I want to explain my stance on limiting the use of squats and deadlifts. I don’t believe they are terrible exercises. I think they have a place in the routines for some people, depending upon their goals.
Do I believe that either of these should be labeled the “king of exercise” that so many people claim them to be? Not by a mile.
[Here’s a fit couple walking down the beach. Both of them could probably add quite a bit of mass to their legs with a routine based around squats…but should they?]
Squats: The Best Exercise to Add Mass to Your Lower Body
Want to add a lot of mass to your legs, hips, and butt? Squats are the answer. Want to increase the weight on the scale? Squats will do that too. No doubt about it…squats will definitely add a lot of muscle to your body quickly.
Although they do work a lot of muscle groups in the body besides legs, the majority of muscle added will be to the lower body. For someone who wants to add a bit of size to their legs, it is a great exercise choice.
The Lower Body Has a Large Potential for Muscle Gains
People who question my recommendation for limiting the use of squats, typically say something along these lines…”adding muscle is tough and takes hard work, people don’t need to be worried that they will add too much muscle on accident”.
The problem is that the lower body does tend to grow at a faster rate than the upper body. Women in particular have this problem.
[Once your lower body has as much muscle as you would like, I recommend either backing off on squats or dropping them completely from your routine.]
If Your Legs Are Bigger Than You Would Like?
If you want to lose muscle mass in your legs, then avoid all direct leg resistance training. For some reason, this is a controversial recommendation…but it makes perfect sense to me. Avoid all direct leg resistance training until your legs are as slim as you would like.
At that point, reintroduce a limited amount of direct leg resistance training…but make sure that your legs don’t increase in girth again. Here’s my full-blown post on losing muscle on purpose.
If You Want to Tone the Lower Body Without Adding Size?
A few options:
- Perform cardio in an intense manner and see if that gets the job done.
- Train legs short of failure 1-2 times per week.
- Train legs once every other week (if you gain size easily in the lower body).
Deadlifts: A Better Option for Density, Less Potential for Mass
I fall under the category of gaining muscle too quickly in my thighs, hips and butt. Intense cardio keeps my quads and hamstrings toned, but doesn’t hit the lower back as much as I would like.
A great exercise to work the lower back and glutes, are partial deadlifts in a power rack. I simply do these once every other week, for 5 sets of 3-5 reps (well short of failure).
[I used to do deadlifts from the floor every other week, but found that it added size to my quads. Shortening the range of motion to the upper 1/2 or upper 2/3 of the lift works my back and glutes without hitting the quads as hard.]
A Good Exercise That Targets the Glutes
As far as firming up and shaping the lower body, I believe that intense enough cardio will get the job done for a lot of people. For those who want to add in a bit more glute work, kettlebell or dumbbell swings are a great option. Roman demonstrates the proper variation of this exercise to target the glutes.
“Real Men Squat”, “Squat or GO Home”, & Other Nonsense
I haven’t squatted in years, but I never thought squatting was particularly hard or taxing. I got up to 405 pounds for 5 sets of 6 reps…and it was somewhat tough…but not crazy intense or anything. Sure there are guys who squat over 600 pounds for reps, but it is all relative.
There are some in fitness who act like squatting is such an accomplishment. It really isn’t that big of a deal. Heck…I used to run hills in Junior High with my track team, and that was much more intense than my old squat workouts.
A Lot of People Will Want to Limit These Lifts
I don’t like wearing pleated pants or relaxed fit jeans…so these lifts aren’t congruent with my goals. I also found that too much leg mass made me feel sluggish. If you are a man or woman who wants large legs, then that is cool…I’m not trying to push my goals on anyone.
One of my good online pals, Elliott Hulse, has legs the size of tree trunks…but it works for him. He is a competitive lifter and would have big legs even without lifting. He is just playing on his strengths, which completely makes sense.
Note: There are some men and women who can squat or deadlift on a regular basis without adding too much mass to their lower bodies.
If you have those same genetics, then you can get away with doing those lifts on a regular basis. If you don’t have those genetics then avoid those lifts…or at least use them less frequently. Makes sense, right?
181 thoughts on “Squats and Deadlifts are Not the “King of Exercise” for a Lot of People.”
I think it’s so funny that all of these guys that don’t agree with this article are getting so hurt and crying about it. All he is saying is that squats aren’t for everyone and I think that this article is really more for women. I’m a female that almost competed in figure, and for me I do know that if I’m not doing the bodybuilder diet and cardio every single day, I WILL bulk up if I’m doing any squats or lower body excersises with added weight. I just don’t understand why everyone is bashing this guy so much, guys aren’t pussys if they don’t feel like squatting and some women WILL bulk if they lift heavy lower body! It’s just a fact!!
As a young woman with PCOS, my testosterone levels are slightly elevated. Ever time I increased the weight on my squats, my thighs increased in girth. I can’t fit into any of the pants I wore just a year ago! My quads are definitely larger and my thighs are just to big for my taste; I’m comfortable at a size 4-6. This article makes total sense. I’m really glad I stumbled upon this. Thanks Rusty!
I am pretty sure that you are talking about squats and deadlifts using significant load since you claim to have done 405 lb. squats that were “no big deal” and I think this post like a lot of your other ones i have read are missing a couple of important considerations.
1. Eating more or less is the primary cause of reduction in body mass. If you don’t want to “bulk up” you need to eat less and healthier not lift lighter weights or do only cardio
2. HIIT training such as Crossfit or a good Fitness Bootcamp which includes bodyweight or light load squats and 1 leg deadlifts is far more effective for everything than steady state “cardio” which is what I take away as your meaning in the post.
The squat and deadlift are very important functional exercises that everyone should be doing (no load required) because we all need these exercises for the rest of our life. If you have ever sat on a toilet or picked your purse off the ground you are squatting and deadlifting. You should at least learn how to do it properly without surrendering your lumbar curve on deadlifts and with full ROM and hip extension on the squats. Just sayin…..
Great article! Finally the truth not just the usual garbage about lift heavy and you won’t bulk. Most women who have been exercising consistently for a while will find that squats (even yoga routines heavy in long held squat poses) will build leg bulk in a way they don’t like. The longer you have been exercising the quicker the muscle will build due to muscle memory. Even aerobics due to the squat and lunge based nature of the moves will do this in some women. I avoid aerobics, squats, and any lower body work apart from ballet and yoga stretches ( not holds) and my legs look much better than when I was going to the gym. Also most women should avoid the static cycle machines and stairmasters etc.
While reading this I became almost offended. This whole article and most comments below just sound like pages and pages of excuses for denying your body of two GREAT excercises. Nearly every serious professional powerlifter, athlete, bodybuilder, ect… ect… uses these two excercises because they reap so many benefits from doing them CORRECTLY. Why publicly bash an excercise that has been proven to be more effective then most in order to make yourself feel more comfortable with your lack of it? Call me what you want. First article I’ve read on this site, feeling the need to go no further. Going back to where the professional give you real advice.
Although opinions vary, two things: 1. Women’s lower extremities do “bulk” and actually grow faster than men’s (this isn’t bunk science this truth. Women, for those who are unaware, bare children. If they don’t, they are still built (as a whole) to do so. Women outlifted the men in high school aalllllll the time.) 2. I’m not sure if the lower body literally grows faster or if that’s the affect it gives because more muscle (half your body including the largest, gluteus max…your ass) is growing at once.
Great post Rusty!
People need to realise that no exercise is a must-do no matter what others say.
Attaining a base level of strength is a sensible initial route to take, but once there you need to re-assess your goals and how your body looks with this new strength.
Great info you are sharing. I agree that cardo is good to build lower body muscle without the bulk. I’m a big fan of jump rope for an overall workout. I do like to incorporate squats too but I do limit it as I’m not looking to beef up my legs, just tone them nicely. Thanks for the info.
This article makes sense. Really, a lot of it seems like common sense. The author talks about how squats and dead lifts are good for some and not for others. Obviously, everyone is different. However, the author also takes a swipe at people who are into squatting by saying it is not a big deal. So the negative reviews are not surprising.
Great article, I couldn’t agree more about not overdoing it with squats and leg lifts.
I cannot stop laughing at the nonsense in this blog. to the author of this blog, come at me bro @ forum.bodybuilding.com.
only people with no lifting experience will buy into what you said– a shit load of bro science
Hi Rusty, I was just wondering if bodyweight squads and lunges (no weights) also make women gain excessive muscle mass in the legs? I am a runner and to these about 4 times per week in addition to running/elliptical and can’t help noticing that I have bigger legs than about 3-4years ago. This was before beginning to run, I just used to to do some cycling about 2-3 times a week and a LOT of brisk walking, everyday, my legs were literally like sticks. So would bodyweight squats have added this much muscle and should I just cut them out altogther now? (As I run longer distances any extra muscle weight is really not gonig to help me). Thanks!
lifting at a calorie deficit will NOT mke muscles larger and or bulky, especially for women!! We have way too much estrogen to get bulky…the misinfromation here is incredible to me. Do your reaearch people….i have gotten increcibly lean by lifting HEAVY and keeping calorie deficit, anybody can.
Great post! Realy helpfull
I agree that there is in fact a group of people who views squats and deadlifts as a major achievement. For me, I just do it when necessary and stop when I have accomplished what I aim for, like a certain amount of mass on my thighs and calves. Both squatting and dead lifting cannot be done as a daily exercise regime but only as a toning or mass/muscle building programme.
Great article. Real eye-opener. I’ve been working my legs at every opportunity in an effort to get lean. I’m about 165lbs and between 5″10/5″11. My immediate goal is to reach 158lbs. Can I use bodyweight squats and/or lunges as a warm up exercise without making them bigger?
I kicked out all lower body exersices . (My leg still mascular though)
it is just not natural to work your lower body.
I will never forget that day. After finishing tough lower body workout my mother asked me to go with her to the shopping mall . I couldn’t walk normally. Even drunk person will walk better than me. At that time I realized the mistake I was doing. Natural life activities don’t require great legs strength. Its all about cardiovascular and upper body strength.
Have you lift heavy things to your home using your legs before?
The best idea is to use your lower body for cardio only. I usually do HIT session with jump rope
Sorry my English is crape.
Thank you rusty moore for these great articles
I will recommend your blog to people I know here in Saudi Arabia.
I wish my lower body got bigger the easiest! Who doesn’t want a big butt!?
I tend to carry more muscle in my shoulders and arms. If I overdo it on the upper body stuff I look hulking…
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