Done correctly with the proper form, studies and numerous reports state that squats do not pose any significant risk to the knees. Any discomfort while performing the exercise is usually an indicator of incorrect form. While generally regarded as safe, caution should be advised for people with conditions that might be exacerbated by the exercise (e.g., osteoarthritis of the knees).

Squats

The basic movements involved in performing a squat is simple. The individual begins in a standing position, with the feet slightly wider than the hip width. While maintaining the chest up and the core engaged, the individual begins to push the hips back into a seated position – all the while shifting the weight onto the heels. The hips are further lowered until the thighs are parallel to the ground. Pausing with the knees directly on top of the toes, the single repetition is ended as the individual begins to push back into the starting position.

muscles targeted by squat

While ultimately simple, the squat is said to be a highly effective exercise. It is considered a compound exercise because unlike other isolated exercises that specifically work one muscle group, this exercise engages multiple muscle groups – namely, the buttocks (gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus, and gluteus medius), quadriceps, hamstrings, adductor, hip flexors, and calves.

Over the years, numerous variations of the squat have been developed – with each variant emphasizing a different muscle group. The most popular variant of the squat is the back squat.

The back squat uses the same motions as the traditional squat but with added resistance from holding a barbell on the individual’s shoulders. Overhead squats also use the traditional squat form however the trainee holds their arms straight up over their head. This variation emphasizes engagement of the core and the lower back, while still activating the other muscle groups involved with the squatting motion.

Back squats and overhead squats target the erector muscles of the lower back, which aids in keeping the back straight throughout the movement.

Are Squats Bad for Your Knees?

knee joint

While there are some reports or rumors that state squats are bad for your knees, studies do not agree with this statement.

Even with Olympic weightlifters, athletes who perform squats regularly, it has been observed that the prevalence of injury is very low. A 1999 paper published in the Journal of Athletic Training observed 27 Olympic weightlifters for a period of six years. The prevalence of injury occurring was calculated to be around 3.3 events per 1000 hours of training. Injury events observed by the researchers required a day or less of missed training for 87.3% of the cases, and less than a week for the rest.

Other studies have been conducted to assess the load of squats (and some of its parameters such as weight and depth) on the knees.

A 1989 paper published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise studied the effects of squats on knee stability. The study had a hundred male and female volunteers participate in an eight-week training program with multiple groups (control group, full squat group, and half squat group). Using a knee ligament arthrometer to measure knee stability, the study concluded that both full and half squats did not have any effect on the knee stability of the participants.

A 2013 paper published in Sports Medicine reviewed over 164 published articles in PubMed to analyze the effect of squatting depth and weight load on the knee joint. According to the literature review and calculations, deep squats confer more stress on the knee and spinal joints compared to half and quarter squats. However, neither anterior and posterior shear forces in deep squats can reach magnitudes that pose risks to the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), ligaments that keep the knee stabilized.

Thus, it is concluded that with proper form and technique, the exercise should not pose any risks for the knees of people performing squats.

However, there may be some exceptions. While safe, it is true that the exercise puts a load on the joints of the knees (i.e., tibiofemoral joint and patellofemoral joint). This means that caution should be advised for individuals with recent knee injuries, osteoarthritis of the knees, and other knee or bone conditions.

Furthermore, squats are considered low impact exercises (unless you're squatting very heavy weight) which means that the exercise generally exerts less force on the body. Examples of high impact exercises that pose more threat to the knees include jumping motions and running.

If an individual’s knees do hurt when performing squats, there are common reasons as to why this happens. These are usually associated with form and technique.

For example, a common mistake when performing squats is shifting your weight forward. This usually occurs when people are either afraid of falling backward or they forget to keep their chest up.

Another common mistake would be when the knees and toes are not aligned. This is often a case of muscular compensation when a certain muscle group must compensate for the weakness of another.

Low Impact Squat Modifications

person performing a half squat

For people who are unable to perform the traditional squat due to certain factors (e.g., pre-existing condition, inability to balance, skill level, etc.), there are variations that are easier to perform.

A lighter version of the squat can be done by not performing the movement until the thighs are parallel to the ground. For example, a quarter or a half squat can be done if a full squat is difficult or dangerous for a person to do.

One mild variation of the squat requires a wall and an exercise ball. This version of the squat begins by placing the exercise ball between the individual and the wall.

The individual rests their back on the exercise ball, stabilizing themselves. The exercise ball should be rested on the small of the individual’s back, with their feet slightly in front of their body and apart at shoulder width.

At this point, the body of the trainee is leaning at around 70-80 degrees against the ball. The individual then begins to perform the squat position until the thighs are parallel to the ground. The repetition ends as the individual returns to the starting position.

Reference

Conceptually, there are two mechanisms by which muscles grow: hypertrophy and hyperplasia. While both hypertrophy and hyperplasia contribute to muscle growth, there are key differences between the two.

While both muscle hypertrophy and hyperplasia indicate the enlargement of the muscle fibers, hypertrophy specifically means the increase in volume due to cell size while hyperplasia specifically means the increase in volume due to cell number or proliferation. While hypertrophy was primarily attributed to skeletal muscular enlargement from exercise, evidence suggests hyperplasia plays a role as well.

Muscle Growth Explained

Being one of the primary goals of gym-goers and athletes alike, muscle growth is an essential component of training and exercise. Responsible for producing movement and locomotion in the body, the muscular system is composed of three types of muscles: smooth muscles, cardiac muscles, and skeletal muscles.

types of muscle tissue

Smooth muscles are involuntary non-striated muscles which means that these muscles are not consciously controlled and they do not exhibit striation patterns that other muscle types do. Smooth muscles are typically found around the visceral organs such as the ones in the gastrointestinal tract.

While smooth muscles can be found in abundance, the cardiac muscles can only be found in the walls of the heart. Compared to smooth muscles, cardiac muscles are striated which means they exhibit a striated pattern due to the framework of the muscle fibers. Like smooth muscles, cardiac muscles are also involuntary.

Skeletal muscles are attached to the skeletal system, they are voluntary and striated. In terms of training, exercise, and performance, it is often skeletal muscles being discussed.

Muscle growth occurs when the muscle fibers are repaired or replaced during rest. This is why resistance training such as lifting weights can increase muscle volume since the stress induced by the exercise can activate certain pathways that will promote muscle growth.

Mechanisms for Muscle Growth

muscle growth explained

Physiologically, there are three main mechanisms by which muscles can increase in volume: muscle tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress.

Even prior to sufficient wear and tear, muscle tension can help activate the necessary pathways for muscle growth. This is why people progressively lift heavier weights. Lifting heavier weights signals to the body that more musculature is needed, thus growth occurs.

Muscle damage is another mechanism of muscle growth that many people utilize. Muscle damage can especially be felt when an individual partakes in a rigorous exercise that can induce DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness). In the event of muscle damage, the body activates certain cells that repair the muscles. Typically, muscles are then restored to a greater degree as the body attempts to prevent muscle damage from occurring again.

Lastly, muscle growth can be induced by metabolic stress. However, unlike muscle tension and muscle damage, muscle growth from metabolic stress can be incredibly short-lived.

During metabolic stress, the body can temporarily provide an individual with increased muscle volume. This is immediately experienced by individuals who go to the gym who have experienced the “pump” or temporary swelling of the muscles from exercise. However, this phenomenon can be mainly attributed to the addition of muscle glycogen and not necessarily the alteration of the muscle fibers themselves.

Biochemically, there are certain hormones that can help trigger muscle growth such as testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin-like growth factor.

It is emphasized that muscle growth does not occur during exercise itself but during rest. During rest, the body is at a anabolic state which can promote healing and repair in the areas that were rigorously trained.

Satellite Cells

An integral component in muscle growth is myosatellite cells (also known as satellite cells or muscle stem cells). These cells are small multipotent cells which means that these are the precursor cells that eventually give rise to skeletal muscle cells.

Studies have shown that satellite cells are necessary for muscle growth. A 2011 study published in Development investigated muscle growth in satellite cell-depleted muscles. For this study, the researchers used a novel mouse strain that was genetically engineered to lack more than 90% of its satellite cells in mature skeletal muscles. After putting the mice in muscular overload, the researchers found that the mice did not develop significant muscle growth compared to the controls.

Studies have also found that training and exercise are capable of activating satellite cells. A 2004 study published in The Journal of Physiology investigated the effects of high intensity exercise on satellite cell proliferation. Eight volunteers were tasked to perform a single bout of high intensity exercise with one leg, while the other leg served as the control.

Observing the vastus lateralis muscle (the largest muscle of the quadriceps group) of the exercised leg after four and eight days, the researchers found that a single bout of high intensity exercise was enough to activate the satellite cells to re-enter the cell cycle. However, a single bout of high intensity exercise was not sufficient for the satellite cells to differentiate into muscle cells.

Hypertrophy

Muscle protein turnover is constantly occurring – the sum total of muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein breakdown. Essentially, an imbalance in these two processes will incur either a net gain (hypertrophy) or a net loss (atrophy). For the purpose of gaining muscle, athletes and trainers aim to maximize a net gain between muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein breakdown to achieve muscle growth.

Hypertrophy is defined by the increase and growth of the muscles due to the increase in the size of the component cells. An overload of stimulus can cause perturbations in the muscle matrix which can trigger certain signaling pathways (i.e., Akt/mammalian target of rapamycin pathway, mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway, calcium-dependent pathways) to promote an increase in muscle cell size. In the muscular system, there are two types of hypertrophy: myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

Myofibrillar hypertrophy refers to the enlargement of the muscles due to the increase in the size of the muscle contraction parts such as the myofibril. This type of hypertrophy increases strength and speed as it activates contractor muscles.

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy refers to the enlargement of the muscles due to the increase in the volume of sarcoplasmic fluid in the muscle cell. Without conferring any additional strength or speed, sarcoplasmic hypertrophy increases energy storage and endurance as it activates glycogen storage in the muscles.

Hyperplasia

Compared to hypertrophy, hyperplasia is defined by the increase and growth of the muscles due to the proliferation of the muscle fibers or cells.

Historically, muscle hyperplasia was primarily observed to be induced by stretch. In 1973, an experiment was conducted on a bird. A weight (approximately 10% of the weight of the bird) was attached to one wing for a period of time. The weight imposed a stretch on the back muscles of the bird such as the anterior latissimus dorsi. The researchers found that the imposed weight resulted in an increase in muscle fiber numbers on the side where the weight was attached.

There are two main ways hyperplasia can occur in the muscles. Either new muscle fibers are developed from satellite cells, or larger muscle fibers split into two or more smaller muscle fibers. The main obstacle of measuring hyperplasia in humans is the mere difficulty in counting the individual muscle fibers, instead of the relatively easier methods to measure hypertrophy.

Does Exercise Induce Hypertrophy or Hyperplasia?

Numerous studies have been conducted that shows exercise primarily induce muscular hypertrophy. Hypertrophy can easily be measured – usually by measuring the cross-sectional area of a muscle.

However, a 1986 review published in Sports Medicine criticized that some experimental methods were erroneous and biased towards hypertrophy. Methodological bias was also pointed out in studies measuring cross-sectional areas of muscles due to fibers terminating intrafascicularly, overestimation of longitudinal fiber growth, and use of muscles where fibers do not run parallel to the longitudinal axis of the muscle.

Nowadays, several studies can be cited that show evidence supporting muscle growth attributed to both hypertrophy and hyperplasia. Methods for observing hyperplasia greatly differ from the methods observing hypertrophy. Instead of measuring muscle cross-sections, hyperplasia can be observed by direct fiber counts following nitric acid digestion of the muscle.

Final Thoughts

While exercise has been proven to be a major proponent of muscular growth, there are several factors in play such as exercise intensity, volume, type, repetitions, and rest intervals. One may argue that the resting periods are the most important part of building muscle.

References

Two terms are often used when discussing physical exercise and performance: stamina and endurance. While people have a general understanding of these two terms, stamina and endurance have been commonly, but mistakenly, used interchangeably.

Stamina and endurance are both parameters of time for physical activity. However, there is a key difference between the two concepts: stamina is the time an activity can be performed at maximum capacity while endurance is the maximum time a physical activity can be performed.

Stamina

stamina

As mentioned above, stamina is the maximum time the body, or a specific muscle group is able to exert maximum or near maximum force for a certain physical activity. One example that will be echoed throughout this article is running. Stamina is the total time the body is able to sprint – that is running at the fastest pace an individual is capable of.

Stamina is especially important in sports that require large bursts of energy. These are often sports where a round or a match doesn't last long. While most sports require stamina, some sports heavily rely on bursts of energy.

Aside from sprinting events, other sports that greatly benefit from stamina include Football, Soccer, and Baseball. For example, American football is mostly downtime but when they do play, the players must exert all the energy they can. This is the same with baseball – once the batter hits the ball and lets it fly, all the players must exert all the energy they can to react accordingly.

Endurance

endurance

Endurance is defined as the maximum time the body, or a specific muscle group can exert force or perform a physical activity. Compared to stamina, force does not have to be at maximum as the goal for endurance is to maximize time. While stamina is key for sprinting events, endurance is required for marathons as an individual has to push the body to run for a very long time and distance.

There are two components that have been suggested to make up endurance as a whole: muscular and cardiovascular endurance. As their name suggests, muscular endurance focuses more on the physical capabilities of the skeletal muscles while cardiovascular endurance focuses on the extent to which the heart and lungs are able to perform during intense physical activity.

Muscular endurance is defined by the ability of the skeletal muscles, or a specific muscle group to be able to exert force or perform a specific physical activity. In the example of running, muscular endurance refers to the extent by which the legs are able to perform the activity.

On the other hand, cardiovascular endurance is the ability of the heart and lungs to supply the working muscles with enough oxygen. In the same example of running, cardiovascular endurance refers to how long an individual can safely run without being out of breath.

How are Stamina and Endurance Different and/or Similar?

As defined above, stamina and endurance differ solely by the amount of force being exerted. The easiest way to differentiate the two is knowing when either is needed. Aside from the running example, here are a few other cases where activities would either need stamina or endurance.

If an individual has to do one pushup per second, it is stamina that will dictate how long that individual can perform pushups at a uniform rate. However, if an individual just wants to determine how many pushups they can perform regardless of rate and time, then muscular endurance will be the determining factor.

These two concepts are quite similar and the two are also involved with mental capacity. Up to now, the article has only mentioned the physical parameters that dictate stamina and endurance . However, the mental capacity for physical activity is a significant factor.

A 2012 paper published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology investigated the effect of mental workload on endurance. The study group compared the effect of a mental workload (in this case, making them perform mental arithmetic tasks) on their performance of shoulder abductions to exhaustion. The study found that the group of participants that were doing arithmetic tasks simultaneous to performing the physical activity showed great reduction in endurance and increase in strength decline.

Furthermore, mental stress and mental fatigue can even affect just the perception of workload and effort. A 2016 review published in the Frontiers in Physiology reviewed numerous literature stating that participants under mental stress would perceive work load to be greater than a group of participants performing the same work load in the absence of mental stress. This review emphasizes the importance of mental balance for endurance performance altogether.

Training for Both Stamina and Endurance

The training for both stamina and endurance are highly similar because while their definitions may be technically different, their goals are quite parallel: both stamina and endurance are needed to allow the body to exert a force or perform a physical activity longer.

A 2019 paper published in Sports looked into how high intensity functional training (HIFT) can improve endurance, among other physical parameters. HIFT is an exercise routine that focuses on multi-joint movements that can be catered to all fitness levels and engage more muscle groups in the body.

The study subjected the treatment group to six months of HIFT through CrossFit. The participants were assessed before and after the six-month period and the results of the study showed great improvement in the participants’ endurance, as well as flexibility, power, and strength.

As mentioned before, mental focus is quite important for stamina and endurance. Cues for focus such as internal or external reminders for focus can greatly improve muscular performance. A 2011 paper published in Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport looked into the effects of external reminders of focus towards muscular endurance in the form of maximum repetitions to failure, or to the point where form becomes deteriorated.

The study noted that simple verbal cues such as “focus on moving and exerting force with your arms,” “focus on moving and exerting force through and against the barbell,” “push the bar,” and “push your arms” were enough to significantly improve endurance.

Another way to improve stamina and endurance is by practicing simple breathing or respiratory exercises. This trains the lungs to be more efficient, thus improving oxygen delivery and even mental mood states. A common respiratory exercise is to inhale deeply through the nose, hold the breath for 5 seconds, and slowly release the air out the nose.

A 2019 paper published in Sport Mont studied the effects of breathing exercises on biathletes. The paper found that mastery of simple breathing exercises and utilization of these breathing exercises during physical activity was able to improve stamina in the biathletes. The paper also suggested that certain respiratory exercises (i.e., how long an individual can hold their breath) can be used as a tool to assess an individual’s stamina.

Although they are not suggested for long-term use, supplements have been used to improve endurance. Supplements like caffeine are able to provide the body with more sources of energy. Caffeine makes the body utilize energy more efficiently as it taps into the fat stores as well as carbon stores.

Final Thoughts

Stamina and endurance are very similar to one another, aside from their technical definitions. Through training and other ways mentioned above, both stamina and endurance can be improved.

Reference

There are numerous types of barbells designed to be used in multiple different ways depending on the lifter’s goal. Whether you're using barbells for compound movements like squats or isolation exercises like preacher curls.

Different types of barbells are suited for different types of lifts. To choose the perfect bar, it is crucial to first match one’s training goal with a specific style of lifting. Physique and level of experience should also be considered.

The different types of barbells cater to different styles of lifting for weight and strength training (bodybuilding, powerlifting, and Olympic weightlifting). Each barbell type also has variations in their features.

Major Styles of Lifting

Bodybuilding

Bodybuilding is popular both as a recreation and a sport. It simply means to build muscles in order to exhibit highly defined muscular size and shape.

Bodybuilders use different bars to fulfill different goals. To better enhance certain features of their body's, they need to perform a wider range of exercises. These exercises concentrate on developing smaller muscles in order to achieve a more defined physique.

Powerlifting

The sport of powerlifting involves three lifts: the deadlift, the bench press, and the squat. Powerlifters use strength training barbells that are much heavier and have longer strips of center knurling for improved grip.

Olympic Weightlifting

Olympic weightlifting, or simply weightlifting, is a sport that incorporates only two lifts: the snatch and the clean and jerk.

Olympic lifters use barbells that have a larger diameter and rotating sleeves on either end which hold weight plates, also referred to as bumper plates.

Main Types of Barbells

Olympic Weightlifting Barbells

Olympic barbells have key features that differentiate them from other types of barbells. An olympic barbell is thinner and more flexible. It includes a mild knurling, a smooth center, snatch marks, and a more expensive bearing.

Since the sport is built on the snatch and the clean and jerk, olympic barbells usually have a thinner diameter (28mm) compared to multipurpose barbells (28.5mm) and powerlifting barbells (29mm). A difference of approximately one millimeter makes a difference to one’s grip strength. This also allows for better shock absorption when being thrown and caught.

A mild knurling helps to prevent the barbell from grazing the lifter’s hands, while a smooth center prevents scraping of the collarbones when the shoulders catch its weight. Olympic barbells also use needle bearings that help the weight plates spin unrestricted at all loads. It also has snatch marks instead of knurling marks.

Powerlifting Barbells

powerlifting barbell

Powerlifting barbells are ultimately used for strength training. It has several unique features that aid in building muscle size and strength. Powerlifting barbells are extra thick and have an aggressive knurling, center knurling, bench press marks, and relatively cheaper bush bearings.

As previously mentioned, a standard power barbell is thicker (29mm) than an Olympic barbell (28mm) and a multipurpose barbell (28.5mm). Its additional thickness makes it more durable and rigid.

Compared to an Olympic barbell which has mild knurling, a power barbell has an aggressive knurling that prevents it from slipping out of one’s hands and a center knurling that prevents it from scraping one’s shin when doing exercises such as deadlifts. The disadvantage is that most people usually find powerlifting barbells uncomfortable due to their rough texture.

Powerlifting barbells also have bench press marks and cheap bush bearings. Unlike Olympic lifters, powerlifters do not have to worry about the weights spinning freely when thrown.

Powerlifting barbells are best for powerlifting and bodybuilding as it aids in strength and hypertrophy training, respectively. Lifters whose goal is to build muscle strength and size are apt to use a powerlifting barbell.

Multipurpose Barbells

Multipurpose barbells are mostly used for weight training. Beginners and intermediate lifters often use multipurpose barbells because they have characteristics that accommodate both bodybuilding and strength training. Multipurpose bars have a medium knurl, a smooth center, medium whip, and standard bushing.

Women’s Barbells

The dimensions of men’s barbells and women’s barbells vary. Women’s barbells are usually 201cm (9.1in) in length, have a diameter of 25mm, and weigh 15kg (33lbs). Men’s barbells on the other hand, are usually 220cm (6.6in) in length, have a diameter of 28-29mm, and weigh 20kg (44lbs).

Contrary to popular belief, these so-called “women’s barbells” are not designed only to cater to women but also to those of smaller stature. It is important to note that choosing a barbell depends not only on the exercises a lifter will be doing, but also their physique and experience level.

Other Specialty Barbells

Specialty barbells are not necessary per se, but they do make lifting more enjoyable for some. They add variety to one’s training, and can be used to target specific areas of the body and help stimulate smaller muscles.

Curl Bars

ez curl bar

Curl bars or EZ curl bars are relatively easier to use (hence the name EZ) and are shorter and lighter than most barbells. Designed to allow for a more comfortable bicep curl, curl bars ease pain in the wrists, elbows and shoulders.

Safety Squat Bars

One of the most beginner-friendly barbells is the safety squat bar. Shoulder pads are attached to the bar, giving more comfort and stability.

Trap Bars

The trap bar, also known as hex bar, is a four-sided bar that one can stand in the middle of. Trap bars are used to diversify the lifter’s deadlift form and progress. These bars are quite expensive, but can take pressure off the lower back.

Swiss Bars

Swiss bars are rectangular-shaped and have multiple grip widths which make it great for isolation exercises. Swiss bars are not used in strength competitions, but they can be used for a variety of exercises.

Features of a Barbell

Whip of the Bar

The “whip” pertains to the ends of the bar that bounces. It occurs as the lifter becomes stationary, but the bar continues to move as the momentum carries. The whip of the bar is useful to lifters when they transition between a clean and a jerk.

Barbell Sleeves

The barbell sleeves determine how much spin the bar will have. The bearings or bushings permit this spin. Bushings have low friction, while bearings offer a faster spin albeit more expensive.

Finish on the Bar and Sleeves

The barbell’s finish has several purposes. Aside from affecting the overall feel of the bar in the hands, the finish also affects the grip and aids in protection against rusting. Bar finishes can be made of bare steel, black oxide, zinc finish, chrome finish, or stainless steel, each with its own pros and cons.

Knurling

The knurling is the crosshatch pattern cut into the barbell that digs on the hand when held. The width and depth of this pattern determines whether a knurling is “mild” or “aggressive.”

Knurling is primarily done to increase grip especially for certain kinds of exercises (e.g. deadlift). Additionally, aggressive knurling on the bar may cause callusing on the hands, which may prompt some weightlifters to wear gloves.

Most people often refer to powerlifting and weightlifting as just barbell exercises or barbell sports. These two forms of weightlifting may appear similar, but there is an array of differences between the two in terms of concept and objective and how the body is engaged in performing their encompassing exercises.

Powerlifting focuses on attaining maximum strength when performing one-rep maxes on three core lifts: squats, bench press, and deadlifts. Weightlifting or Olympic Weightlifting, puts an emphasis on technique for two types of lifts: snatches and clean-and-jerk. Both of which both require greater range of motion through full limb extension.

This article will explain the differences between modes of exercises and training in powerlifting and weightlifting and the various requirements to perform the exercises. It will also explain the difference between the two lifting exercises concerning power generation and reaching muscle hypertrophy.

The Differences Between Powerlifting and Weightlifting

powerlifter deadlifting

Modes and Speed of Exercise

Powerlifting and weightlifting vary in the type of exercise and the speed required to perform the exercises. Powerlifting comprises three core strength exercises: squat, bench press, and deadlift. Weightlifting, on the other hand, only has two exercises: the snatch and the clean-and-jerk.

Powerlifters primarily rely on strength to perform the three exercises properly. They perform these exercises on a single plane of motion by lifting the barbell a few feet from its point of origin. Weightlifters, on the other hand, require balance among strength, speed, and flexibility to deliver explosive power to lift the barbell overhead.

Weightlifters are also more flexible than powerlifters because of the range of motion required to perform the two weightlifting exercises. The snatch requires the weightlifter to have enough flexibility to follow-up on the momentum to carry the barbell overhead in one swift motion. The clean-and-jerk also requires flexibility to transition from one phase of the exercise to the other.

Due to the required technique to execute weightlifting exercises properly, missed lifts are more frequent in weightlifting than in powerlifting. Powerlifting requires some semblance of technique however, it is more focused on maintaining a stable base as apposed to the explosive movement associated with weightlifting.

Precision and Technique

woman snatching weight

Greater precision and technique is required to perform weightlifting exercises. While both lifting exercises require triple extension, or the straight alignment of the body before performing the exercises, the subsequent parts of the exercises are very different.

Powerlifters do not have to consider momentum to perform their exercises properly because they're required to control the movement.

For instance, bouncing the weight off the chest or bouncing at the bottom of a squat would result in a"bad lift." Powerlifters are told when to lift the weight rather than using momentum to push or pull the weight.

Weightlifters, however, focus on technique and precision to catch the momentum of the barbell efficiently during the first part of the lifting motion. After the first part, they also have to focus on doing the final part, which is overhead extension of the limbs.

Usually, the motion of weightlifting exercises either fails during the first or last part of the exercise. If the barbell weighs significantly more than the weightlifter's one-rep max or the maximum amount of weight they can carry in a single repetition, the lift almost always fails.

Still, if the barbell weighs only half of the weightlifter's 1RM, the lift can still fail if the kinetic chains do not activate in the right sequence.

Training

Powerlifting focuses on reaching maximum strength using heavy weights to reach and surpass their 1RM. They typically work out three times a week, with each workout focusing on the foundational exercises of powerlifting, squats, bench press, and deadlifts.

Powerlifters also perform accessory exercises to train weak, stabilizing muscles. The common rep ranges for powerlifters is usually between 4-6 repetitions. This number can also change based on the style of training being used.

Note: Powerlifters often work based on percentages of their 1 rep max. Typically, 5 reps is 85% of your one-rep max.

The rest period in between sets in powerlifting spans from 2 minutes to 5 minutes to facilitate full recovery before performing the next set.

Weightlifting focuses on efficiency of movement. Weightlifting exercises require explosive strength at the beginning of the motion to lift the barbell overhead for snatches.

It also requires similar explosiveness to lift the barbell at shoulder level during a clean-and-jerk, and another explosive motion to lift the barbell overhead for the second phase of the exercise.

Because of the complicated technique to perform weightlifting exercises, the training focuses on perfecting the movement using proper technique. They typically stick to 70-75% of their one-rep max and train 3-6 days per week. Additional exercises are also included to target accessor muscles like the major leg muscles so as not to impede the proper chain of motions needed for the lift.

There is also more of an aerobic component to weightlifting than powerlifting because of the faster pace of movement.

Weightlifting routines commonly incorporate exercises like 800-meter runs, kettlebell swings, deadlifts, squats. Despite performing deadlifts and squats, which are powerlifting exercises, the purpose for weightlifters is to increase explosive power rather than reach and surpass their 1RM on a specific lift.

Amount of Power Generated

weightlifter clean and jerk

Despite being called powerlifting, weightlifting produces more force, or power per kilogram of body weight, than powerlifting. Weightlifting produces over 52 watts per kilogram as force when performing snatches and clean-and-jerks, while powerlifting only produces 12 watts per kilogram as force when performing the three core exercises, squats, bench press, and deadlifts.

Weightlifting produces greater power because of the engagement of multiple muscle groups. It engages all the large-fiber muscles in the upper and lower body with great force and speed, which increases overall power generation. Powerlifting primarily engages type IIB muscle fibers, which are fast-twitch but are more predisposed to slow, maximal-effort muscle contractions as opposed to type IIA fibers, which are similarly fast-twitch but are more suitable for fast, near-maximal contractions.

Reaching Hypertrophy

Both weightlifters and powerlifters do not focus on their physique when training. Their primary focus is on performing their respective exercises properly (while remaining in specific weight classes). However, the type of training involved between the two affects their physique due to the activation of muscle hypertrophy.

Powerlifters are generally bigger than weightlifters. Powerlifting builds more body mass than weightlifting because the slow speed of the repetitions puts the muscle under greater tension in a shorter period of time. This allows powerlifters to reach hypertrophy faster than weightlifters. The training in powerlifting is also usually related to increasing their 1RM.

Weightlifters, however, are leaner than powerlifters because weightlifting exercises activate various muscle groups all at once. The lack of isolation exercises in weightlifting, however, does not put enough pressure on the individual muscles for them to reach muscle hypertrophy.

Final Thoughts

Weightlifting and powerlifting vary significantly in the exercises and training required to perform them.

Weightlifting requires mastery of technique to place the barbell overhead, while powerlifting requires increasing maximum strength by reaching and surpassing a 1RM.

Powerlifting is better for building body mass and strength because the longer time under tension allows the muscles to reach hypertrophy.

However, weightlifting is better for overall power generation because it activates the core, upper, and lower body muscles at the same time.

References:

Squats are often an indispensable part of any total-body workout routine. It is a compound exercise that affects multiple muscle groups, particularly the core and the lower body. While both dumbbell and barbell squats use free weights as resistance, these two forms of squats target different parts of the body and improve different aspects of fitness.

The dumbbell squat is best used as isolation exercise for smaller, weaker muscles, while the barbell squat is best used as a compound exercise to target larger muscles of the back, core, and lower body.

Both dumbbell and barbell squats can help achieve greater lower body strength. However, knowing the distinctions between the two forms of squats can help realize which one fits best into your fitness routine.

Dumbbell vs Barbell Squatting: The Differences

Muscle Recruitment and Activation

muscles targeted by squat

Barbell squats and dumbbell squats are equally effective in engaging the core, legs, and gluteal muscles given proper form. Both these workouts can yield significant results through progressive overload.

Dumbbell and barbell squats have different muscle recruitment and activation patterns. Barbell squats engage the entire body while dumbbell squats focus mostly on the core, legs, forearms, and the quads. Dumbbell squats also engage the lats and traps better than barbell squats.

Dumbbell squats engage smaller, secondary, and weak stabilizing muscles in the shoulders, hips, and glutes such as the rotator cuffs, rear delts, piriformis, and gluteus minimus, which improve balance as well as the overall conditioning of the lower body.

Barbell squats, on the other hand, engage mostly large muscles in the legs and back, which allows you to lift heavier weights than dumbbell squats.

Dumbbell squats recruit more muscles than barbell squats, however these muscles do not reach hypertrophy better nor faster than barbell squats.

The advantage of barbell squats is that it allows you to reach hypertrophy quickly through explosive movements under heavier loads.

Unilateral vs Bilateral Movement

dumbbell squatting

Dumbbell and barbell squats also differ in terms of lateral engagement of the body. Barbell squats involve bilateral movement, which means both sides of the body are engaged during the exercise. Dumbbell squats, on the other hand, can employ both bilateral and unilateral engagement through variations in form.

During barbell squats, the barbell's weight is distributed evenly across the frame of the body. This ensures better stability during squats and allows you to solely target the leg muscles.

Barbell squats are categorized as compound exercise that targets most of the large muscles in the body, especially in the legs.

Dumbbell squats are more flexible and can target specific parts of the body. Its unilateral advantage over barbell squats allows training of one side at a time. This facilitates better muscle growth, especially in the gluteus medius region.

Dumbbell squats are also best used for corrective exercises that target muscular imbalances due to over-reliance on compound exercises. Isolation exercise through various forms of the dumbbell squats allows targeting and training of the smaller muscles in the body.

Range of Motion

Range of motion involves the extent of movement, particularly in an exercise, which affects the extent of expansion and contraction of the muscles. In the threshold of range of motion, body-weight exercises provide the best range of motion while machine-assisted workouts restrict range of motion.

In terms of squats, dumbbell squats lie more towards body-weight exercises in terms of range of motion. Dumbbell squats enable full scope of movement and better fluidity in executing variations of the exercise. While dumbbell squats require greater stability, there is a lesser chance of injury because it engages the various stabilizing muscles to ensure safe performance of the exercise.

Barbell squats, on the other hand, are more like machine-assisted workouts in terms of range of motion. This type of squats often requires a squat rack to safely lodge the barbell after every set to prevent spinal injury. Despite the reduced range of motion, barbell squats require strength to do the exercise with good form.

Variety of Exercises

goblet squat form

The reduced range of motion allows only two main modes of barbell squats in the form of front squats and back squats, which target the anterior and posterior chain, respectively. The front squats target the core and the quads, while the back squats target the back and gluteal muscles as well as the hips.

Dumbbell squats, on the other hand, have several varieties, and there is more room to adjust and experiment because of the unrestricted range of motion. Goblet squats, sumo squats, and dumbbell front squats are some of the varieties of dumbbell squats that fine tune the exercise to target certain parts of the body. These dumbbell squat positions place one or two dumbbells in various positions as resistance to the body.

Dumbbell squats can also target the same anterior and posterior chain as barbell squats. Various positions of the dumbbell squats can also target the knee or the hips depending on the positioning of the torso, which is also essential to reach hypertrophy.

Dumbbell squats can also increase power and strength through low-repetition and explosive dumbbell jump squats. Similar to barbell squats, the focus of low-repetition dumbbell jump squats is to engage the lower body muscles in a high-quality and high-intensity workout. Dumbbell jump squats can increase vertical leap because it allows jumping with added free-weight resistance, which is not possible with a barbell.

Use as a Corrective Exercise

Barbell squats are better than dumbbell squats in terms of stability and ability to focus the training on the large, dominant muscles of the body.

Dumbbells squats, however, have an advantage in using and training neglected stabilizing muscles through unilateral movements.

It is common to have a more dominant side of the body, and barbell squats exacerbate this dependency on the dominant side to fill the lack of power on the inferior side.  This often goes unrecognized until lifters engage in unilateral exercises.

A dumbbell squat can be used as a corrective exercise to determine the inferior part of the body and can be used to develop and train these weaker muscles.

Through consistent unilateral training, an individual can correct the strength imbalances in the body and build more muscular symmetry. Strengthening the inferior side through unilateral training using several varieties of dumbbell squats can even help raise performance in barbell squats, allowing heavier lifts.

Strength vs Symmetry

Barbells squats are undeniably better than dumbbell squats in building lower body strength and power. The heavier weights in barbell squats greatly improve overall leg strength, including the knees and lower back. It also allows a gradual increase in weights for a more progressive overloading.

Dumbbell squats, on the other hand, cannot give the same strength and power improvement from barbell squats. Doing dumbbell squats using two 150 pound barbells on both hands will not yield the same benefits as doing barbell squats on a 300-pound barbell.

Squatting with two, 150-lb dumbbells is also dangerous could tear the shoulder’s rotator cuffs. It's also worth noting that the amount of weight a person can effectively dumbbell squat is also dictated by grip strength. Grip strength is a limiting factor and will limit load progression.

However, consistent unilateral training through varieties of dumbbell squats can build more symmetrical musculature. Dumbbell squats can also improve balance by taking advantage of the wide range of motion to strengthen stabilizing muscles. Dumbbell squats and its varieties in form make effective compound and isolation workout exercises.

Final Thoughts

While squats, in general, improve lower body strength, the distinct features of dumbbell and barbell squats provide different incentives that can be used separately or in an integrated manner depending on the fitness plan.

These two forms of squats complement one another and can fit well together in any fitness routine. Barbells squats can increase overall strength while dumbbell squats can fine-tune stabilizing muscles for better squat performance.

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