Dear Dr. Bell,
We have been arguing about this for a while. It’s a topic that always comes up at my gym. What is the best exercise, the Squat or the Deadlift?
For overall strength and size development, the Squat is the King Of All Exercises. I have heard so many different ideas on why the Deadlift or Power Clean or Leg Press, etc. (insert your favorite multi-joint exercise) is the best exercise of them all. However, despite what your favorite may be, the Squat wins!!!
The Squat wins simply because no other exercise comes close to the impact Squats have on your Endocrine System. Heavy Squats, 8RM or heavier, have caused over 800% increase in Human Growth Hormone (HGH), Testosterone (T) and other Anabolic Hormones. Not even simultaneous pictorials of Raquel Welch, Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, Ann Margret and Bo Derek in Play Boy Magazine could effect a 15-year-old boy the way Squats can.
If you look at EMG (Electromyography Research), no other exercise can cause as much activity in as many muscles fibers as the Squat.
I will agree with you, that an exercise like the Dead-Lift may use MORE muscles than the Squat, since you don’t need the powerful grip in a Squat like you do in the Deadlift, but watch closely:
In a Deadlift you do not go anywhere near as deep as you do in the Squat. A deep Squat (thighs parallel to the ground) activates far more of your Gluteals (the biggest and strongest muscle in your body), far more of your Quadriceps, (the second biggest muscle and the strongest muscle in your body) far more of your Calf muscles, (the third strongest muscle in your body) as well as significant portions of virtually every other muscle in your body. The greater range of motion, the stress of a heavier load than any other exercise and all the joints moving and stabilizing the Squat, create the greatest adaptation of any other exercise. Research has shown that almost every muscle in your body gets bigger and stronger through heavy Squats.
Squats are the King of Exercises, but you still need variety to maximize your gains, so don’t give up on Deadlifts or any other exercise. Do them ALL for optimal development!
See the IFPA Strength Training Specialist Certification for more detail on optimal training.
Dr. Jim Bell