To Deadlift and Squat or Not?

You hear a little bit of both. One side says that the squat and deadlift are bad for you, and then there’s another that says they are necessary and safe. So, what’s fact and what’s fiction?

It really depends on the situation and that person’s background, as well as what that person is working towards.

The squat and deadlift are safe. That’s a guarantee. It all comes down to doing the exercise properly, which is where things can get iffy. So long as you have someone who can help you to properly execute the movements, then all should be fine!

Both of these movements are very foundational and involve a lot of compound muscle activation, which benefits strength, balance, and coordination. This makes the squat and deadlift really great for those starting off. Setting this foundation will be beneficial as you progress into more specific training.

Yet, it can be difficult to target specific muscles while doing these movements. For example, I tend to use more of my glutes and lower back during back squats. My quads and part of my hamstrings don’t get as much isolation during the movement. Therefore, I tend to switch to movements that target these other areas.

This is possible because there are many different variations to these two exercises. Let’s go into detail of some possible choices.


Squat Variations

Hack Squats

Hack squats are a fantastic option for hitting more of the quads. If your “tear drop” is lacking from your back squats, this will be the perfect alternative. With this movement you are typically going to be using a machine. You want to focus on slowly lowering yourself with this one so that you get the best effect. From here, drive through the floor while keeping your back in contact with the pad of the machine. Really focus on bringing force from the quads.


DB Goblet Squats

These are a great addition that will help to keep the leverage on the quads. The DB will be held in front of the body, right below the chin. Having the weight more in front of the body, allows you to remain more upright. This is helpful for targeting the frontal side of the leg. While maintaining the DB in the right spot, initiate your squat, while remaining upright through the movement. If you find that the back squat is making you very hamstring, glute, and back dominant; then these could be your answer!


Sumo Squats

Sumo squats do a great job of taking pressure off the back. This again will bring focus to staying upright and hitting some quads. In addition, having the legs wide will hit some of the inner muscles of the leg. These are often neglected while performing a normal back squat. Perform this with a dumbbell or kettlebell between your legs. Grab the desired weight. Get your feet outside of shoulder width and sink your hips straight down. Just ensure that your knees are tracking with your toes and are not coming inwards.


Plate Machine Squats

This involves a certain piece of equipment. However, if you are lucky enough to have one at your gym, then you know that it is super helpful. This machine is like a pendulum and loads the body in a way that really targets the quads. It’s initiated just like your normal squat. Having some support on the “path” of your squat will take away from the glutes and back. If you find your quads aren’t getting enough work in the back squat, then I would go for this one for sure.


Deadlift Variations

Rack Pulls

Instead of starting from the floor, these are done in a rack or cage. The barbell is placed on the pins, at about the knees. From here, you are essentially finishing the lockout portion of the deadlift. If you are limited on your deadlift lockout, or this is where you struggle then these are great. You will also really be firing off at the glutes and taking some pressure off the low back. The force needed to finish that lockout all comes from the glutes.


Partial Pulls

This is essentially the opposite of a rack pull. Here you are working the deadlift from the floor, but only working half of the movement. You would typically stop the movement at about the knees or right above it. What’s the point of this? Partial pulls do a really good job of working the lats and the erectors. The lats are being used to keep the bar close to the body, and this is a great way to make them develop. Your erectors are the muscles of the low back and yes you need to work them. The initial pull of a deadlift forces you to stabilize and use the erectors in a way that helps give that “Christmas tree” or “feather” look to the low back. If you are wanting focus on these areas in isolation, this is a great option.


Smith Pulls

This is essentially the same as a deadlift, except you are utilizing the smith machine. The smith machine provides some assistance in the lift so that you can focus on the particular area you want to be using. During a normal deadlift, stabilization takes up a large portion of the movement. With the smith machine, you won’t be needing as much. Thus, the contraction and mind-muscle connection can be greater throughout the movement.


Romanian Deadlift

This one can be done with either a set of DB’s or a barbell. Either way, it’s a great alternative to a regular deadlift if you want to hit more of the hamstrings. The normal deadlift is essentially a full body exercise. Almost every muscle gets used. While using the RDL, you are isolating the hamstrings with a great stretch and contraction. You WILL be sore from these. As you are performing them, keep an emphasis on the weight being close to the body and holding a soft bend in the knees. Only go to the knees or slightly below so that the back doesn’t begin to round.


Any other pulling movement

Anything such as a lat-pulldown, bent over row, or pull up are great ways of building up the back. Deadlifts are great, but for some they aren’t the best option. A wide back, thick with muscle can still be built with any other variety of pulling movements



Many factors should go into exercise selection. Movements don’t have to be done just because they are popular, but rather because they get you closer to your goals. For most, the squat and the deadlift get the most questions.

They are great for beginners due to the amount of functionality they build. However, as you progress, you may not have to be so specific to just those. If isolation of certain muscles is important to you, then there may be some adjustments that you can make. There are multiple forms of squats and deadlifts that can be performed instead. Why do this? Because you can hit muscles that may not be getting enough attention.

Find what fits your situation and utilize that. There isn’t just one way to train, and you have more room for creativity than you realize.

The best answer to this…

It depends!