What is the Difference Between Strongman and Powerlifting?



Who hasn’t stumbled upon a clip of the World’s Strongest Man competition and watched in wonder as seemingly ordinary people lifted giant rocks and pushed five times their bodyweight? Strongman requires a very unique form of training; however, it’s often confused with powerlifting. Easy mistake to make as both are strength-based sports. Still, the two are very different from one another in terms of goals, training, and results.

Let’s take a closer look at the differences and similarities between strongman and powerlifting.

What is Strongman Training?

Strongman training is a combination of functional movement patterns such as pushing, pulling, and pressing, providing a real-world usefulness even if the objects are comically heavy. Here are a few exercises you can expect to be in your typical Strongman training workout:

  • Giant tire flipping
  • Overloaded single arm dumbbell press
  • Distance walking / running with kegs or stones
  • Metal log overhead press
  • Farmer’s walk

For competitors, the end goal of Strongman training culminates in a variety of obstacle-based events such as carrying Atlas stones, performing a farmer’s walk with overloaded dumbbells, or hoisting a log above the head with a clean and press.

After the competition however, that strength, cardiovascular endurance, and skill only improve your everyday life. The strength you build during Strongman training can apply to real world situations such as bending properly, lifting things without injury, and moving objects from Point A to Point B.

Strongman training is thought to be an ideal foundation to branch off into other strength and muscle-focused activities. With the strength and raw power you develop, your bench press, squat, and deadlift are going to be at a very strong starting point, making it easy to transition into powerlifting. Given the core strength, muscle mass, and muscle definition you build, bodybuilding is also easy to move into.

Strongman Training Highlights:

  • Focus on strength, power, endurance
  • Ideal for functional movement patterns (e.g., pushing, pressing, and pulling)
  • Transference of skill to real world
  • Foundation for branching off into other strength and muscle-based sports
  • Can help to prevent injury due to overcompensation and weak muscle relationships

What is Powerlifting?

There’s a good chance that you’ll find far more powerlifters in your local gym than you would Strongman trainers. Powerlifting is an immensely popular strength-based sport that focuses on three exercises: squat, deadlift, and bench press.

The goal of powerlifting is to lift as much as physically possible in these three exercises, and with only three exercises to focus on, powerlifters can curtail their training programs to meet this need far easier than a Strongman trainer.

Rarely are other variations of these exercises used; when they are, here are a few you can expect:

  • Incline barbell bench press
  • One arm dumbbell bench press
  • Wide stance squats
  • Narrow stance squats
  • Half deadlifts
  • Romanian deadlifts

Powerlifting revolves around the training principle of progressive overload. In other words, to get stronger, you must push your performance just outside of your comfort zone each and every workout. For example, if you can bench press 100 pounds three times on Monday, then on Thursday, you need to try benching 105 pounds.

Negative training is also commonly used to ensure fast strength gains. This is where you use up to 200% of your one-repetition maximum, focusing only on the eccentric or lowering portion of the lift with the help of much-needed spotters.

The ultimate goal of most powerlifters is to compete. During powerlifting competitions, each person gets three attempts at these three exercises, and the best lift is the one that’s counted. The three best numbers – one from each exercise – are added up to give you a powerlifting total. For example, if your best lifts were 300 pounds for the bench press, 650 for the squat, and 600 for the deadlift, you’d have a total of 1,550. Obviously, the higher that total number, the better.

Powerlifting Highlights:

  • Focus on strength, power, and one-repetition maximum
  • Ideal for learning the three most basic weight lifting exercises
  • Easy to transfer skill to Strongman training; however, there will be a learning curve as you learn the new functional movement patterns
  • Muscle mass for the sake of having muscle is not the goal, so don’t expect to be big and shredded

Strongman and Powerlifting: Key Similarities and Differences

Considering trying Strongman training or powerlifting training? Not sure which one to go with? Wondering if one is better than the other? Strongman training is not necessarily better than powerlifting; it all depends on what your health, fitness, and performance goals focus on. Let’s review the key similarities and differences to help you make your decision.

Both are strength-focused sports that will increase muscle mass, strength, and power. Strongman training and powerlifting are great for learning fundamentals of weight lifting, and you can easily transfer the skill from one into the other should you want to try both.

With that said, it’s easier to train as a powerlifter because every gym has the equipment for powerlifting – not every gym has giant tires or Atlas stones. Despite having it easier to train, powerlifting doesn’t necessarily have a real-world transference. Remember that powerlifting is focused on three specific exercises, which is perfect for people who want to max out their weight-lifting capabilities. On the other hand, Strongman has a more diverse training style, focusing on lifting or pulling real world objects.

If you’re interested in both, try a training class in each one and see what you’re more naturally drawn towards.

Which Do You Prefer: Strongman or Powerlifting?

Have you tried powerlifting or Strongman training? Which one did you prefer? Interested in trying one over the other? If so, what makes you want to try Strongman instead of powerlifting and vice versa? Shop strongman equipment here!

Topic: Strongman Articles