eli5: Why do people who are actually strong look different than bodybuilders who train all week?

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eli5: Why do people who are actually strong look different than bodybuilders who train all week?

In: Biology

Bodybuilders go through a period of “cutting” before contests. They reduce their caloric intake dramatically, down as low as they possibly can, so they lose a ton of weight and appear really “cut”. Ironically, they’re at their weakest during competitions. They train specifically for aesthetics.

Strongmen keep a protective layer of fat to help resist injuries. They train for all-around strength, so they aren’t worried about “looking good”.

Competing bodybuilders are usually strong as fuck. Not as strong as powerlifters/strongmen whose whole sport is being absurdly strong, but they move a lot of weight.

The main difference is the layer of fat. Look at a bodybuilder in the offseason when they’re bulking up and they can be hard to tell apart from the heavyweight strength guys. The other difference is in what muscles they prioritise – bodybuilders emphasise the stuff that makes them look even bigger than they already are (so lots of lats and shoulders to make themselves look wider, not so much abs and obliques because that would take away from that appearance of wideness), strongmen emphasise the ones that help them move heavy weight (so lots of ab/oblique work because a thicker, stronger midsection helps if you want to have 1000lbs on your back and not break) but there’s a hell of an overlap between the two.

We do not quite know all the detals of the human anatomy. But in order to become strong you can either make your muscles bigger or you can increase their efficiency. There are various techniques to train for each of these traits. The best way to train if you just want to become strong is to increase the muscles efficiency so that a smaller muscles can lift more weight on its own. However there is a limit to this so at some point you need to increase the mass of the muscle as well. But bodybuilders do not care about how strong they actually are and will build muscle mass without caring about their effeciency. You can usually notice some difference in the looks between a rather compact efficient muscle and one that is just for show.

Another difference is that when people train for strength they usually only train the muscles they need. So they will get some strong muscles and some weaker muscles depending on how they are training. However a bodybuilder will train muscles that is easier to show off. It is much more estetical to be able to show each individual muscle instead of having the smaller muscles hidden by the big muscles. So body builders will often train a lot with smaller muscle groups in order to better show these off. It may even be desirable to reduce the size of some of the bigger muscles so that you can show off the smaller ones better.

And that also brings us to the body fat and the water content. Bodybuilders will make sure to reduce the fat percentage, often to unhealthy levels. This is so that there is no fat between the different muscles which might ruin their looks. People who are actually strong want to have a fair bit of fat so that they can keep their energy levels up through long training sessions and competitions. Similarly they want to stay hydrated so they are able to perform their best. But this means that their muscles are often hidden by a layer of fat. A lot of strong people might directly look fat with big bellies and other features common with fat people. However part of this is that a lot of the volume that would be taken up by fat is taken up by the muscles and part of it is that they need the fat to stay healthy.

Bodybuilders isolate individual muscles for maximum development.

Strong people do tasks that develop the musculature to work together. Individual muscles aren’t hypertrophied, and don’t interfere with each other’s motion.

Bodybuilder physiques are for looks, not for practical applications.

To build on what the other user was saying about strongman and fat, Bodybuilders are actually strong, but they train in different rep ranges and with different movements. They focus on higher repetition to maximize muscle growth and isolate lagging muscles, rather than training 1 to 3 reps on big movements most of the time, which maximize muscle recruitment. If a power lifter and a body builder had a bench press competition, the power lifter will have a higher 1 rep max, but the bodybuilder will likely have a higher 10 or 15 rep max due to specificity.

What do you consider “actually strong”?

Strongman have more fat. Bodybuilder try to go as low in fat% as they can. They also tend to train different.

But you have strong bodybuilders and strongmen who look like bodybuilders.

Look at old video’s of Ronny Coleman. He’s lifting insane amounts of weight. Look up “Mariusz Pudzianowski” in google image search. He’s looking like a bodybuilder despite being a strongman.

Also, the proportions of body builders are different that people who are focused on the work. There are plenty of youtubes showing a BB who is bigger and stronger getting choked out by a smaller MMA fighter.

Look at boxers. They need strength and endurance, but they typically have biceps and chest muscles that are nowhere near the proportions found on the average BB.

To continue upon other’s content, functional labor doesn’t make you look strong. It just makes you strong.

Example: I spent a full summer picking up things that weighed around 100 pounds. All day, every day. I was on heavy crew. In the course of a day, I’d lift an odd sized object weighing about 80 lbs about 1,000 times a day. I was strong as hell. It was a pot yard nursery so I was working 10 gallon which are soaked in and there’s a big ass tree in it as well. They are heavy and awkward. By the end, I was lifting them like picking up a cat.

I went back to the gym when college was back in session. I had no problems moving 100lb weights with one hand and setting them. It was like picking up a box of cereal to me.

Then I went to do some bench curls. I was no stronger than before. I could pick up 250 lbs to my chest like it was nothing, but I still only curled 70 lbs on a bent bar.

Bottom line, the pretty muscles don’t seem to do any real work. The big muscles take the weight. Also, your own mass makes a difference. You don’t get skinny when you do heavy labor. You have a gut that looks like fat but it’s all muscle. It ain’t pretty, but you need it.

You also need the fat for energy when you’re really working hard. I’ve lost 4 lbs in a day from heavy labor. Granted, that’s mostly sweat, but the fat gives you reserve energy. Without the reserve, you’ll tank out.

I’m surprised it isn’t mentioned yet, although it is first necessary to define what you mean by ’actually strong’. Anyway, the reason is that strength to a large degree is a neurological adaptation and one can become very *efficient* at utilizing the muscles(and brain) to do a specific movement. Bodybuilders however don’t train to become proficient in certain movements, they are concerned with size and aesthetics and size. They engage therefore more with 1) alternating phases of weight gain followed by weight loss, and 2) a large variety of exercises, in particular isolated exercises to exhaust each muscle group.

Since I’m not seeing it explicitly mentioned, bodybuilders are extremely strong. Beyond a year or two of resistance training, every bit of strength gain will necessarily come with hypertrophy (muscle growth). Per unit of body mass, bodybuilders aren’t the strongest because they focus on “show muscles” like biceps, triceps, pecs, and medial delts, whereas strongmen and power lifters tend to have disproportionate quads, traps, and backs. You may be seeing some selection bias as well, where people whose bodies respond to resistance training with hypertrophy stay with bodybuilding, whereas guys/girls who just get stronger don’t.

I just want to throw in that bodybuilders are actually strong as well….Ronnie Coleman could squat 800+ pounds in his prime….if that’s not “actually strong” then I must be the equivalent of a wet noodle.

Let’s use the analogy of two houses being built beside each other.

The first house has all the main structures going up at once, the concrete foundation is setting and the builders are putting up walls. It all comes together well and they’re already painting the outside of the house.

Next door is slower. They’ve waited for the concrete slab to set and even done a thicker layer. They’ve put up scaffolding and reinforced where they’re going to put the walls up. They’ve only put up 3 of the walls whilst next door is already painting.

The next morning the builders turn up after a major storm overnight that battered both houses. The house that was being painted has crumbled to rubble. The house next door has had the 3 walls fall down but the scaffolding is still up.

The shoulder is a good example of this – most big bodybuilders can name the larger superficial muscles (delts, lats, traps, tris, bis). These get torn and reheal by the less reps heavier weight style of training and makes the outside of the house look bigger. Ask the strongmen to name the rotator cuff structures and they will likely be able to tell you, because their more reps less than max weight style is concerned with the structural integrity and scaffolding of the house.

Big trees fall hard. Hard trees don’t fall.