DL Semantics

……..some of my notes in preparing for a DL article being published soon
……..some cool DL videos as well


Squat vs. DL Defintions
Semantics will always prevail, but I would consider a deadlift anything that has a vertical tibia, and a squat anything with an angled tibia.
A true box squat is technically a DL and more pure hip hinge.
Only the most nimble acrobats, as Thomas Myers would call them, can legitimately pull off the floor with a vertical tibia and spinal and scapular integrity. Going off the floor, when the hip hinge runs out, the movement will turn into a squat when the tibia angles.

So all in all, a DL off the floor starts as a squat and then turns into a deadlift when the tibia become vertical.

For instance, we never did any angled tibia work the NBA, and squat/DL movements were always high. DLs were out of the rack, and box squats were to a high box. If guys could get parallel, then that would be fine, but I was more interested in the hip hinge and deloading the knee.

A good morning would meet the Deadlift vertical tibia (20 degree knee flexion) criterion with just a bar on your back instead of in your hands.

As far as legs straight, I would never have the knees locked. Legs straight, to me, would mean 20 degrees flexion. Knees unlocked, but in the deep hip hinge, the hamstrings are still very tensioned through length. This is in the catch position of the KB Swing.
There are many other versions of semantics and hybrids, but this is how I define the choices.


I think in testing athletes the Deadlift is a better option than the Squat for a double-leg movement.  They both yield risk in a max effort single, but the Deadlift has some advantages.
1) You don’t have to walk it out.  Walking out the bar is not only a limiting factor, but walking backwards, teetering from 1 leg to the other with 6 wheels are on your back isn’t going to be a hallmark to a Do No Harm athletic training program.
2) If you feel your back going, you can drop the Deadlift if you want to.  You either have to dump the bar down your back, or if you have spotters, you have to either call for them or have them pull you out of the hole.  Relying on yourself is probably a safer approach.
3) Yeah, some folks are farther away from the floor, but I think testing is a measure against yourself, not against others.  Athletes don’t have to be powerlifters, but they do need to keep getting stronger.  And even though folks are different distances from the floor, the floor is still in the same place for everybody.  Clearing a depth time for squat is a different reference for everybody, and it’s arbitary for each person’s limbs.  Deadlifting should have better test-retest validity.
As far as the DL, I think it is very efficacious to test 1RM in the Deadlift.
I would not test 10RM or 5RM in a traditional sense because reps of the DL are really multiple sets of 1. Resetting the complete grip setup is actually not a bad idea in as much as there no controlled eccentric pattern of a heavy deadlift. This is certainly what we do when using the DL for conditioning and correction.
Whether it’s bounced or not, the 2nd and beyond DL is not the same as the first one unless you take 3-5 seconds to go for the next rep.  Those aren’t reps.  Those are series of singles.
Reps after #1 may have some level of stretch reflex which will not be indicative of a 1RM when the bar is at rest. The DL is not a reactive pattern in terms of the stretch-reflex (it is in the spine), so the 1RM is in my opinion a more useful tool.


Variations of Deadlifts

Good Morning
2-arm, 1-leg DL
1-arm, 1-leg DL
KB Swing



Toe Touch
–ASLR Progressions
–PNF Stretching
–Manual Therapy
–Toe Touch Pattern

1-Leg Bridge
Cook Bridge
1-Leg Push-Up
Crocodile Breathing
–Chop and Lift

Dowel DL
1-leg Dowel DL

Band DL
Suitcase DL

Progress to the floor

  • February 23, 2011

Leave a Reply 16 comments

Aj oliva Reply

Charlie good stuff, do you think its important to have a below parallel bodyweight squat?

bkellylimerick@gmail.com Reply

Good, in depth article. Jackson’s and Volgepohl’s (sp?) pulls were very impressive in how fast they moved such heavy loads.

Charlie Reply

AJ – Without a doubt. It is a necessary requisite movement.
FMS aside, I would like to see arms forward BW squat, toes out and breathing in the hole.

Lauren P Reply

Hey Charile – You bring up a great article! 1. Just to clarify, you would agree with Gray’s, “Maintain the Squat, Train the Deadlift”?

And if so, when you move into training the deadlift I have a couple questions: 1. Do you think neuromuscularly, the way you move into your deadlift position can change what you fire to exert your return to stand? So your OKC form of getting into the lift? I know I have used some of the deep squat progressions and sumo squat to stand stretching for this before.

2. I work with high volumes of Crossfit-ers. They think I am crazy when I tell them they have to maintain a neutral squat position in order for prevent high amounts of imbalances in hip mobility and spinal recruitment as their their training volume increases. What usually happens is they are sedentary at desk jobs all day, do a standard crossfit warm-up which isnt very specialized and then when i watch them squat, snatch, etc from a superior view (even with light weight) their form is poor. Any recommendations?

Mike Stehle Reply

Nice article Charlie!

Who was that handsome dude in the last vid?

Jon Rimmer Reply

Good stuff Charlie, thanks.

Amir Siddiqui Reply

Now THIS is knowledge! Great one Charlie.

mboyle1959@aol.com Reply

I would disagree with terminology. I think if the weight is in the hands at waist height or below it is a deadlift. I’m not sure tibia angle has a lot to do with it. I think you can squat with a vertical tibia but, I don’t think most deadift that way. In many mays the difference between a Trap bar deadlift and a squat is simply the load in the hands,

Charlie Reply

Lauren – Yes, I do agree with the Maintain the Squat, Train the Deadlift.
But I also think it’s important to consider that the Squat to maintain is squat the movement, not squat the exercise. As I also believe in Train the Squat (the exercise) if you want to.

I think the grip and rip pulling technique is useful, but the overall hip hinge technique in how you address the bar probably isn’t hugely meaningful to how well you pull.
I think as long as you get into the right setup to pull, how you get there probably doesn’t matter that much.
I suppose it can if you are that jacked up, but if you are, you shouldn’t be deadlifting.

In terms of the Crossfit folks, first off, any training style that accepts poor training form should be rejected and distanced from.
If these folks can not accept that form is mandatory, then I would recommend not working with them because success will be poorly graded by their unfortunate concepts.
Steer clear.

Charlie Reply

Coach – We can do a sumo and DL off the floor with a vertical tibia.

I would definitely agree that the TBDL is a squat.

I’d say the semantics are secondary to the programming and coaching of the lifts.

smitty.diesel@gmail.com Reply

Great statements:

So all in all, a DL off the floor starts as a squat and then turns into a deadlift when the tibia become vertical.

testing is a measure against yourself, not against others. Athletes don’t have to be powerlifters, but they do need to keep getting stronger

Those aren’t reps. Those are series of singles.

bryan M Reply

Where would you categorize the front squat with shins that are perpendicular to the floor?

Charlie Reply

bryan – I’ve never seen a front squat done with vertical tibia unless it was a Zercher or with the Zercher Harness.
But if it’s with a vertical tibia, it’s a deadlift.

Matt Reply


Any thoughts on pulling barefoot or with flat-soled shoes to help improve/maintain proper ankle mobility? Once I started to have my more experienced clients go barefoot, their low backs remain locked in better and they also have improved hip mobility. Is this consistent with your experience?

Charlie Reply

I think there is a number of great things that can happen when barefoot and unsupported shoes in deadlifting.
Yes, my experience is very consistent with yours.

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