Squat and deadlift: features and muscle work

Barbell Squat And Deadlift Muscles Worked

Squats and deadlifts are the main movements of the eventing and the results of these movements directly determine the success of training and powerlifter performances. In the process of preparation, especially when complexes of general physical training are planned, there is a need to clearly understand which muscles need to direct one or another portion of stress. In accordance with this, there is a direct need to understand the importance of individual muscles in the overall success of the exercise, as well as in the effectiveness of individual motor phases.

Both during the deadlift and during the squats, the powerlifter uses almost the same muscle groups: shoulders, back and torso, the front and back surfaces of the thighs, as well as the lower leg. However, their emphasis and mode of operation are significantly different – this stems from differences in articular angles and load vectors.

Muscles Targeted In Squats And Deadlift Muscles Worked

If we are talking about muscles that are directly involved in the performance of squats and deadlifts, then it is better and more expedient to start the presentation with a description of the back muscles. As taking on the main load in these movements can be identified:

  1. Superficial muscles of the back of the first layer
    1. Trapezius muscle of the back;
    2. The latissimus dorsi muscle.
  2. Superficial muscles of the back of the second layer
    1. Small rhomboid muscle;
    2. Big rhomboid muscle;
    3. The muscle that lifts the shoulder blade;
    4. Small and large round muscle;
    5. Upper and lower posterior dentate muscle.
  3. Deep back muscles
    1. Muscle straightening spine;
    2. Transverse spinous muscle;
    3. The spinous muscle of the back, the spinous muscle of the head, the spinous muscle of the neck, as well as their departments.


When an athlete has the correct technique, then during the execution of both deadlift and squats, the back muscles work with a small change in their length. The greatest change in length (contraction) can be observed in the deadlift at the moment of fixation in the final position, when the athlete takes his shoulders and straightens his back. The muscles of the legs, on the contrary, both during traction and during squats, actively change their length. This determines the differences in the work of these muscles: the leg muscles experience a predominantly dynamic nature of the load and work in overcoming mode, while the back muscles work mainly in the static mode, that is, they keep the body in a certain position.

During training, as a rule, athletes divide the muscles conditionally into the muscles of the upper back (trapezius, rhomboid, round, latissimus muscles) and the lower back (muscle straightening the spine, transversely spinous, spinous muscles of the back). This separation is designed to clearly identify the weaknesses of the athlete, in the event of pronounced failures during the movement.

During the squats, the athlete’s back maintains a straight position, providing a natural position for the spine. This position is achieved due to tension of the back muscles

During the performance of both squats and deadlifts, the athlete must maintain the direct position of the thoracic and lumbar spine and in violation of these provisions, you can clearly identify the muscles that lead to flaws. So, in violation of the natural position of the thoracic spine, we are talking about weakness of the muscles of the upper back, while violations of the position of the lower part indicate weakness of the muscles of the lower back. Such violations can occur, both during the execution of squats, and in deadlift. In squats, curvature of the back occurs predominantly in the phase of dosing, and in traction often after the start of movement, when the bar comes off the platform.

During the deadlift and squats, the athlete’s most important task is to maintain the correct physiological position of the spine, in which he does not significantly change his starting position. During this task, the abdominal muscles also join the back muscles:

  1. Muscles of the anterior abdominal wall
    1. Rectus abdominis muscle;
  2. Muscles of the lateral abdominal wall
    1. External oblique muscle of the abdomen;
    2. The internal oblique muscle of the abdomen;
    3. Transverse abdominal muscle.
  3. Muscles of the back wall of the abdomen
    1. Square muscle of the lower back.

The abdominal muscles also do not actively change their length during the exercise, respectively, their mode of operation is also predominantly static to keep the body in the correct position. If we talk about the participation of the abdominal and back muscles in fixing the necessary position of the body and spine, then the load is distributed about 65: 35% in squats in favor of the back muscles and about 75: 25% in deadlift, also in favor of the back muscles. Given the displacement of the force vector forward during the deadlift, the load on the back muscles increases significantly, while during the squats it has a predominantly axial character, which determines a lower load on the back, but at the same time, the need to constantly keep the body in a close to vertical position increases, which determines an increase in the load on the abdominal muscles.

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Holding the torso in the required position during the deadlift is carried out due to the static tension of the muscles of the back and abdomen

During squats and traction, the lower limbs muscles are actively included in the work. The main load is assumed by:

  1. External group of muscles of the pelvis
    1. Gluteus maximus muscle;
    2. Gluteus medius;
    3. Gluteus maximus muscle;
    4. The square muscle of the thigh.
  2. Pelvic muscle
    1. Iliao-lumbar muscle;
    2. Small lumbar muscle;
    3. Piriformis muscle;
    4. Tailbone muscle.
  3. Front thigh muscle group
    1. Sartorius;
    2. The quadriceps muscle (quadriceps).
  4. Medial thigh muscle group
    1. Scallop muscle
    2. Thin muscle;
    3. Long adductor muscle;
    4. Short adductor muscle;
    5. Large adductor muscle.
  5. Back group
    1. Biceps femoris (thigh biceps);
    2. Semitendinosus muscle;
    3. Semi-membranous muscle.

In order to optimize the training impact, all the muscles of the pelvis and legs are combined into two groups: muscles that perform extension of the lower leg (quadriceps, tailor, adductors, etc.), as well as muscles that extend the body (biceps, gluteus, semi-tendon, etc.). When analyzing the performance of deadlifts and squats, it becomes clear that the extension of the lower leg (straightening the legs in the knee joint), as well as the extension (straightening) of the body are the main motor tasks of both the squats and deadlifts. The differences in these movements are primarily in the load vectors. So, when performing traction, the dead load vector is shifted forward and the more it is removed from the body line, the greater the load is on the extension of the body. When squats, the load is predominantly axial, which leads to a greater inclusion in the work of muscles that perform extension of the lower leg (straightening the legs in the knee joints).

Thigh muscles

Regardless of the starting position and technical style, in most cases, deadlift begins with extension of the legs in the knee joints, with a constant torso angle. This movement is performed mainly due to the muscles of the thigh of the anterior group (quadriceps), as well as medial when using traction in the style of “sumo”. After passing the level of the knee joints, the athlete’s main motor task is to straighten the torso by performing extension in the hip joint. This problem is solved due to the active work of the muscles of the pelvis of the outer group (large, medium, small gluteal), as well as the muscles of the thigh of the back group (biceps of the thigh).

barbell squat benefits

Regardless of the technical style of the deadlift, after passing the level of the knees, the athlete’s main task is to straighten the trunk in the hip joint. This problem is solved by the muscles of the thigh of the posterior group.

As already mentioned, the back muscles during the performance of both exercises predominantly experience a static load. The latitudinal backs, trapezius, and also the muscle straightening the spine slightly reduce their length, while performing the final phase of traction. In this case, the static load is greater, the stronger the body is tilted forward and the main load is experienced by the muscles that straighten the spine since for them the shoulder of the lever is the largest. This forces the athlete to observe the same vertical speed of movement of the shoulders and pelvis when performing both exercises.

When performing squats, the tension of the muscles of the back is constant: the athlete should achieve maximum contraction, both of the muscles of the top and bottom of the back, to ensure maximum rigidity of the spine line already in the starting position. With the formation of a deflection of the lumbar spine, the center of gravity of the athlete-barbell system is shifted back, which leads to an imbalance, therefore, it is recommended to slightly tilt the body forward by bending the body (leaning forward) in the hip joint when the athlete takes up the starting position.

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The back muscles during squats at maximum tension. Such tension should be realized: at the start, the athlete brings the shoulder blades and bends the back, providing maximum rigidity of the spine line. In this position, the muscles are in the course of the entire movement.

Separately, it is necessary to say about the calf muscles, which, although they do not make a significant contribution to the success of squats or traction, nevertheless, perform the functions of stabilizers or direct movers when withdrawing and setting squats in the pre-launch phase. Accordingly, the following can be identified as defining muscles:

  1. Anterior Shin Muscle
    1. Anterior tibial muscle.
  2. Lateral muscle group of the leg
    1. Long peroneal muscle;
    2. Short fibular muscle.
  3. The back of the leg muscles
    1. Calf muscle;
    2. Soleus muscle;

In squats, the leg muscles actively work while moving away from the bar racks; mainly gastrocnemius and soleus muscles that bend the lower leg and foot are included in the work. In addition, these muscles are actively involved in the work when it is necessary to perform a shift of the lower leg back, when doing squats or deadlifts.

The squats and deadlifts also involve the muscles of the forearms. In squats, they are associated with holding the bar in the required position, while in traction they carry out the direct holding of the projectile. The latter is performed due to the static tension of the muscles performing flexion of the hand and fingers.

Special Cases Of Accentuated Muscular Work In Squats And Sumo Deadlift

Since the degree of development of target muscle groups is different for different athletes, there is a consequent need to make technical changes that will improve the result in a particular movement. Accordingly, both squats and traction can be performed with different legs, which will determine the excellent inclusion of the target muscles in the work.

Among powerlifters, the style of performing the “sumo” deadlift when the legs are wider than the shoulders and the bar is held so that the hands are between the knee joints is currently very common. When the hands are on the outside and the legs are narrow, the athlete performs traction in a classic style. The differences in the muscular work of these technical traction styles result from changes in levers and force vectors, which are a normal consequence of a change in technique.

So, in the classic version, the athlete’s body is tilted forward, and the pelvis is at a great distance from the bar. In this case, the knees are divorced to the sides, however, the dilution angle is insignificant. Under such conditions, the main muscle effort will be directed to the straightening of the body, respectively, the load will lie more on the muscles of the thigh, which carry out the straightening of the body (gluteus, biceps femoris), as well as the muscles of the back.

Two different versions of the starting position in deadlift are given. The first picture characterizes a significant degree of torso tilt forward – in this case, the load will lie accentuated on the buttocks and biceps of the hips, in addition, the static load on the back will increase. The second case characterizes the rapprochement of the pelvis and the projectile, a larger squat – here the quadriceps will accept the load

If we are talking about the performance in the style of “sumo”, when the athlete puts his legs wide, and grab the projectile so that the hands are between the knees, then the load on the muscles will be somewhat changed. So, a smaller torso forward angle, characteristic of sumo pull, will cause less load on the back, as well as the buttocks and biceps of the thigh. The displacement of the pelvis forward to the bar, due to which the centers of mass of the athlete and the projectile are ensured, as a rule, leads to stronger flexion of the legs in the knee joints, which increases the inclusion of muscles performing extension of the lower leg (quadriceps femoris). In addition, due to the dilution of the feet and knees, the muscles of the medial group of the thigh muscles (large and long adductors) will be actively involved in the work.

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When using the sumo style, the load distribution also depends on the initial leverage. So in the first case, due to a greater forward inclination, the load will be accentuated by the hip biceps, in addition, the bending load on the spine will increase, increasing the effort of the back muscles to maintain the correct position of the body. In the second case, due to approaching the torso angle to the vertical, the load on the back will decrease, but will increase for the thigh muscles of the front and medial groups.

As a general position, the following can be distinguished: the greater the angle of the torso during movement, the greater the burden placed on the muscles that extend it (two-headed thighs, buttocks) and the smaller on the extensor tibia (four-headed). This fact is actively used by many athletes who, in search of more power, trying to include more muscles, perform a strong torso forward when lowering in a gray, so as to equalize the load on the quadriceps and hip biceps during squats with a barbell.

barbell squat

With various variations of squats with a barbell, a roughly similar picture of the redistribution of muscle effort is observed, but a number of interesting facts should be noted. As a rule, athletes in powerlifting try to take their pelvis back stronger on squats – this makes it possible to complete the leg with less bending of the legs in the knee joints (decreasing the forward knee shift) and, accordingly, reducing the load by reducing the overall amplitude. Such a measure forces the athlete to compensate to shift the body forward – this is a condition for maintaining equilibrium, since it is achieved only when the projection of the neck passes through the middle of the foot. The use of a wide setting of the legs, in turn, although it involves the adductor muscles of the thigh to a greater degree, nevertheless, in contrast to the narrow setting, it not only reduces the back movement of the pelvis when lowering, but it also practically neutralizes the displacement of the lower leg (and knee) forward, creating the most optimal conditions for malnutrition. Reducing the back of the pelvis at the same time significantly reduces the load on the biceps of the thigh, which, ceteris paribus, would be greater, use an athlete squat in a narrow or medium setting of the legs.

Thus, performing squats in a wide setting, the athlete somehow exchanges the effort of the thigh muscles of the front and back groups to the effort of the muscles of the medial group, making the contribution of adductors more significant.

The squat in a wide setting of the legs provides optimal conditions by neutralizing the anterior course of the lower leg and shifting the pelvis forward. Due to this, the load on the back and thigh muscles of the posterior group is also reduced, and the leg muscles are unloaded. Nevertheless, this technical style is demanding on the strength of the thigh muscles of the anterior and medial groups.

When performing squats in a close legs position, the shin is leaned forward, which causes not only a strong stretching of the thigh muscles of the anterior group, but also a significant inclusion of the soleus muscle of the leg in the work. This is due to the fact that the displacement of the lower leg increases significantly and there is a need to straighten the foot, which is carried out mainly due to soleus and calf muscles.

The variety of muscles involved in various motor acts, sometimes really affects and is explained primarily by the complexity and versatility of the human muscular system. Nevertheless, combining them into groups according to the functions performed during the simplest motor acts, one can significantly simplify the mechanisms of these processes and gain a stable understanding of the anatomical composition of various powerlifting exercises and other sports disciplines.