Not quite sure about the difference between weightlifting and bodybuilding? I’ve got you covered. This article looks at what the two sports are, and the 3 biggest ways that training differs between them.

Let’s jump straight in.

Is weightlifting the same as bodybuilding?

No, although they both involve lifting weights, weightlifting and bodybuilding are actually very different activities.

What’s considered bodybuilding?

Bodybuilding is all about crafting a specific look or physique. The process usually involves a mixture of hypertrophy focused training, alongside specific periods of dieting to achieve certain aesthetics. Here’s some classic Arnie to show you what I mean…

What is considered weightlifting?

Weightlifting refers specifically to the sport that involves the snatch and the clean and jerk. Weightlifters train and compete to see how can lift the most amount of weight in those two specific lifts. Here’s a compilation of weightlifting world records to show you what I mean:

3 Key Training Differences Between Weightlifting and Bodybuilding

  1. Exercise selection and variety
  2. Sets, Reps and Weight
  3. Training Structure

1) Exercise selection and variety

Weightlifters realistically only use a very limited amount of exercises. Snatch, clean & jerk, close variations of these (powers, hangs), squats, deadlifts, and maybe some overhead strength work.

Bodybuilders on the other hand use dozens of different exercises to accomplish their goals. It’s good practice to use at least 2 different exercises for most body parts in a training cycle, and with 10+ muscle groups to train, this means at least 20 different exercises in a single training cycle or programme.

2) Sets, reps and weight

Weightlifters typically use higher weights and perform fewer reps. For example, a very classic weightlifting workout might involve 5 sets of 2 reps for the snatch and the clean & jerk, at around 80% of 1 rep max, followed by 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps of squats and/or deadlift variations.

Bodybuilders on the other hand have a much wider range of reps that they can use to accomplish their goals. Literature and practice now clearly shows that anything from 5 to 30 reps can be great for building muscle, which means that weights can be anything from 30-75% of 1 rep max so long as they bring you within 1-4 reps from failure. Plus, since more sets usually equal more growth, 3-6 sets per exercise, with 4-6 exercises per workout is common practice.

3) Training structure

Everyone knows about the classic bodybuilding body part split. Chest and triceps on one day, back and biceps on another, legs on another, etc. So training is often arranged around body parts, or by having an upper body-lower body split.

In weightlifting, however, every day is a lower body day. To work around this, weightlifters use hard, medium and light days to allow for recovery. For example, a hard Monday might be followed by a light Tuesday and then a moderate Wednesday.

Weightlifting and Bodybuilding Programme

Weightlifting body building programme

If you like the idea of weightlifting AND bodybuilding and can’t decide between them, then I’ve got you covered.

I’ve put together a 12 Week Weightlifting & Bodybuilding Programme to get you jacked whilst also increasing your numbers in the snatch and clean and jerk.

I’ll also throw in personal Q&A access, so if you’ve got any questions whilst running the programme, you can get them personally answered.

You can learn more about the programme here.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Differences Between Weightlifting and Bodybuilding

Is a weightlifter stronger than a bodybuilder?

Absolutely. Weightlifters train to get as strong as possible, and so have way more experience lifting heavy weights. Bodybuilders will be WAY more jacked though. This is a big difference between weightlifting and bodybuilding.

Why are bodybuilders not that strong?

To be fair, some bodybuilders are actually pretty darn strong, it’s just not the focus of bodybuilding. Think about it, it’s WAY better for a bodybuilder to do 5 sets of 10 bench press with a pause and a deep stretch at 90kg, than it is for them to do 2 sets of 3 reps at 150kg. Bodybuilders want to feel the targeted muscle working, the weight used doesn’t matter.

Next Steps

1) Hopefully you’ve found the article useful, if you did, maybe take a moment to consider joining my mailing list for weekly programmes, workouts and weightlifting tips.

2) Feel free to share the article with anyone you think would benefit

3) If you want to find out more about my weightlifting coaching options, or pre-written weightlifting programmes, you can check out the links there.

‘Til Next Time


Strength coach

Alex Parry, MSc, BA

Alex is the Head content writer and Coach at Character Strength & Conditioning, as well as an Assistant Lecturer and PhD Researcher at the University of Hull.

His experience includes 7+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.