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Stronglifts or bodybuilding [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Nov 21, 2018 9:30:00 AM


Stronglifts or bodybuilding

Stronglifts or bodybuilding


If you are mainly about performance goals for sports Stringlifts is the better bet. If you are mainly after looks go for bodybuilding. If you want to compete in strength sports it also can make sense to put the main focus on bodybuilding first to build some muscle.

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What is your goal 


When you are contemplating whether to do Stronglifts or bodybuilding you are most likely a beginner. What brought you here? Why do you want to train? How will you achieve your goals? Personally, I see that too much time is spent on the how rather than the why and what. 


There is an excellent TED talk which addresses this dilemma. I encourage you to think about your fitness goals in the same way. You usually want to achieve one of the following end results with fitness:


  • Looks
  • Performance
  • Health


You probably want all of the three as quickly as possible. The challenge is that time and resources are limited. These the areas have overlaps. Ultimately they require different approaches to programming. 


Looks are often about what you see in the magazines. You might want to impress the other sex. You might want to look better for the next interview or holiday. Ladies often want to look their best for a wedding. Looks are mostly about diet and stress levels. You will more likely achieve your goals with a bodybuilding type of training. Of course, these are blatant generalizations, but this is what you came here for, right ;).


Performance is mainly related to athletes. You might want to increase your strength to jump higher. It may also help to run faster. If it is strength gains you are after your programming will mostly let look more like a Strongliftd template long term. It still can make sense that you start with bodybuilding to put more muscle on your frame. 


Health is often related to sports injuries, chronic diseases or an unhealthy lifestyle. Based on this you might want to look into diet and other bad habits first before you start training. This has usually more effective than starting training before taking care of unhealthy habits.




Stronglifts is one of the most popular beginner lifting programs. You will train three times a week. The other four will be used for recovery.


Stronglifts uses linear progressive overload. This means you are the only increase the weight by the same amount for each exercise each workout. You increase as long as you complete five sets by five repetitions. 


Stronglifts consists of the following lifts:



With exception of the deadlift, you follow the 5x5 protocol. Deadlifts are programmed in with 1x5 per week. You squat every day. All other exercises will be rotated each workout.  You have three workouts to complete a weight for 5x5 on an exercise. If you fail to complete it you will deload 10%. Get the free Stronglifts 5x5 app to track your progress. It is simple and works.


The biggest advantages of Stronglifts are its simplicity and low entry point. You will always know whether you are doing well or not in a particular workout. The benchmarks are clearly established. Putting a nickel on the bar each workout can be very rewarding. Another advantage is that the program does not need an established one repetition maximum. Beginners often do not know this benchmark. It is also dangerous to test for beginners. Starting with an empty bar is a good solution to this problem.


The biggest disadvantages of Stronglifts its lack of specificity and marketing. Stronglifts treads everybody equally great in their progression. A 40kgifter with no experience will progress the same way as Dwayne Johnson on this program. The lightweight might overtrain while the rock will barely even feel that he is moving. The marketing message of Stronglifts is problematic as it claims to be everything to anyone in strength. If you are uninformed that leaves you with the impression that Stronglifts gets you strong and ripped. That is simply not true. It just uses too broad a brush to push its core advantages. 


You can read my 10-month Stronglifts review to learn more about the program.




Bodybuilding is a sport that has been around for a while. It is all about to pack on the most amount of symmetrical defined muscle. 


If you are very big, defined and balanced you have good chances of winning a bodybuilding competition. It depends on the federation and rules, but this is the general theme. 


Bodybuilders usually train in the 8 - 12 repetition range per set. The main goal in training is to pump the muscle up. How much weight is being lifted is only a secondary interest. You will use more isolated exercises than compound exercises when bodybuilding. 


The biggest advantages of bodybuilding are that it is very close to the currently accepted aesthetics and the attention to diet. When you run a bodybuilding program it is much more likely you will be happy with the aesthetic results. Right from the start, you will be nudged into better dietary habits. 


The biggest disadvantages of bodybuilding are its closeness to illegal substances and lack of clear progression. Especially for beginners, it will be hard to see how they are progressing against their goals as they are hard to measure. In addition, the use of performance-enhancing drugs is generally more accepted and widespread in bodybuilding than strength sports. It is still present in both sectors. 


You can read my review of German Volume Training to know more about bodybuilding style training. 



Should you do Stronglifts or bodybuilding 


Whether you should do one or the other highly depends on your goals. 


If you are more interested in performance and strength do Stronglifts. Be prepared that the aesthetic results might not be as impressive as you wished for. Especially when you do not adhere to a strict diet. But Stronglifts will build a very solid strength base to expand upon.


If you are mainly interested in aesthetics travel down the bodybuilding route. Here you will get better results for the beach or mirror. Especially as the discipline in dieting will be drilled into you right from the start. 


I was very happy with Stronglifts and the path it set me on. I never cared much about how I looked. Make your choice. 

Further reading 




Topics: Lift stronger, Stronglifts 5x5, Fitness, Strength