Bodybuilding verse powerlifting competition prep, a comparison

Bodybuilding verse powerlifting competition prep, a comparison

Over the last two decades I have been blessed with the opportunity to compete in both the sport of bodybuilding and powerlifting, most recently at the IFPA Pro Elite Worlds for bodybuilding.  While talking to another competitor from the East Coast at the check-in meeting the day before Worlds, he asked me what I enjoyed most between bodybuilding and powerlifting competition so wanted to share.

Let me start by saying that this is my personal experience and is very individualistic based on many factors including training experience, equipment availability, genetic factors and being in the right place at the right time. That said preparation time for both can vary and obviously over months and years one should continuously improve (and was all competitions should be against yourself ultimately). As a general rule, most training cycles for a powerlifting (PL) meet is at least 12 weeks. For a bodybuilding competition, the dieting phase is usually 16 to 26 weeks for most. With both, there is a foundation that should be built which often is at least a year or more often longer.

The training for a PL meet is very calculated.  One focuses on training cycles that set the body up to be at peak strength for meet day while avoiding injury. Nutrition is important  (especially if needing to make weight) but the training takes a higher emphasis.

With bodybuilding, (BBing) the crucial aspect is the nutrition. The goal of a bodybuilder is to get as lean as possible (under 5% for men) while holding onto as much muscle as possible. The training is important, which includes a combination of both resistance training and cardio.  As with PL, the goal is to peak on a specific date.

The Event
At a powerlifting meet, the lifter gets 3 attempts to lift the most they are able in 3 different lifts (squat, bench press and deadlift).  There is a strategy as you want to start light and get as close to your maximum amount you can lift so that you can post the highest total. The challenge is you can’t reduce the weight once you choose it.  Additionally, the judges are watching the lifter to make sure they are following the lifting commands and are not compromising techniques according to the rules.

In bodybuilding, competitors are lined up onstage against others where the judge takes them through a sequence of poses, where the competitors all strike the same pose and the panel of judges compare and rank them based on a number of factors, including symmetry, muscularity, definition and presentation.

The Grind
So what are the biggest challenges? For powerlifting I think it is the mental and physical demands of lifting weights you either don’t feel like lifting or have self doubt.  This can be both in training but certainly at a meet you likely are attempting to lift a weight you have never lifted before so you need to have the confidence to go for it. The training also beats you up. While most don’t hit maximum weight poundage until the meet day, repeatedly hitting upper 80 and 90 percent loads does beat you up. Focusing on warm ups, recovery and proper techniques in training is crucial to avoid injury.

In bodybuilding it is no doubt that the diet is the hardest aspect. This consists of calculating and measuring out daily food, restricting the calorie amounts and types of food, namely carbohydrates and fats. Lifting and cardio are an important aspect but as a rule aren’t as calculated as the nutrition. As bodyfat goes down, energy levels start to drop, irritability and hunger are common. Strength can start to lower and the training isn’t as enjoyable as it is when the energy levels are high.

Training in my home gym

To me, the satisfaction of a powerlifting meet is the day of the competition. Hitting a personal record (PR) is a huge feeling of accomplishment, especially when you know you grind out a lift and probably didn’t have even 5 more pounds in you. Continually improvement by hitting new PRs is the goal.

In bodybuilding, the satisfaction for me is being able to get to a condition that most people will never attain. The self discipline and sacrifices are very gratifying. Seeing the progress and changes in my physique throughout the contest prep is awesome.  In this sport, I feel you need to also compare yourself to your previous best and that’s how you determine success.

Both the sport of powerlifting and bodybuilding will teach you many things about yourself along with give you great satisfaction when you complete the journey.  Again, to find the most satisfaction you need to compete against yourself with both sports.  The community, longevity and satisfaction makes both of these sports great options for someone looking to challenge themselves in both a healthy and competitive way.

-Ryan Irwin


Ryan’s background is drawn from over 20 years of bodybuilding, wrestling and powerlifting. Having a degree in Exercise and Sports Science, in addition to being certified in both sports nutrition and personal training, Ryan’s experience is backed by continuous education. He is a professional natural bodybuilder, winning titles without the use of performance enhancing drugs and has competed in 20+ contests over the past two decades. Ryan also is a competitive powerlifter and holds national records in powerlifting as well. A specialist in adding size and strength, Ryan has helped hundreds of clients reach their goals and continues to help many individuals add quality mass with strength, in addition to helping many lean up while sculpting their physiques. He also has spoke to many audiences regarding health, nutrition, personal development and motivation.  Contact him only if you want some serious results! Contact Ryan at