Squats and Deadlifts are two of the most common exercises you will see in the gym and prescribed by your exercise focused professionals. If you took a generalised opinion across random people in the gym and asked them what is a squat and what is a deadlift, you will get vastly different definitions from each person. As a physiotherapist, I know for sure that I wasn’t educated about these movement patterns through my university degree, a lot of it was learnt through self exploration and then furthering my understanding of them through different informative sources. If I had to give those 2 movements a generalised description, I would explain it as deadlift being a hip dominant movement whilst squat is a knee dominant movement. But did you know within the spectrum of what falls into deadlift and squats, you can vary their hip dominance and knee dominance? Let’s explore into that.
In the chart above, you can see with the different variation of deadlift and squat, they all create slightly different angle changes to your hip angle (trunk and thigh); knee angle (thigh and shin). You can use the above chart as a general rule of thumb to help you make your exercise selection depending on what you are trying to achieve out of your session. If you wanted to work your knees more you may want to choose an exercise that is more knee dominant as they will work your hamstrings and quadriceps more. If you wanted to work your hips more you would choose a more hip dominant movement that will help you to work your gluteals, upper portion of your hamstrings and lower back muscles more.
Now that we have better understanding of what constitutes a deadlift and what constitutes a squat. Did you know your limb proportion will also influence what type of deadlift and squats would suit you? Typically when a person is quite long legged, their femur (thigh bone) is typically longer. When you are trying to lift weight, you are trying to lift directly straight up over your middle of your foot. Any deviation from the direct straight line means you are wasting energy as you are taking the long way up. So to effectively lift the weight straight up, you have to mould your body around it to best lift it. For longer legged person, when pulling a weight off the floor like deadlifts, because your thigh bones are longer, it pushes your hip further away from your middle of your feet so to get your hands on the bar, you would have to bend your trunk more forward to reach the bar. See the example of the traditional deadlift where the long legged person’s back is nearly parallel to the ground compared to the short legged person above who has a more upright back angle relative to the ground. This will have an impact on which lift you choose to use and how much you can lift with those lift. For example, for the long legged person who chose to do the traditional deadlift, her back may limit how much she can lift with that type of lift as her back is essentially running parallel to the floor which makes it mechanically disadvantaged. So it may not be a wise decision for her to use the same weight she would normally use for the trapbar deadlift as mechanically speaking, she is more advantaged in the trapbar deadlift position than in the traditional deadlift position.
Bottomline is squats and deadlift are a generalised term and there’s no right or wrong with which type you choose to do in the gym, it is more about the intention for those lifts that you are choosing to do. It is good to expose your body to a variety of lifting styles but just be mindful that there may be some lifts that you do better with due to the way your body is structured. Hope this helps and you can use these information to make better choices when in the gym.
This blog was written by on of our Physiotec Sports Physiotherapists, Eric Huang