Doing Only Squats And Deadlifts For Legs Enough For Gains?
February 28th 2020
If you only had time to perform the squat and deadlift in the gym, are these exercises enough to provide sufficient leg development for the beginner?
This might sound surprising, but I would say the answer is yes.
Both the squat and deadlift are great exercises that train your entire posterior chain which includes your hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings, quads, and lower back.
These muscle groups are important for overall leg development, and through these exercises, you can rest assured knowing that you have trained your legs sufficiently for the day.
Training with squats and deadlifts will provide a sufficient enough stimulus for growth.
It is not until you become an advanced lifter that these exercises might not be enough.
For advanced lifters, you might want to add in more accessory exercises for complete development or to strengthen your weak points.
In the rest of the article, we will go over what makes the squat and deadlift so special, as well as what constitutes a beginner or advanced lifter.
To start off, what is the significance of the squat and deadlift and why are they so popular amongst weightlifters?
Popularity of the squat and deadlift
The reason why the squat and deadlift are so popular among weight lifters is that both these exercises are compound exercises that target a wide variety of muscle groups, and they also allow the ability for you to progressively overload week by week while following a linear progression program.
This is opposed to performing exercises that only target one muscle group, or that don’t allow progressive overload week by week.
Think about how much you stronger you need to get to the next level when doing cable or exercises with the dumbbells.
In the typical gym, dumbbells only go up by 5 lbs each, and the cables 10 lbs.
If you want to move up in weight, or progressively overload, you will need to be able to lift 5 lb stronger with each arm.
When performing these types of exercises, you may find your progress stalling and that you are not gaining strength or size even though you work out.
This is because you will need a lot of bigger muscles or an optimized nervous system in order to increase your strength by 5 lbs each arm.
This contrasts with the barbell where you can add weights as low as 2.5 lbs each arm.
By doing so, you are able to optimize your progress since you are able to slowly increase the amount of load you are providing each week.
In addition, it is easy to know whether or not you are getting stronger/bigger by how much weight you can lift.
Now that you know the benefits that the squat and deadlift have over traditional exercises, what constitutes a beginner or advanced lifter?
What constitutes a beginner or advanced lifter?
A beginner lifter is defined as somebody who has just begun a strength program and has not yet reached a plateau.
A beginner lifter’s focus is to go to the gym consistently and to learn how to perform the lifts with the proper form.
An advanced lifter can be described as somebody who has learned how to perform the exercise with proper form, and someone who has stopped progressing on a linear periodization program.
For most people, this may take around 2 years to reach.
And to clarify, what I mean by someone who has stopped progressing on a linear periodization program doesn’t mean simply reaching a plateau.
Most beginners, once they reach a plateau, can deload and restart their linear periodization program.
If they are still a beginner, they will eventually be able to work their way back up and be stronger (even if only slightly).
On the other hand, an advanced lifter, even with a deload, isn’t able to progress on their lifts at all.
At that point, it is safe to assume that the lifter has become an advanced lifter and is nearing their genetic potential.
As a result, in order to get stronger, the lifter must follow a different program that adds in exercise variety, more intensity, frequency, etc.
To put it simply, an advanced lifter is someone who has stalled on a beginner’s program, and must work even harder in order to obtain any progress.
What exercises should an advanced lifter add in with the squat and deadlift?
Advanced lifters will benefit from adding in exercises that target specific muscles the legs.
This includes glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves.
The glutes can be targeted from exercises such as the barbell hip thrust.
The hamstrings can be targeted from deadlift variations such as the Romanian deadlift, or from machine work such as the lying hamstring curl.
The quads can be targeted by the Bulgarian split squat, single-leg squat, or the knee extension machine.
The calves can be targeted by seated calf raises, and standing calf raises.
For the advanced lifter looking to continue to get bigger and stronger, a combination of these exercises should be added into the program.
Exercise variation will help to get you bigger and stronger because it forces your body to perform these movement patterns that it is not used to.
Plus, adding in additional exercises will increase the overall intensity and volume of your workout leading to more muscle growth.
Is just doing squats or deadlifts on leg day enough for beginners?
As a beginner, the best way to develop your legs is heavy compound exercises while following a linear progression program.
As explained earlier, the squat and deadlift are the most effective exercises you can do for your lower body.
If these are the only exercises you can perform during leg day, don’t sweat it, these exercises are all you need.
Anything more would be the icing on the cake.
However, if you are an advanced lifter who has stalled on all of your lifts, then just squatting and deadlifting may not be enough for you.
If that is the case, consider adding additional exercises to your program as suggested before.
You would be surprised at how little you need to train in order to grow big and strong legs.
You would imagine spending 3+hrs in the gym for 5 days a week…
Quite the opposite.
You just need a few hard sets in order to stimulate growth.
For more advanced lifters, this can be as little as one working set too!
But enough about the future and let us focus on the present.
Get on a general strength program and watch your progress steadily climb.