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Squats vs Deadlifts: Differences in Technique

Why we need to know the differences of squats vs deadlifts.

In the world of strength training, two movements are talked about more than all the others: squats and deadlifts. As a Doctor of Physical Therapy that specializes in working with weightlifters and CrossFit athletes, I am here to guide you through the differences of these exercises to help you optimize your technique and what you get out of them.


It is important to understand the components of squats vs deadlifts so that you have the ability to use either strategy to complete the task you are doing. In my job as a physiotherapist, I see many people that are only able to perform one of the movements due to skill or mobility limitations, leading to overuse injuries because they are unable to access the opposite positions.


Squats and deadlifts live on opposite ends of a gradient of lower body movement, and being able to perform movement on both ends of the spectrum will make sure that are capable of accessing all positions, movements, and muscles of your lower body.


Squat Technique

1.1 Weight Shifting and Center of Gravity

When executing a squat, you should emphasize a weight bias towards your heels while still maintaining contact with all 3 points of your foot tripod. This helps maintain a slightly backward shift of your center of gravity, allowing you to stay balanced as you move up and down.


If you want to learn more about the Foot Tripod concept, check out the YouTube video below:




1.2 Vertical Pelvic Movement

Visualize your pelvis moving vertically, akin to an elevator, as you perform the squat. This vertical movement ensures proper engagement of the targeted muscles and optimizes force production.


1.3 Torso Angle Stability

Throughout the squat, your torso angle should remain relatively consistent, mirroring your initial position. This stability allows for optimal muscle recruitment and minimizes excessive stress in any one area.


Note that I did not say to maintain an upright toros or upright chest. Trying too hard to keep your chest up will throw off all of the other points of the squat and generally limit range of motion. The torso angle that you have throughout the squat will be determined by your leg lengths, mobility, general set-up, and what equipment you are using (the type of squat you are doing).


1.4 Tibial Translation

During the descent of a squat, the tibia (your shin bone) moves forward over the top of your toes. This controlled movement pattern places emphasis on the quadriceps (front of your thigh) and adductor (groin) muscles, driving strength and muscular development in these areas.


If you are interested in a more in-depth look at squatting technique, you can look at our Squat Technique Breakdown Video on YouTube.


The Hinge

2.1 Weight Bias and Foot Placement

Contrary to squats, hinges require a weight bias towards the ball of the big toe and the little toe. This distribution of weight optimizes the movement of the pelvis and ensures that we load the muscles we are going for.


2.2 Horizontal Pelvic Movement

When performing a hinge, focus on a horizontal movement of the pelvis, shifting it backward and forward over anything else. This “hip hinge” pattern ensures proper engagement of the glutes and hamstrings while maintaining stability.


The type of deadlift variation you are doing will determine how far back you are pushing back your pelvis/hips as you perform the exercise. For example, a Romanian Deadlift will look slightly different than a Sumo Deadlift.


2.3 Torso Angle Variation

Unlike squats, hinges involve a change in torso angle. As you descend into a hinge, the torso moves towards parallel with the floor. This alignment maximizes the activation of the posterior chain (back side of your body) and promotes balance by keeping your center of mass over the middle of your foot.


2.4 Tibial Alignment

To execute a hinge effectively, maintain a position of the shin that is perpendicular to the floor. This position optimizes muscle activation in the glutes and hamstrings, which are the primary movers in this exercise.


Here is a great video from our friends at Next Level Physical Therapy that goes over what a true "hip hinge" looks and feels like, using all the above points.




Conclusion

While we have reviewed the big differences between squats and deadlifts, it is important it understand that these exercises lay on the opposite ends of a gradient. There will be times when you are performing a variation of squat that involves some components of a deadlift, such as keeping a vertical shin.


Being able to perform the extremes of each movement will make sure that you are able to access the positions needed for different variations of each exercise, as well as limit the chance of overuse injury due to using the same movement strategy for everything (squatting all your lower body exercises and never using a hinge and vice versa).


If you are looking to improve your lifting technique, are interested in lifting weights but have no experience, or are just dealing with pain after working out, contact us now to see if we can help you get out of pain and back to performing.




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