A couple of the athletes that I train are also required to train at the varsity weight-room of a large, Division 1 university. I won’t name names, but I live in State College, Pennsylvania. This university also has one of the largest, and most reputable kinesiology departments, in the country. It’s amazing how classroom knowledge can be lost in practical application.
One day, in the not too distant past, a rugby player that I train explained to me how he was coached to treat a conventional deadlift like a squat. After I woke up (because I immediately beat my head off of the squat rack) I said, “No.”
I couldn’t really speak at this point, so I let him explain a little further. Here’s a summary of what he said.
“Well, they told us that a squat is just a deadlift with the bar on the floor instead of on your shoulders. So they told us to drop our asses down like we would be in the bottom position of a squat and start to pull from there.”
Not only is that dumb, but man is that really dumb. The best part is–this university has a very active biomechanics research laboratory and one of the best biomechantists in the world on staff, Vladimir Zatsiorsky. It might behoove some of the strength coaches to take a jaunt over to the research lab and have a conversation with Dr. Zatsiorsky, the author of The Science and Practice of Strength Training.
Let’s start to clear things up by talking a little about movement patterns. Deadlifting is based around the hip hingeing movement, making it a hip-dominant pattern. Squatting, on the other hand, is based more around knee flexion with an upright torso–making it a knee dominant movement.
I really like Ian King’s system of distinguishing between hip dominant and knee dominant (quad) movements. Here it is, as I borrowed it from coach Jim’s Smith Chaos Training:
“Remember, my definition of quad dominant is any leg
exercise where the trunk is relatively vertical (i.e. neutral or
slightly bent, but not exceeding roughly 45 degrees flexion.)
Here’s the formula I use to decide whether an exercise is hip
or quad dominant. Any lower body exercise where the trunk
remains at or above 45 degrees of flexion, I loosely call a quad
dominant exercise. The squat is a good example of this. Any
leg exercise where the trunk is flexed greater than 45 degrees
I loosely call a hip-dominant exercise. The deadlift would be
Thanks to Ian King, we have a little more clarity. Squats and deadlifts require different joint angles and recruit muscles in different sequences, so they can’t be treated as interchangeable. The squat is a push (that’s why the quads are so active) and the deadlift is a pull (why the glutes, hamstrings and back are so taxed).
Setting up for a deadlift with low hips, trying to replicate the squat pattern, just doesn’t work. As soon as a lifter pulls on the bar to begin the ascent, the hips will immediately travel to the point where they hinge most efficiently. This point is different for everyone, as everyone has different levers, but it certainly isn’t in a deep squat position. Setting up below that position is not only stupid because you won’t be able to move as much weight, but also because it puts unnecessary stress on the low back. Your body wants to pull the bar, not push it–so set up in the position where your body can most efficiently pull.
So, How Do We Set Up?
I was going to go into a long, drawn-out explanation of how to set-up for the deadlift now. But, luckily for us, some smart dudes have put out some materials recently that give great explanations.
Yesterday on T-Nation, they published an article from Mark Rippetoe, one of the most practical lifting coaches in the world. It’s one of the best articles on deadlift performance I’ve ever read.
For the visual learners among us I have an awesome resource from my email buddy, and fellow deadlift fanatic, Tony Gentilcore. In the video, Tony covers all things related to setting up for the deadlift and teaches using coaching cues that can be applied immediately.
Andy Bolton is one of the best deadlifters in the world–he was the first man to ever deadlift over 1000 pounds. Here is the video of his historic pull of 1008 pounds. As you watch the video, take notice of how Andy sets up to pull, where his hips are set and the angle of his torso. It doesn’t look much like a squat, does it?
Squats do not equal deadlifts, and they should not be treated as the same movement. If someone tries to convince you that they are, in fact, the same, do not let your anger persuade you into a bruhaha of fisticuffs. Please, calmly refer them to this article and you’ll be victorious!