Deadlift vs squat: Is one better?

Squats and deadlifts are popular lower body exercises and staple movements seen in the gym. They’re popular lifts because they use a lot of large muscle groups and can develop lower body strength and power like few other exercises can.

But which one is better?

woman seeting up deadlift

The squat and hip hinge are two fundamental movement patterns that are important for normal daily function. They also require a large percentage of muscle recruitment making them essential for developing muscle mass.

When it comes to strength training some prefer one lift over the other. Why? It can be because of comfort, body type, skill level or knee problems. 

Deadlift vs squat: What muscles does each work?

While there is certainly some overlap in terms of the muscles involved, they are different compound movements, which means that your muscles are going to be working together in different ways on each exercise.

For example, because your grip is involved in the deadlift, you’re going to be using muscles in your hands, arms and back that aren’t involved in the squat. 

On the other side, because you’re trying to stabilize the bar on your back during the squat, you’re going to be using stabilizer muscles in your core that don’t receive much attention from the deadlift. 

Main muscles used in the squat and deadlift

The Squat





Lower back


The deadlift





Lower back




Deadlift vs squat: Which one is better?

When it comes to determining which one is better depends on your goals and limitations. There are many similarities between the two.

Research indicates both can increase your strength and jump power.

If you’re looking to build size and strength in your legs, the squat may be the better choice. If you looking to build up your lower back, the deadlift may be better suited.  

But if you’re looking to develop size and strength across your body, then incorporating both traditional deadlifts and squats into your regular routine is the best approach.

Deadlift vs squat: How to perform each

The Squat

Let’s start with the more commonly known squat pattern. People perform a bodyweight squat every day in their daily activities without realizing it.

For example, when sitting down to go to the bathroom or getting up out of bed, you are performing a squat. The squat is probably one of the most commonly used movement patterns by the human body. It’s also the most efficient way to get from the sitting position to the standing position.

woman doing squat

To make it simple to identify, the squat involves the following key points:

  • The hip drops downwards and moves in a vertical line.
  • The torso and upper body is parallel with the lower leg and stays mostly vertical.
  • The knees bend as the hip lowers towards the ground. This is a “knee dominant” exercise.
  • Major muscles involved are glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings muscles.

Squat variations

Front squat: The bar sits across your anterior deltoids (the front of your shoulders), as opposed to behind your body in the low bar squat. Your hands do not support the weight of the bar. Similar to a back squat, your hands are simply helping to hold the bar in place. All of the weight of the bar should be supported by the deltoids. 

Split squat: A unilateral leg exercise that is quad-focused. It may look like a lunge because your feet are in a staggered stance but they do not move.

Goblet squat: Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell with both hands in front of your chest. Squat while holding the weight. Your elbows should come between your knees.

woman performing deadlift

The Deadlift

Mastering this movement is a beast on its own and can be quite challenging for individuals who don’t understand the difference between a squat and a deadlift. It is the most efficient way to pick something off the ground.

The conventional deadlift involves the following key points:

  • The hip pulls backwards (hip hinge) and moves mostly in a horizontal line.
  • The torso stays straight and tilts forward towards horizontal.
  • The knees bend slightly as the hip gets pulled backwards. This is a “hip dominant” exercise.
  • Major muscles involved are the hamstrings and glutes.

Deadlift variations

Sumo deadlift: Place your feet at a wide stance that will allow your hands to hang inside your feet and toes turned out slightly. It provides a range of motion that allows you to lift heavier weight.

Romanian deadlift: Your back should remain straight with all bending coming from the torso. Your legs should be stiff throughout the lowering and lifting phases of the movement, which allows you to focus on the hamstrings. It’s also called the straight leg deadlift.

Read about whether the traditional deadlift or the stiff leg deadlift is better for you.

Trap bar deadlift: Start inside the hex weight bar and bend down to grip the handles at either side. Lift the weight straight up to deadlift. Using the trap bar allows for even distribution of weight making it a better option for some who might have lower back issues.

FAQ: Squat vs deadlift

Which is better for lower back pain?

Deadlifts involve your erector spinae and your glutes, the primary muscles involved in stabilizing your spine. Deadlifts are effective exercise for building strength and thickness in your back, which in turn, can help to alleviate chronic back pain

Which is better for knee pain?

Your knees are in a more stable position in the deadlift. It may. not relieve your pain but can be a better option

Which is better for beginners?

Squats are usually easier but novice lifters and can do both. Deadlifts may require additional technique to land the form.

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