The King of Exercises: Why Squats and Deadlifts Are the Most Important Exercises You’ll Ever Do

king of exercises squats vs deadlifts

If you could only do one exercise the rest of your life, what would you do?

Deadlifts or Squats?

To our Crossfit lovin’ brethren–Clean & Jerks and Snatches don’t count as a single exercise.

So what is it? What is the absolute King of Exercises given to mankind? The first exercises that may come to mind for many are Upper Body driven—or even running. If you thought the bench press and pull-ups should lead the way, well, you are probably thinking like a lot of people. And those are great exercises. But what exercise will absolutely change your body, strength, accelerate your growth, and give you more full-body and range of motion cultivation than anything else?

In many people’s minds the absolute reigning King of Exercises is either Squats or Deadlifts. Let me breakdown why, and the conclusion I draw.

Why Are Squats The King of Exercises?

The Superior Compound Movement

Squats are the King of Exercises over any other exercise because they activate more muscle mass than anything else you can muster. Leg curls, leg extensions and leg presses all only isolate 1-2 muscles at a time. The Squat activates all of those and more in one single exercise. If you could only do one exercise the rest of your life, there is nothing that will get more muscle active, challenge and get you breathing heavy and your blood flowing than the Squat.

Mobility – “Third World” Squats

king of exercises squat vs deadlift

Too many villagers and too few Americans can do the above.

Squats done right offer benefits to mobility. The ability to drop down into a full “third world” squat (sitting on your heels) means you don’t have problems in your range of motion of hips, knees, achilles and even your back. And it helps prevent injury as well. Don’t you want to be able to easily pick stuff up off the ground at a ripe old age?

Learn How to Increase Flexibility with This Bruce Lee Stretching Routine.

The Mental Challenge

There’s a mental game in doing Squats that doesn’t exist in doing Deadlifts. There’s a process of growth in fortitude and mental strength. Knowing you’ve got an enormous amount of weight on your back and it’s you versus the bar—it’s intense. Even if you’re doing a lighter weight at higher reps—you’re breathing hard. Your mind is spinning. You’ve really got to make a choice to break through and fulfill the brief mission you just set out to accomplish.

Are Squats the superior exercise to lose fat and increase testosterone?

I’ve seen numerous articles point to studies that challenging yourself with Squats does more to induce increased testosterone production than any other exercise. I set out to raid the internet for this elusive research and I could find some. But the articles that I read often did not point to specific studies that correlate Testosterone increase with Squats.

What I did find was that high resistance training had a direct impact on testosterone levels. I know there are numerous studies out there and if you could point me to more evidence on the subject in the comments, I’d love it.

What we DO know is that the more lean muscle you have the more calories you must burn each day to stay alive. Squats activate and grow more lean muscle than any other exercise. If you want to burn fat, do Squats.

Are Squats safe?

Some people may fear that Squats could “blow out” your knees or cause a back injury. Sure, like almost any exercise done in the wrong manner, without warming up, beyond your range of motion, with poor form or lifting too much weight can be detrimental.

What if you have a back or knee injury? Then you should see a sports doctor and a physical therapist. I have. Because of a spine injury I can’t squat hundreds of pounds. I must compromise and do Leg Presses and isolation exercises. But I still incorporate body weight squats during warm-ups. I recognize, per my roommate Matt’s suggestion, that I need to incorporate more body weight squats into my life to once again get to “third world” squat status.

Read about my personal experience bouncing back from injury.

It’s not about being able to lift heavy. It’s about being fit, healthy, and being able to use our bodies as they are designed to be for a very long time.

By reading here, you must be willing to perform a squat immediately, mustn’t you? If so, pistol squat is absolutely worth a try.

Why Are Deadlifts The King of Exercises?

Are you from the group of people that believe the Deadlift is the King of Exercises? In my book it’s a close second. But here’s a strong case for Deadlifts being crowned King:

Greater Functional Fitness and Real Life Training

Squats certainly are functional. If you can’t squat down in real life, you’re in trouble. But Deadlifts work more of your body in its entirety. They are even more functional for fitness and in real life use than Squats.

Training in Deadlifts means you are able to pick something up without throwing out your back.

It’s All About the Spine

If you can learn to keep your spine in the neutral position that the Deadlift requires, you’ll have a healthier spine and the muscles protecting it. Deadlifts are SUPER functional.

Pulling exercises help prevent the rounded shoulders that promotes the “meathead” look. Bad posture includes that rolled over “Crow’s neck” look that a lot of guys have. When the spine contorts and you’re rounding your shoulders, not only do you look bad, but you’re allowing “micro-trauma” of the spine to eventually catch up to you as you misuse your back.

Training in Deadlifts correctly is training yourself to have a correct back.

Here’s a couple more Pros for Deadlifts:

You happen to feel amazing when you can pick up really heavy weight.

Deadlifts are a bit less risky than Squats. There are some legitimate fitness competitors that no longer do Squats due to risk of injury. If you don’t know what you’re doing with either exercise, make sure you’re getting instruction from a seasoned trainer, not some guy at 24 Hour Fitness that studied for 10 months or someone that just got their L1 Trainer status from a 2-Day Crossfit coaching class.

“There is no reason to be alive if you can’t do Deadlift.”

-Jon Pall Sigmarsson as he Deadlifts 1,005 pounds

Your Verdict: What is the King of Exercises – Squats or Deadlifts?

[Third World Squat photo courtesy of]
[Featured image Squat courtesy of]


  1. I’ve always preferred squats to deadlifts. In addition to strengthening my legs and back they also help increase my core power. I’m always surprised how squats can get you breathing heavy. In Japan they also squat a lot, and since I spent some time in Japan as a kid it might be the inner me trying to achieve “3rd world” squat status.

    • Man it is insane how heavily I breath during/after squatting. And I get so light-headed too! My roommate pointed out to me how important it is to have that “third world” squat strength/ability. I always remember being on a mission trip in India and being impressed that 80 year old villagers were still able to do that.

  2. I prefer squats (and lunges) for aesthetic purposes, but agree deadlifts are great for a strong lower back. Technique can be challenging (still is for me), I agree finding someone in the know is beneficial.

  3. Deadlifts — because I can do them topless! Squats = sweater day at the gym.

    I live for deadlfits and squats. I got my youngest brother focusing on these and he’s a monster at 17.

  4. I hit the gym for awhile but couldn’t endure the pain so I gave up. But I’d definitely put this in mind in case I decide on hitting the gym again in the future.

    • Oh those no pain like the result of Leg day. As a man, it’s tough b/c you feel more “manly” doing upper body stuff. But people who skip leg day are skipping out on major results, and health benefits (I’ve heard better circulation).

  5. Henry Hebert says

    I agree with you on squats and deadlift. I am 64 years old and in the past I have always bench and did upper body workout. One of my fellow coaches introduce me to deadlifting.. Personally it’s the best exercise I have encounter in my forty years of working out. I feel so much stronger since I have incorporated deadlifts in my workout program. Also, I do squats too, and I feel so much stronger and confident. Overall, I work my legs three days a week and I can actually see positive results.

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