What is the Difference Between a Squat and Deadlift?

Dan Cavallari

The squat and deadlift are similar exercises when examined in the context of weight training, but very different when considering the squat to be a separate exercise outside the realm of weight training. A squat, in other words, can be performed effectively and with good results without the use of weights and a barbell. The squat and deadlift are both commonly performed with weights, however, so the distinction between them is often unclear. In the simplest terms, the squat and deadlift differ only in the motion through which a lifter gets the weights in his or her hands and lifts the weights while raising the body to a standing position.

Most lifters perform squats in several repetitions.
Most lifters perform squats in several repetitions.

Both the squat and deadlift are difficult exercises that should be performed with a spotter nearby, because both exercises require the lifter to get into a position he or she will need strength and agility to get out of. When performing a squat, a lifter will squat down into a near sitting position, grasp the barbell with both hands, and lift into a standing position while holding the barbell. When performing a deadlift, the lifter will bend more at the hips, lean down to pick up the weight, and lift it into a standing position.

Performing squats can help strengthen the thighs and other muscles of the legs and lower back.
Performing squats can help strengthen the thighs and other muscles of the legs and lower back.

The squat and deadlift also differ in the variations of the exercise. A squat can be performed with the help of a special weight rack that allows the lifter to put the weights on the shoulders. Once the weight is in position, the lifter, grasping the barbell with his or her hands, can lower him or herself into the squatting position, then rise back up to standing. After several repetitions, the lifter can then place the weights on the rack and step away from the apparatus without having to get the weights back to the ground.

The deadlift is only performed with the weight on the ground in front of the lifter. While the motion is quite similar to a squat — the lifter bends at both the knees and the hips — the lifter does not squat as far down. The goal instead is to lift a larger amount of weight into a standing position, but the weight is never lifted with the arms above the thighs. The arms hang "dead," never reaching upward with the weights. When performing squats, a lifter often lifts the barbell above the thighs to a higher position near the clavicles.

The Olympic-style barbell is commonly used when performing squats and deadlifts.
The Olympic-style barbell is commonly used when performing squats and deadlifts.

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Discussion Comments


@sunshined - I like to include leg muscle exercises in my every day activities. If I have the option to take the elevator or use the stairs, I will opt for the stairs.

Another thing I do is not look for the closest parking spot. I figure the extra steps will be good for me. Having a dog also helps because I must go outside and walk her no matter what the weather is.

When I am specifically concentrating on my legs, I will do lunges and heel raises. Both of these exercises are helpful at building muscle. I have found that the simple exercises are often the most effective.


I have just started using weights in my work out. In the past, most of my exercise routine has been going on a walk or some form of aerobic activity.

I have found the leg workout exercises to be the most challenging. Maybe it's because I haven't built up the muscles in my legs yet. I know you need to start out slowly and work your way up, but it seems like a slow process.

My legs and muscles are sore, so I think whatever I am doing is working. What are the best leg exercises to build muscle and get toned?


I work out at home with a DVD program on a regular basis. I also have a few pieces of exercise equipment in my work out room, but prefer to follow a video.

I never look forward to the leg squat exercises, but do like the results from doing them on a regular basis.

My legs and entire lower body stay toned and fit when I do squats. To get the most effective results, I use a weighted bar across my shoulders as I lower my body up and down.


Somehow, I never thought of squats as a weight training exercise! I've always done aerobic classes that do squats without weights as a great leg exercise. I've heard that squats are also excellent for the pelvic floor (especially for women, of course).

The deadlift sounds like it would be good for working the core, especially the low back. My gym has a weight lifting class - Body Pump - I'll have to give it a try for variety!


Why not combine the two lifts into one of the best total body lifts there is, the clean and press.

To perform this lift you begin as you would in a deadlift. You lift the bar in front of you but then lift it above your waist to chest level. You get below the weight by going into a squatting position and pressing up as you roll you hands below the weight. You finish by lifting the bar above your head. Anyone who has seen Olympic weightlifting will be familiar with this lift, it's the one they all do.

This is a great lift for working the legs, core, chest, arms and back. Its really the total package. It can take a while to master the form but you can get great results from working this lift into your regular routine.


These are two similar but crucially different exercises. But they are also both worth doing and should be a feature of any workout routine.

What is great about both of these lifts is that they engage large practical muscle groups. Being able to use your legs and back to pick things up is crucial to having a health body. There are few exercises as solid as the squat and deadlift at developing this kind of practical strength.

But there is also some risk involved with these lifts. I have seen a lot of people injure themselves by using too much weight or doing the lift improperly. Be sure to know your limits and be very conscious of your form when you are lifting. This is the only way to get steady, healthy gains.

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