Gymnasts Vs. Powerlifters: Who’s stronger?

With the rise of the so-called calisthenics movement and bodyweight training spam many people have developed interested in gymnastic strength training as well. As always this leads to the inevitable question that the ego always asks. What’s better? This or that.

Since the other most popular way to train is powerlifting {squat, bench, dead, post on Facebook and/or YouTube} people are comparing gymnastics to general barbell strength training which leads us to the question: who is stronger – gymnasts or powerlifters?

powerlifters-are-stronger-than-gymnasts

Can you even compare gymnasts to a guy like Doug Young? image via: bodybuilding.com; source: Powerlifting USA;

The answer without a shadow of a doubt is powerlifters. They are much stronger than gymnasts regardless of what some online legends say. Just compare elite gymnasts to elite powerlifters – gymnasts are barely over 180 lbs (usually only the guys over 6’1″, which are a very small minority in gymnastics, reach that bodyweight) and compared to the 220 + powerlifters those guys look like children from the local aerobics class.


The absolute brute strength displayed by powerlifters will forever be higher than the one of gymnasts.

How much can a gymnast squat? I doubt it’s more than 1.5-2 times bodyweight and even that would be very rare because they don’t train the movement. In most cases that’s under 350 pounds.

An elite powerlifter can squat 800 lbs + raw. Who do you think is stronger? The average  5’5″ 135 lbs gymnast with a hypothetical 2 times bodyweight squat (most cannot squat that) or the average 5’5″ 180 lbs powerlifter with 405 + squat?

What about the deadlift? When it comes to the deadlift gymnast do much better because the lift has smaller range of motion and those guys have brutally strong mid sections and backs. Thus, I can see an ELITE gymnast deadlifting over 3 times bodyweight which is world class technically. However, who’s stronger a professional gymnast deadlifting 405 lbs at 135 lbs or a professional powerlifter deadlifting 600 lbs, albeit at a much higher bodyweight. The power guys still wins.

When it comes to the bench press gymnasts do even better. There are rumors of gymnasts benching 2 times bodyweight “the first time they try the lift”. Thus, pound for pound they have the potential to do as good as a gifted and dedicated bencher. However, the question is once again: who is stronger – an average gymnast benching 275 lbs at 135 bodyweight or an average powerlifter benching 405 lbs at much higher bodyweight? Obviously, the powerlifter has much higher level of brute strength compare to the gymnast.

Here comes the usual comment: “But gymnasts are stronger pound for pound.

The truth is that they are not. There are many powerlifters in lower weight classes deadlifting over 3.5 times their bodyweight. There are even extreme cases such as Lamar Gant who deadlifed 5.1 times his bodyweight – 638 lbs at 123 lbs bodyweight. Of course, his case is special and his is very talented, but so are high level gymnasts. They are all built for their sports.

Here comes another expected comment: “But powerlifters cannot do gymnastic stuff.

I agree on that 100%, but in this case we are talking about PURE brute strength – not skills, balance, jumping, acrobatics…etc. When it comes to absolute brute fucking strength elite powerlifters will outperform all gymnasts. That is a fact.

Here comes another expected comment: “But gymnasts are light and ripped.

They are light because this is a requirement for their sport. If they had the legs and the hips of a powerlifter half of the stuff they do would be extremely hard, maybe even impossible.

Imagine a 5’11” – 6’+ gymnast with long and massive legs and glutes trying to fuck around on the rings with stuff like maltese and iron crosses. Who knows? Maybe after 20 years he will get it.

Your training shapes you and that’s why gymnasts have no choice but to remain small in the right places. You have to do what you have to do.

In addition, this factor actually illustrates my point. If gymnasts were heavier, they would need more strength to perform all of their ring elements. Since gymnasts try to keep leg and hip mass to a minimum they also sacrifice lower and upper body strength to do their tricks.

I can tell you that if a gymnast was forced to increase his brute strength to the highest possible level, he would be using weights in some form. There is no other way around it.

Here comes another expected comment: “But powerlifters are fat fucks and gymnasts will outperform them in every athletic event possible.

If we are talking about the heavy weight classes, this is true. Powerlifters can get really fat. However, I’ve seen plenty of shredded to the bone powerlifters at lower weight classes who are not so out of shape. Besides, try putting a gymnast and a heavy powerlifter in a phone booth and tell me who’s gonna end out on top. {lol}

Denying the fact that a gymnast possess higher athleticism would be a blatant lie. As they say: if a gymnast tries to be a powerlifter, he would do average to good, but if a powerlifter tries to be a gymnast, he would do bad to worse to dead.

Here comes another expected comment: “But powerlifters use a lot of steroids.

Now you are starting to talk sense. It’s true that powerlifters on elite level carry just as much muscle as professional bodybuilders. They also use just as much steroids, albeit less cutting drugs, but that rule is often broken by the so-called “aesthetic powerlifters” who remain 5% or so body fat and have visible kidneys and lungs. (Yes, that is a thing when you are 5% body fat.)

There is no point in hiding the fact that most of the strength powerlifters display comes from the drugs. Steroids make you brutally fucking strong compared to your natural self. You still have train heavy and push yourself, but without the drugs the records would easily drop by 100 – 300+ lbs. Yes, that’s true.

With that said, what makes you think gymnasts are natural either. Compare gymnasts from the old times to some of the new school muscle monsters. Why would a professional athlete be natural in 21.1 century anyway?

Still, there are many elite level gymnasts who are natural. The sport does not require nearly as much drug abuse as powerlifting or bodybuilding.

When people start admiring the looks of gymnasts they usually pick the best photos which are often taken at extremely sharp and flattering angles. Watch a video of gymnastic training and you will see that those guys are not that big. I doubt they are all drug free either.

In the end the question was: who’s stronger?

Thus, I don’t think steroid usage changes the result. Powerlifters have higher levels of brute strength and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Can you even compare a tiny 5’5-9″ gymnast to a guy like Kirk Karwoski for example. Put them next to each other and the gymnast would appear smaller than one of Karwoski’s legs.

Let’s get real now…

Unfortunately or not, it’s time to get back to our NATTY planet and admit the obvious: as natural lifters we would be happy, I know I would, to have the upper body and most likely even the overall physique of a pro gymnast. They are lean, muscular and athletic.

I can see why a natural lifter would train like a gymnast, especially when it comes to upper body work. It’s effective, fun, motivating and your overall athleticism improves. You also cannot let yourself develop a fat gut and get to something like 25% + BF which is often the case with the wannabe natty powerlifters.

Naturally, it’s much easier to reach the physical development of an elite gymnast than that of a 220 lbs powerlifter made out of granite such as Dan Green.

Still, I advise people to train with weights, especially if you are older than 14 years of age. I believe adults have no business in pure bodyweight training not because improvement is impossible. That’s not the case at all. The reason is that basic weightlifting would make you stronger overall faster than bodyweight training. That’s fact. Sorry.

Also, lifts such as deadlifts, good mornings, bench presses, overhead presses…etc. have good carryover to bodyweight training when you are also lean. People like that guy from Gymnasticbody.com (I have a story to tell, but maybe some other day) always rush to tell you how gymnastic bodyweight crap has a great carryover to lifting, but let me tell you – so does heavy ass barbell training when you remain at low body fat percentage.

I don’t see the point of limiting your development overall by skipping weight training. I have tried pure bodyweight in the past and I have one word for it: it’s boring and subpar for weekend warriors.

That’s why I choose to Jeet Kune Do the system and use weights and bodyweight exercises together. Weighted dips? Hell, yeah! Weighted pull-ups? Hell, yeah! Squats? Hell, yeah! Ring dips? Hell, yeah.

I think most people would agree deep down that this is the best method when it comes to strength development. Unless you are limited by extreme circumstances you would be using some sort of equipment anyway. Even if it’s just a chin-up bar, it still counts. Being a bodyweight monk serves no real purpose. You can certainly try it for a while, but you can’t do it forever and expect maximum results.

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