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Squats Before Deadlifts

By July 29, 2010December 27th, 2013Powerlifting, Strength Training

When I conducted my EMG research, I was surprised to find that squats elicited more lumbar erector activity than deadlifts. Not surprising was that deadlifts elicit more thoracic erector activity than squats. In powerlifting competitions, you squat, then bench, then deadlift. Most recreational lifters always squat before they deadlift as they feel that squats “warm them up” for heavy deadlifting. This makes sense as many individuals hurt their low backs when deadlifting because they aren’t warmed up sufficiently. The squats also provide for more range of motion at the hip, knee, and ankle joints, so it makes perfect sense to squat prior to deadlifting rather than the other way around.

Many find that they are stronger at deadlifts when they squat first. Conversely, if they deadlift before they squat, they find that their squat is considerably weaker. So I feel that if you’re going to squat and deadlift, it makes more sense to squat first and deadlift second. I’ve always done it this way in my training and coaching.

Need more evidence about lumbar erector activity in squats vs. deadlift? Click on this link. This might have to do with greater pelvic tilt moments in the squat as opposed to lumbar moments.

It’s an abstract from a 2007 Journal of Strength and Conditioning study that shows that when using an 80% of 1RM load in the squat and deadlift, the squat activates 34.5% more lumbar erector activity than deadlifts while the deadlift activates 12.9% more thoracic erector activity than squats. Interestingly, this study showed that powerlifters were able to control the lumbar spine and prevent flexion in the squat but not the deadlift.

The kinematics of a squat and deadlift are very complex but if you squat and deadlift in a speedo your form will magically perfect itself!


  • Cian Lanigan says:

    You’ve gone into a bit more science than me but we’ve come to the same conclusion.

    As a general rule I always do the exercises that use the most muscle/most joints first in a program and then work from there.

    In the deadlift you are primarily trying to put you hips into a hinge situation, whereas the squat requires the hip, knee and ankle joints. Therefore, squats comes first in my programming.

    Glad to hear that through a different rational you’ve come to the same verdict.

  • Johan says:

    Hmm this kind of throws a wrench into the argument that one shouldn’t deadlift to often due to it being so taxing for the lower back.

    • Johan – I’d be curious to see the quadratus lumborum activation of both lifts. I think that deadlifts work the QL harder and that the QL is a muscle that gets injured often in DL’ing.

  • Johan,

    I’m *guessing* that the last study that Bret brought up comes into play here…

    “powerlifters were able to control the lumbar spine and prevent flexion in the squat but not the deadlift”

  • Johan says:


    good point, i missed that when reading the post at first. Then realised I always look like quasimodo when pulling heavy deads above 85% or so.

    Would be fun to see the same study done with say 95% of max in both exercises.

  • BN says:

    I don’t squat and deadlift on the same day. Except I am training for a RAW Powerlifting meet so I will have to then. I’ll do a Test run before the meet too, so I can get a feel for it.

  • James says:

    So what if you’re training for a push-pull PL meet (no squatting)? I’ve been throwing in squatting one day/week post-DL due to the need to specialize in DLing; am I going at this bass-ackwards? You say that squatting first can make you STRONGER at deadlifting; what if you’re going especially heavy in the deadlift (e.g. triples, +/- a rep)? Could you just do a better job of warming up to the heavy DL work and get the same effect?

    • James, I wouldn’t say you’re going at this ass-backwards. There really are no rules; as long as you understand what you’re doing. I’ve had times where I squatted after deadlifting. Just pay attention and maybe do a few light sets of squats as a general warm-up before the deadlift.

  • Jim Brownly says:

    I have always done squats before deads, but I never have thought why. Kind of conventional wisdom. Now I see the reasons.

  • John M. says:

    I feel kind of dumb asking this. But in all honestly will squatting and dealifting in a speedo help my form at all?

  • David Dale says:

    I’m 54 and deadlift pretty hard about every 5 days or so (ex. 5 sets of 315 x 15 reps with minimal rest between sets) Its a pretty hard workout for me, so I squat at least two days between deadlifting (I usually do 225 x 100 reps within 15 minutes in miniumal sets). Do you think this is a good plan as far as keeping in shape? I don’t know about doing both on the same day.

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