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

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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”.

Kotama

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.

IrrelephantAU

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.

tkdyo

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.

Chong_Falcone

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.

mostlygray