No matter what your level of experience is when it comes to lifting weights, chances are you’ve come across the deadlift and the squat before.  

But while you may be aware of the basics, many people ultimately still have questions about what it is exactly that sets the deadlift and the squat apart.

That’s why in this article, we’re going over everything you need to know about the deadlift vs the squat.  We’ll be addressing common questions like “Which one is better for building size and strength?”, as well as, “Which one is better for fixing lower back pain?”.  

But before we get into any of that, let’s first talk about how each movement differs in terms of the muscles that they work.  

Deadlift vs Squat: What Muscles Do They Work?

While most people are probably aware that both the deadlift and the squat are predominantly lower-body exericises, what’s less well-known, is what muscles each movement actually works.   

While there is certainly some overlap in terms of the muscles involved, they’re drastically different movements, which ultimately means that your muscles are going to be working together in different ways on each exercise.  On top of that, both exercises also involves some muscles that the other does not.     

For example, because your grip is involved in the deadlift, you’re going to be using muscles in your hands, arms, and back that simply aren’t involved in the squat.  On the flip 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 on The Squat & Deadlift

The SquatThe Deadlift
QuadsHamstrings
GlutesGlutes
CoreHips
CalvesCalves
Lower BackCore
HipsLower back
Traps
Rhomboid
Fingers and Forearms

Deadlift vs Squat: Which One is Better?

When it comes to determining which one is the better movement, it all depends on what kind of goals and limitations you’re working with. The deadlift may align more closely with certain goals and limitations and the squat with others.  

However, in many cases, it may be most beneficial to include both exercises in your regular exercise routine.  

Which is Better for Lower Back Pain?

While lower back pain can ultimately occur for a number of different reasons, one of the most common causes is due to weak or underdeveloped muscles in the lower back.  When it comes to building up these muscles, no exercise is more effective than the deadlift.  

Because deadlifts heavily involve your erector spinae and your glutes — the primary muscles involved in stabilizing your spine — they’re an incredibly effective exercise for building strength and thickness in your back, which in turn, can help to alleviate chronic back pain. 

Squats can also potentially help to increase the strength and thickness of your lower back, however, if you had to choose only one, it’d have to be the deadlift, as there’s more involvement of the erector spinae.

Which is Better For Knee Pain?

If you’re someone that deals with regular knee pain, the squat may be an exercise you want to avoid — it can be quite taxing on your knees, which can ultimately exacerbate your pain.  

Because your knees are in a much more stable position on the deadlift, it’s the better choice for anyone who deals with chronic knee pain.  While it’s not necessarily going to remedy your pain, it should be a safer option for most people with knee soreness on a regular basis.  

With that being said, if it’s just the squat exercise itself that’s causing your knee pain, working on your form may help to alleviate the issue.  Focus on keeping your knees aligned with your toes during the movement and try turning your toes slightly outwards to take more of the load off of your knees.  

However, if you find that your form is completely dialed in but you’re still having issues with knee pain, you may want to go ahead and avoid squats in your regular workout routine.    

Which is Better for Building Size and Strength?

When it comes to building size and strength, both the deadlift and the squat can be incredibly useful tools to have in your toolbox, but ultimately, which one is the better choice depends on your goals. 

 If you’re looking to build size and strength in your legs specifically, 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 like most people, who are looking to develop size and strength across their entire body, then regularly incorporating both the deadlift and squat into your regular routine is the best approach.  

Cumulatively, both exercises help to engage all of the different muscle groups in your lower body.  What muscles you don’t hit with the squat, you take care of with the deadlift, and even when both exercises target the same muscle — such as with the glutes — they attack them from different angles, which also helps to improve your muscle-building potential. 

How to Perform the Squat

The squat is typically performed with a barbell, weight plates and a squat rack.  With the bar secured in the rack, add the weight plates to the barbell to achieve the desired resistance. 

To start out, lift the bar up and away from the rack with it balanced firmly and securely across your shoulders.  

Before you begin the movement, make sure that you’re in good position and well supported with your toes turned slightly outward and you’re feet set out slightly wider than your hips. 

As you begin squatting, keep your chest up, core engaged, and transfer your weight back onto your heels as you hinge your hips backward.  

Continue lowering your body into the squat position until your hamstrings are just about parallel with the ground.  From, you’re going to stand back up into the starting position keeping your knees squarely over your feet, your chest up and your core engaged.  

How to Perform the Deadlift

To Perform the deadlift, all you need is a barbell and weight plates, though many people also like to perform the lift ontop of a deadlift platform. 

Once you have the barbell adjusted to your desired weight,  get your self lined up behind the barbell with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your shins within a few inches of the bar.  

Keep your back firm and straight — don’t let it arch — and move some of your weight back into your hips.  From there you’re going to bend down and firmly place your hands around the nurling on each side the barbell.  

Once you’re in the proper position and have a solid grip on the bar, push your hips down and away keeping your back nice and flattened out. 

Concentrate on pushing the bar up off the floor with your legs rather than pulling it up with your arms, and focus on raising your chest and pushing your hips back as you stand up. 

The top of the movement finishes with your knees locked out, your shoulders back, and your glutes fully engaged. 

Wrap Up

Although the deadlight and squat are both lower body exercises, they’re completely different movements that work different muscles.

While each exercise may be better or worse suited for certain goals, both the deadlift and squat are incredibly effective movements when it comes to building size and strength.

At the end of the day, a workout routine that features both the squat and deadlift may be the most beneficial, no matter what your goals are, however, if you are dealing with certain limitations, deciding which exercise is right for you will ultimately depend on what movement you’re able to perform safely and comfortably.