For decades we’ve pondered over some of life’s biggest hypothetical questions.
Many a heated debate has been triggered after somebody innocently wondered out loud ‘who would win in a fight out of Superman vs Batman’ or ‘who is the best soccer player – Messi or Ronaldo’?
For gymgoers, however, many of the big questions involve lifting, which is why we’re looking at squats vs deadlifts in today’s article (you can do both using a trap bar to put less load on your lower back).
In the world of lifting, there are three lifts, often known as the ‘big three’ which powerlifters and bodybuilders alike, will often focus on.
These are the bench press, deadlifts, and squats.
Today, those that favor the bench press will be left in the cold because we’re benching the bench press (see what we did there) as we’re instead looking at the differences.
Some people believe the deadlift to be the ultimate test of strength, whereas others consider squats to be the most functional way of building power.
Here’s a look at the pros and cons associated with each exercise.
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When talking about who's better, it’s important to clear up the fact that there are many different variations of the squat.
You have standard bodyweight squats, sumo squats, Hindu squats, box squats, front squats, and barbell back squats.
For the purpose of today’s article, we’re going to focus on barbell back squats as they are arguably the most popular variant of the squat performed in the gym.
So, from here on out, whenever we mention squats, we’re talking about barbell back squats until we look at some of the different variations of this exercise.
So, what the heck are they?
Well, squats are an exercise that is designed to be multi-functional.
Squats are a compound exercise designed primarily to target muscles in your lower body.
Many people consider squats to be the ultimate compound lift as they involve working on your speed, flexibility, mobility, core strength, and explosive power.
The basic premise is that you squat down with a barbell across your back, and then stand back up again and repeat for as many reps as needed.
The truth of the matter, however, is that squats are a great deal more complex than that, which is why we’re going to tell you how to perform barbell back squats in the next section of this useful guide.
As promised, before we look at squats vs deadlifts and compare both exercises, we’re going to first talk to you about how to perform barbell back squats correctly and safely.
To perform squats you will need to:
Squats are easy to master, but it’s important to never use heavier weights than you know you can handle.
You should also always squat with a squat rack or power rack for safety reasons.
That way, if the weight is too heavy and you can’t stand up, you simply roll it off your shoulders and the safety bars catch it.
Now that we’ve looked at how to perform a typical barbell back squat we’ll now take a look at several variations of squats that you can perform when you feel like mixing things up.
One of the greatest things about squats is the fact that there are so many different variations for you to choose from, so you can always keep things fresh and exciting.
Here’s a look at a few common squat variations for you to try.
Up first we have front squats.
When most lifters feel like a change of pace from barbell back squats, they’ll often find themselves performing front squats instead.
Front squats are ideal for working on your posture as they require complete bracing of the core and work on Thoracic extension.
What’s more, for people that suffer from joint issues, front squats are ideal because they place less stress on the joints.
So, if you suffer from knee or ankle issues, front squats would be ideal.
Front squats are performed with a barbell placed firmly across your front deltoids, with your arms crossed over one another to hold the bar firmly in place.
Next, you’ll puff out your chest and squat down like you would with a back squat.
Goblet squats are very similar to barbell front squats, except for the fact that, rather than using a barbell, you instead perform the exercise with a dumbbell.
It’s a great exercise in that it works all of the major muscle groups you’d expect with a squat, along with forcing plenty of Thoracic extensions.
Goblet squats are very useful in that you can do them anywhere, providing you have a dumbbell in hand.
Pistol squats are more advanced than the other squat variations we’ve looked at so far.
Sometimes known as a one-legged squat, the pistol squat is performed on one leg.
Now, don’t worry, you don’t use dumbbells or barbells here, as that would be far too dangerous.
All you use for resistance is your own body weight.
This squat variation is wonderful as it works on your core, your balance, your flexibility, and your lower body muscles.
Basically, you should perform this exercise balancing on one leg, so that your other leg resembles a pistol shape.
If you struggle to get your balance, you can steady yourself on something until you’ve mastered it.
As we’re looking at who's the best exercise, many Deadlifters will use this squat exercise as an accessory exercise for deadlifts.
The Bulgarian split squat is one of the best, yet most underrated lower body exercises currently in existence.
The exercise works on your balance, your mobility, your flexibility, your glutes, your quads, your hamstrings, calves, and much more.
The exercise is also great for your spine as it promotes optimal spinal alignment.
Now that we’ve covered squats, it wouldn’t be fair to write an article looking at what are deadlifts.
According to many people, in terms of pure brute strength, the deadlift is arguably the greatest test of strength in the entire world.
The current world record holder for the deadlift is former World’s Strongest Man Eddie Hall, who was the first, and currently the only, man in history to deadlift 500kg, or 1102.31 pounds.
That’s almost half an imperial ton!
The basic description of a deadlift is that you simply have to lift a barbell off of the ground and stand up with it, bringing it up past your knees and locking out your back.
We’ll describe how to perform the perfect deadlift a little later on.
Deadlifts are great because they provide you with so many benefits.
Deadlifts work your lower back, they work your legs, they improve grip strength, they work your core, they build upper and lower body strength and promote muscle hypertrophy, they burn calories, and they’re a great compound exercise that also compliments other lifts and movements.
When you deadlift, it is absolutely essential that you learn how to deadlift correctly.
Because of the nature of the exercise and the position your back is placed in, the poor form could result in severe injury.
Not only that but if your form isn’t correct you won’t get anything from the exercise anyways.
Here we’ll be providing you with step by step instructions on how to deadlift safely and correctly:
Before we can give our verdict on the squat vs deadlift, we’ll now look at a few variations of the deadlift that you can perform.
Like the barbell back squat, there are different versions of the exercise for you to try.
Each version works slightly different parts of your anatomy and will benefit you in a slightly different way to the last.
Here are some other deadlift variants for you to try:
The sumo deadlift is fantastic for anybody looking to improve their grip strength and also work on their legs. In particular, it targets the hamstrings.
Sumo deadlifts differ to regular deadlifts in that you take a much wider stance with your feet and a much narrower grip with your hands.
Your legs should be around 8 inches wider than shoulder-width, and your hands should be a good couple of inches narrower than shoulder width.
The Romanian deadlift, or RDL, is very similar to a regular deadlift, except for the fact that you do not bend your knees during the exercise.
This places much more emphasis on your glutes and onto your hamstrings.
It is almost identical to a stiff-legged deadlift, except for the fact that the knees are bent slightly with this exercise.
If you’re not ready to use a barbell, or if you just want a change, dumbbell deadlifts are great.
They are functional in that they allow a greater and more natural range of motion, and recruit more core stabilizer muscles as you perform the exercise.
Basically, with dumbbell deadlifts, you will typically perform the exercise with a dumbbell in each hand, with a virtually identical form to what you’d expect with a barbell.
So, the time has come to decide which is the best exercise out of the squat or deadlift.
Both of the exercises are included in the top knowen workouts programs, PHAT workout, and PHUL workout.
Well, to be honest, there is no clear winner here because they both provide their benefits and it depends on what you want from your training.
If you’re looking for all-around leg development, then, of course, the squat is better.
If you want to improve your grip strength and strengthen your lower back, the deadlift will probably suit you better.
To get the most out of your training however, we recommend that you perform them both!
Reda is an ACE Certified Nutritionist, Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt and bodybuilder with 11 years of experience. He's been published on many influential websites such as lifehack.org, Wealthy Gorilla, Good Men Project and more.