Strongman vs Bodybuilding 5 Key Differences Blog

Strongman vs Bodybuilding: 5 Key Differences & Which is Best For You

If you walk into any serious bodybuilding, strongman, or powerlifting gym and ask all the athletes why they compete in their given sport, you’ll get a list of qualities they love about that sport and what it has done for them. However, ask them how they initially got involved in that sport.

My involvement in strength sports started in high school when a football teammate invited me to try out for the powerlifting team. By the end of the school year, I was totally hooked! 

Back in my day (feel free to add a dollar to the “old man” jar), you got involved in a hobby or sport when a friend invited you out. 

Nowadays, you can research a sport to find out if it’s right for you. I hope to provide that information about strongman and powerlifting. 

So, strongman vs bodybuilding, which is right for you? Reach down and dawn your thinking pants because it DEPENDS!

First, why do you have to just choose one? Like many strongman and bodybuilding competitors you’re likely to have heard of, I started with one sport and switched to another. I learned things from one sport that helped me make progress in the other. 

However, I believe, depending on your personality, some people will never enjoy bodybuilding, and some will never enjoy strongman. In this post, I’ll discuss the different:

  • Cultures
  • measures of success
  • training styles
  • competition environment
  • mindset
  • Desired physique
  • much more!

What Is Strongman?

Strongman seeks to test all the different facets of strength. 

However, don’t think Strongman is exclusively about the objective strength tests. It is important to design the events to make the athletes look like superheroes!

If you want a polished and clinical approach to strength sports, you are better off in powerlifting, but strongman takes normal feats of strength like the deadlift and turns it into a car deadlift or a normal dumbbell into a giant circus dumbbell.

In other words, Strongman is a strength pageant for circus freaks. 

Ok, Strongman fans, calm down. First of all, I’ve been a strongman competitor for seven years and a fan for much longer. We all know it’s true. 

Secondly, I’m pretty harsh on bodybuilding later on, so it’s only fair to point out that Strongmen don’t just want to be objectively strong but also want to put on a show.

How Can Strongman Benefit You?

As a pro strongman competitor and full-time strength coach who utilizes strongman as my primary training mode for my clients, I am a bit biased. 

I believe that strongman training (not the competitive side, necessarily) and its movements like the squat, overhead press, hinging, pushing, pulling, carrying, throwing, and managing awkward objects, is objectively the most useful and healthy way of developing strength and conditioning for the average person.

Imagine the pride of carrying all your groceries inside on one trip!

Most people might read that and react with shock,

“You mean that you recommend the average person should try to lift hundreds and hundreds of pounds and push their body to the point of breaking?”

Listen here, imaginary critic: nobody in their right mind believes that pro-strongmen trying to compete at the elite level are maximizing their health and longevity.

However, if you take those same movements and drop the weight down to a given person’s strength level and ask them to slowly progress over a long period of time, you have the recipe for a strong, healthy, and resilient human.


What Is Bodybuilding?

Between my personal training career and competing in powerlifting and strongman, the gym has been my second home since age 13. Although I’ve never competed or trained as a bodybuilder, I’ve had plenty of friends and colleagues who did. 

So, with all the love in the world, let’s call it what it is: a beauty pageant for meatheads. 

To quote Arnold himself,

“It’s judging the body by muscularity, proportion, symmetry, the whole thing…a good bodybuilder has the same mind when it comes to sculpting as a sculptor has.”

Competitive bodybuilding isn’t about the function of the muscles you build but your ability to flex them.

Before you conclude I’m being unfair, let me say this: Bodybuilding is NOT EASY!

It takes an incredible amount of discipline. Even if you manage to build a stage-worthy physique, you still have to learn how to pose, which is incredibly difficult.

You must learn specific poses, and they are incredibly taxing. You must have a great deal of stamina to make it through a posing routine, or you won’t make it.

Now that I’ve given due credit let’s talk about thongs, baby oil, and fake tans!

When you step on stage, massive lights shine down on you, maximizing your physique’s visibility. If you have a darker complexion, this is fine, but if you’re a pasty lad like myself, those lights will wash you out. You’ll look as muscular as a ghost!

Those with lighter skin get super dark spray tans to counteract this.

Additionally, you must wear tiny posing trunks that give maximum visibility to your well-developed buns, thighs, and, well, other bits. It’s quite a sight to see and I imagine it takes a brave man to step on stage in that state. 

The current World’s Strongest Man, Mitch Hooper of Canada (who has competed in bodybuilding, powerlifting, marathon running, and American Football), said – in a seminar – I attended that stepping onto a bodybuilding stage was his most proud athletic accomplishment. Due to the fear and embarrassment he overcame as someone who doesn’t enjoy the spotlight.

How Can Bodybuilding Benefit You

Observing bodybuilding from the outside for a long time, I can see the potential benefits it offers its competitors – even if the sport isn’t for me.

My friend and colleague Marlin Foy, who competes, says it develops one’s ability to delay gratification.

This is absolutely true.

While all sports require discipline in diet, sleep, recovery, and training, in order to be a great bodybuilder, that discipline during competition prep must be dialed in and immaculate. 

Even then, you don’t get immediate results, so one must trust their diet and adhere to it even when it seems pointless and isn’t giving them immediate gains. 

Teach yourself to enjoy the discipline itself rather than what it delivers.

Another essential skill is typically developed in the off-season. 

Most pros and coaches in the bodybuilding world understand at this point that the idea of “dirty bulking” or eating junk food during the off-season is an inferior way to develop your physique.

On the other hand, you don’t have to be, and you shouldn’t be as rigid in your diet during the season.

In the off-season, you have to add back in some indulgences and fun food without going overboard. You have to ride this thin line between relaxing the diet a tad and falling off the wagon. This is a great skill to develop.

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Strongman vs Building And How They Differ

As you can already tell, this is very different from comparing two strength sports like powerlifting and Strongman.

These sports measure very different things, and these outcomes are achieved in very different ways. 

This also leads to very different cultures and competition environments.

Objectivity vs Subjectivity

“Good lift”

“Sorry, Ronnie, Jay’s posing was better.”

The most obvious difference between the two sports is what is being judged.

Strongman seeks to find out who is the strongest, period. Who can lift, press, push, pull, squat, and throw the most weight. 

The challenges are measurable and as long as judging is consistent. Ensuring there is no question on who won.

Bodybuilding seeks to find out who has the “best” physique. 

Wait, what do you mean by best?

There are many federations in bodybuilding. We’ll stick with the most well-known, the IFBB (International Fitness and Bodybuilding Federation).

According to, “Judges will score competitors according to the ‘total package,’ which is a balance of size, symmetry, and muscularity.” 

The IFBB has several rounds of judging. 

First, there is pre-judging. 

Round one of prejudging involves relaxed poses in which competitors stand at attention and are assessed from the front, back, and sides. 

Round two involves several mandatory poses to display specific criteria for the judges. Competitors are ranked on each pose.

Finally, round three is free-posing. 

Each bodybuilder displays a posing routine to music to highlight their strengths to the judges. 

After round three, the top finalists do a final pose off to make one last impression on the judges. And then a winner is selected.

The judging system for bodybuilding is complex and filled with human biases.

I listened to interviews with judges of major shows and watched them react to some videos of poses in real time. The more I tried to learn, the more confusing it became! 

For example, the judges should consider each pose as its own contest. They ask themselves, “If this pose were the entire contest, who would win?” 

They shouldn’t carry your opinions of individuals from round to round and let that influence their decision. Is that preventable?

Transparency is also an issue.

Once the placings are announced, the judges don’t say how they determined the rankings.


You don’t get to see the score sheet or receive an explanation as to why you were beaten or why you won. How can you improve if you don’t know where you are lacking?

This lack of transparency also leads to favoritism and politics, which is a common complaint amongst competitors.

Strongman scoring is a bit easier. The winner is decided by…

drumroll, please…

Who can lift the most weight. 

There are typically five or more events in each Strongman competition. Each event is either for:

  • Max weight
  • Max reps at a fixed weight
  • A medley of several implements
  • Carrying an object from A to B as fast as possible

So, as simple as it sounds, you are scored based on numbers. Who lifted the most weight, did the most reps, moved the fastest with weight, etc.

To be fair, it’s not without its flaws.

For those of you new to the sport, I just made a ton of strongman fans scream at their screens with the photo above — it’s a joke, people.

I’ve seen two issues in everyone, from amateurs to pros: inconsistent judging and tiebreakers.

The first problem of inconsistent judging is a headache.

For example, with judging, there are times when overhead press or deadlift lockouts are questionable, and the rep is given anyway. 

The rep issue isn’t the athlete’s fault. It’s up to the judge to set the standard and hold to it.

In competition, Mitch Hooper was lifting a circus dumbbell. However, most people agree he should not have received a down command because he was not fully upright and in control of the dumbbell with a locked elbow.

This, as noted before, is not Mitch’s fault. The judge gave the down command.

The second problem is tiebreakers.

The only example of a tie at World’s Strongest Man was in 2010, which ended in heartbreak for Brian Shaw of the U.S. He and Zydrunas Savickas ended on 51.5 points, which tied them overall – which has never happened before!

They decided the winner on countback. This method looks at who had the most event wins. They both had two.

So, they look at second-place wins. Brian had no second-place finishes, while Big Z had one.

The kicker is that they changed the rule after that year so that in the event of a tie, the winner of the final event will break the tie.

Guess who won the last event in 2010? It was Brian.

Intensity Warrior vs Volume Warrior (training differences)

Another major difference between the two sports is how competitors train.

This is an oversimplification but work with me: bodybuilders typically train their muscles, and strongmen train their nervous system. 

Let’s make like a muscle under load and break it down.

As a coach, when I am programming for a Strongman competitor with an upcoming show, the exercise selection and order are based on the specific events of the show. 

The primary exercise (first and highest priority) in a given workout is one of the comp events, such as log press. The goal is to improve at the exercise and increase one’s capacity for heavier weights or more reps.

The secondary exercise of that workout is another compound or multi-joint exercise to address a weakness or to isolate an essential aspect of the primary lift.

Then there are tertiary (third-ranked, least important) movements that typically target specific muscles for hypertrophy development, such as the biceps, triceps, quads, and hamstrings.

When I said that strongman training targets the nervous system, it means training your brain to recruit all possible muscle fibers to execute a very heavy lift which, as you will see, is very different from bodybuilding. 

I’m providing a broad-stroke explanation of strongman training. I will go into much greater depth in future posts.

Bodybuilding training, while there are overlaps, is very different. 

Bodybuilders lift heavy from time to time, especially in the off-season. However, they have a completely different focus and mindset.

Every exercise they do is a means to an end. Squats and deadlifts are done to grow specific muscle groups instead of improving strength.

Thinking back to Arnold’s quote about bodybuilders as sculptors, what does a bodybuilder do if they look in the mirror and decide they need more bicep development? They do different variations of curls.

What if they need more quads? They do front squats, high bar squats with heels elevated, deep leg presses, and leg extensions. 

What if they need more chest? Lots and lots of pressing at different angles.

As I did for Strongman training, I’m oversimplifying. Still, the takeaway is that bodybuilders are always choosing exercises to target muscles in specific ways to build them rather than going for maximum weight.

Power Belly vs. Iron Abs (diet and physique differences)

Strongman and bodybuilding approach diet very differently.

QUICK DISCLAIMER: while I know a great deal about how to eat a well-balanced diet, meal prep, and cut and bulk, I am not a nutrition expert. This section will be general differences between the two sports and not specific advice.

One of my favorite strongmen of all time is JF Caron (Jean-François Caron), and he said it best in a reaction to an internet comment that asked, “Iif they are so strong, why don’t they have abs?”

In his wonderful French-Canadian accent, he responded, “Abs are not a thing of power. It is only a sign you don’t eat enough.”

Strongman training, as mentioned before, is extremely taxing on the nervous system and muscles, so a strongman’s diet focuses on eating to recover from workouts and bulking when needed. 

Like anyone’s diet, it is essential to have a good balance of macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat), but anyone training for muscle growth or strength needs a protein intake closer to 1 gram per pound of body weight or 2 grams per kilo.

Calories are also primarily based on body weight and whether you want to gain size. For example, Brian Shaw, one of the sport’s GOATs, weighed between 480 and 500 lbs at his peak, which required calories in excess of 10,000 per day!

I have managed to bulk up to 250 lbs by significantly increasing my calories, and like the vast majority of strongmen, I couldn’t tell you how many calories I consume or what my macros are. 

My amazing wife helps me prep 80-90% of my meals, and I get the rest of my calories from homemade protein shakes and eating out.

 I have ice cream and peanut butter every night when I am bulking.

This represents most Strongmen: trying to eat as cleanly as possible but getting the calories where you can, all in the name of recovering and bulking with very little consideration for your physique.

Then there’s bodybuilding. You won’t find any serious bodybuilder who can’t tell you every detail of their diet, including”

  • Calories
  • Macronutrients
  • Meal Timing
  • Micronutrients 

In the off-season, bodybuilders try to pack on as much lean mass as possible, even when adding a little bit of fat. This is achieved with a calorie surplus, but most will try to minimize cheat meals and junk food to stay relatively lean.

During contest prep time, the goal shifts to getting as shredded as possible to display all the muscle they worked to put on.

During this phase, calories are cut to the bone, and cheat meals are off the table—literally!

The discipline to control every single life variable becomes extremely important. In other words, if you aren’t a type A person who enjoys weighing all of your food, parsing it all out into containers with labels, and tweaking the numbers week to week, this probably isn’t the sport for you.

Mosh Pit vs Beauty Pageant (competition differences)

Now let’s talk about comp day. 

After you spend a minimum of 12 weeks of intense preparation, it’s time to put yourself to the test. What is it like to compete as a bodybuilder vs. a strongman? 

I’m a huge fan of metal music, and I love going to metal shows. That’s why I’m comparing strongman competitions to a mosh pit.

Hear me out!

If you look closely at the average mosh pit, you will see an opening in the crowd that becomes an arena for fans to run around and battle each other.

There’s pushing, shoving, running around in circles, and crowd surfing.

It sounds violent and contentious, but most people have a smile on their faces. You realize it’s not so much a battle where people want to hurt each other; rather, they are enjoying the energy of the music together and expressing it with shoves of love!

Even when you inevitably fall down, someone will always pick you back up, and you will keep going.

Yes, mosh pits can get out of hand. Some are just outright violent. However, for the sake of the comparison, we’ll focus on the standard mosh pit.

Whether you’re competing as a novice at a local show in the sticks or at the World’s Strongest Man, the culture is largely the same.

You are competing against each other, and everyone wants to win, but there is a brotherhood and sisterhood I can’t properly describe. You have to experience it.

Veteran lifters will give tips to the newbies during warm-ups. Competitors will lend out equipment when an airline loses a competitor’s bag. Opponents cheer each other on and laugh together between events.

Yes, this happens at the elite level! What other sport can you name where these things happen at the top?

Bodybuilding’s competition day atmosphere is a bit different. 

Once again, I haven’t experienced this firsthand, but based on what I’ve heard from friends and colleagues, it reminds me of a beauty pageant reality show.

People backstage tend to keep to themselves and don’t go out of their way to socialize and make new friends.

There is genuine respect between competitors before shows and after, but comp day, as described to me, sounds like high stakes, high tension, and high stress. 

This shouldn’t dissuade someone from checking out bodybuilding. There’s great value in getting out of your comfort zone and trying something new!

Pack Animals vs Lone Wolf (gym and training culture)

Competing in Strongman or Bodybuilding three to five times a year is a lot, and you only spend a fraction of the time in the sport. The majority of the time is spent in the gym. 

What can you expect at the gym based on the sport you choose? 

Now is the perfect time to dawn your thinking pants because it depends!

Every gym has its own unique culture that is unlike any other gym. Based on my experience, there are a few trends worth mentioning.

The average bodybuilder trains like a lone wolf. They have their routine and less commonly have dedicated training partners or communities they meet with regularly. 

The majority of gymgoers in any sport these days tend to do this, but bodybuilding doesn’t really lend itself to large groups of people who train together. 

Strongman tends to have fantastic communities at the local gym.

Sometimes it has to really be fought for, but the nature of the training style lends itself nicely to building groups who lift together.

First, there’s only so much equipment, and sharing it is sometimes necessary.

Second, with the wide variety of events to train for and specific techniques to learn, I highly recommend learning from more experienced athletes. 

Regardless of which sport suits you best, I recommend finding a gym with a strong culture you can get plugged into or start one yourself and lead the charge.

The benefits of training with the support of others cannot be overstated.

How To Choose Strongman or Bodybuilding

No rule says you must select one sport or the other. There are many benefits to gain from each sport. 

Jon Pall Sigmarsson, 4 times World’s Strongest Man winner from Iceland, made his sporting debut in bodybuilding. Throughout his strongman career, he had the best physique and athleticism of any athlete of his time. 

Manfred Hoeberl, who started in bodybuilding and had the largest arms in the world in the 90s (25 inches) went on to compete in strongman, winning Austria’s strongest man seven times from 1989-1996.

There are many other examples of strongmen who were bodybuilders first, and almost all great strongmen started in a different sport.

If you have been lifting for less than a year, I recommend learning lifting fundamentals like squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, bench press, many rowing variations, and carrying awkward objects. Which Strongman will prepare you for.

I’ll give you my favorite things about each kind of training.

I’ve stuck to strength sports because nothing compares to hitting a personal best on a big lift. The longer you’ve been lifting, the harder you have to fight to get the smallest gains, and they become meaningful over time. 

It’s a primal urger to reach down and try to pick up the heaviest thing you can. When you do it successfully, it’s addicting, and you just want to chase that feeling for the rest of your life.

The emotion of a personal record personified_

No matter which sport you choose, you should be lifting heavy and doing high-volume work to build muscle.


Both sports offer invaluable benefits and lessons that will improve your life more than you can imagine. 

I would love to say everyone should do Strongman, but I have too much respect for bodybuilding and the discipline it can teach you. 

Everyone is so different, and I believe you would be doing yourself a disservice by not giving each sport a shot and seeing which is best for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a Strongman Stronger Than a Bodybuilder?

Yes. Strongman training revolves around training the nervous system to lift the heaviest things possible, while bodybuilders train to build the largest physique possible while maintaining proportion, symmetry, completeness, and conditioning. 

That said, if you build a 250lb physique of solid muscle, you will be incredibly strong. Ronnie Coleman, one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, was also immensely strong. He easily could outlift the average strongman in most barbell lifts in his prime. 

However, if you take the greatest bodybuilder vs. the greatest strongman from any era, the strongman wins every time.

Do Strongmen Have More Muscle Than Bodybuilders?

The answer is tricky. Bodybuilders have more muscle due to their leanness, but strongmen have bigger frames and can pack on more muscle despite a higher body fat percentage.

Does Strongman Build Muscle?

Strongman absolutely builds muscle. If a new client comes to me and wants more than anything else to build muscle, yes, we would spend a lot of time doing high volume. And we’d lift heavy weights, which recruits more muscle fibers for growth and produces higher testosterone levels – also vital for growth. 

Big Z, the GOAT of Strongman, cut weight after taking time away from competing. He went from dad-bod to insanely jacked! Where did all that muscle come from? The fact is, that muscle was always there. It was just hiding behind that enormous power belly he had when competing.

Why Strongman Are Fat?

Strongman will always have higher body fats than bodybuilders. Fat is vital for optimum body functions and performing at a high level.

Some take this too far and eat very poor diets and get so big that they can’t move well. However, generally, there’s no reason to have less than 18% body fat for the sport. 

As the sport has grown, gone are the days when you could be a mass monster who is great at static, one rep maxes but terrible at moving weights fast.

For example, the WSM winners from the past five years, Mitch Hooper of Canada (2023), Tom Stoltman of Scotland (2021, 2022), Oleksii Novikov of Ukrain (2020), and Martins Licis of the USA (2019) don’t have deadlift and overhead press world records. Still, they are all very strong and very fast under load. Most of them don’t necessarily excel at any one thing because they are very well-rounded athletes who rarely drop points.


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