Deadlift vs Squat: Which Exercise is Better?


Deadlift vs Squat

Two of the most important moves anyone can do in the gym square off to see which is best in this must-read article! Now you can really decide if you’re better off squatting or doing deadlifts.

One way or another every exercise we do in the gym can be beneficial for our bodies. That’s why we do them. Two of the most common are the Deadlift vs Squat. Go to any gym and you’ll see these moves. Of course, people often debate whether the squat or the deadlift is better for performance boosts and overall health. People even ask questions such as do squats really work, and what about deadlifts?

Guess what?

Both of these compound exercises are great for your body and provide many benefits. But, if you had to choose only one of these exercises which one should it be:

The Deadlift vs Squat?

There are lots of factors at play. That’s why before answering that question, we need to look at everything that comes into the equation.

Compound Movements

These Are Compound Movements

You probably hear this term used quite often. You may have also heard it called something else such as a big lift or your core lift for that day’s training program. Basically, what the creators of workout programs are trying to state is that this is going to be the exercise that uses up 50% or more of your training energy. This is the energy that lasts from the use of carbs in your body stored as glycogen primarily within your liver and muscles.

The reason you want to use so much energy for one exercise is because it provides many benefits. Compound lifts use multiple joints and muscle groups to allow muscular contractions to overcome the resistance being loaded on your body. Other muscles are being worked simultaneously to keep proper balance and posture. On top of this, you also have natural ways to boost testosterone in your body while doing compound lifts.

A compound lift is often linked with barbell movements because it forces your body to work as one to keep proper form. Dumbbells are great to use. But, you may have issues when it comes to more advanced muscular focus. For example, think about the chest press. While pressing the dumbbells back up, one arm may not be moving together with the other, and you may cause a muscle strain trying to catch the weaker arm up with the dominant hand. You don’t want that to happen.

Instead, try the barbell. The barbell keeps your body balanced better because you are actually thinking about having to move your arms together. Of course, you could still become unbalanced with a barbell. But, that is because of improper form, a definite weaker side or because you have too much load on the bar.

When it comes to choosing between a squat and the deadlift, the two types of exercises that you should be considering are the back barbell squat and the conventional barbell deadlift. You will have a better understanding about each of them when you get to our section where we compare them.

Squats And Deadlifts, What Do They Have In Common? 

Proper form means everything! You will not be able to benefit from either exercise if you do not execute with proper form. This is vital! The steps on how to squat or deadlift are obviously different. But, certain portions are similar.

How so? 

The parallels are there when it comes to posture, technique, and form.

There are a number of things to understand that apply to both exercises. For example, dynamic stretches should be done prior to the exercises.


They could improve performance. They are also great for functional training. Functional training is performing exercise movements that resemble daily movements such as sitting in a chair (squats) or picking up a box from the ground (deadlifts).

Your knees should never fully lockout. You should strive to always keep a slight bend in your knee. That’s done to prevent future injuries. Your feet should be horizontally aligned with each other.

Your spine should be in the neutral position. This means your spine is vertically aligned from top to bottom. You should also keep your chin slightly tilted up for better oxygen flow. You breathe in through your diaphragm during the resting position. Of course, you exhale during the pushing or pulling motion.

These simple tips will grant you max training potential from performing both squats and deadlifts. Everything that pertains to training should always focus on your health, injury prevention and proper form over looking good and trying to lift more weight than you should.

They Represent The Push Pull Workout

One difference to note is that the squat is a pushing exercise. Of course, the deadlift is a push-pull workout. This means that when determining which exercise may be more beneficial, it is fair to note that the muscle groups worked during the deadlift are greater than that of the squat. The squat will use primarily lower body and core muscles. The deadlift is going to use upper, lower and core muscles.

Compound lifts generally fall into push, pull or both types of categories. These two variants are what recruit more muscle groups to assist with the movement. Other exercises this applies to include push-ups, pull-ups, overhead press, bench press, bent over rows and lunges. There are plenty of other exercises as well, but these are the most commonly performed.

The Back Barbell Squat

The squat has been a long time favorite and is often being posted about almost every minute. In this variation of the squat, you have the bar going across your traps. Your feet should be spread shoulder-width apart and you basically squat as if you are going to sit down in a chair with proper form.

This is a compound exercise so it basically trains your body as a whole. But, there are primary muscle groups being contracted that we should note. Your quads are the first muscles being contracted. Of course, after this are your spinal erectors, glutes, hamstrings and abs muscles.

Your upper body gets a slight workout since you have to apply a lot of downward force in your grip to keep the bar in place. The firm grip boosts your arms strength and gives them some extra blood flow for nutrients to make their way to the source and allow muscle fiber growth. You will want to do squats as the big or core lift during a leg training workout program.

Benefits of Deadlifts

The Barbell Conventional Deadlifts

Discussing deadlifts is often hard.


Simple, there are a lot of popular variations to them. The main one we will be discussing is the conventional deadlift. This is when the bar is loaded on the floor and each rep starts from the ground. Of course, Romanian deadlifts are similar, but you stop just below your knees. Sumo squats are when your feet are spread widely apart from each other.

The conventional deadlift method opens up contractions equally throughout your body. The primary muscles being targeted are your lats, lower back muscles and spinal erectors. Of course, there are other muscles also being targeted. These include your arms, shoulder, glutes, abs and a lot of others. Like with any compound move, you are hitting more muscles doing a deadlift than any simpler isolation exercise. With the deadlift you are hitting your lower body and upper body equally and that’s why it can’t be overlooked.

When you do a deadlift, it has two primary motions or phases. These phases are specific to the muscles being worked. Phase one is when the bar is on the ground and you are about to perform the deadlift. Your leg muscles, hip flexors, glutes and core muscles are used the most to begin the pull.

Phase two is once you have pulled the bar above your knees. This is the point where more of your upper body is being activated to drive your hips forward and lock your body out fully. Then, the spinal erectors undergo more stress controlling the gravitational pull of the weight back to the ground.

Deadlift vs Squat Which Exercise Is Better?

Both the squat and the deadlift are great exercises! And, it’s important to remember that both the squat and deadlift are important for all training programs, whether it is with lighter loads to heavier ones. But, if you are only allowed to do one exercise, then the deadlift is most likely the better choice.


In comparison to squats, conventional barbell deadlifts work similar leg muscles with just a little less emphasis on your quads. This fact alone already shows that they are equal to one another.

But, you then need to take into account all of the upper body muscles being recruited for the deadlift compared to squats. Your upper body gets far more contractions while doing the deadlift than with the squat. It does so because the deadlift is a mix of pushing and pulling simultaneously. You are going to get more muscle gains on your entire body with a deadlift. But squats can have a massive impact as well. If you want to target your lower body, squats are your solution.

The Benefits of Deadlifts

Benefits of Deadlifts

In order to benefit the most from deadlifts, you should consider doing them with moderate load amounts. This means you can do four or five sets with 8 to 10 reps in each set. You gain muscle this way. You also further strengthen your muscles along with your bones.

Of course, a heavier load can boost muscle growth. It is designed to increase overall power. With that being said, you would only be able to do heavy loaded deadlifts for somewhere between one to five reps. You really have to keep that rep count low!

Lighter load settings are fine if this is what you desire. But, people often perform the deadlift too fast with improper form when that happens. This often leads to lower back pains or injuries with fitness enthusiasts that do circuit training or CrossFit training. You are not necessarily moving slow for the exercise, but you are not going really fast either.

Can I Do Squats And Deadlifts On The Same Day?

Yes, there is nothing wrong with doing two compound lifts on the same day. But you usually need to choose which one is going to be the actual starting exercise that gets a lot of your energy. Whatever move you do first is going to be the biggest impact. The move you choose to do second will really test your limits because you will have spent most of your energy on the first. If you train three days a week with squats and deadlifts your body will definitely grow.

Always make sure to alternate between the deadlift and the squat as your starting exercise. This allows for variety, muscle confusion and optimum muscle gains. You will also want to take a day off between training days so your body can heal and allow protein synthesis to get those gains growing! Sleep also helps you produce more testosterone. Your body and muscle tissue recover and grow during sleep. Be sure to get your sleep!

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When it comes to working out, there are two moves that a lot of people try to skip. Squats and deadlifts can be a little daunting at times. Once you master form and position them properly in your workout, you’ll see nothing but gains with these two staple exercises. You can’t afford to avoid doing these moves.

By Brian Pankau, CPT



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