What Is the Difference Between Strength Training & Weightlifting?

Young man push up against bench

Strength training and weightlifting can appear very similar but, in fact, are quite different activities. Where strength training is usually a means to an end, weightlifting describes a competitive sport. There are a number of activities that fall under the banner of weightlifting and weightlifters use strength training to enhance their performance. Knowing a little more about the types of weightlifting will help make the difference between these seemingly similar activities much clearer and make each easier to identify.

Olympic Weightlifting

Olympic weightlifting contests two lifts; the clean and jerk and the snatch. Both involve lifting a barbell from the floor to arms' length above your head. Each lifter has three attempts at each lift and the winner is the competitor with the highest combined total. In weightlifting, the weight is lifted only once per attempt whereas strength training usually involves sets of multiple repetitions. (See ref 1)


Powerlifting is an offshoot of Olympic weightlifting and contests three barbell lifts; the squat, bench press and deadlift. Some federations also contest the strict barbell biceps curl but this is supplementary to the main lifts. Like Olympic lifting, competitors get thee attempts at each lift and the aim to lift the greatest combined total. While only single reps are contested, powerlifters frequently use multiple reps in training though most keep their rep count relatively low compared to recreational strength trainers. (See ref 2)

Strongman Competitions

Strongman competitions can involve a variety of competitive lifting events from pulling a truck to lifting heavy stones to walking while carrying a heavy yoke. Some events involve single all out efforts while others require competitors to perform as many reps as possible. Points are awarded for each event and the winner is the competitor with the highest points total. (See ref 3)

Strength Training

Unlike the strength sports of Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting and strongman competitions, strength training is non-competitive. Also known as resistance training and weight training, this activity can involve lifting light to moderate weights as well as heavy weights in the case of more advanced exercisers. Exercises are selected based on their benefits and can include barbell, dumbbell, bodyweight, kettlebell and resistance training machine exercises. Strength training is physique, health and performance enhancing and while some sportsmen will strength train to improve their weightlifting prowess, other participants will strength train for more recreational reasons. However, it should be noted that the term "strength training" can still represent among fitness professionals and per fitness certification standards a training routine which emphasizes muscular strength over other other attributes, such as muscular endurance.