Chances are you’ve heard you need to include the Squat or the Deadlift, or maybe even both, in your workout routine if you want to develop strong legs and glutes.
And both are truly great compound moves that not only strengthen your legs and glutes but also your entire core.
But what is the difference between the Squat and the Deadlift?
Should you use one over the other or can both be included in your workout routine? And if you include both when do you use them?
Squats Vs. Deadlift – What’s the Difference and Which is Better?
Let’s first review Basic Squat and Basic Deadlift form. Looking at basic form will start to highlight the differences between the two moves.
Basic Squat Form:
The most basic form of the Squat is the Bodyweight Squat. This move can be regressed by sitting down to a bench or progressed by adding weight.
To do the Bodyweight Squat, stand nice and tall with your feet about hip-width to shoulder-width apart. Your feet should be parallel and pointing straight ahead. You can place your hands across your chest on your shoulders or reach your hands out in front of you.
Then sit your butt back and down, bending at your knees as you keep your chest up. Keep your heels down as you drop your butt as close to the ground as you can.
Do not let your back round or chest fall forward as you squat. Also, make sure to keep your heels down. Only squat as low as your mobility allows.
Then drive through your heels and come back up to standing. Do not come forward onto your toes or lean forward as you stand back up. Squeeze your glutes at the top.
If your back rounds or if you shift your weight to one side or the other as you squat, do not squat as low and work on your mobility before increasing weight.
Also beware of your knees caving in or bowing out. Your hips, knees and ankles should all be in line as you squat.
If you find your squat depth is limited or your form has flaws, you will want to strengthen your glutes and improve your ankle, hip and even thoracic mobility.
Beginners may need to regress the Basic Squat further by starting with a Squat to Bench.
Advanced exercisers may load down the Basic Squat to make it harder.
Basic Deadlift Form:
You can also do a Bodyweight Variation of the Deadlift. While there are a number of Deadlift Variations (check out Deadlift Variations here), for the Basic Deadlift we will review a Basic Bodyweight Hip Hinge.
To do the Bodyweight Hip Hinge, stand tall with your feet between hip-width and shoulder-width apart. Cross your arms over your chest and place your hands on your shoulders.
Then begin to hinge over at your hips, pushing your butt back toward the wall behind you as you lean forward. Keep your back flat as you hinge over and make sure to sit your butt back as you hinge.
Keep your heels down on the ground as you hinge.
Then drive up and squeeze your glutes at the top before hinging back over.
Do not let your back round. Make sure to sit your butt back as you hinge over and not simply lean forward. Also, do not be afraid to bend your knees as you hinge over. Your legs do not need to stay straight with the Deadlift or Hip Hinge.
As you hinge over, do not shift your weight to one side or the other. Sit straight back.
Advanced exercisers can add weight to make the move harder.
The Difference Between The Squat And The Deadlift
Just to be clear, they may both work your legs but they are NOT the same movement. They activate and develop the muscles of our legs, back and core differently.
However, if we are going for the simplest answer about the difference between the two moves it would be – The Squat is a Squat movement and the Deadlift is a Hip Hinge movement.
The Squat focuses on knee bend and dropping your butt toward the ground to work your legs while the Deadilft focuses more on hinging at the hips to load the glutes.
The Deadlift is generally considered to be a more posterior chain focused movement (aka it is focused on working your backside), and, while the Squat will still work your backside, the move generally involves more quad.
More forward lean is also acceptable during the Deadlift as you are hinging at the hips while with the Squat you are trying to sit down while keeping your chest more upright.
There are, however, exceptions to these basic distinctions and even variations of both movements that really combine both and could almost even be labeled either way.
How you load down each of these moves is also generally different.
Generally with a Deadlift you hold a barbell, kettlebell, sandbag or dumbbells in your hands extended down by your sides or in front of your legs. You can even unilaterally load the move by holding a weight on one side.
Usually with a Squat the weight is placed up near your shoulders. You can load the Squat by placing a barbell on your back behind your shoulders or you can front-load the move with the barbell in your hands at about your collarbone. You can also front-load the squat by Racking kettlebells on your arms or by holding a kettlebell in the Goblet position. Dumbbells or sandbags can also be used to load your Squat by holding them up at your chest in your arms or over your shoulders.
So simply put – the Squat is generally loaded up around your shoulders while the weight for the deadlift is generally picked up off the ground and held down by your sides or down in front.
However, like with everything in health and fitness, nothing is black and white.
There can still be overlap between the two moves. You can hold a kettlebell down in front and Squat. You can also front-load a weight and Deadlift like the Good Morning below.
Here the thing that distinguishes the Good Morning as a Deadlift is the fact that you are hinging at the hips and not squatting down.
A move that blurs the line between the Squat and the Deadlift is the Sumo Squat/Deadlift.
The “Sumo” Stance Leg Exercise blurs the line between the Squat and the Deadlift and, depending on who you talk to, can be called either the Sumo Squat or the Sumo Deadlift.
But it is because the Sumo Stance can be used as either.
With this move you can load the weight easily as a Squat or as a Deadlift. You also can have some lean forward if you hold the weight down or you can stay up nice and tall by loading the weight up at your chest.
There can also be lots of knee bend to squat down while you are also hinging at the hips.
Therefore, the Sumo stance can easily be classified under either move depending on the nuances of how it is performed.
- The Squat and the Deadlift are different moves. One is a Squat movement where you bend the knees to sink the butt as close to the ground as your mobility allows while the other is a Hip Hinge movement not as focused on knee bend but on hinging at the hips.
- Also, generally, the two moves are loaded different.
- However, there can be some overlap.
So Which Is Better – The Squat Or The Deadlift?
Which move is better, the Squat or the Deadlift, depends on your goals. But honestly BOTH should be included in your workout routine if you want a strong core, glutes and legs.
It isn’t bad to even have one Squat workout and one Deadlift workout each week.
Some people even put the Deadlift on their Back Workout day because some variations of the Deadlift can really help strengthen your mid and upper back as well as your legs.
You can even choose different variations of each move to target different areas.
Want to work your core even more while still working your legs? Try a Front Squat or a Goblet Squat.
Want to work on your balance while really targeting your glutes, hamstrings, core and back? Try a variation of the Single Leg Deadlift.
But what about working your glutes? Which is better?
While often the Squat is touted as the best glute move and you see photos of women with great butts all squatting, the Squat is NOT superior to the Deadlift for glute development.
Because the Deadlift is a hip hinge movement, it is better for glute development. (If you want the BEST move though to develop your butt, you need to try the Hip Thruster.)
However, if you want to grow and tone your entire leg, you may want to do the Squat instead of the Deadlift. The Squat will hit the glutes, hamstrings AND quads, especially the quads. While the Deadlift may hit the glute and hamstrings more, it doesn’t work the quads.
You may also determine which move is better based on injuries or even your mobility.
If you have knee pain, a Deadlift Variation, especially a Straight Leg Deadlift, may be better because it will not only build your glutes to help prevent knee pain in the future, but also requires you to bend your knees very little, putting less strain on them.
The point is, there is no simple answer to which move is better. It all depends on your goals.
That may even mean you need to include variations of both the Squat and the Deadlift into your workout routine.
Do you prefer the Squat or Deadlift? Do you include one or both in your routines?