Deadlift or Squat – Which Should You Do?

By | April 12, 2016 | Last updated: April 23, 2016

Deadlift or Squat

Both lifts are crazy challenging, but are they worth doing?

Before I go into the meat of the article, I do highly recommend having a pair of weightlifting shoes for these exercises. It is very important to have a stable base if you have a lot of weight on your back, or are trying to pull it off the ground.

Tennis shoes do not cut it when you are doing compound movements.

Into the details

Barbell Squat Muscle Anatomy

Both exercises are “compound movements” meaning they work a group of muscles, opposed to just one. They will increase overall growth extremely by hitting different muscles that you may not already be isolating.

But which exercise will give you the most muscle gains?
Let’s start with analyzing the muscles worked by both exercises, with the squat first.

Now a slight disclaimer: no illustration is perfect, but it serves the purpose of showing you the main muscles being worked. The squat hits a tremendous amount!

Not only will it give you a killer set of legs, but it will help build your core and back as well in the process. The only downside of this diagram is it makes you think that your legs are the only thing being worked here. Even though you may not see muscle growth from it, you need a strong core and back for squats too.

The key point in the squat is to go to parallel or lower as shown in the diagram to fully hit all the muscles. If you are not doing them with proper form you are putting your joints under more stress and getting LESS out of it. Always drive from your heels and be aware of your form.

Here are the muscles used in a deadlift:

Deadlift Muscle Anatomy

The deadlift on the other hand also works a ton of muscles in the back. It’s the key to building a thick, strong back.  The hamstrings are the primary leg muscle used for the deadlift.

So now that we have a basic understanding of the anatomy being used here, which one wins out? You probably guessed it by now…Neither.

The three compound movements should be a core part of any workout plan for anyone serious about building a physique or improving their sports performance.

The squat and deadlift both compliment each other so well, and here’s why:
A better deadlift means a stronger back.

A stronger back for a squat is more weight you can comfortably put on your shoulders and support it.Then you have squats strengthening your legs more so than your back.

So in the beginning “lift off” phase of the deadlift, you have more explosive power getting the weight off of the floor. Only doing one or the other means that you would be significantly neglecting big parts of your body.

Deadlift or Squat?

Franco Columbu deadlifting

One of my favorite deadlift pictures.

So obviously it’s a draw. Both exercises are amazing compound movements that will strengthen you overall more so than any other movements out there.

They really compliment each other with the different emphasis on the muscle groups that they work.

Recently I have been pushing for bench press PRs (personal records), and if my back was not strong enough from those two exercises it would be much harder to progress with the weight as I have. It’s one of those things I never really stopped to think about, and indirectly benefited from.

The great thing about both exercises is that they can be tailored to your goals (as with any movement) but they are compound, so you are training a group of muscles to grow instead of just one.

Training for hypertrophy (muscle growth)? Three sets of eight reps. Training for strength? Five sets of three to five reps. It’s really up to your goals in the gym, personally I alternate between strength days and hypertrophy days to keep things fresh.

So obviously it’s in your best interest to do both of them. A draw was probably a predictable outcome, but how else could this have ended with two of the best movements you could do in the gym? I hope the article has been informative and you go forth to conquer your goals in the gym!