You can't be surprised by the title.
If you've spent at least 8 minutes with me, you know I'm a deadlift guy. But my love for deadlifts transcends the unmatched, primal feeling of picking something heavy off the floor. It's rooted in science. And as I mentioned to someone earlier this week, deadlifting serves a greater purpose.
Squatting is a different beast. I've mentioned before that any type of squat is my own dose of humble pie. One time I even said that my legs and torso were so long that I "wasn't built to squat." As a strength coach, I'm ashamed I let those words come out of my mouth. :)
But a few years ago I realized I wasn't alone. Most people struggle to squat correctly - for years - but can usually conquer deadlifts after a few weeks. I had to find out why and only recently found the answer.
To sum up hundreds of hours and umpteen cups of coffee, my preference for deadlifting over squatting is rooted in advanced biomechanics. And since 98% of you care about biomechanics as much as I care about the last episode of "Project Runway" - which to be clear, is absolutely zero - here's the Cliffs Notes version:
(**For full disclosure, I started writing this post a month ago. It's taken me that long to turn down my "nerd speak" and put things in plain terms. Better late than never!)
In ~50% of my initial assessments with clients, some form of squatting hurts their lower back. Sometimes it's caused by not knowing how to squat, but often a squat can look pretty decent and still cause back pain. So what gives?
Most squatting is painful because of extension - or as I like to say "if you got it, flaunt it" syndrome. When we have a large curve in our lower back - which we probably have even if our spine looks flat - the joints in our back are going to be at their end range of motion. I equate it to straightening and extending our fingers as much as we can. If we don't get our pelvis in the right position before squatting, then it's like having our fingers (spines) being pushed back - with weight - to an even further position. Of course it's going to hurt!
If we're unable to get our pelvis in the right position to squat, back pain might not be the primary symptom. Some will lack the ability to stay upright in a squat and look like they're folding in half like an accordion. Others will have the dreaded butt wink as they Instagram their leg day and #gettheirsquaton.
How are deadlifts different? It's much easier to get in the correct position and out of extension.
In a deadlift we want a neutral, straight spine. Getting in the correct position will help most of us get our pelvis truly beneath us - what most people struggle to do on a squat. From there, we're locking our torsos in place, sitting back, and strengthening our hamstrings and glutes which stabilizes our pelvis. This thinking helps explain the anecdotal evidence that many people with back pain actually feel better after they deadlift. And if deadlifting makes someone feel worse, it's usually because they A) can't turn their backs "off" and keep their pelvis neutral or B) have a bigger issue that needs to be addressed.
By no means should you throw squats out with the trash. Squatting is still a fundamental movement but retraining someone's squat can take a lot of time. If I'm trying to make someone strong, I'm choosing the deadlift.
After all, training the deadlift is training for life.