Difference Between Weightlifting And Resistance Training

Several months ago, I was on a quest to find workouts that would help me build and tone my muscles. In the process, I came across two types of exercises: weightlifting and resistance training.

These two sound very familiar, and I have heard people use the terms interchangeably. I was curious to learn the differences between them before making a choice, and this prompted me to dive into some intensive research.

So what’s the difference between weightlifting and resistance training? Contrary to popular belief, these two terms do not refer to the same type of exercise. Weightlifting and resistance training are distinct both in definition and nature. Weightlifting refers to the activity that involves lifting barbells or other heavy objects, and it is sometimes done for competition purposes.

However, you can also carry out weightlifting as part of your workout program. On the other hand, resistance training is a type of workout where you work against some force that resists your movement. The effect could be from free weights rubber exercise tubing or even your own body.

As you can see, weightlifting and resistant training are entirely different types of exercise. They also generate different results. For this reason, it is essential to have an in-depth understanding of the two before hitting the gym for a workout program.

This way, you will be able to know the benefits of each type of exercise, expected results, and which one is the most suited for your workout and fitness needs.

In this article, I will delve into these two types of exercise, what they involve, their benefits, and what you need to qualify in weightlifting or resistance training. You will also get useful information on how to make an informed and accurate choice on the best type of exercise for your individual fitness needs.

Difference Between Weightlifting and Resistance Training

As aforementioned, there are inherent and apparent differences between weightlifting and resistance training. These differences are seen like the exercise, the type of equipment used, parts of the body that are exercised, and the results experienced. Below is a detailed comparison of the two types of workouts based on these factors.

Nature of the Exercise

Have you ever watched weightlifting competitions in the Olympics? If so, then you have an idea of what the sport involves. Weightlifting can be categorized into two: competitive and non-competitive weightlifting.

Competitive weightlifting can be further divided into Olympic lifting and powerlifting. In Olympic lifting, the participants perform only two lifts in the Olympic competition: the clean and jerk and the snatch. In powerlifting, participants compete to see who will lift the heaviest weights in the following three exercises:

Deadlift where one lifts the barbells off the floor

• Bench press where one lifts the barbells while lying on a bench

• Squat where one carries the barbells on their shoulders while squatting with thighs parallel to the ground

Individuals who engage in powerlifting do not always target the Olympics. They can participate in local competitions or compete with other weightlifters at the local gym. Sometimes, they do it to show off their prowess at lifting heavyweight.

Non-competitive weightlifting is the lifting of weights at the gym as a part of a strength training program. One can choose to work with free weight or weight machines.

Free weights include barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells among others. This is usually done purely for fitness purposes, and it is mostly done together with other resistance training exercises.

On the other hand, resistance training is an entirely different exercise. It is never intended for competitions, whether locally or internationally. Resistance training exercises are aimed at causing muscle contractions to increase the strength and size of skeletal muscles.

For example, when you cycle on a recumbent bike with resistance, the workout causes muscle contractions as you work against the force, and this causes the muscles to grow bigger and stronger. This is also the case when you use barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, weight machines, resistance bands, and other pieces of equipment.

Type of Equipment Used

Another distinct difference between weightlifting and resistance training is for the kind of equipment that is used. In weightlifting, the most used pieces of equipment are barbells. These comprise of a steel bar or rod to which disc weights are fitted at each end.

There are weights of various sizes which include 55, 44, 33, 22, 11, 5.5, and 2.75 pounds. Beginners can start with the lightest weights and advance to the heavier ones as they build their muscle strength. Other free weights such as dumbbells and kettlebells can also be used in non-competitive weightlifting.

On the other hand, resistance training utilizes various kinds of tools. These include barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells, recumbent bikes, resistance bands, suspension equipment, weight machines, and weighted bags.

One’s body weight can also be used to generate resistance in exercises such as squats, chin-ups, and pushups. Creating resistance from your own body’s weight is a convenient form of exercise that you can perform without going to the gym.

As you can see, free weights such as barbells and kettlebells are used both in weightlifting and resistance training. It is important to note that weightlifters use barbells as part of their resistance training routine to build muscle strength and improve prowess in weightlifting.

That may be one of the reasons why the two types of exercises are usually confused. When a weightlifter uses a weight machine as part of their exercise, this will be a form of resistance training.

However, when they lift barbells as a form of competition or showoff among other weightlifters, this will exclusively be referred to as weightlifting. That said, resistance training involves the use of various types of equipment and is not restricted to the use of free weights as is the case with weightlifting.

Parts of the Body Involved

Both weightlifting and resistance training strengthen various parts of the body such as the hand and leg muscles. Weightlifting also tones the stomach and back muscles, especially when engaging in powerlifting. For this reason, this exercise results in the overall development of the entire body’s muscles.

On the other hand, resistance training will strengthen and tone different muscles depending on the type of equipment being used in the exercise. It generates focused results and is useful if you want to work on specific parts of the body.

For example, barbells, kettlebells, and dumbbells help you work on the hand, leg, stomach, and back muscles. Incumbent bikes may tone the leg and thigh muscles only while pushups strengthen the hands, legs, and thighs, and tone the abs.

Squats work on the butt, gluteus muscles, thighs, and leg muscles. Therefore, when taking part in resistance training, you need to choose a program that will help you work on the desired parts of the body.

Results Experienced

Weightlifting and resistance training generate different results in individuals. One of the most evident signs that weightlifting is working is improved muscle definition. You will begin to notice that the muscles in your arms, shoulders, back, thighs, and legs look more prominent and feel stronger.

They look more sculpted and firm, not fat. What’s more, your stomach becomes toned, and you develop abs. Muscle definition increases with increased weightlifting activities, especially as you advance to the heavier weights.

On the other hand, strength training can generate a series of results based on the equipment used. Using any type of weights or bells will produce similar results to barbells, only that they may not be as dramatic as those seen in Olympic weightlifters.

Squats tone and round the butt and strengthen the glutes and thigh muscles. Pushups and chin-ups are useful in strengthening the hand, legs, and stomach muscles. They also help tone the stomach and get rid of excess fat.

Benefits of Weightlifting and Resistance Training

Whether you want to lift weights and hopefully engage in competitions or you want to strength-train, there are various benefits that you can derive from either of the two types of exercises. This portion will enlighten you on these advantages so that you can determine which type of workout or activity is best suited for your needs.

Why should you engage in weightlifting?

• Weightlifting helps build lean muscle and burn more calories. As a result, weightlifters can take control of their weight and shed unnecessary fat.

• The exercise makes the muscles look more defined and toned. This is usually evident in the biceps, shoulder muscles, back, and leg muscles.

• Lifting weights increase the strength and density of the bones. This improves one’s overall strength and reduces the risk of osteoporosis in both men and women. This is a condition that occurs when the body loses too much bone. The bones become weak and can break from the minor impact such as a fall.

• Lifting weights lead to increased overall strength and weight load. One not only feels stronger, but they are also able to carry out intensive activities or carry heavy loads without exerting the body.

• The exercise strengthens the joints and prevents post-workout injuries. Individuals who lift weights are less likely to sprain their ankles or other parts of the body while working out.

• Weightlifting promotes muscle flexibility and increases the body’s range of motion.

• The exercise helps reshape problem areas of the body. These include sagging underarms, butt fat, and stomach fat.

What are the benefits of resistance training?

• Strength training exercises such as lifting weights, squats, and chin-ups improve muscle strength and tone by helping you shed off excess fat.

• Strength training results in better weight management, especially for individuals who are looking for ways to reduce fat or gain mass in specific parts of the body.

• These exercises increase the muscle-to-fat ratio. Your body builds more muscle as compared to fat, and he helps you gain a healthy weight.

• Strength training exercises such as sit-ups, squats, and free weights can improve body posture and relieve the effects of poor posture such as lower back pain.

• Lifting free weights while doing forward lunges results in improved body balance

• Strength training increases the range of motion in the shoulders, thighs, and legs.

• Strength training results in better bone density and strength, and it protects trainers from osteoporosis.

• It leads to improved stamina where one does not tire easily even after engaging in high-intensity activities.

Both weightlifting and resistance training have non-fitness related advantages as well. Both exercises result in improved appearance where one sheds off fat and gains lean muscle.

This can improve self-esteem, especially if you have been battling with weight issues. Both workouts also reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as back pain, arthritis, diabetes, and obesity.

An improved metabolism generates an overall sense of wellbeing which can significantly improve one’s productivity and moods. The exercises also help alleviate stress as they cause the body to produce feel-good hormones.

Which is the Best Exercise for You?

Now that you know the differences between weightlifting and resistance training, you may be wondering which one to choose between the two. What factors should inform your decision?

The choice between weightlifting and resistance training is a personal decision. These two exercises are distinct, and they are meant to achieve different goals. Therefore, it is vital to evaluate your needs against the following factors so that you can determine which between the two is best suited for you.

Purpose of the Exercise

What’s your primary goal for choosing a workout program? Are you going into training to compete or be renowned as the best weightlifter in your area?

Or are you only looking to tone your muscles, build muscle strength, and improve your overall appearance? As aforementioned, weightlifting is mostly undertaken for competition purposes.

Therefore, if your primary goal is to compete at the local or international level, you should consider taking up weightlifting as your sport. However, if your goal is to achieve overall fitness, build muscle strength, boost metabolism, and improve your body build, you should go for resistance training.

Note that in resistance training, you can take up weightlifting as one of the exercises in the fitness program without necessarily doing it for competitive purposes.

Fitness Level

Your current level of fitness is also a significant determinant when choosing the best exercise. For example, if you have never worked out before, starting with 22-pound weights may not be the best idea. The micro-tears caused in your muscles by the contractions can be too painful, and you may even end up suffering injuries.

Similarly, if you have gained a lot of unhealthy weight, it would be impractical to start with the hardest workout such as weightlifting as it will frustrate you.

In the above cases, you may want to start with light resistance training workouts such as stationary bike cycling, lifting dumbbells and kettlebells, and doing squats and sit-ups.

As your body muscles gain more strength and resilience, you can advance to harder exercises such as lifting medium-sized weights. Once your body has fully adjusted to exercise, you can take up the powerlifting and advanced resistance training exercises.

On the other hand, if you have been working out and keeping fit and are looking for ways to build your muscles, you can opt for wither resistance training or weightlifting.

However, note that resistance training offers a broad range of exercises which we mentioned earlier. These can be useful if you want to achieve overall fitness with no intention of playing in fitness competitions.

Skill Level

Besides evaluating your fitness level, you also need to consider how skilled you are in activity. Workout injuries can be excruciating, but they are common in people who jump into an activity without possessing the necessary skills. For example, if you are a beginner weightlifter, you need to learn how to lift the barbells at different positions progressively.

Lift them incorrectly, and you could end up with a twisted or broken hand. You would be better off starting with resistance training workouts to strengthen your arms before you can start lifting heavyweights.

Note that even if you are a skilled individual, taking some time off the gym can make your skills rusty. Therefore, don’t come back and plunge into the most intensive workouts.

Your body muscles may no longer be the same, and you may inflict injury on yourself. Always take the time to test the less intensive workouts, lift lighter weights and cycle with less resistance as you improve your skill level.

Equipment Accessibility

Some people never want to go to the gym and would instead work out at home in the garage or the home gym. If you are one of those people, your accessibility to equipment will determine which exercise you will go for.

If you are unable to invest in weights or don’t have adequate space for them, you should go for resistance training. You can buy an incumbent bike and work out of your house.

Also, equipment such as kettlebells and dumbbells are affordable and accessible to find. If you don’t want to buy any equipment, you can generate resistance from your body through exercises such as squats, chin-ups, and press-ups.

Also, note that even if you have space for weightlifting, you may need help at the start. If you are a beginner, it is essential to have a helping hand to avoid injuring yourself as you practice various kinds of weightlifting such as bench press and squat lifts. Therefore, it would not be advisable to engage in weightlifting at home if you are a fitness newbie and don’t have a personal trainer.

Personal Preference

After all, it is said, the choice between weightlifting and resistance training should be based on your personal preference. Most people tend to show progressive improvement and positive results when they engage in something that they like.

Therefore, if you prefer resistance training that involves cycling, squats, and dumbbells, choose this as your program. If you want to be a weightlifter, go for it.

Doing what you love will give you the motivation to go to the gym three or five days a week and never miss training. You will be enthusiastic about the workout, and this mental state is critical in achieving impressive results.

How Should You Choose a Practical Workout Program?

Whether you choose to take part in weightlifting or resistance training, you need to come up with a workout program that you will stick to. This is what will help you outline your workout goals and evaluate them at intervals to ensure that you are still on track.

The same way anyone who wants to lose weight has a target at the end of every week or month, you also need to have such targets when lifting weights or doing resistance training.

In this light, here are three elements that should inform your choice of a weight training program. Choosing a plan with these three things in mind will help you develop an exercise habit and achieve your goals.

The Time Factor

If you choose an exercise that takes an incredibly long duration finish, the chances are that you will not commit to it. This is particularly true if you are a beginner weightlifter or resistance trainer.

Exercises that require you to go to the gym five days a week and spend two or so hours there may wear you out within a short period. It will be easy for you to forfeit the gym to attend to something else, and this is how you will lose control over your routine.

Whether you want to lift weights or carry out resistance training, you should make sure that you start with a program that requires a modest time commitment.

A program that only requires 45minutes or one hour at the gym, three days a week may be a good start. As you develop your discipline, you can increase your time at the gym.

The Complexity of the Program

Starting with the hardest workouts may not motivate you to keep on strength training. Therefore, as you choose your exercises, consider starting with the easier ones that give you small wins and a feeling of accomplishment. Imagine going to the gym on the first day and trying to work the weight machine only for you to fail.

This can significantly discourage you and make you feel like you aren’t cut out for weight training. Therefore, to avoid this, start with simple exercises such as lifting dumbbells and kettlebells before you advance to heavy barbells and weight machines.

Progress and Results

Nobody wants to take part in a workout program that they cannot see progress and results. If you are a beginner, seeing your muscles grow and get toned is enough motivation to keep going.

However, some exercises show progress and results after months of working out. For example, if you have never worked out before, don’t expect to develop abs within the first two weeks of working out — it will take longer than that.

As you choose a program, research about how long it takes to see visible results. Whether you opt for weights or resistance exercises, you should know the timeline within which your body will start to look toned. This will avoid discouragement and help you stay motivated to see the results.

As you choose your weightlifting or resistance training exercises, vet them against these three factors so that you can ensure that they are suited for you. You can work with a fitness expert to help you come up with a practical program that you will follow.

Beginner Tips for Weightlifting and Resistant Training

You may be wondering: Are there any tips that can help a beginner to excel in weightlifting and/or resistance training? The answer is yes! Knowing how to approach your workouts can make a difference in your training and help reduce the risk of getting hurt. Here are some of the top tips that I would recommend to a beginner weightlifter or resistance trainer.

1. Start small: When you first hit the gym, you may feel intimidated by the expert trainers lifting 55lb weights or using the most significant resistance on the weight machine of an incumbent bike.

Don’t let this push you to try out hard workouts as you try to impress. Starting small will help your muscles get used to the exercises and gain strength and resilience.

2. Consider successive time increments: Don’t take two hours at the gym on your first day. Start by working out for 30 minutes or so then increase your time progressively by ten or fifteen minutes as your body gets used to the training.

3. Warm-ups are essential: Don’t neglect pre- and post-workout warm-ups. They prepare your body and muscles for intense training. Afterward, they help your body cool down and reduce the risk of severe soreness which can frustrate your workout.

4. Work on specific muscle sets at a time: Various weightlifting and resistance training exercises target different sets of muscles. Work on particular sets of muscles at a time to realize positive results.

For example, if you have a three-days-a-week program, you can work on the arms on day one, abs on day two, and the leg muscles on the third day. This allows you enough time to exercise the muscles, increase contractions, and promote growth.

5. Cross-train with other activities such as aerobics, running, and swimming: This gives you a chance to exercise the entire body and realize overall fitness. Also, it keeps the body muscles guessing by breaking the monotony of lifting weights or cycling at the gym.

6. Rest between sets: It is okay to take a rest in between workouts. Don’t over-exert yourself as this can cause you to lose the motivation to maintain a steady exercise habit.

7. Adopt a recovery period: It is advisable to rest a group of muscles for at least 48 hours after weightlifting or resistance training. The recovery time allows the muscles to heal and grow. That’s why it is essential to exercise a specific set of muscles at a time so that they can rest as you work on another group.

Challenges of Weightlifting and Resistance Training

Nothing good comes easy, and this statement has never been more accurate than in the context of weight training. As you get into a workout program, you need to understand the challenges so that you can prepare for them.

Getting caught off guard can affect your perspective of the exercises and even cause you to drop out of the gym. Here are a few challenges that you should be aware of before engaging in weightlifting or resistance training.

• These exercises are not easy. Even the simplest ones like squats and dumbbells will exhaust your body, and you will want to run out of the gym and not return. However, your end goal should be your greatest motivator.

• The risk of getting hurt is very high at the beginning. Be careful as you work with different weights and resistance equipment. Don’t work on a machine with a high resistance if you are a beginner.

You may hurt your shoulder, and this will halt your workouts until you recover. Approach equipment with caution. If you aren’t sure how to use them, consult an expert.

• Not all exercises will work for you. As you start, you will notice that your body responds better to some workouts than others. You should capitalize on these as you get used to the process.

For example, basic resistance training exercises such as cycling, doing squats, and lifting free weights are popular. Start with such before advancing to intense ones like weight machines.


Weightlifting and resistance training are two different exercises that are distinct in various ways, but they also have a few similarities. They are great workouts for building muscle strength, increasing lean body mass, and improving the body’s resilience and stamina.

These exercises are suitable for both genders, and they can be undertaken to achieve various workout goals depending on one’s individual needs.

That said, they are intense workouts, and it is vital for one to approach them cautiously. Going in without adequate information can cause frustrations and injuries, and halt your fitness plans.

If you are a beginner, it would be a good idea to work with an expert so that they can evaluate your goals against your body and fitness level, and help you come up with a practical weightlifting or resistance training program.

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Tomasz Faber

HI, MY NAME IS TOMASZ, and welcome to my site WeightliftingPlace.com. I’m a weightlifter, and I’m very much interested in health and fitness subjects. Throughout a few years of my weightlifting training, and diet experience, I managed to make my body much, much stronger, as well as build endurance and athletic figure. I live in London, UK, where I enjoy my weightlifting training...read more...

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