Bodybuilding Vs. Strength And Conditioning: An Unjustified Rivalry

The fitness industry loves rivalries. You’ve probably seen some memes circling the internet making fun of CrossFit. Before CrossFit came along, though, there was another well-known rivalry between training methods.

Bodybuilding has been scoffed at and dismissed by many strength and conditioning coaches. Likewise, many bodybuilders have touted their ability to create a stronger physique than other athletes.

One main criticism against bodybuilding is that it’s not functional for athletes. This is said to be the case because it builds more muscle than strength, slowing down athletes. It’s also claimed to hinder work capacity and endurance.

Considering that speed and endurance are two of the most important aspects of athletic success, it’s easy to see why coaches dislike bodybuilding.


But, this claim of non-functional training is largely a myth. Bodybuilding-type training can be an effective way to gain strength and even boost work capacity in some activities. Weightlifting of almost any kind can also promote strength, speed, and power. It can also help prevent injury.

There is also no evidence that strength training will act to slow you down. However, excessive weightlifting may hinder endurance.

The devil, as always, is in the details. Training methods are tools. Used correctly, they can help you achieve your goals. Misused, they’ll disrupt progress and cause injury.

Understanding why you’re doing something is key to creating an effective training program. This is true whether the goal is maximizing your physique or your performance in competition.

So, I decided to outline the main differences in designing a program for strength and conditioning for athletes versus bodybuilding.

For all the personal trainers reading this, remember that most of your client’s goals will be the same as a competitive bodybuilder: Lose fat and gain muscle.

With that in mind, let’s get started.

Specificity Vs. Variability

This is probably the most fundamental difference between bodybuilding and athletic training. When looking to improve an athlete’s performance in competition, efficiency is everything.

If they can get the same result from training once per week as thrice weekly, you’re an idiot for training them more than once. This is because the gym’s unnecessary time could be better spent practicing a certain skill or tactic for competition. With athletes, weightlifting is only a small part of their overall program. Skill takes precedence.

So, training should be kept as specific as possible. This means only choosing exercises that will benefit their sporting activity or protect them from injury. Specific exercises should mirror the demands of the sport the athlete is doing.

For example, it’s no use giving a boxer leg curls because they won’t be kicking their opponent. But, a bench press closely mimics a punch’s action and can effectively train the muscles needed for punching.

This is in stark contrast to bodybuilding. By and large, the idea here is to grow a muscle as much as possible. Muscles are made up of a bunch of individual fibers packed together. Not all of these fibers are positioned or move the same way.

So, varying your exercises can help you grow each fiber for a better overall size. For example, the bench press, incline bench press, and flyes might all be used to increase the pectorals in the chest.

As such, if you’re looking to design a program for bodybuilding, you should look at many exercises that work a muscle and vary them through a program. Meanwhile, it would help if you were as selective as possible with activities for athletes doing a strength and conditioning program.

The Importance Of Numbers

If you’re a strength and conditioning coach, numbers will play a bigger role in your work than if you’re training bodybuilders. Throughout your time with athletes, your training goals will likely change occasionally. It can also vary from person to person.

So, you will need to track your athletes’ progress to see if they’re improving what three training for. Strength levels must be followed with one repetition maximums; speed needs to be followed with sprint times and power with throwing distance measurements. Endurance may also be followed with a range of tests.

The only two numbers that matter for bodybuilders are their weight and body fat percentage. You’re doing well if the former is getting higher and the latter is getting lower.

So, if you’re designing a program for athletes, make sure you carve out some time for testing into your schedule.

The Power Of Planning

If you’re a strength and conditioning coach, you’ve undoubtedly heard the word ‘periodization’ before. For those who haven’t, it’s a fancy word for creating a training program.

Many athletes use several types of periodization. The importance of using each class, or whether to use it at all, can vary.

Research has indicated that complex training plan models for bodybuilding may not give you more results than simpler ones. One exception for bodybuilding may be menstrual cycle periodization for women. But, using the correct periodization model for athletes could make a big difference in their progress.

Models like block periodization may work well for those looking to balance strength, power, and endurance development. Meanwhile, undulating periodization might help boost power and strength development for more elite athletes.

These should all be looked into if you’re training athletes to give you a better chance at delivering the optimal program.

Nutrition For Fashion Or Function

This one should be pretty obvious. The main focus of nutrition for bodybuilding is fat loss and muscle growth or maintenance. The focus of nutrition for athletes is far more focused on performance, though.

This means that athletes may use supplements like creatine or beta-alanine like that marketed by USP Labs or similar for its ability to boost strength, power, and work capacity. Most bodybuilders will avoid the former close to competition due to the water retention and bloating it can cause.

There is some agreement between the two types of athletes, though. Both generally take Omega-3s, vitamins, and minerals through supplements or fish and vegetables. Reducing calories can also hinder recovery from tough training.

So, be sure to consider the role of diet in your program and how it may impact training and performance.


Come on, be honest, that heading got your attention. This is probably because, even in an era where steroids are increasingly used, these drugs still carry a stigma. But it’s also a huge differentiating factor for bodybuilders and athletes.

This is because, for many bodybuilders, steroid use is permitted. By contrast, nearly all other sports ban steroid use. This doesn’t mean many athletes don’t use them, but they can face a ban if caught.

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So, it wouldn’t do any harm to talk to your athletes about using them and educate yourself on different drugs for various training goals.

This will help you better prepare for training athletes and bodybuilders and deliver a better program for better results.


Richie started Hurricane Fitness in 2011. Beginning as a Boxer at 11 and winning County, Provincial, National, and International medals in Boxing, he began running fitness classes and personal training.

Since then, he has gone on to work alongside Olympic, World, and European Champions and has trained many clients, both at home and abroad, with a wide range of goals and needs.

You can find him on his website,, or his Facebook or Instagram page.

About author

I work for WideInfo and I love writing on my blog every day with huge new information to help my readers. Fashion is my hobby and eating food is my life. Social Media is my blood to connect my family and friends.
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