Two of the most widely performed exercises are squats and deadlifts, or to be more specific barbell back squats and barbell conventional deadlifts. Both are compound lifts that work the entire body during movement. But is one more beneficial than the other? People have been debating on this topic for decades since both are fundamentally similar in numerous ways. Let’s take a look at these exercises and find a way to settle this question.
Compound lifts are also referred to as being “big lifts” and/or “core lifts”. The reason being because they are often the first exercise performed to use most of your body’s energy on. All other exercises support the first compound lift if they are isolation based. A compound lift uses multiple joints and muscles to stabilize your body and encourage contraction during the concentric and eccentric phases of the repetition.
Aside from targeting multiple areas on your body, you also benefit from compound lifts such as squats and deadlifts because they:
The primary muscle being targeted during squats is the quadriceps muscle, or quads for short. This muscle lies on the front side of your upper legs. Glutes are not the primary muscle group despite popular belief, but they do get contracted along with your hamstrings, spinal erectors, and abdominal muscles. All other muscles around your core and lower body receive contraction, but just not as much.
Even your upper body gets a little workout because it has to hold the bar in place across your shoulders/traps, and then your arms must contract to grip the bar. You can see that your entire body is working together to create the squat.
Conventional deadlifts are when you pull the weight directly from the ground each repetition. When you don’t touch the ground it is called a Romanian squat, which is a different movement that focuses on specific areas. The primary muscle groups for deadlifts are your spinal erectors, but closely following this are your quads, hamstrings, glutes, traps, forearms, and shoulders. All of these muscles get a great contraction going for them.
The deadlift works in two different phases. Phase one is the use of your legs, glutes, and hips to drive down and pull the weight upwards. The second phase is when the bar passes your knees and your spinal erectors and other upper body muscles assist your lower body to complete the full body lockout.
Considering all the muscles being used for movement; the deadlift slightly has the upper hand. All the same leg muscles are used to move the weight just like a squat, but more upper body contractions are taking place to perform the exercise. However, both are great for your training program and can be implemented as the “big lift” for separate training days.
Both deadlifts and squats increase the release of free testosterone and are functionally capable of increasing strength in areas that are used daily. Make good use of these exercises and ensure that you perform them properly to prevent injury and get the most out of your workout.