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Deadlift feels like a squat [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Apr 2, 2019 9:30:00 AM

Deadlift feels like s suqat

Deadlift feels like a squat 


Build more tension off the floor and think of the deadlift as a hinge. These are the best tips to make your deadlift feel less like a squat. Tension is key. Once you maximize it the deadlift will not feel like a squat anymore.

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What is your why 


Before we go into the details of deadlifts which feel like a squat let me ask you some questions: 


  • Why do you deadlift? 
  • Why do you go to the gym? 
  • Why do you want to get stronger?
  • Why do you want more muscle?
  • What happens when you reach your goals?
  • What happens if you don’t?


You might think that this has no relevance to your training regime. What do these questions have to do with your deadlift feeling like a squat? It all goes back to your underlying motivations and desires. The bigger your commitment to your goals the more likely you remedy these shortcomings. The deeper you are touched by your goals the more likely you will improve. 


This makes the six questions I posed highly relevant. If you haven’t answered them yet and have no good answer maybe take some time to reflect. Life will get in the way of achieving your goals. You have to be ready to face adversity through meaningful goals. Most people think about their life in this way:


  • What do I want 
  • How do I get it 
  • Why do I want it 


If this is your guiding principle you will be mainly steered by your emotions and impulses. Your surroundings change constantly and so do your needs and desires. If you want to achieve long-term goals it is way more likely when. You switch to this pattern: 


  • Why do you want something 
  • How do you get it 
  • What do you need to do to get it 


This way you will connect your daily actions to your heart and soul. It will become easier to look adversity in the eye and move on. If you want to know how this works on a deeper level check out Daniel Kahneman's excellent book thinking fast and slow. If you are not convinced yet have a look at Simon Sinek's TED talk on the golden circle. 




The deadlift is one of the most iconic movements you can do in the gym. It is an expression of pure strength and primal instinct. Powerlifters, weightlifters and Strongmen across the globe love to pull heavy and so should you. When the deadlift is mentioned most people think of the conventional deadlift. There at more variations than this: 


  • Sumo deadlifts 
  • Deadlift with chains 
  • Banded deadlifts 
  • Deficit Deadlifts 
  • Kettlebell deadlifts 
  • Dumbbell deadlifts 
  • Rack Pulls 
  • Block Pulls 
  • Romanian deadlifts 
  • Snatch grip deadlifts 
  • Paused deadlifts
  • Wagon wheel deadlifts 


And many more depending on your personal preferences and training style. If you want to learn more about the deadlift read and watch from the following athletes and sources: 


  • Ed Coan 
  • Dan Green 
  • Cailer Woolan 
  • Frank Duffin 
  • Eddie Hall 
  • Brian Shaw 
  • Juggernaut Strength 
  • Calgary barbell 
  • Brian Alsruhe 
  • Ben Pollack 


This a short list of very strong individuals who can pull 700-pound plus. Try to learn from as many lifters and sources as possible. It makes you a better person and lifter. 


The deadlift mainly trains your quads, hamstrings, traps and lower back. To perform a good deadlift follow these steps 


  1. Place your midfeet under the bar 
  2. Grip the bar in a mixed or hooked grip
  3. Lower yourself to the bar
  4. Breathe out
  5. Breathe in and brace
  6. Turn your elbows in as if you were to squeeze lemons in your armpits
  7. Be patient off the floor. Make the bar bend
  8. Initiate the pull by pushing your legs into the ground
  9. Pull the bar up and towards you
  10. Squeeze your glutes
  11. Pop your hips forward
  12. Finish the lift 


Rinse and repeat as needed. One of the biggest debates around the deadlift is to keep your back straight. This should protect you against lower back injuries. The more rounded your back is the more strain you put on the discs. I personally find that queue to be insufficient. There is not a lot you can do during the lift t actively avoid that your back rounds under heavy load. 


What you can actively influence is the setup and execution of the lift. With this setup, especially turning in the elbows and building tension off the floor, you set yourself up for minimal rounding. The more tension you build in the setup the less leverage is transferred to your back to complete the lift.


The two main sticking points for the deadlift are off the floor and at lockout. If you fail the lift off the floor you usually lack the strength to move it. In some instances, you might not be able to build enough tension. If you fail the lift at lockout it is usually based on a lack of aggression or technique. You are strong enough to initiate the lift but lack the confidence or technical prowess to complete it. To fix this work on bar speed and popping the hips forward at the top. 


You can play with this a little by mixing your training between the sumo and conventional deadlift. I took Ben Pollack's advice to train both with good results. Especially in weeks in which my back already hurt. The sumo deadlift gives you worse leverages off the ground. You benefit from a smaller range of motion. The conventional deadlift gives you better leverage off the ground. For this, you have to go through a longer range of motion to complete the lift.


The biggest advantages of the deadlift are its capacity to build raw strength and willpower. There are almost no other lifts which require as much concentration and strength to be executed well. 


The biggest disadvantages of the deadlift are its injury risk to the lower back and that it is not really made for high rep work. If your main goal is bodybuilding you might want to look into variations of the deadlift which are machine based. If you want to work with the barbell in higher rep ranges I recommend the sumo deadlift instead of the conventional deadlift. You will find the same advice from Andy Bolton and Pavel Tsatsoulin in their Deadlift Dynamite book.




The squat builds the backbone of any strength program that is worth its salt. Either loaded with a barbell or as other variations only using bodyweight. It is the first lift that is being taught in Greg Everett's excellent book on Olympic weightlifting. Many stay away from the barbell squat in the gym and prefer the leg press. The risk of being buried under the bar seems too big. While most people lack the mobility or strength to do the barbell squat the first time they step into the gym, it is worth the while to learn it.


If you want to learn from the best regarding the squat look up:


  • Tom Platz
  • Pat Mendez
  • Frank Duffin
  • Ray Williams
  • Carl Yngvar Christensen

If you mention the squat most people think of the barbell back squat or air squat. This depends on whether they know the squat from the free weight section or their regular fitness group training. Apart from this, there are more variations of the squat out there. Here are some examples:


And many more variations depending on your personal preferences and capabilities. The main body parts the squat train are the quads, hamstrings, mid-section and hip flexors. The emphasis is mainly on the front of your body. To perform a good squat follow these steps:


  1. Set up the J cups at a height that enables you to pop your hips forward to unrack the weight
  2. Load the bar symmetrically
  3. Grip the bar as close as you can while still being able to get under it 
  4. Wrap your thumbs around the bar
  5. Get under the bar aggressively
  6. Find one of the two shelves on your back
  7. Wedge your back in tight so that the bar stays in place
  8. Pop your hips forward to unrack
  9. Walk three steps back
  10. Breathe out
  11. Breathe in and brace
  12. While bracing pull your arms in as if you were to bend the bar around your shoulders
  13. Break from the knees, not the hips
  14. Descent as fast as you can while being controlled
  15. Make use of the rebound momentum
  16. Push your legs into the floor 
  17. Squeeze your glutes
  18. Complete the lift

Rinse and repeat. The best way to squat is different for each individual. Learn from as many people as possible to become a better lifter and person. The biggest debates on the internet regarding the squat or around how deep you should squat and where to place the bar on your back.


Regarding squat depth squat as deep as is needed and not one inch deeper. If you are a powerlifter the depth is determined by the rules of the association you compete in. For bodybuilders, it basically does not matter as long as you hit the muscles you want to train. For weightlifters, it makes sense to descend under the bar as fast as possible to catch the bar. The main thing is to squat as deep as you can while being secure. Many beginners lack the mobility to squat as deep or as fast as the pros. Do your best and build over time. Go a bit lighter when you don't get the full range of motion done because of lack of strength. Stretch more if your ankle mobility gives you a hard time. Combine both to be smart.


The placement of the barbell is irrelevant for most beginners. What is relevant is to avoid bar movement during the lift. This is the main source of pain from rashes. Pick whatever spot feels strongest to you and stay tight. The more wiggle room the bar has the poorer and more painful your squat. Advanced powerlifters might want to train the low bar and high bar variation of the squat. Weightlifters usually are better of focusing on the high bar squat. Generally speaking, the high bar squat allows for a quicker descend and more aggressive approach out of the hole. This is good for weightlifters but suboptimal for powerlifters. Powerlifters want to have full control of the bar path during the lift. The low bar squat accommodates better for this at the expense of speed.


The biggest advantage of the squat is that it probably the single best exercise to build bigger and stronger quads. I personally just can not think of a better exercise to accomplish this goal. 


The biggest disadvantages of the barbell squat are the equipment needed and the injury risk. Beginners usually have to be eased into the squat to avoid complications. Especially when they start at a late age.


What to do when your deadlift feels like a squat 


If your deadlift feels like a squat you have to work on your setup. The two main reasons for this are that you lower your hips too deep in the setup or that you do not build enough tension before initiating the pull. Think of the deadlift as a hinge, not as a pull. That usually clears things up a little. When a crane lifts a big weight it brings all the cables under tension before moving up or in any direction. Do the same with the squat. In addition, you also only need to lower your ass only a little to reach the bar. The main power for the deadlift comes from extending your hips. This activates your lower back and hamstrings. Your quads play a minor role. 


Further reading


Topics: Deadlift, Squat, Fitness, Strength, Powerlifting, Bodybuilding, Strongman