Barbell squat vs dumbbell squat

Squat exercises are a staple compound exercise in any strength training workout. Squats will increase overall lower body strength, muscle size and muscle growth.

Not only do squats strengthen your legs, but they also target your glutes and your entire posterior chain.

There are many squat variations, including barbell and dumbbell squats. Both exercises work your muscles differently but have countless benefits on your overall strength.

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Barbell squat vs dumbbell squat

Squats are the king of lower body exercises. They work multiple muscles across the lower body increasing overall strength for novice and advanced lifters.

Barbell squats and dumbbell squats allow you to work on lower body muscles including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, your lower back (erector spinae) and core.

The main difference with the squat variations is the placement of the weight. Barbell squats typically are placed on the upper back or lower back while dumbbell squats are typically held in your hands.

You can do many of the same types of squats whether you are using a barbell or a dumbbell. You will find that you will be able to lift heavier weights with barbell squats vs dumbbell squats. Regardless of the squat, work on lifting with proper form before upping the weight.

Tip: The most important skill you can master for different squat variations — regardless of whether it involves a barbell or set of dumbbells — is the “hip hinge.” Instead of bending forward at your waist as you lower your body, start by pushing your hips back, as if you were going to sit down in a chair.

Doing so will help ensure that you “sit back” into the exercise, engaging your posterior chain muscles and minimizing the stress on your spine.

Barbell squats

Barbell squats— high bar squats and the low bar squat—are exercises for building strength and muscle mass in the lower body and developing core strength.

The high bar back squat places the bar on your traps, a low bar back squat places the bar on your rear deltoids and a front squat places the load on your front deltoids.

Benefits of barbell squats

Heavy load capacity

You can load the barbell on your back with a heavier weight in comparison to what you can hold with dumbbells.

Can help with other lifts

Squats will help you with other lifts such as deadlifts and the bench press as you increase your strength.

Engages largest muscles

Barbell squats engage a number of large muscle groups to work together including quads, posterior chain, core and back.

Types of barbell squats

Front squat

  • Using a squat rack, place the loaded straight barbell at shoulder height
  • Wedge the bar in the crook of your shoulder
  • Place your hands just beyond shoulder-width and try to get the base of your four fingers around the bar
  • Drive your elbows up, so that your triceps are parallel to the floor
  • Stand up to lift the bar from the rack
  • Take a step back and set your squat stance 
  • Bend at your knees, while trying to sit between your thighs to stay more upright
  • Stop once your thighs are parallel to the floor or slightly below
  • Push the floor away to stand up

Back squats

woman standing in squat rack with barbell on upper back for barbell squats
woman in lower end of barbell squat
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and the standard barbell resting on your traps.
  • Your arms should make right angles as you grip the bar.
  • Keeping your core tight, lower into squat position while keeping your upper body upright
  • When reaching the lower part of your squat, push through your heels and return to the starting position

Overhead squats

  • Hold the bar above your head with your grip set wide.
  • Keep your arms locked out
  • As you begin to squat down keep the core braced and the hips neutral
  • Squat downward below parallel
  • Work to keep the barbell overhead and the chest up as you push back up to your starting position
  • Repeat

Zercher squat

woman standing at top of barbell zercher squat
woman standing at top of barbell zercher squat

Dumbbell squats

The benefits of dumbbell squats include they add a variety to squats, less weight loaded on your spine and great for home workouts.

Benefits of dumbbell squats

Variety of squats

Barbell squats and dumbbell squats are similar. Dumbbells allow a variety of squats with dumbbells that you can’t do with a barbell.

Less weight loaded on your spine

Since you are holding the dumbbells in your hands, you don’t have the same compression as with a loaded barbell in squat exercises.

Great for home workouts

Not everyone has a squat rack in a home gym to be able to do loaded barbell squats. Dumbbells are perfect for squats because of the variety and they don’t require much space at all. Generally, if you can stand up and sit down on the floor the area is large enough for dumbbell squats.

Types of dumbbell squats

Dumbbell squat

woman standing with a dumbbell in each hand for squats
woman doing squats for dumbbell glute exercises
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with a pair of dumbbells
  • Brace your core and lower yourself by bending your knees and until your quads are parallel with the ground.
  • Keep your chest up by focusing on raising your sternum.
  • Pause for a second and then return to your starting point.

*Keep your feet firmly planted on the ground the entire time. Do not rock and let your heels come off the ground.

Bulgarian split squat

A great way to add a unilateral exercise into your lower body workout to help with imbalances and improve quad strength.

  • Stand in front of a step, bench or elevated platform with your back toward it.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand at hip level. 
  • Place your right leg on the top of the bench and take a step forward with the opposite leg.  
  • Brace your core and lower yourself by bending your left knee until it reaches 90-degrees.  
  • Push through your foot and bring yourself back to the start.  
  • Finish your set and switch legs.  

Sumo squats

woman at the bottom of a goblet squat in long sleeve shirt and garnet leggings
  • Stand with a wide stance and your feet turned outwards slightly.
  • Hold a single dumbbell in your hands toward the floor between your feet, squat down, bending your knees.  
  • Stop when your legs reach a 90-degree bend and push up back to the starting position. 
  • Repeat the movement. 

Goblet squat

  • Hold the dumbbell vertically, gripping it with both hands underneath the top of the weight. Keep the dumbbell close to your chest throughout the entire movement.
  • Point your knees in the same direction as your toes.
  • Inhale and begin to squat, sitting back in your hips, keeping your core tight and chest upright.
  • If your level of flexibility allows it, track your elbows between your knees, stopping when they touch.
  • Drive through your heels back to the starting position. Keep your feet flat on the floor throughout the movement.

Dumbbells and barbell

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Wrap up

Barbell squats and dumbbell squats are squat variations that can be easily added and swapped out. Whether you are using a barbell or a set of dumbbells, your training program should include both to help you improve your strength gains.

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