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The Difference Between Body Building and Strength Training


What's your goal when you work out? Is your goal to build massive muscles, or are you trying to develop real, functional strength? You'll find that the two are very different!

Bodybuilding: It's All About Size

Bodybuilders are lifting weights not to develop functional strength but to increase the size of their muscles. They will develop strength along the way, but it's only a side effect of the training rather than the focus.

Those lifting for size will usually work for the "pump," which is when blood brings oxygen and nutrients to your muscles and gives you a sort of high. The type of lifting done by bodybuilders is meant to create microscopic tears in the muscle, forcing the body to repair the muscles and expand the storage capacity. The repairs caused the muscles to grow larger, a process known as hypertrophy.

When the muscles grow larger, they are able to hold more energy, which means they can exert greater force. However, the energy stored in bulky muscles is not the same as real strength, and bodybuilders often tend to be weaker than they look.

The term "bodybuilding" usually refers to competitive exhibitions, and a lot of "bodybuilders" are only working out to get the kind of body that will look good on a stage.

Strength Training: It's All About Strength

When it comes to strength training, there is only one purpose to the workout: to increase the amount of force your muscles can produce to lift heavy objects. The size and shape of the muscles don't matter, provided they can exert maximum force when it comes time to lift.

Training for strength is usually done with low reps and high weight, and the training is aimed at teaching your central nervous system how to most efficiently recruit motor units when lifting. You lift with the goal of strengthening your muscles, reinforcing the joints, hardening the bones, and developing stronger connective tissue.

Unlike bodybuilders, the average strength trainee does NOT have a perfectly sculpted physique. They will usually have a higher body fat percentage, and their shape often tends to be blocky and solid rather than sleek and svelte. But when it comes time to use those muscles, they have much more functional strength and endurance than a bodybuilder.

How to be a Strength Trainee, Not a Bodybuilder:

  • Aim for perfect form rather than maximum weight.
  • Include the right number of sets per muscle.
  • Don't swing, jerk, or cheat, but use slow, precise movements in your training. If that means lowering your weight, so be it.
  • Focus on building every muscle group evenly, not just the "show" muscles.
  • Control the eccentric (lowering) motion as much as the concentric (raising) motion. Slower eccentric motion can lead to serious muscle development.
  • Never lock out your joints.
Unless you want to be a competitive bodybuilder, it's always smart to go the route of strength training at the gym. Bodybuilding may be a good way to develop big, bulky muscles, but it won't help you develop the strength that will make activities of your daily life that much easier.

Jump Rope Your Way to Buff

Some people get lucky and are born with fit, toned bodies. Andy Peloquin is not one of those people... Fitness has come hard for him, and he's had to work for it. His trials have led him to becoming a martial artist, an NFPT-certified fitness trainer, and a man passionate about exercise, diet and healthy living. He loves to exercise -- he does so six days a week -- and loves to share his passion for fitness and health with others.

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