using the bodybuilding principle of time under tension, you will be placing a higher active load on the muscles.

This will increase muscle activation. Alongside a hypertrophy routine, your muscles will grow bigger and stronger. Your added strength will allow you to lift larger amounts of weight and your muscle mass will increase.

You can build muscle by using lighter weight, but you will never look as thick as someone onstage who lifts heavy and also does some form of strength training.

Bodybuilding Results Take Longer To Come Than Strength Training

With bodybuilding you gotta be in it to win it. Strength training results can happen in as little as a month. As it relies on recruiting fast twitch muscle fibers and the bodies neurological response (that's why strength training uses the entire body), and it doesn't require muscles to be torn down and rebuilt, results are faster.

A bodybuilding routine takes 4-6 weeks generally just to get going. Even longer when you are 40+. No wonder so many inexperience or impatient rookies keep switching to the next shiny object. Some people do that their whole lives and chuck in the towel or train like new bees from they hit the gym at 16 to 45.

Don't be this guy or gal- define your goals and do the work it takes to get there. The first step is engaging your mind and to know how this system works. Then apply it. If it worked for thousands of other it will work for YOU too.

A little tweak here or there...but no major deviation.

Multi-Joint Exercises The Core Of Strength Training

If you want to gain some serious strength that will prime your body for an explosion of muscle growth you need to train like a power lifter. The 3 fundamental lifts are the squat, the bench press and the dead lift. That's the 3 lifts power lifters do all in one day in a competition meet.

These exercises place massive stress on your central nervous and neurological system so you need a day of rest after each strength training day, if not you will burn yourself out. Keep the weight high- but not majorly high and the reps low. Don't try for a world record or you could thwart all your muscle building gains and put yourself out of the gym for ages.

Remember the mission here is to build core strength to prime you for more muscle growth. Injure yourself by trying for a world record and all your hard earned gains up to this point will have been damaged.

Lessons Learned From Over Doing Strength Training

Ronnie Coleman, need I say anymore? Dorian Yates also commented that his bodybuilding career would have lasted longer if he had of reduced the amount of heavy weights he constantly hauled. He trained super heavy and super intense with many forced negatives where he was majorly assisted on the concentric portion of the rep.

Work out what you need, and go on stage and compete and test the waters. If you are responding well to strength training you can experiment running strength cycles more often or doing them for longer.

If your joints and muscles are sore, if you are sapped and looking flat, you are over doing it. You need to find a happy medium, not everyone reaps positive rewards from strength training. A little goes a long way, but too much can be devastating for bodybuilders.

Arnold and Franco put their "thick" physiques done to the fact they had power lifting backgrounds before going into bodybuilding. They had done the ground work conduction multi-joint full body strength building routines.

This prepared the foundations for them to take that functional strength base and move into bodybuilding, where hypertrophy is the name of the game. Maybe that's why in his time Arnold was light years ahead of the competition.

About Eddie Eastwood