Different Forms for Bodybuilding and Powerlifting Exercises

By Tucker Loken

Training for size and training for strength are two different concepts. Training for size doesn’t mean you’re trying to move the most weight possible, it means you’re trying to use the weight to stimulate the most muscle fibers possible. Training for strength means you’re trying to move the most weight through space, and find advantageous leverages that will help you do that. Focusing on blasting one muscle group at a time won’t do much for moving a lot of weight, just like trying to push the most weight won’t do much for getting you as big as you can be. Below are some common differences in the way a bodybuilder and a powerlifter approach the Big 3 lifts, as well as a variation of the exercise that both use.




A bodybuilding squat is generally a “high bar” squat, and the upper body stays upright while the knees are allowed to come fairly far forward. Some powerlifters will squat like this as well, but it’s particularly advantageous for bodybuilders to squat like this, because it engages their quads more. It doesn’t take much weight this way to really feel the quads working, which is why you’ll almost never see a bodybuilder squatting nearly as much weight as a powerlifter.


The powerlifting stance is typically wider than a bodybuilding squat, but not always. The focus is much more on core and hip strength, and using the quads as just part of the movement, rather than the most important part. Powerlifters will usually do a “low bar” squat, where the bar placement is farther down their back than the bodybuilder holding the bar up high on the traps. Powerlifters will focus on their hips hinging back, and making sure that everything is working as one, rather than isolating one muscle group.

Key variation

Both powerlifters and bodybuilders use front squats as well. Bodybuilders do it because it is another very quad stimulating lift, and hits the leg from different angles. Powerlifters use it because putting the bar in front of you with heavy weight and low reps requires an extreme amount of core strength to maintain proper position and complete the lift without dumping the bar forward.

Bench Press


The biggest difference between a bodybuilding bench press and a powerlifting bench press is a flared vs tucked elbow, and a different degree of back muscle engagement. Bodybuilders will flare their elbows more, and bench more flat backed because they are focusing mainly on their chest, while the front delt and triceps are only there to help them finish the movement.


Powerlifters will focus heavily on how much their lat muclses are engaging in order to provide stability and explosiveness in the movement, and they will tuck their elbows to facilitate this. Under heavy load, the shoulder joint can become unstable, so the tucking motion serves to keep the shoulder in it’s natural movement pattern, and the back/lat engagement will help cushion the joint and prevent injury. Powerlifters also focus on having a strong arch, and having everything from their toes, legs, glutes and core engaged, to assist their back and chest. They will arch their backs more to shorten the range of motion to reduce the range of motion, and will engage their legs to push into the ground as they press upwards in order to provide acceleration in the movement. The bench press is one of the most technical and difficult powerlifting movements to master, while in bodybuilding it is generally pretty simple.

Key variation

Close grip bench press is used by both as a mix up, but for different reasons. Bodybuilders usually grip the bar much closer and focus on as much triceps development as possible from the motion, where powerlifters usually only grip the bar slightly more narrow than a normal bench press. It provides more Triceps engagement for them, but also increases range of motion, and pushing from a less advantageous angle can transfer well to your main lift.



The deadlift is almost a completely powerlifting movement. Few bodybuilders deadlift seriously, because it’s a full body movement and difficult to isolate a muscle group while you do it. Bodybuilders will usually do half rack dead lifts to focus on their back muscles, or stiff leg deadlifts to focus on their hamstrings. There is no specific “bodybuilder deadlift”, but generally bodybuilders will default to trying to use their back muscles to haul the weight up rather than using leg drive and making it a full body motion.


The deadlift is arguably the most fun part of a powerlifting meet to watch. There isn’t a better test of strength than simply picking something up off the ground. A standard powerlifter will deadlift with their hip position fairly low, and they will drive their heels into the ground, while keeping their back rigid and stiff. If someone does it correctly, the entire posterior chain of hamstrings, glutes, erectors, lats and traps all engage to haul the weight up.

Key variation

I mentioned half rack deadlifts above, and it’s another movement that is used by both but used differently. Bodybuilders will focus on keeping their legs out of the movement and pulling up and squeezing with their back. When done correctly it’s a great full back movement. Powerlifters will use it if their weak point is near their lockout, and they will put the safety bars just below that and focus on driving through using explosiveness and leg drive to finish to motion.

Take Home Point

Regardless of the movement chosen, technique can be altered to accommodate the desired goal.  You need not pigeon hole yourself into exclusively performing certain movements and avoiding others.  For the bodybuilder, altering technique to accommodate a heavier load can provide a new stimulus to the muscle being trained.  For the powerlifter, a reduction in load and a focus on the muscle being trained can reduce strain on the system and provide some much desired hypertrophy stimulus.  Bodybuilding and powerlifting do not need to be mutually exclusive all the time.

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Tucker Loken is a Bodybuilder turned Powerlifter turned Powerbuilder from Eugene, Oregon. He did his first bodybuilding show when he was still in high school, and has been training male and female competitors for shows since 2011. Several years ago he decided to take a step away from his normal routine and learn how to get strong. He worked with Brian for 9 months, added 200 pounds to his raw total and qualified as an Elite lifter in the 220 pound weight class. He returned back to bodybuilding much stronger and now incorporates the 10/20/Life philosophy into his training to keep himself healthy and making continual progress in the Big 3 as well as adding size and shaping his physique. Now part of Team PRS, he brings his unique expertise of nutritional knowledge and how to balance Bodybuilding with Powerlifting to help athletes achieve their best potential.
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