How to Help Your Squat Catch Up With Your Deadlift

The squat has several mechanical advantages over the deadlift, so why can't your squat catch up with your deadlift? It comes down to one key difference.
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squat catch up with your deadlift

Before we get into this post on helping your squat catch up to your deadlift, I want to let you know about our giant How to Squat guide. It covers everything you need to know about every aspect of the squat – from biomechanics to correcting weaknesses to technique. Click here to open it in a new tab so you can check it out after you’ve finished reading this article. 

At first glance (if you know what to look for), it’s odd that most people deadlift more than they squat.  People take for granted that your deadlift will naturally be stronger than your squat because, well, most people deadlift more than they squat.

When you stop and think about it, though, that doesn’t make a ton of sense.

Your first reaction to that statement may be, “Of course it makes sense!  Since the squat contains greater maximum knee and hip flexion angles (which generally makes a lift harder) and you simply have to move the bar farther (which generally makes a lift harder), of course the squat is going to be harder than the deadlift!”

However, there’s more to it than that.

You may assume that squats are inherently harder than deadlifts. That's not the whole story. Click To Tweet

Remember, you don’t miss a lift because you were too weak through the entire range of motion.  You miss a lift because you were too weak through your very weakest part of the lift.

The sticking point in the squat occurs a bit above parallel.  Most importantly, that means it occurs when the shoulders are above where they’d be at the starting point in the deadlift for almost everyone.

At face value, that means that if you can deadlift a weight, you should be able to squat it if you just consider the knee and hip extension torque required to lift a given load.  Even if you had really weak quads and kicked your hips back coming out of the hole so that your shins were roughly vertical (as they’d be when deadlifting), all that would do is put you in a similar position as the one you deadlift from, so, from that position, if you can pull the weight, that means you can produce enough hip extension torque to squat the weight as well.  You may assume that a difference in stance width between your squat and deadlift would affect this, but keep in mind that the differences between the two deadlift styles, and between different stance widths in the squat (there was a statistically significant difference in muscle activation for only the gluteus maximus, but the magnitude of that difference was pretty tiny.  The reason you’d expect the differences to be pretty small is explained here) are pretty small.

Another benefit you have with squats is that you don’t have a bar in front of your shins (as you do with the deadlift) to constrain forward knee travel.  If you have a weaker back, you can stay more upright, and when you hit the sticking point, you can drive your hips back under the bar (which reduces hip extension torque, which is still high through the sticking point, and shift more of the load back to the quads, which aren’t being taxed to nearly the same degree once you reach that point in the lift). You can then break through and finish the lift.

Regardless of the position you’re strongest in, as long as you can get the bar back to the same height as your shoulders start in the deadlift (and almost everyone can), you should be able to put yourself in a position that’s at least as strong as the position you deadlift from, or stronger than the position you deadlift from.

Furthermore, when you reach the sticking point in the squat, the bar is already moving!  You already have some degree of momentum built up, whereas you’re starting your deadlift from a dead stop without the benefit of momentum or much of a stretch reflex.  That gives the squat one more advantage over the deadlift, in terms of how much weight you should be able to lift.

Finally, the last advantage of the squat is that once you break through the sticking point, the lift is essentially done.  Unless you lose your balance, you’re going to finish the lift.  With the deadlift, on the other hand, the sticking point, on average occurs just below knee height, though there is a lot of variability (this point doesn’t really apply to people who can finish any lift they can break off the floor, but it does apply to anyone who misses a deadlift at any point after the bar leaves the ground). So, with the squat, not only are you already past the starting height of the deadlift before you reach your sticking point, but once you break through the sticking point of the squat, the lift is basically finished, whereas most lifters will still miss their deadlifts after the bar leaves the ground.

Squats have several distinct mechanical advantages over deadlifts. Click To Tweet

All of that taken together – the weakest point of the squat occurring when your shoulders are already above their position at the start of the deadlift, the increased freedom for forward knee travel, already having momentum built up at the same position where you’d be starting a deadlift from a dead stop, and the fact that you’re almost guaranteed to finish a squat once you break through the sticking point, whereas there is still a strong likelihood of missing a heavy deadlift – would make you assume that the squat was an inherently easier lift.  Discounting two very fundamental differences, it is:

Bracing and thoracic erector strength.

Bracing

I’ll readily admit that I don’t have any science to directly back this up, but:

1) I’m not even sure how you’d study this in the specific context of comparing the squat and deadlift.  You could compare the activation of different muscles at different points in the movement, but I’m really not sure how you could objectively assign “better” and “worse.”  You could compare how activation patterns differed between more experience and less experienced lifters, but there would still be a ton of uncontrolled variables.

2) If this isn’t true, it would go against all of the fundamentals we know about motor learning.

Humans pick stuff up off the ground and lift or carry relatively heavy loads in their hands or in front of their bodies for their entire lives.  Before you ever touched a barbell, you’d performed thousands of movements that were very similar to a deadlift and that required similar core bracing patterns.  This practice started in childhood, when it’s easier to learn and master new motor patterns.

On the other hand, though you’ve been squatting from the time you were a baby, you probably never squatted down to full depth with a heavy load across your shoulders and stood back up with it until you started strength training.  The differences between an unweighted squat and a weighted squat are huge when it comes to torso bracing demands.  You didn’t start learning that bracing pattern until you actually started squatting.

If you can think back to your first time trying to squat and deadlift, there was probably a pretty stark difference in terms of how comfortable each of them felt.

Most new lifters learn how to deadlift somewhat proficiently pretty quickly.  Sure, they may need a cue or two to keep from rounding their spine, but generally they learn the deadlift pretty quickly.  I’d contend that’s the reason why most lifters, especially new lifters, find that the deadlift taxes their recovery more than the squat does; they’re already fairly decent at deadlifting, but horrible at squatting, so they’re training the deadlift at a higher percentage of their actual muscular capacity, whereas they’re simply unable to tax their muscles and nervous system to the same degree with the squat because they’re so inefficient at using that motor pattern.

The squat is often another beast entirely.  Many brand new lifters can squat relatively well without load, but when you put a bar on their back, things go downhill quickly.  A good coach can get their squat to look pretty decent within a session or two, but it’s still a markedly more awkward movement for quite some time.  I also think it’s telling that the tool most commonly used to teach a new lifter how to squat – the goblet squat – loads the movement in front of the body.  Many new lifters who can’t even squat well without weight can perform a pretty good looking goblet squat right away, even with loads light enough that you can’t chalk the difference up to a major shift in the center of gravity.  When you put some sort of load in front of their body, they naturally brace their core effectively, which allows them to squat pretty well.

Most deadlift more than they squat because the bracing pattern comes more naturally. Click To Tweet

I don’t think most people ever fully overcome this motor deficit.  I think most people, even with years of practice, still naturally brace better for the deadlift than the squat, unless they happened to start squatting at a young age.

However, over time, the gap between the squat and deadlift that most people have narrows considerably.

Looking at data from people who are very good at both lifts (competitors in the 2015 IPF raw world championships), a 10% gap between the squat and deadlift seems to be pretty typical, with about 2/3 of lifters squatting between 80-100% of their max deadlift.

How much IPF competitors squat relative to their deadlift

Weight class (kg) 1 standard deviation below Mean 1 standard deviation above
59 82% 90% 98%
66 81% 88% 96%
74 78% 86% 95%
83 81% 86% 90%
93 80% 88% 97%
105 84% 92% 100%
120 91% 98% 105%
SHW 89% 104% 119%

Two things worth pointing out:

  1. 120 kg lifters and SHWs, on average, squat about the same amount as they DL, if not a bit more.  This could be because their thicker torsos allow them to brace for squats more effectively, or it could be that having a gut negatively impacts their DL starting position (especially for conventional deadlifters).  It’s probably a combination of the two factors.
  2. These are lifters competing without knee wraps.  With wraps, “average” would probably be closer to a 1:1 squat:deadlift ratio.
Over time, the gap between squat and deadlift most people have narrows considerably. Click To Tweet

Obviously a blanket figure like “your squat should be 90% of your deadlift.  Full stop,” would be too simplistic since it doesn’t take into account differences in technique or body proportions (like crazy long arms).  However, among world-class lifters, the variability is pretty small.  Of course, because qualifying for worlds requires putting together a solid 3-lift total, IPF Worlds naturally selects for people who are good at all three lifts instead of specializing in one, but I still think the data is useful, since a wide variety of body types were represented at worlds.  For example, Krzysztof Wierzbicki, who’s built damn near perfectly for the deadlift (with a world record to show for it) still only had a 19% difference between his squat and deadlift, and Brett Gibbs, who has the prototypical squatter’s build, is still sitting right on the group average with a 10% spread.

What to do about it:

A) Planks and side planks before you squat or deadlift

I’m shamelessly stealing this from Dean Somerset.

The basic idea behind doing planks before you squat or pull is pretty simple.  The range of motion your joints can go through and the amount of force your muscles are “allowed” to produce through a given range of motion are largely determined by your nervous system.  When your nervous system feels that you’re safe to go through a particular range of motion and produce force through that range of motion, it will let you do so. If not, it’ll try to keep your muscles from extending any further, preventing you from going through a range of motion you can’t adequately control.  If those muscles are forced to extend farther than the nervous system wants them to, they still won’t contract with nearly as much force as they otherwise could, as a protective mechanism.

When one joint won’t move like it should, that limitation is compensated for by movement in another joint that shouldn’t necessarily be moving, or by force produced by muscles crossing another joint that shouldn’t need to be contributing in that manner.

In the case of the squat, that could mean lumbar flexion to compensate for limited hip flexion, and the spinal erectors then needing to actively re-extend the spine instead of simply contracting isometrically to just keep the spine extended while letting the hip extensors do all the heavy lifting.

Doing planks and side planks before you squat or deadlift will get your core muscles firing like they should, which tells your nervous system that it’s safe to let your prime movers contract harder, and to let your hips go through a longer range of motion.

When I first heard about this idea, it sounded gimmicky, but I eventually gave it a shot one day when my hips were feeling particularly janky, and it worked wonders.  It’s not quite a magic bullet, but it makes a noticeable difference for probably 2/3 of the people who try it.

If you want to read about this concept in more depth, I’d highly recommend this article.

B) Bracing effectively

Effective bracing is a head-to-toe endeavor.  Bracing the torso may be the most important piece of the puzzle, but there’s more to it than that.

Starting from the floor, the first thing you should do is establish three points of ground contact:  your heel planted on the floor, and your big toe and pinky toe actively pressed into the floor.  This helps keep the weight distributed over the middle of your foot. It also gives you a dynamic base; you’ll be aware of shifts in pressure, which will help you make sure the weight doesn’t start drifting too far forward or back on your foot.  I picked this up from Dr. Quinn Henoch.

Next, your hips.  There are a few different cues that people use to cue tension in the hips.  “Knees out” is probably still the most common cue, and it gets the job done for most people.  “Screw your feet into the floor” (once your feet are planted, apply a force like you’re trying to point your toes toward opposite walls, and point your heels toward each other) tends to work well for people who squat with a narrower stance.  “Spread the floor” is the cue I use for myself, and it tends to be more effective for people who squat with a wider stance.  Imagine an earthquake opened up a crack in the earth between your feet, and you’re actively trying to rip the crust of the world apart.

Next, your abdomen.  Bracing your abdomen starts with a deep, diaphragmatic breath (into your stomach, not your chest.  If your shoulders raise when you take your breath, you’re doing it wrong).  The old advice used to be to inflate your stomach and actively push your chest up.  The cue that’s more en vogue these days is to try to inflate your entire torso while keeping your spine extended, but your ribs down (to avoid thoracic hyperextension). Dr. Henoch and Chad Wesley Smith say “360 degree expansion,” pressing out into your belt in the front, but also around your side, and trying to feel the breath in your lower back as well.  Chris Duffin talks about inflating your obliques, which accomplishes a similar purpose: not just pressing your stomach out in the front as if you’re pretending you’re pregnant.  Not to equivocate too much, but I think your best bet is to give both a try.  Chad and Chris have really benefitted from keeping a lower rib position, making sure to not hyperextend the thoracic spine, and aiming for circumferential expansion.  A lot of great Russian powerlifters and most weightlifters are much more extended when they squat.  Give both a shot and see what feels the most stable for you.

C) Breathing paused squats

This is a pet exercise of mine.  Here’s a video I made explaining how they work and how to use them:

Bullet points:

  1. The two primary components of torso stiffness are intraabdominal pressure and the contraction of your core muscles to stabilize your spine.
  2. When you exhale, intraabdominal pressure decreases, so the muscles that actively stabilize your spine have to work harder to pick up the slack.
  3. By actively breathing into this position, you naturally learn how to use your breath more effectively to aid in torso rigidity.  To make this effective, you need to focus on inhaling and exhaling fully, instead of taking short, choppy breaths.  This is a way to fast-track the motor learning necessary to brace your core effectively for squats, and to help them feel much more natural.
  4. You can do breathing paused squats as a warm up before your heavy sets, as an accessory lift after your heavy work, or both.
  5. Be conservative with loading.  They tend to be the most effective with lighter weights that you can get 10-20 full, deep breaths under.  This also mitigates injury risk.  Exhaling under a high percentage of your max isn’t a great idea.  Start with 2-3 singles with ~30% of your max, and don’t add weight until you’re very confident and comfortable with a load.  Adding time instead of weight is also entirely acceptable.  When I do these, I generally use 50-65% of my max for single reps with 10-20 breaths at the bottom, or I’ll just put 135 on the bar and sit down there for a few minutes.

This is probably the core exercise with the highest degree of specificity for powerlifting.  It may seem out of left field at first, but I’ve seen it work wonders for plenty of people who were already strong, but were still bad squatters.  Breathing paused squats aid torso rigidity and confidence in the squat better than any other movement I’ve come across.

Thoracic Erector Strength

The other major difference is the role of your thoracic extensors.

The more inclined your torso is, the higher the demands on your spinal erectors.  In other words, it’s much harder to keep your spine extended at the bottom of a squat or at the start of a deadlift than it is to keep your spine extended at lockout.

With the deadlift, if your thoracic spinal erectors aren’t quite strong enough to keep your spine extended at the start of the lift, that’s not a huge issue.  They just have to be strong enough to re-extend your thoracic spine at the top of the deadlift.

Since the spinal extension demands are higher at the bottom of the lift than at the top of the lift, you can deadlift weights with which you can’t keep your spine fully extended through the whole lift.  The demands exceed your thoracic extensors’ strength when the bar breaks the floor, but as you extend your hips, spinal extension demands decrease, so you can re-extend your thoracic spine and lock out the lift.

However, you can’t get away with that strategy when you’re squatting.  Generally, as soon as your back starts flexing when you’re squatting, you’re dead in the water.  Some people can get away with a little bit of flexion (which still probably isn’t a good idea for long-term spinal health, but they can at least finish the lift), but not nearly the same degree of thoracic flexion often seen in the deadlift.

In other words, let’s say your thoracic erectors can produce 100 units of thoracic extension torque.  If it takes 100 units of thoracic extension torque to keep your spine extended at the start of a 250kg deadlift, and 70 units of thoracic extension torque to re-extend your spine at the top, then you’ll be able to deadlift 250kg easily, and barely be able to keep your thoracic spine extended through the whole lift.  If it takes 130 units of thoracic extension torque to keep your spine extended at the start of a 300kg deadlift, and 100 units of thoracic extension torque to re-extend your spine at the top, then your thoracic spine will flex as the bar comes off the floor, but you should be able to barely re-extend your spine at the top of the lift and lock it out (disregarding fatigue for a moment – just making this illustration as easy as possible).

However, if your back angle is similar when you’re squatting, then 250kg would also be the heaviest load with which you’d be able to maintain spinal extension when squatting, so 250kg would probably be your max squat.  You wouldn’t be able to squat 300kg, even if you could produce enough knee and hip extension torque to do so, because you can’t get away with hardly any thoracic flexion when squatting heavy.

As discussed in a previous article, thoracic flexion can decrease hip extension demands slightly as well, and it’s generally your hip extensors that are too weak to finish the lift when you miss a squat.

So, if you have a weakness in either your thoracic spinal erectors or your hip extensors, thoracic flexion in the deadlift can cover for that deficit, meaning you’ll deadlift more than you squat.

If your thoracic erectors are weak, the best movement to remedy that issue is the front squat.  If your hip extensors are limiting you, then good mornings, RDLs, hip thrusts, and banded kneeling squats are all good options to fix that weakness.

So, just to recap:

  1. At first glance, you may assume that squats are inherently harder than deadlifts, because most people tend to deadlift more than they squat, and squats have a longer range of motion than deadlifts do.
  2. However, when you actually break down the movements, squats have several distinct mechanical advantages:
    1. The weakest point of the squat occurs when your shoulders are already above their position at the start of the deadlift.
    2. There is increased freedom for forward knee travel in the squat.
    3. You already have momentum built up at the same position where you’d be starting a deadlift from a dead stop.
    4. You’re almost guaranteed to finish a squat once you break through the sticking point, whereas there is still a strong likelihood of missing a heavy deadlift after the sticking point. This would make you assume that the squat was an inherently easier lift.
  3. One key reason most people deadlift more than they squat is that the bracing pattern for deadlifts comes more naturally to most people. The bracing pattern for deadlifts is already pretty well ingrained before you even pick up a barbell, whereas you don’t start learning the bracing pattern for squatting heavy loads until you actually start strength training.
  4. The other primary factor that allows you to deadlift more than you squat is that the deadlift is more tolerant of thoracic flexion than the squat is.
  5. While many beginner or intermediate lifters have a big gap between their squat and deadlift, lifters at the elite level typically only have a ~10% gap across the lighter weight classes, and lifters in the heavier weight classes squat and deadlift about the same amount, on average.
  6. Activating your core musculature with planks and side planks before you squat, bracing effectively from head to toe, and doing core training with a high degree of specificity (breathing paused squats are my go-to, but front squats and loaded carries are also great options) for the squat can help you build the torso rigidity necessary for squatting heavy loads, and help you build confidence with the movement pattern. Strengthening your quads certainly doesn’t hurt either.
  7. Though your squat will likely never catch up with your deadlift entirely (but it could!), by strengthening your core, working on bracing patterns, and strengthening your thoracic spinal erectors, you can work to close that gap so you can squat and deadlift similar numbers.

Squatting and deadlifting similar weights shouldn’t be the exception.  There’s no reason that it can’t be the norm if you know how to train the squat.  Even if you’re built really well for the deadlift, a gap larger than 20% probably means you need to put some serious work in on your squat, and that your squat has plenty of room to improve.

Want more squat content? Check out How to Squat: The Definitive Guide, a giant, free guide to everything you could ever want to know about the squat. 


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97 thoughts on “How to Help Your Squat Catch Up With Your Deadlift”

  1. Hi, i have been training for over 3 years and i can’t seem to be able to do a conventional deadlift with a straight back at 60kg even though i can sumo deadlift with 160kg. I tried doing romanian deadlifts for a few weeks from the top and was able touch the ground with a straight back but i still can’t seem to get into a conventional deadlift setup with a straight back. I’m really unsure of the problem here.

      1. As a long femured anterior pelvic tilted person, my dead lift is 200 lbs more than my squat. Just stumbled across duffins video and my hope is that style of bracing will fix my squat, and my absurdly huge erectors.

  2. Hey Greg, I’m not entirely sure how well-researched this point is, but shouldn’t the role of the lats be considered as well in terms of discrepancy between squatting and deadlifting?

    I’ve been recovering from a few knee issues recently and my deadlift is literally twice of my squat at the moment – and my barbell row is stronger than my squat – i’ve noticed that the lats can contribute a lot to developing active force in the deadlift especially when the quads are not so strong.

    I’d imagine it would be hard to create any active force in the squat with your lats though, since they’re not mechanically in a position to do anything except isometrically stabilize the spine…

    1. The lats would contribute to torso rigidity, but doesn’t actually aid in lifting the bar very much (assuming you’re keeping your arms locked). They do produce a small spinal extension and hip extension moment, but it’s not enough to really affect much. But they do probably play a larger role in torso stiffness for the deadlift than for the squat.

      1. Hey Greg, when u talk about breathing in the abdomen (360). Is it that your core has some pre tension where u inhale against?

        Greetings Alex

  3. I think part of it, especially for people who lift for fun & not competetion, is deadlifts just aren’t as scary. Missing a deadlift means dropping something from no higher than your crotch. Missing a squat means being trapped under an unyielding, unfeeling mass that is teaming up with gravity to staple you to the earth.

    That being said, I squat about what I pull, but I’m also built like an Oompa Loompa

  4. Hey Gregg.If I have weak thoracic erectors and want to emphasize them on the front squat should I go ATG or parallel?I want to focus on those erectors but still want to overload the quads.

  5. lemitry klokovich

    I need help getting my deadlift better than my squat. I can high bar 390 2×3 but can barely deadlift 405×1, while seeing people barely getting to paralell with 400 and deadlifting 470+, like u w0t m8.

    I can stay pretty vertical on the squat the whole lift, but on the deadlift my hips shoot up once it gets heavy and i just feel like im using my back.

    is this “normal”?

    1. Sounds like you just have weak hip extensors. Really hammer RDLs and some sort of glute exercise (weighted hip thrusts and the banded kneeling squats are both good options), and you should be good to go.

  6. Really interesting article, thanks. I am one of those who pulls 100+lbs over my squat, while training it with much less volume than on squat. It usually comes after squatting, too.

    Checked some old videos, and sure enough, my squat sticking point (slightly above parallel, as you said) is still below my deadlift start position. I have long arms.

    So I suppose I am exception and doomed to have a poverty squat, relatively speaking.

  7. Hi Greg, great article as usual. This is by far the website where I’ve learned the most on strength training, please keep doing that great job. For strong guys as you, do you think just doing bodyweight planks would suffice or would it be necessary to put some weight on? (I don’t have that problem yet, my numbers suck). I was planning to include some side and front planks in my warm-up routine (maybe two sets of 30 seconds or so) along with some breathing paused squats.

  8. My only issue lies with the concept of comparing the deadlift to a squat that starts at a sticking point just above parallel in regards to which is more difficult. I feel like you’re not taking into account getting set under the bar, unracking the weight, taking several steps back with the weight loaded on your shoulders, and then controlling that weight throughout the descent of the squat, all of which has to be at least mildly taxing on the body. Simply supporting that weight requires muscle contraction for a much longer period of time than an entire deadlift, no?

    1. Does that more than outweigh the additional momentum you get, though? My hunch is that unless your setup is just horribly inefficient, that shouldn’t matter too much. You have enough stored ATP and phosphocreatine to fuel maximal exertion for 8-12 seconds, and just walking out a squat certain isn’t maximal exertion in the first place.

  9. Sorry for my stupidity. Can’t understand second sentence:
    «The sticking point in the squat occurs a bit above parallel. Most importantly, that means it occurs when the shoulders are above where they’d be at the starting point in the deadlift for almost everyone.»

    Yes, may be shoulders are above, but how about knee angle?

    At the deadlift starting point: My knees are at ≈ 125° (if not more)
    At squat sticking point is “a bit above parallel”, so maybe ≈100±5°?
    How is that can be easier that the deadlift?

  10. Greg, any chance that T-Spine strength/rigidity comes into play here a bit?

    By giving up the upper back a bit with a bit of flexion, the DLer improves their leverages for hip extension. But if a SQ morning lifter tried this with the bar on the upper back, they are almost certainly going to cave forwards, and lose the bar over the head, if not injure their back. This b/c it’s very likely that the bar will drift forwards of the feet, and thus center of gravity.

    Sort of related: Your basic high hips, round out the upper back DL’er always seems to have quads as a weak link, while the quadzillas seem to be able to maintain a straighter back on heavy pulls. And these guys usually have DLs more in line with their SQ.

    Fantastic piece, btw.

    1. “This b/c it’s very likely that the bar will drift forwards of the feet, and thus center of gravity.”

      But that could just be mitigated by “planning on it” and just shifting your weight back a bit. You see some thoracic flexion in heavy front squats all the time without issue, but you just never tend to see that strategy employed in the back squat. It seems like there’s something in play that stops that from happening, even if you could maintain balance and keep the bar from drifting forward.

  11. Are zercher squats comparable to front squats for developing thoracic erector strength? Having the bar on my collar bone hurts really bad when it gets heavy. Thanks!

  12. Do you have any reviews of the Conjugate system? I know it’s a broad system but just your general thoughts on running it and any pointers? Have you ever ran it yourself?

    1. The conjugate system isn’t really a “thing.” It’s not recognized in the sports science literature, and it’s essentially just whatever Louie says it is at the time, which makes it hard to really discuss in any concrete terms.

  13. To me, I think the most interesting topic would be: “How to get your deadlift from stalling when you have arms so short your knuckles don’t even reach your nads”.

    I either lift the weight off the ground (conventionally), or I’m stuck. There is no in-between. My deadlift is just barely 20kg higher than my squat, and while my squat has increased by like 15 kg the last year, my deadlift has literally just stayed the same. I hate having to go down so far to reach the bar, I almost get pinching pains on the front of my hips from compression.

    Deficit deadlifts as assistance hasn’t worked at all, so I’m considering exchanging deadlifting with just purely deficit deadlifting.

    1. Two possible (opposite) suggestions:

      1) have you given RDLs a shot? Just taking your hip extensors through a longer ROM may help you out
      2) have you given rack or block pulls a shot? With short arms, you start with your hips lower so you can get more assistance from your legs at the start of the lift. With a low rack or block pull (just elevating the bar ~3 inches off the floor) you can’t get as much help for your legs, so they really help strengthen your hips and back.

      1. I’ve done a lot of RDLs, but the weight seems too low in hindsight (under 50% of 1RM dead), and I’ve tried block pulls, but the blocks were maybe a foot tall.

        I’ll try racking up more weight for the RDLs and eventually getting smaller blocks.

        Also, maybe raising my ass up a bit before lifting and using my lumbar and hips more would work out well for deads? It certainly makes me feel like I “hit” the movement properly, and it seems like I can hit higher weights doing this, rather than putting more emphasis on my quads and getting my hips more under the bar halfway through. Hitching sucks anyway.

        Thanks a lot for the suggestions, man!

  14. I often find myself saying “I wish I could get as tight for my squat as I do for my deadlift”. I think the deadlift is inherently easier to brace for, because you have something to brace against (the weight of the bar). You can actually pull into a tight position with the bar giving feedback. At the start of the squat, you’re upright and there’s very little for your erectors and so on to actively contract against, you also can’t feel your belly inflate against your legs, etc.

  15. Greg, Great article!
    I am however someone, who’s squat is fast catching their deadlift – 245 vs 255 (KGs), I can comfortably pull 235 x 4 Conventional, but anything over 255 gets stuck about an inch above my knee, the speed to this point is fast regardless of whether its 255, 260 or 270. I feel I can hold it in this position for days, but it wont budge.

    Any ideas will be greatly appreciated!

    Thanks

          1. No, only at extremely heavy loads, I shift back cause i get stuck, but my hips dont shoot back each time I deadlift.

  16. Hi Greg, came to this article after reading your excellent squat manual.

    My deadlift is 220kg, but I can only squat (no belt) 160kg (73% of deadlift). Does this signal ineffective bracing, or does this mean I just need to learn to use a belt?

    You said belts add 10-15%, so my projected belted squat should be ~184kg, which would be 84% of my deadlift. Being 80kg, this would very close to the IPF competitor average in your table.

  17. Excellent article. I have long femurs and find squats extremely challenging due to femur length, and knee caving (not sure if my loose ankle ligaments play a role). My sumo deadlift is 100lb more than my squat. Is core strength here still the primary issue? I’ve been incorporating breathing and pause squats for awhile, but the gains have still be slow.

  18. Any advice to get my Deadlift to catch up with my Squat? My Squat is almost 30% higher. I feel like it may be a lower back issue.

  19. ‘You miss a lift because you were too weak through your very weakest part of the lift.

    The sticking point in the squat occurs a bit above parallel. ”

    I disagree, the hardest part isn’t where you stop, it’s where you start to slow down, which is at parallel.

    1. Based on van den Tillaar’s work, the average sticking region occurs between a knee angle of 98 degrees and 102 degrees (first Vmax at 98 degrees and Vmin at 102, so Fmin occurring between those two), which would be above parallel. iirc, that’s similar to what McLaughlin found as well (although I can’t remember if he was looking at minimum force or Vmin).

  20. Hi Greg, thanks for all the great content, I’ve learnt a lot. As somebody who deadlifts a lot more than they squat and squats a lot more than they front squat, I think the lesson is clear – improve thoracic and core strength. I have a question about the breathing paused squats. My stance and proportions let me squat a lot deeper than parallel before I hit my mechanical depth stop. Sometimes I train ATG with a bounce (think olympic weightlifter style) but sometimes just to parallel so I can really focus on keeping tension throughout the whole lift. Where would you have me pause the breathing squat – at parallel or at the mechanical depth stop? For you with your wide stance they seem to be nearly the same, so I can’t judge from the video.

    1. That’s a good question. Just slightly above the full bottom position. Not so deep that you can just chill out indefinitely (you should need to keep tension in your hips/legs), but not high enough that leg/hip strength and endurance will limit you.

  21. My raw low-bar squat is 94% of my deadlift (245 kg vs 260 kg at M1 – 93 kg class). Does this mean that I am an efficient squatter or that I suck at deadlifting? 🙂

  22. Tejas rajaputhran

    How do you explain people being able to deadlift more than they squat, but can squat more in a squat suit?

      1. Tejas rajaputhran

        If thoracic erector strength is the limiting factor for squats, how do people squat more weight in a suit? The suit only increases hip extension torque and the wraps increase knee extension torque. But according to this-
        “You wouldn’t be able to squat 300kg, even if you could produce enough knee and hip extension torque to do so, because you can’t get away with hardly any thoracic flexion when squatting heavy”. You shouldn’t be able to squat more weight in a suit because you’re thoracic erector strength wouldn’t be enough, especially with the leaning forward in the equipment.
        P.S. You’re the smartest lifter I know, thanks for putting out great content

          1. Tejas rajaputhran

            So a person fails a good morning due to lack of thoracic erector strength because a person who can deadlift 200kgs can hardly good morning 100kgs. Hip extension demands are similar, so the reason for the good morning being low is just thoracic erector strength. This implies simply strengthening thoracic erectors would bring your good morning up to your deadlift (not exactly because your lats decrease hip extension demands). So would strengthening thoracic erectors brings your good morning up to your deadlift without lat engagement?

  23. Hey Greg, back to this old article. I want to share with you one insight I had recently about why deadlifts might be “easier”. One important difference between the two lifts is where the center of gravity is, relative to the ground. Deadlift is comparatively more “stable” because the weight is closer to the ground. So while the *static* force moments to hip and back extensors (and even lateral stabilizers) are the same for the two lifts, their *dynamic* responses to lateral displacement are not. Think a small lateral lean of the upper torso. For the deadlift, the bar will act like a pendulum and almost pull your shoulders back to the center. If, on the other hand, you lean sideways with a bar on your shoulders, your core has to work hard to bring it back to the center (It will not self-correct). So perhaps there are some old evolutionary neural blocks that will kick in and prevent one from squatting up with so much weight. The body “thinks” it would produce a very unstable position (even though Quads et. al. *could* produce the requisite moments). This imbalance does not happen with the deadlift and the body “permits” us to complete the lift. The question would be: How do Smith machine squat maxes compare to DL maxes?

    Anyway, always love your writing, wanted to share this idea. Cheers!

    1. That’s not a bad idea, and I think it helps explain the gap for new lifters. I wouldn’t assume that would come into play nearly as much with more experienced lifters, though.

  24. Squats have always been an issue for me. Deadlifts, I have no issues & my numbers go up steadily. I’m 5’2″ and have no issues with squatting low. I’ve rarely felt tired in my legs from squatting (sore yes, but not tired). It has always been my upper body limiting me on how much I could squat as it hurt/felt heavy to hold the bar at heavy weight. Thanks for this article. Looks like I need more front squats to strengthen my Thoracic spine. Would you recommend heavy FS or less weight more reps? Also, would lat pull downs help as well? Thanks.

  25. Hi Greg

    Really fascinating article, challenged quite a few beliefs I had about the squat I considered fact. Its especially poignant for me as my deadlift is a solid 50kg above my squat but ive always had issues with keeping a flat back, my deadlift form will break down almost to the kilo where my squat fails, it seems obvious now that the reason for this discrepency is the toleration for spinal flexion in a succesful deadlift.

    I always attributed my poor squat to my quads not being strong enough to overcome the knee extensor moment, as I have very long femurs, but after reading this it would seem its either hip extensor strength or thoracic strength are limiting me.

    My question is how do you diagnose which it is and what I should focus on to rectify it?

    My front squat is pathetically low, less than my bench, leading me to believe that its a thoracic spine issue but at the same time anything above 80% 1RM in my deadlift causes significant spinal flexion, leading me to believe that its a hip extensor weakness.

    How do I diagnose which (or both) it is or would it just be prudent to train both elements?

    1. It sounds like a case of “all of the above.” T-spine work would help (evidenced by the low front squat), quad work always helps (hips are what ultimately fail, but quad strength largely determines how much you need to rely on your hips in the first place), and hip work always helps (since they’re what will generally ultimately fail last). So keep squatting, and add in front squat and good mornings as assistance work. That would be my recommendation.

  26. I can deadlift 520 but can only squat 325 even though ive been practicing the squat for far longer time.. my hips shoot up early on the squat and my hip extensors take over the lift which i guess indicates a quad weakness. ive been doing bulgarian split squats and knee extensions for about a year to strengthen the quads but my squat has barely improved.. any advice besides what you gave in the article which didnt seem to do much? thanks

      1. Hi Greg, first of all thanks for your reply! i really appreciate it and you produce amazing content.. im also a member of MASS and its really awesome. do you mean using a belt? I havent tried that because i have inguinal hernia with no pain but i read that the belt isnt adviced in such cases.. is this true? if not, would using a belt help me be able to brace better? im really excited just from thinking of the possibility that my squat could catch up with my DL as ive been putting all my efforts into it with close to no progress while i feel like my deadlift still has at least 100 pounds of room to grow at 165 bw

  27. Steve Thresher

    Hi Greg,

    Great article! Do you have any suggestions on ratios for front to back squat or good morning to deadlift?

    Also, I suspect front squats would give me the greatest gain but I struggle to do them as I frequently block on of the blood vessels in my neck and then have to quickly get the weight re-racked before I pass out. Any suggestions for an alternative exercise or method?

    Thanks,
    Steve.

    1. For front squat, 80-85% of your back squat is great, but 70-75% is acceptable (especially if you don’t focus on it quite as much). GM to DL – no idea.

      Do you have access to a safety squat bar? That also works great. Though for front squats, as long as you keep your clavicles/scaps elevated a bit, it SHOULDN’T occlude any blood vessels. Are you just letting the bar depress your scaps/clavicles a ton?

  28. Hey Greg,
    I’m running DL 2 x int routine from your 28 free programs. I just wanna know can i run my normal squat workout along with it, which is basically squatting twice a week with one assistance exercise, or should i dial down squatting volume considerably?
    Also, in you art and science of lifting ebooks, you mention that intermediates should train in high rep ranges when they are building their muscular base so that they are not wrecked all the time. Your average to savage routine seems to be based on this philosophy. While i definitely agree that i feel a lot better on this type of program, my strength gains with AtS have been as little as 5 pounds per month even on my poverty squat (300lbs). So my question is, if sheiko style programming increases strength faster even though muscle gain is same, wouldn’t it lead to faster muscle growth because we are able to increase volume much faster by putting more weight on the bar?

    1. You should be able to run your current squat program along with it.

      5lbs per month is great! And while there’s evidence that building muscle helps build strength, there’s no direct evidence I’m aware of that the reverse is true.

      1. Thanks for replying.
        Also, in a deficit deadlift, how much of a deficit is going to have most carryover to conventional deadlift?

  29. Thanks for a very interesting article.

    I’m a long arm/femur lifter with a ~540lbs DL and maybe a 350-355 squat at best. My front squat is quite close to my back squat, at maybe 320-325. The DL I can maintain and even increase by just working on olympic lifts and maybe deadlifting once every couple of months. The squat is something I work on in some shape or form probably 3-5 times per week.

    After some reflection I think maybe the glutes are my problem. I have never felt the “hip drive” people talk about when squatting. When I do glute bridges I mostly feel my hamstrings doing the work. For some reason I’m much stronger if I’m box squatting, I guess that particular movement lets me engage the right muscles in some way. I also have some kind of tendency to pull my groin muscles (sidelining me for a few weeks) whenever I approach my max squat, which might be some weird kind of compensation for missing glute strength.

    I’ll try adding some more glute work and see where that takes me. 🙂

      1. Apples McGillicuddy

        Here is a video of three guys who each roughly squat what they deadlift, Dan Green, Kevin Oak, and Yuri Belkin.

        Please note that none of the three use a hip shift technique at sticking point. (As neither did CWS, Ray Williams, or any other quad dominant squatter who matches or exceeds their pulls.)

        Why not? Because they don’t get in that position to begin with.

        Dan Green fails at 826, and he fails in perfect position.

        On to deadlift. Note that Dan and Yuri pull sumo which complicates the theory but all three lifters do in fact round the T-spine to improve hip extension leverage on the deadlift.

        Greg, in our other discussion, you assert that the hip shift outlet on a squat is equally effective as the rounding thoracic spine outlet on a deadlift.

        And yet, despite the linchpin of this article’s logic, that thoracic spine and bracing is what leads to the common squat-deadlift discrepancy, none of the three find it necessary to use “outlet #2” the hip shift, to make up for this dubious, purported issue on the squat.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KAWoTN_PQI

        Show me a lifter that squats what they pull, and I will show you a lifter with extremely powerful quads, not necessarily a lifter that just doesn’t know how to brace their T-spine or brace.

  30. “Show me a lifter that squats what they pull, and I will show you a lifter with extremely powerful quads, not necessarily a lifter that just doesn’t know how to brace their T-spine or brace.”

    Those things aren’t mutually exclusive.

    And re: Green, Oak, Belkin, etc., you can’t necessarily derive “ought” from “is.” Like I’ve been saying this whole time, it’s not a particularly intuitive technique, so unless they’ve learned it and practiced it, of course they’re not going to do it.

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