People often misunderstand bodybuilding and Strongman outside of strength training – they think they’re overlapping when the truth couldn’t be more different.
Today, we will look at two of the most powerful spectacles in strength, muscle, and weight training.
We’ll be looking at the clash of the titans as the enormous bodybuilding muscles and the insane strength of strongmen go head to head.
Table of Contents
Similarities Between Bodybuilding vs Strongman
The main similarities between bodybuilding and strongman are weight training as the main tool for getting better.
Bodybuilders use weight training to increase their muscles’ size to look bigger, improve proportions, and change their physique. Strongmen use it to get stronger.
The similarity is that these are both very over-the-top ways to train that produce some of the most muscular humans.
They overlap in a shared focus on training, diet, and recovery – and then using those to the absolute extremes to produce the most possible results in a way that even other strength sports (like powerlifting) don’t.
Bodybuilding and strong man are united by using weight training to take their results to the logical extremes: one is for strength, and the other is for muscle growth.
Strongmen and Bodybuilders: Training Overlap and Results
You will also find that strongmen and bodybuilders overlap – purely accidentally – on these changes.
While strongmen don’t train for muscle size and appearance, the sheer amount of strength they build will make them very muscular. Strongmen like Hafthor Bjornson carry more muscle than most bodybuilders despite not primarily training for appearance.
Bodybuilders grow their muscles on the other side of the equation by doing many training volumes.
This also makes them stronger, and you’ll find that many of the best bodybuilders in the world are also insanely strong, with some even crossing over into powerlifting to show off their strength (like Ronnie Coleman, Franco Columbu, and Arnold Schwarzenegger).
The cultures of these two sports are very different – but their focus on getting bigger and stronger unites them and ties them together.
There’s no way to become a great strongman without building muscle – and it’s nearly impossible to build lean muscle mass and not get stronger!
Core Difference Between Strongmen and Bodybuilders?
1. Competitive Goals and Demands
If you want to understand the difference between the two – Bodybuilding vs. Strongman – you should start with how they compete. These are the goals that all training is aimed toward, and it’s how these two types of training are set up – they’re oriented towards their competitive goals.
Strongmen compete in many static and dynamic strength exercises.
They perform deadlifts and squats and presses, but these are performed with various implements like logs, axles, car frames, and even just rocks – because strongmen like lifting weird, unwieldy objects.
They also have dynamic events which involve strength across runs, loading objects, or a medley of lifts in a row.
Bodybuilding competition has neither static nor dynamic strength testing. They don’t test any of the body’s capabilities – but rather assess the appearance.
It’s more of a showing of the physique than a competition of doing.
Bodybuilding competitions focus on muscular size and development, the conditioning of the body (low body fat and reduced water retention), the symmetry and proportion of the physique, and the ability to pose and show it off.
These are far from strongman’s events and produce wildly different training.
2. Training Style and Methods
Because of their different competitive formats and goals, the two have very little in common in training. Bodybuilders specialize in hypertrophy training, but this is only one aspect of a strongman’s varied and multi-phase training.
The training of a bodybuilder will typically be similar to a powerlifter in some regards — lots of static lifting exercises performed at weights that challenge the muscle.
The difference is that it’s typically higher repetition than powerlifting – or strongman, even.
Bodybuilders focus on compound exercises and then isolation exercises – but they use more of the latter than anyone else.
Bodybuilders often split their workout routine into body part-focused days – such as chest day.
This helps elite bodybuilders focus on rounding out their physique and developing lagging areas that need more attention.
You won’t usually find a strongman performing a chest-focused workout. While some training phases focus on building muscle, most will be about developing certain weaker – or crucially important – movements.
The muscle groups develop to support increasing strength in key movements but aren’t often the focus of the training themselves.
3. Bodybuilding vs. Strongman Physiques
The physiques of strongmen and bodybuilders only share one major common theme: they carry lots of lean muscle mass. Both training styles produce significant muscular growth, and you could easily confuse a tall bodybuilder in their off-season with a strongman (at any time in their training).
The difference is primarily the amount of body fat you’ll see on these two different types of trainees.
A strongman in the open category doesn’t care about their body fat – because cutting weight could limit their strength and/or muscle mass.
Bodybuilders need to cut down their body fat for competitive reasons, so you’ll see them in phenomenal shape once or twice per year.
The physiques are markedly different in their proportions, too.
While strongmen and bodybuilders both focus on well-rounded muscular development, the priorities of proportion in bodybuilding produce ridiculous, cartoonish (in a good way) physiques with enormous V-tapers and tiny waists.
Strongman also builds enormous lats but focuses more on the “functional muscles” (all muscles are functional) like the glutes, hamstrings, spinal erectors, and lower traps.
These are pronounced in strongman, but they lack the extreme proportions of bodybuilders due to thicker midsections (because of all the core-demanding exercise) and no focus on proportions.
The result is that strongmen look a little more like normal people, while bodybuilders look exaggerated in the way that a comic book hero might. They have ridiculous proportions while strongmen look like normal people but more.
There’s no exaggeration to the strongman’s physique, aside from usually being enormous in the open category!
4. Culture: The Mindset of Bodybuilding vs. Strongman
The culture of the two competitive pursuits is completely different in many ways.
It’s hard to describe some of them because they’re in the minutiae of how people act, how they present themselves online, and how they’ll interact with you and other people.
Bodybuilding culture is different from gym to gym in ways that make it hard to summarise.
Some facilities have an elite edge that makes them uncompromising – in all the ways, you need to become elite and force better growth.
Others are more accessible and easy-going, though it’s fair to say that bodybuilding generally takes itself a lot more seriously than a strongman.
Strongmen are – without question – the nicest group of strength athletes. They’re supportive to everyone, generally very friendly and supportive, and have the hilarious duality of being the biggest, strongest people you’ve ever seen while being some of the gentlest and most laid-back humans.
They take their training seriously, but you’ll usually find their manner welcoming and jovial.
The training environment for the two is probably also quite different.
Bodybuilding training is often solitary, even if you’re among a group of like-minded people as you throw your headphones on and pump your way through a disgusting set of cluster band-resisted leg presses until your veins pop out.
Strongman typically involves a little more shouting encouragement and sharing kit.
What’s Better – Bodybuilding or Strongman?
There’s no better or worse culture here. While it may sound like we’re saying, “strongman is nice, bodybuilding is not nice,” that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Strongman is more welcoming, open to laid-back attitudes, and typically involves more camaraderie. That’s fine – if you like those things – some of us disagreeable people might not want that. Many people thrive on the solitary nature of the self-serious grind of bodybuilding training.
The important thing is to get the right training for your personality and goals. You can be all rainbows and unicorns in bodybuilding, and you can be an uptight strongman – those are just going to be exceptions from the norm.
The Take-Home Message: Bodybuilding vs. Strongman
The most important thing to learn is that there’s always something to learn.
Bodybuilding vs. strongman is about what you can learn from each other – strongmen and their focus on functional strength, or bodybuilding’s singularity of purpose in training.
Not to mention the sheer discipline of bodybuilding’s dieting protocols or the importance of variety and well-rounded strength for a strongman.
The key is that you come out of this article with an appreciation for each type of training – and why people do it. Strongman appeals to those who love a varied challenge, outdoor training with a group of friendly competitors, and over-the-top spectacle events.
Bodybuilding is an introspective and solitary approach to building the most muscle possible, bringing an optimized physique to competitions, and building a ridiculous amount of discipline through self-denial.
They’re both cool – just make sure you pay attention to the best of both and contribute to the culture you want the two competitive styles to have.
Strongman vs. Bodybuilding FAQs
Does Strongman Build Muscle?
Strongman training focuses on well-rounded muscular development and strength. This isn’t typically built up during the most exciting events (like atlas stones or keg carries) – but through the everyday mid-high volume training of squats, deadlifts, rows, presses, etc.
The exercises that build muscle for most strongmen are the same as those used by bodybuilders and powerlifters. Most strongmen build muscle for competitive events, and not with the competitive events.
Why Are Strongmen Stronger Than Bodybuilders?
Strongmen are stronger than bodybuilders because they train for strength – they focus on building strength over muscle.
The result is a stronger set of muscles but a less exaggerated set of proportions. You get better at the things you train specifically – and the muscles of strongmen are just better at producing force – and quickly – than bodybuilders.
It’s also important to remember that bodybuilders don’t have to cut weight in the heaviest class, which gives them more bodyweight, more fuel, and less of the draining effects of a cut.
Are Bodybuilders Strong?
Some bodybuilders are strong, but it depends on how they train, what categories they compete in, and when during the year.
Bodybuilders who train with heavier weights semi-regularly will be stronger than those who only use isolation exercises or high-rep training. Equally, smaller categories like men’s fitness model style competitions and physique don’t have open-weight muscle mass and strength potential.
Bodybuilders also ebb and flow with their strength: they’re stronger in the offseason, then weaker in the competitive season due to severe cutting. It’s all about when they peak – and they peak hard during the bulking months.
Why Are Strongmen Fat?
First, not all strongmen are fat – that’s just the open weight category that you often see in events like Giants Live or World’s Strongest Man.
Strongman has weight categories, and – in those categories – competitors are much leaner.
The fat strongmen are typically the best in the world and the strongest people alive. They don’t cut weight for competition because they don’t have to – and being leaner might mean trading some strength or recovery – which would compromise their chances of winning.
So, fat strongmen are fat because there’s no benefit to being lean – but there are drawbacks in strength sports.
What Are the Most Important Strongman Exercises?
Strongmen compete in the most important exercises are overhead pressing, different types of deadlifts, loaded runs or carries, and anything with an atlas stone. Strongman events have a lot of variety, so you’ll want to watch competitions to get a feel for what they do on a competition day.
In training, the most important exercises for strongman training are:
- Squats (both front squats and back squats – as well as Zercher squats)
- Bench press
- Overhead press and push press
- Heavy rows and/or pull-ups
- Good mornings and RDLs
- Farmer’s carries, loaded runs, and grip training
- Sandbags (trust me, you want to start sooner rather than later)
- Push press
- Lunges, step-ups, and other single leg work (for truck pulls and general all-round strength)
- Heavy core exercise
- Optional: power cleans and/or high pulls (if you know how to do them safely and semi-well)
These will all offer some strongman-specific benefits like carryover to events or just building muscles to prepare for odd loading.
Try and vary them regularly and remember that things like types of bar or unwieldy objects are important for the prepared-for-anything style of training that makes great strongmen.
Bodybuilding Vs. Strongman: What Should You Train?
You should train for bodybuilding if you want to get big and shredded and look amazing in some over-the-top ways. Especially if you’re looking to go open-weight and push your body to the limits of what it can be.
You should go this way if you like dungeon gyms, solitary training, and the discipline of regular pump training and immaculate dieting.
You should train for strongman if you like the idea of carrying big stones around a field with a bunch of enormously strong (but unexpectedly camp) people cheering you on. Regular sessions will involve a lot of variety, but you’ll not likely get the peeled Venice Beach physique.
If you’re happy getting a little chubby in the open weight or just tall, that’s an advantage, too.
While they’re at extreme opposite ends of the spectrum, bodybuilding vs. strongman is still a matter of some serious similarities. They’re both training styles that focus on weight and building muscle, but with different end goals for that training.
While the cultures are very different, there’s often mutual respect around the dieting or training of each style.
For example, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bodybuilder that didn’t think Strongman was cool, and it’s a friendly set of differences.
Strongman and bodybuilding share some characteristics, and you should try to learn what you can from each as a beginner or intermediate trainee!