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Squat vs. RDL vs. Deadlift: What's The Difference?

Having trouble distinguishing between these three common exercises? I’m here to help.

First, we need to identify the difference between a squat and a hip hinge.

In a squat, you are sitting back in your heels with your chest up and bending at the knees and the hips. The goal is to end up mimicking what you would look like seated in a chair (with good posture)…just without the chair. Ideally, the hips are in line with the knees (parallel with the ground) and the shoulders should be somewhere close to above the hips. Of course, this is the “ideal” position, but we know that ideal is not always realistic. Disclaimer - you don’t have to be perfect and you can still squat!

In a hip hinge, you are pushing your hips back with soft knees and letting your chest drop (without flexing or extending at the spine). Many people confuse this movement with a squat and bend too much at the knees and/or try to stay upright in their trunks. The idea behind this movement is too isolate hip flexion/extension to work the often neglected posterior chain (hamstrings and glutes). Ideally, the hips are in line with the shoulders at the bottom (parallel with the ground) while the trunk stays neutral throughout the entire movement. Same disclaimer applies….

Now that we have that settled, let’s talk exercises.

Any variation of a squat such as your goblet squat, landmine squat, front squat, or back squat all call for the cues listed above (see: my rant in the squat paragraph). Easy.

Any variation of an RDL such as your DB/KB RDL, landmine RDL, trap bar RDL, or barbell RDL all call for the cues listed above (see: my rant in the hip hinge paragraph). Still easy.

Now, here’s where it gets a little tricky. I like to think about squatting and hinging on a sliding scale…and your your deadlift is somewhere in the middle. With that being said, your ideal position may vary completely from the person standing next to you. That is because we all have different anatomy, strengths, weaknesses, limitations, mobility, flexibility, limbs lengths, etc. Generally speaking, any variation of a deadlift will follow this pattern from the ground up: ankles stacked below the knees, hips back and slightly above the knees (think 45 degrees), shoulders slightly above the hips (think 45 degrees), shoulders close to in line with the knees and ankles. Your back should be flat, chin should be tucked, and you should push through your feet and stand up tall in one smooth motion without A. letting your hips shoot up before your shoulders B. letting your spine go into flexion (rounding at your back) and C. extending through your lumbar spine at the top.

For more tips, cues, or info on these movement patterns/exercises, hit me up!

Stephanie Spoto, CSCS

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