Dead Squat: Benefits, Muscles Worked, Form Cues

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
September 21, 2022

Among the dozens of possible squat variations, the dead squat is unfortunately one of the most underutilized. 

Its capacity to develop explosiveness in the lower body alongside - acting as a performance tool - mark it as one of the most effective advanced squat variations for powerlifters and athletes alike.

In concise terms, the dead squat is simply a regular barbell back squat that begins at the bottom of the repetition instead of from a standing position, forcing the lifter to recruit their musculature in a more explosive manner.

What is the Dead Squat?

The dead squat is a free weight compound exercise of an advanced complexity, often performed for the purposes of developing power and explosiveness in the lower body.

dead squat

It makes use of a rack or power cage in order to allow the lifter to position the barbell at the appropriate elevation for their own squat depth, wherein they will begin the repetition with the concentric phase first, reversing the order of conventional squat movements.

The dead squat is usually programmed as an accessory movement to the conventional squat within the same workout, or as a stand-in for said conventional squat in the event that the athlete is in their off-season.

Who Should Perform the Dead Squat?

The dead squat is most appropriate as a method of assessing conventional squat form in powerlifting training, or as a method of developing much needed lower body power in athletic training programs.

While the average lifter can also make use of the dead squat for ordinary muscular development, they will find that the mechanics of the movement will limit their maximal loading capacity, affecting the end result.

Muscles Worked by the Dead Squat

The dead squat, much like any other squat variation, works the quadriceps femoris, gluteal muscles, hamstring muscles and the calves.

dead squat muscles

Where the dead squat is distinct from other squat variations is in the level of posterior chain recruitment required, wherein the glutes and hamstrings will receive far more training stimulus and demand due to the starting position of the movement.

How is the Dead Squat Performed?

Setting Up the Dead Squat

Prior to even performing a set of the dead squat, the lifter will set the safety bars at an elevation that allows them to reach parallel squat depth, if not lower. This will act as the starting point and main mechanic of the dead squat.

In addition to setting an appropriate squat depth, the lifter will also wish to significantly reduce the total working weight that they normally use during a conventional squat - dropping it as much as 50% if they are unfamiliar with the movement pattern of the dead squat.

It should be noted that, even if not mentioned here, the lifter will still make full use of all appropriate squat mechanics and form cues. This means that the dead squat, in essence, is a reversed squat with all the exercise mechanics therein.

Concentric Phase

To begin the initial phase of the dead squat, the lifter will position themselves beneath the barbell as it rests upon the safety bars, taking as much time as they need to adjust their stance. It is likely that they will need to assume a wider foot position in order to achieve greater explosiveness.

Then, bracing their core and ensuring that their spine is at a neutral angle, they will push downwards into the floor, rising explosively until the knees reach a point of full or near-full extension. 

This completes the concentric phase of the movement.

Eccentric Phase

Once the lifter has completed the initial or upward phase of the dead squat, they will then begin the eccentric or descending phase. 

Unlike the concentric phase which is performed in an explosive and quick manner, the eccentric phase involves the lifter lowering themselves in a slow and controlled manner.

To do so, the lifter will bend at the hips and knees simultaneously, controlling the speed of their descent until the barbell makes contact with the safety bars. This completes a single repetition of the dead squat.

If further repetitions are required in the set, they must pause at this point so as to avoid any stretch reflex of the posterior chain, or bouncing of the bar in such a way that it reduces the effectiveness of the exercise. A pause of approximately two seconds should be sufficient.

Pros & Cons of the Dead Squat

Much like any other exercise, the dead squat is not without its own set of advantages and disadvantages, making it more appropriate for certain situations or types of athletes than other squat variations.

Advantages of the Dead Squat

The most significant benefit of the dead squat is its capacity to develop explosiveness of the lower body, rivaling jump squats and pause squats in its effectiveness. 

Combining this with the fact that the dead squat will showcase any issues the lifter has in their squat execution, one can see that the dead squat is one of the most effective tools for powerlifters or similar strength-based athletes.

Even in the case of novices unfamiliar with the squat, the dead squat is an excellent method of teaching such individuals proper posterior chain recruitment - so long as another experienced lifter is ensuring they utilize correct form.

Another lesser-known benefit of the dead squat is in its far lower risk of injury that other squat variations, with the reduced maximum weight and presence of safety bars resulting in a safer exercise overall.

Disadvantages of the Dead Squat

Just as the dead squat has several benefits unique to its performance, there are also several drawbacks that may make it inappropriate for certain types of training.

The first is that total volume and resistance will be markedly lower during sets of the dead squat, affecting maximal muscular hypertrophy and therefore making the dead squat inappropriate for bodybuilders wishing to develop lower body muscle mass.

Furthermore, the tempo of the dead squat is entirely inapplicable to conventional squat repetitions, potentially affecting actual back squat performance by teaching the lifter poor execution habits. 

Common Mistakes of the Dead Squat

Descending Too Quickly

The most common mistake in dead squat execution (and other squat variations) is that lifters will often descend back to full depth at too quick a speed, resulting in poorer training stimulus and potentially injuring oneself.

The ideal speed of the eccentric squat movement is one wherein the lifter can perform a slow exhale throughout the motion, reducing the effect of momentum and ensuring that every muscle group of the lower body is appropriately stimulated.

Setting the Depth Too High

Whether because of equipment limitations or simple error, it is quite common for lifters to place the safety bars too high - thereby reducing the range of motion of the exercise and alienating the posterior chain from the movement pattern.

This will not only result in far poorer training results, but also potentially affect the performance of other squat variations by teaching the lifter bad squatting habits - or, worse, induce a muscular imbalance of the quadriceps.

Bouncing Between Repetitions

Less dangerous than other common mistakes, bouncing between repetitions simply reduces the intensity and difficulty of dead squats, affecting their effectiveness as a training tool. 

This is especially applicable in athletic training, wherein beginning each repetition of the dead squat from a full standstill is required so as to maximize the explosiveness needed to lift the bar. 

Pausing for 1 to 2 seconds between each repetition should be sufficient enough to prevent this from occurring.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What Do Dead Squats Do?

Dead squats reinforce proper squat mechanics and develop the muscular strength and power of the lower body, making it most useful for powerlifters or similar types of athletes. 

These effects occur through a combination of neuromuscular recruitment reinforcement, conscious learning of exercise mechanics and simple muscular development.

Do Dead Squats Build Mass?

Unfortunately, though dead squats are effective at developing strength and power, they are not as suitable an exercise for inducing muscular hypertrophy. 

Lower maximal resistance, less volume and more isometric contraction than dynamic contraction are just a few of the reasons why dead squats are a poor mass building exercise.

While this is not to say that you cannot build muscle mass with dead squats, there are far more effective exercises that induce a hypertrophic response in the muscles of the lower body. 

Are Deadstop Squats and Dead Squats the Same?

Yes, both deadstop squats and dead squats mean the same thing; a squat variation performed with the concentric phase before the eccentric phase of the movement, usually with the help of a power cage’s safety bars.

These exercises, however, are distinct from the pause squat, pin squat, box squat or any other number of squat variations that also involve a momentum-arresting quirk.

Final Thoughts

And there you have it, one of the most useful yet underutilized squat variations in any athlete’s toolbox. 

It can develop strength, increase explosiveness and perfect squat execution in a single accessible movement - requiring no further equipment than what one would use for a conventional squat repetition as well.

As always, ensure that you are following proper form and training programming, regardless of the intensity of your dead squat sets.

References

1. Coratella, Giuseppe, Gianpaolo Tornatore, Francesca Caccavale, Stefano Longo, Fabio Esposito, and Emiliano Cè. 2021. "The Activation of Gluteal, Thigh, and Lower Back Muscles in Different Squat Variations Performed by Competitive Bodybuilders: Implications for Resistance Training" International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 18, no. 2: 772. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18020772

2. Korak, Adam & Paquette, Max & Fuller, Dana & Caputo, Jennifer & Coons, John. (2018). Effect of a rest-pause vs. traditional squat on electromyography and lifting volume in trained women. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 118. 10.1007/s00421-018-3863-6.

3. Wilk, M., Zajac, A. & Tufano, J.J. The Influence of Movement Tempo During Resistance Training on Muscular Strength and Hypertrophy Responses: A Review. Sports Med 51, 1629–1650 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-021-01465-2

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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