Dumbbell squat vs barbell squat: 5 variations of each

It’s no secret that squats are beneficial to your physique and overall health. From increasing strength in your lower body to challenging your core, squats are a staple in many strength training programs. The question becomes dumbbell squat vs barbell squat in today’s workout?

Whether you go barbell squat or dumbbell squat, squats are great compound exercises that will help improve overall strength.

woman doing dumbbell squat in the gym

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However, with so many different squat varieties out there, it can be hard to know which is the most effective.

What is a dumbbell squat?

Dumbbell squats are an important part of lower body workouts. They can be performed with one or two dumbbells, depending on the squat movement.

They are ideal for all ability ranges. You can work on strengthening weaknesses and to add variations.  

Benefits of dumbbell squats

Variety of squats

You can do 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.

woman in pink workout outfit doing dumbbell split squat or lunge

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.

Disadvantages of dumbbell squats

Hands fatigue first when using dumbbells

You can’t grip as heavy as a weight for squats as if using a barbell. Your hands will give out long before your leg muscles do.

Reach plateaus in strength

Your strength will hit a max because of how much weight you move under progressive loads using dumbbells vs a barbell.

Types of dumbbell squats

Racked dumbbell squats

  1. In a standing position, curl a pair of dumbbells to the front of your shoulders
  2. Keep your elbows up the entire time you’re doing this exercise.
  3. Get into your squat stance and keep your chest up.
  4. Lower your body into a squat position while keeping your upper body in an upright position.
  5. Pause when you have reached your preferred squat depth and drive through your feet and stand up straight.
  6. Repeat

Goblet squat

  1. Stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes turned out.
  2. Hold the top of a dumbbell with both hands in front of your chest.
  3. Squat down and then press through your feet to stand.
  4. Repeat

By turning your toes out in this squat, you will engage your muscles at different angles while also hitting your inner thighs.

Bulgarian split squat

  1. Place one foot on an elevated platform (or bench), then step forward with the opposite leg.
  2. Lower yourself into squat position until both legs reach around 90 degrees,
  3. Push through your foot on the floor and return to starting position.
  4. Repeat 

Think about sitting back into the bench, not straight down.

Front squats

  1. Pick up a set up dumbbells and hold them shoulder height with your elbows upwards, pointing forward.
  2. Begin the movement by sitting back, bending at your knees, and pushing the legs outwards (opening the hips up).
  3. Then hit the bottom of your movement and push upwards back to the starting position.  

Sumo squat

  1. Stand with your legs in a wider stance and your toes pointed out.
  2. Hold the end of one dumbbell with both hands.
  3. With your chest up and shoulders down, lower into squat position with the dumbbell between your knees until it touches the ground.
  4. Pause for a second at the bottom
  5. Squat back up and squeeze your glutes at the end.
  6. Repeat

What is a barbell squat?

Barbell squats—high bar squats and low bar squat—are classic exercises for building strength and muscle mass in the lower body, as well as developing core strength and stability. Barbell squats allow you to use a heavy load, which is a great way to help with muscle gains.

A barbell squat can work the entire posterior chain from legs, through to glutes, abs, lower back and your upper back.. 

woman doing overhead squat

Benefits of barbell squats

Heavy load capacity

If you have a squat rack and the strength, you can load the barbell with a heavier weight than in comparison to what you can do 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 large muscles

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

woman doing front squat


Compression to spine

Heavy barbell squats can add compression to your traps and spine with the loaded barbell.

Typically need a squat rack

Barbells and plates are more expensive to buy than dumbbells. They also take up more space which is usually a limitation for beginners interested in starting a home gym.

Limitations of solo training

Hitting heavy weights alone without guards is never a good idea. You can increase the risk of injury depending on how much weight you’ve loaded onto the bar.

Types of barbell squats

Front squat

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

Back squats

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and the barbell resting on your traps.
  2. Your arms should make right angles as you grip the bar.
  3. Keeping your core tight, lower into squat position while keeping your upper body upright
  4. When reaching the lower part of your squat, push through your heels and return to the starting position

Overhead squats

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

Zercher squat

  1. Using a squat rack, place the bar just below the height of your sternum
  2. Get close to the bar and get into a half-squat position
  3. Wedge the bar in the crease of your elbows and clasp your hands together
  4. Ensure that the bar is right up against your body and locked in position 
  5. Stand up to lift the bar from the rack
  6. Step back and set your squat stance 
  7. Bend at your knees, while trying to stay upright
  8. As you descend, keep your torso upright and your arms bent in the half-bicep-curl position
  9. Stop once your thighs are parallel to the floor or slightly below
  10. Push the floor away to stand up

Wrap up

Dumbbell and barbell squats are excellent exercises to incorporate into your leg day. They both have different benefits and weaknesses.

Dumbbell squats offer a number of different variations so that you won’t get bored, and your muscles will be constantly challenged. Although you are limited to the types of squats you can do with a barbell, they do allow you to use heavier weights, which can help build power and strength quickly.

Do you prefer dumbbell squats or barbell squats?

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