Yes, You DO Need to Squat and Deadlift

by Darrin on August 17, 2012

You just gotta love the interwebs.

A whole lot of memes started making the rounds recently of guys with hilariously scrawny legs and otherwise muscular physiques…

In our culture, most people seem to believe that legs gain muscle mass more easily than the upper body, and that you should therefore avoid big lifts such as squats and deadlifts in order to avoid getting too bulky.


If anything, we’ve got the opposite problem. People with the upper body of a sprinter and the lower body of a marathoner. They’re everywhere. And they’re taking over.

Be afraaaaaaaaaaaaid!

Not only will squats and deadlifts not turn you into a freak of nature, but they’re an essential part of a minimalist exercise routine that will maximize your fitness results with as little time working out as possible.

Less time in the gym. More time enjoying life.

My Story

When I was in college, I met a guy who was going to School at Tulane University in New Orleans. I remember him best because of who he said he regularly saw at the university gym: Trent Reznor.

Yes, the Trent Reznor.

The guy who wrote “Closer” (still one of the coolest music videos of all time), and whose music I listened to constantly throughout my angsty youth.

But what made a biggest impression on me was this: He said Trent never did legs.

But guess what? I didn’t do legs either! And I rarely did! And if someone as awesome as Trent Freakin’ Reznor never did squats or deadlifts, well then by golly why should I?

Well, I didn’t do my first squat or deadlift until a couple of years ago. But I haven’t looked back since.

I now deadlift once a week, and I do body squats every day.

And I have yet to become “too bulky.”

It’s time to debunk this myth once and for all.

Just Admit It, You Don’t Care How Your Legs Look

The irrational fear of squats and deadlifts is based on a common cognitive bias, and is easily debunked.

Before the last few decades, the only people who did squats and deadlifts were professional bodybuilders, Olympic lifters, powerlifters, and circus strongmen.

Once the fitness craze hit in the ’70s, people started adapting the extreme fitness routines of these elite athletes into something that was a bit “safer.”

Now you have machines designed to isolate every muscle in your body, drastically reducing risk of injury (and your ability to efficiently get into good shape, natch).

But the routines of bodybuilders weren’t completely dumbed down.

We men have always been obsessively focused on the upper body muscles on the front of our bodies, namely abs, pecs, and biceps.

In our quest to gain as much muscle as possible in these areas, we’ve found that a lot of traditional bodybuilding techniques excel. As a result, presses (especially bench presses) are in the routine of every gym-goer.

But legs?

Have you seen the legs of those guys that do squats and deadlifts? They’re huge! Obnoxiously so! How do they even fit into their jeans?

And so, you get pictures like this thrown about as exhibit A in why you should never, ever do squats and deadlifts.

Let’s take a closer look at this nonsense, shall we?

The Flawed Logic of “I Don’t Want to Get Too Bulky”

Now, for decades after the fitness craze, the average Joe didn’t do squats and deadlifts. The most visible people doing these exercises were bodybuilders and powerlifters.

And their legs tended to look, well, like this:

So perhaps it was inevitable that people would jump to the conclusion that squats + deadlifts = freakish huge legs.

But just because these guys with huge legs are doing squats and deadlifts, it doesn’t mean that these exercises will give everyone huge legs.

These guys are often genetically driven to be more muscular, and they train like beasts in order to maximize this.

If you still believe that squats and deadlifts are going to give you the hips of Kim Kardashian, look no further than your local Crossfit.

These guys are doing copious amounts of squats and deadlifts, but do you see any of them that look like this?:

Doubt it. They look more like this:

And this:

And this:

For the first time ever, regular people are doing squats and deadlifts. And the results speak for themselves: they aren’t getting too damned bulky.

And I can’t stress this enough: Crossfitters are overtraining. They’re trying to be the best at exercising.

If they can look like this with the amount of squats and deadlifts they can do, then you are unlikely to bulk up too much by dialing it back a bit.

Still a naysayer? Afraid your jeans aren’t going to fit anymore?

Either accept that you’ll be filling out your pants a little more or ditch the skinny jeans, you silly hipster.

If you have ever gained a lot of muscle in your upper body, do you ever remember complaining about your shirts fitting a little tighter than usual?

Probably not.

So why the double standard when you gain muscle in your lower body?

In Praise of Squats and Deadlifts

The way we think we look and the way we look to others is often way different.

We want ripped abs, huge pecs, and bulging biceps. We don’t want to get too bulky in our legs and hips.

But the more we chase after this ideal, the more likely we are to gain our 15 minutes of fame as a meme to be passed around the internet and chuckled at by millions.

If you want to look better, don’t forget the squats and deadlifts.

Hey, I get it. You’re busy. You can’t live in the gym. You can’t be bothered to squeeze in leg work. Well, here are a few solutions that are better than skipping leg day altogether:

  1. Spend less time at the gym, and more in the kitchen. You don’t need to work out nearly as much as you think you do. Better to learn how to cook healthy and tasty meals that will help you reach your fitness goals faster.
  2. Do better upper-body exercises. Stop trying to isolate every muscle group, and ferchrissakes stop thinking that you need to do so many ab, pec, and bicep exercises. You really don’t need anything more than push ups, pull ups, presses, and (perhaps) cleans.
  3. Do full-body workouts. Forget about spending an entire workout focused on one or two body parts. When you do full-body workouts with compound exercises, your body is put under more stress, and it activates the hormones that put your body into “muscle building mode.”

The reason that squats and deadlifts are considered the “kings” of exercise is that they are two of the most fundamental movements the human body can do.

The default resting position for humans is not sitting on a chair (a modern invention), but squatting.

And the deadlift is the safest and most efficient method to pick a heavy object up off the ground.

In other words: humans have been doing these movements forever and have been just fine.

And as I mentioned, when you focus on “big exercises” such as squats, deadlifts, cleans, and presses, you build muscle and lose fat more efficiently, and eliminate the need to do dozens of “little exercises.”

Squats and deadlifts will help you build a strong, functional, proportional, and attractive body in a way that bicep curls and tricep kickbacks never will.

So stop your whining. Start squatting and deadlifting. It does a body good.

Photos: (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)


Alykhan - Fitness Breakout August 21, 2012 at 6:54 pm


I agree these exercises won’t make you overly bulky if you don’t train and eat like a pro bodybuilder. I generally avoid leg exercises, but not because I’m afraid my legs will get bulky. It’s because I play a lot of soccer and those types of exercises make my legs sore. Fortunately, all the sprinting pretty much guarantees no “chicken legs” for me even without those lifts.


mike - exercise equipment fanatic August 24, 2012 at 8:42 am

omg, that asian squat video is so funny, people make fun of me all the time for sitting like that, but its so natural!

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