Comparing a strongman and a bodybuilder may seem like they possess the same athletic qualities. Large muscles, dense physiques (depending on the level), and a general base level of strength. But how different are they?
The main difference between a strongman and a bodybuilder is a strongman focuses purely on strength for specific events, and bodybuilders train purely for size and to step on stage as lean as possible.
But that’s not all the differences between these sports and athletes. The competitive aspect differs significantly, leading to many different physical qualities trained.
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What Is Strongman?
Strongman is a hybrid strength sport. Think of what mixed martial arts are to combat sports. Strongman is the equivalent of strength sports. You must be brutally strong and powerful but also have great conditioning to complete various medleys and max rep events.
The main competition events in strongman are overhead, loading, and carrying events. Some events have a wider range, such as the Hercules Hold, truck pull, and keg toss. Often, strongman competitors won’t know which events will be in competition until a few weeks away.
What Is Bodybuilding?
Bodybuilding is a subjective sport. It is won based on a judge’s decision on who has the best physique on stage. Muscle symmetry, posing, muscle size, and leanness all play a role when influencing a judge’s decision.
Bodybuilders will train purely to build muscle, not worrying about how strong they are or how much weight they lift in the gym. Everything is aesthetically driven. The ultimate goal is to stand on stage with as little body fat and as much muscle as possible.
Strongman vs. Bodybuilder Key Differences
If you’re wondering what makes strongman and bodybuilding so different or want a comparison so you can decide which sport to get into, I’ve broken everything down below.
It’s no secret strongmen are some of the biggest humans on the planet. Much larger than many pro builders purely based on how tall, wide, and dense they are. Strongman has only recently introduced weight classes to local competitions, so amateur strongman competitors don’t display this kind of size.
Typically, amateur strongmen are larger and hold more body fat than amateur and natural bodybuilders. As strongmen are only concerned with how much weight they can lift and move, having six-pack abs don’t matter.
Bodybuilders typically aim for a balanced physique maximizing muscular development and then dropping body fat and becoming stupidly lean.
While the overall goal differs, strongmen use bodybuilding style training within their routines. However, bodybuilders don’t use any strongman training protocols. Strongmen will use bodybuilding training to develop weak points and build muscle needed to support heavy loads.
During the off-season phase, a strongman will perform more of this training style. As they get closer to a competition, strongmen will implement less bodybuilding training, and training resources will be allocated to strength development and technique for events.
Bodybuilders don’t use strongman training events because they serve little purpose for maximizing muscle growth. Muscle growth is influenced by mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage which the events typically don’t provide.
Strongmen are considerably stronger than bodybuilders as they train for strength development while bodybuilders train for physique enhancement. The strength developed during strongman training is like no other strength sport.
I’d class it as awkward, farm boy strength that will have you moving furniture with ease next time you move house. That’s what makes it such an attractive way to train. Bodybuilding is typically “for show.”
The training has no function; everything is based on best-isolating muscle groups to maximize hypertrophy. However, that doesn’t mean bodybuilders are weak. Regardless, lifting weights will make you stronger. Just not as strong as a strongman who is training for this goal.
It’s no secret that the top-level strongmen and bodybuilders are on something extra special outside of pre-workout and creatine. If you want to make it to the highest level, it takes a combination of elite genetics and some extra help.
However, you don’t need to do this as an amateur. You can enjoy either sport as a natural and train as far as possible to your genetic ceiling.
Well-trained strongmen have great cardio specific to their event. They are conditioned for strongman. It’s no easy feat carrying multiple 100-300 lb sandbags over 20 m in a race.
However, because they are so large, everyday tasks become problematic as they have to move over 400 lbs of mass up a flight of stairs.
Bodybuilders may do low-intensity, steady-state cardio as part of their cut. Still, they won’t when they are trying to maximize muscle growth. Overall, a strongman generally has a better developed cardiovascular system but suffers from their sheer size.
If we look purely at the sports, strongman has greater athleticism. Racing to load or carry implements requires excellent footwork and speed. Bodybuilding can require athleticism if a posing routine requires it.
However, more often than not, no athleticism is needed to become a bodybuilder. Further, no athleticism is developed through bodybuilding training.
Strongman requires much more equipment than a bodybuilder outside a regular gym membership. A bodybuilder can train at almost any commercial gym and access all the equipment needed to maximize muscle growth. Machines, barbells, and dumbbells are bodybuilders’ weapons for their sport.
While a strongman will also use this equipment, there is a lot of specialist equipment you’ll only find at a strongman training facility or by collecting it yourself. These being large tires, Hussafel stones, kegs, yoke, sandbags, farmers handles, atlas stones, and so much more.
If you have a truck pull event in your next competition, you’ll need to source somehow a large semi-truck that you can train with. These things aren’t easy to organize.
Outside of strongman-specific equipment, you’ll need chalk, a lifting belt, multiple pairs of shoes for different strongman events, and tacky.
Bodybuilding is an individual pursuit. It’s often why you see pro bodybuilders on YouTube live a very lonely life as their focus is purely on training, eating, and resting 365 days of the year. There isn’t much of a community aspect to bodybuilding outside of having a training partner.
On the other hand, strongman is very community-driven. It’s such a niche sport that these giants welcome anyone who wants to try their hand at strongman.
Because the events can take some time to set up and may require more than one person to ensure safety, strongmen will congregate on a Saturday morning to lift stones, yoke walk, and farmers walk together.
It’s a great atmosphere and supportive community if you can find one in your area.
Are Strongmen Bigger Than Bodybuilders?
Strongmen are bigger than bodybuilders. Genetically, they are large tall humans with huge bone structures to support a ridiculous amount of muscle mass. While the biggest pro bodybuilders also look huge, they are much shorter than a pro strongman.
Strongman vs. Bodybuilder: Which Should You Do?
This entirely depends on what kind of activity you enjoy. Strongman can be very niche, and difficult to find places to train. Further, if you’re not in the right area, there may be no competition within driving distance. In this case, it may stay a hobby as you collect equipment in your garage to train with.
Bodybuilding is accessible anywhere worldwide, and local competitions are typically in abundance. However, bodybuilding is a lifestyle that extends further than the gym. It requires daily dedication to diet, so you minimize fat gain when building muscle and minimize muscle loss when losing body fat.
When it comes to competition, extreme discipline is required to reach peak conditions under near starving circumstances.
The easiest way to decide is if you want to look jacked and shredded without the ability to display it or if you want to be a strong mother f’er that doesn’t have the six-pack by the pool.