The squat and deadlift are staples within almost every strength training program. Powerlifters live and die by these lifts on the competitive stage. Typically, they are categorized as lower body exercises, so how are they different, and what muscles do they work?
The squat primarily targets the quads and glutes with the barbell loaded on the back or shoulders. In contrast, the deadlift primarily targets the hamstrings, glutes, and back with the bar held in the hands.
While these are the main differences between the squat and deadlift, how do you know which one to use?
Deadlifts vs. Squats Muscles Worked
The deadlift and squat are both considered lower body exercises. They work the same muscle groups but through different muscle actions and ranges of motion. Meaning they emphasize specific muscles over others.
Deadlifts primarily target the hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, and upper back. In contrast, the squat primarily targets the quadriceps, glutes, and spinal erectors .
Deadlifts vs. Squats: Which Is Better For Strength?
The squat and deadlift are epic strength builders hence why they are staples within strength training programs. But strength is task-dependent. What are we getting stronger for? For daily life, there is no reason you cannot do both the deadlift and squat.
This way, you can emphasize posterior development with the deadlift and quadriceps development with the squat. But what if you can only choose one for strength? Then I would recommend choosing the one you enjoy most.
Perhaps you have an injury that prevents you from squatting or deadlifting. In that case, you can choose the one you can do and use a variation of the other that doesn’t cause you pain.
Deadlifts vs. Squats: Which Is Better For Mass?
When it comes to building muscle mass, it’s a different story. The squat, in my experience, is far superior for building mass compared to the deadlift. Why?
- The squat puts the quadriceps and glutes through a larger range of motion.
- There is no eccentric phase in the deadlift, which is vital for maximizing muscle growth.
These are vital as the quadriceps and glutes are trained at long muscle lengths, enhancing the growth response. Here is how I would program the squat and deadlift to build muscle. Use the squat as your main lower body movement. Following that, use a deadlift variation that places greater emphasis on the hamstrings and glutes.
This would be the Romanian deadlift or stiff leg deadlift. These exercises are less taxing as the absolute loads you’re lifting are less than a deadlift. They put the hamstrings through an extensive stretch, perfect for hypertrophy.
It also places far less stress on the quads than the conventional deadlift, which will be trashed from squatting.
Deadlifts vs. Squats For Cycling
This is an easy one. If you are strength training for cycling, you should be squatting. Each push of the pedal is like performing a single-leg squat repeatedly. The more force you can generate, the faster you can cycle. Or the longer you can cycle at sub-maximal intensities since each push of the pedal is at a lower percentage of your maximum force capabilities.
Further, you train the muscles in a similar range of motion and muscular action when squatting. Deadlifts don’t target the quads the same way as squats and are focused on the hips instead of the knees.
Deadlift vs. Squat Ratio
Typically, you will be able to deadlift more than you squat. Sometimes, this is flipped on its head within elite Powerlifting, where some lifters are crazy strong squatters and not-so-great deadlifters. But as a fitness enthusiast or athlete, your deadlift will always be stronger than your squat.
How much stronger?
Typically, you’ll be up to 15% stronger in the deadlift than the squat on average. This depends on many factors such as limb length, body proportions, type of barbell, and which deadlift variation is being performed.
It is common to have your deadlift stronger than your squat as a fitness enthusiast. As mentioned earlier, some competitive Powerlifters may have a larger squat than deadlift because of body proportions and other factors.
Is It Better To Squat Or Deadlift?
The squat and deadlift are not better than one another. It comes down to your training goals, injury history, and what you enjoy. There is no reason you cannot perform both exercises as a fitness enthusiast. You can even squat and deadlift on the same day if you please.
If your goals stretch to sporting aspirations, then it might be worth identifying which exercise will have the greatest transfer to your sport.
1. Yavuz, H. U., Erdağ, D., Amca, A. M., & Aritan, S. (2015). Kinematic and EMG activities during front and back squat variations in maximum loads. Journal of sports sciences, 33(10), 1058-1066.