Sunday, November 15, 2009

Squats Vs. Deadlift

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I have been doing some research into the world of squatting and deadlifting and I have come to the conclusion that both are equally as effective for gaining strength if implemented properly. Several articles I have come across are biased either one way or the other. The avid supporters of the squat support it because of the following reasons.
  • Greater range of motion because the hips can drop below the hips
  • Works the anterior chain leg muscles very well
  • Good for lower back strengthening
Critics of the squat mention that
  • It is hard on the knees
  • Strains the lower back
  • Can cause spinal compression
As far as deadlift enthusiasts are concerned the pros of the lift include:
  • Less strain on spine due to a larger recruitment of muscle groups
  • Works posterior leg muscles better, which is more important for explosiveness
  • Easy on the knees and lower back
  • More natural movement than squatting
Critics might say that the deadlift is inferior due:
  • Inability to attain the same range of motion as a full squat
  • Less explosive with the hips
  • need a lot of grip strength to lift heavy
I personally feel that doing both exercises improves overall leg strength. Squats are great but sometimes I feel like doing too much weight does a number on my back and knees, much more so than the deadlift, which allows me to push more weight without causing much pain in the knees. I am not one to use knee straps so that is why I prefer to go heavier with the deadlift than the squat, which just requires a good weight belt.
It all comes to choice in the end and choosing which one better fits your situation is what it all comes down to. If you have knee pain, deadlifts are just as good for leg strength in my opinion. If you are short and have have small levers, the squat will benefit you more because the range of motion you can attain with the squat will far outweigh the deadlift. Do what fits your goals and body.

Leave me a comment and let me know what you think! or email me at


Jeffery said...

Great article and if you don't mind I would like to contribute some insight.

The squat is actually not as hard on the knees as you think. There are a few university studies that I have read that result in the tendons and ligaments of knees becoming stronger if the squats are done right. Your knee is at its strongest at full flexion, or when squatting parallel. It's the bad coaching from football on doing squats that causes such controversy. The coaches are so full of themselves that they believe everything they say is true in which case that belief transpires to the players. Most all of them do quarter squats where the knee joint is at its weakest and that's where the problems arise and critics base their opinions off of.

Straining the lower back also depends on how you squat. Some people squat olympic style with a higher bar position and less forward lean. And if squatted to parallel that causes a lot less stress on the lower back. But if you squat powerlifting style with a very low bar positioning and wide feet, this is where the back problems come it. The lower back is already doing a big job of stabilizing your core along with your abs and then giving it another job of accomidating the load from the HUGE forward lean of the powerlifting style, that there is no wonder as to why there would be lower back problems.

And squatting does cause spinal compression. Which is why you should do spinal decompressions afterwards so that your spine can relengthen again. To do this, you simply hang on a pull up bar and relax all of your core muscles. When you start feeling as if your core is stretching from the pull of gravity, you are doing it right. Yes, its that simple. But it must be held for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Now to the deadlift: I don't see as to how there would be less strain on the spine if you are recruiting more muscles. What about carrying heavy loads with a rounded back? You are recruiting a huge amount of muscle groups but it doesn't necesarily mean that your spine has less strain.

It is also not technically correct that it has less strain on the lower back. To me, it makes sense that there is a tremendous strain on your lower back. If not, then why is it recommended for optimal lower back strength? Because it is very strenuous on the lower back which causes it to adapt and get stronger. So, technically, I feel that it is incorrect.

Jeffery said...

Critics say that it is less explosive with the hips but that just means they haven't done it right. If done right, hips are a HUGE factor in lifting the weight. You put every amount of energy you have to pull those singles and that in fact is a very explosive movement.

Well, duh you need a lot of grip strength to lift heavy. If that's your weak spot then you work on it to make it your strength. You don't stop doing it completely and tell everyone else that it sucks because you can't do it. Honestly, the things critics will say. HA!

I agree that they build leg strength to about the same extent but the reason why squats are so "praised" as the king of lower body exercises is because it is far superior to the deadlift in muscle gains. Allow me to explain: squatting is a closed kinetic chain exercise, meaning that you are moving your body through space. Now something about a closed kinetic chain exercises causes your body to recruit motor units more effectively and in a different way that promotes muscle gain. And deadlifing is a open chain exercise where you are moving the weight towards your body, a completely different set of motor movements. But also, there is essentially no eccentric part of the deadlift and this part is where the micro tears occur that cause muscle adaption. The most tears happen when your muscles are forcefully contracting while lengthening, or the going down part of the squat. In the deadlift, there is essentially no eccentric part and therefore is deemed "inferior" which i think is a bit dumb. Because if you are going for strength, then who cares?

But anyways, GREAT article. I loved it. I felt as if I needed to contribute something to your thoughts. These are possibly some things you already know, I'm not sure. Good day :)

Y. Ayeni said...

Great contribution bud. I really enjoy your point of view an analysis of both exercises. Are you in the sports medicine field?

Matt Marcoccia said...

Yemi can you do a post about how you feel about olympic lifts and throwing.

Jeffery said...

I hope to be in the future. But otherwise government and university studies fulfill my needs at the moment.

I just read a lot and take in account proven information to form my own opinions on matters such as these. If they are merely hypothesis with no data behind them or contain insufficient data, it is insignificant and most likely forgotten.

What I said in the above can be argued with that in science information can be manipulated to prove either side of the equation but that is why you choose selectively and from a reputable source. I.e. Don't read those stupid tests on how soy milk is bad for you if that test is funded by the cow milk industry.