Table of Contents
Barbell squats are considered one of the most efficient exercises you can do, and with good reason.
They burn a ton of calories, pack on some serious muscle and boost strength gains, all while recruiting pretty much every muscle in your entire body.
But, what about dumbbell squats?
How are they different to regular back squats and are they just as good or better?
Keep reading to find out more about the benefits of dumbbell squats and if they’re worth incorporating into your leg day workouts.
How Is The Dumbbell Squat Different To The Barbell Squat
The main difference between a dumbbell squat and a regular barbell back squat is how you hold the weight.
When doing a dumbbell squat, you’ll need to hold the dumbbells either down by your sides or at shoulder height.
For regular squats, you’ll have a barbell resting across your upper back.
Using dumbbells to squat can impact the range of motion.
Recommended Reading – Barbell Squats VS Dumbbell Squats – 5 Critical Differences
For example, if you hold them down by your sides, you’ll find that you can’t squat to the same depth than if you were to do barbell back or front squats.
You can improve on this by holding the dumbbells to your shoulders.
However, you won’t be able to lift as much weight, as loading a heavy barbell on your back is much easier than holding a pair of 50kg dumbbells up near your head.
There are still plenty of benefits by doing regular dumbbell squats which we’ll look at next.
Benefits of Dumbbell Squats
Dumbbell squats offer several benefits compared to other squat variations, and they can be a valuable addition to your workout routine.
Here are some advantages:
More Comfortable Grip Options
When holding a pair of dumbbells down by your sides you can adopt a neutral grip so that your palms are facing inwards.
This allows for a more natural alignment of the wrist joints making it a better option if you have poor mobility or find that barbell squats put too much stress on the joints.
On the other hand, if you prefer to hold them at your shoulders, this can help to decrease stress on the shoulder joints compared to a barbell squat.
The fixed position of the bar resting on your upper back can be uncomfortable especially if you have any pre-existing issues with shoulder pain or a limited range of motion.
Better Recruitment Of Stabilization Muscles
With dumbbells, each arm is independent of the other.
This allows for a more natural range of motion for the shoulders when compared to using a barbell.
This is better for biomechanics and how your body would naturally move.
When you perform a dumbbell squat you can execute it in a way that puts much less stress on your shoulders and wrists, this ensures that all your muscles work together as they should.
This makes the exercise much more efficient in terms of biomechanics and reduces the risk of injury.
Less Stress Placed On Your Spine
When doing a barbell squat, the weight is typically distributed across your upper back and shoulders.
This can create a lot of compressive forces on the spine, especially your lumbar spine which is your lower back.
In contrast, when performing a dumbbell squat, the load is distributed at your sides.
This can potentially allow for a more even distribution of weight and may reduce stress and load on your spine.
It’s easier to maintain a more upright position and this in turn stops your lower back from rounding which is quite common in barbell squats.
They’re Easier To Do Compared To Other Squat Types
If you’re new to squatting it can be a good idea to start with dumbbell squats which will allow you to focus on proper form.
You’ll be lifting lighter weights which will make them easier to do with good form.
Dumbbells provide the option for different squat variations.
For example, you can do goblet squats, where you hold a dumbbell close to your chest, or front squats with dumbbells at your shoulders.
These variations can be more comfortable for some compared to the traditional back squat with a barbell.
More Freedom Of Movement
When you hold a dumbbell in each hand, this gives you the freedom to move more naturally that if you have a loaded bar in a fixed position on your back.
This allows you to squat in a more comfortable position while being able to adjust your movement based on your ability and fitness level.
They Can Be More Versatile
There are many kinds of squat you can do with a pair of dumbbells and not just holding them by your sides or at your shoulders.
These variations include the dumbbell split squat, pistol squat and the dumbbell sumo squat.
This versatility gives you the option to target muscle groups in different ways and to keep testing and building muscle and increasing strength.
Are There Any Drawbacks to Dumbbell Squats
The main limiting factor with dumbbell squats, especially when compared to squatting with a bar, is that you’re not going to be able to lift as heavy.
Your upper body will be able to withstand heavier weights than if you were to hold a pair of dumbbells.
Your grip strength will likely be the first thing to prevent you from squatting heavy when holding free weights.
This can be a problem if your main goal is to increase your strength.
You can increase both reps and sets to keep adding muscle, and perform different types of squats, but to break through strength plateaus the only solution is to squat more weight.
This means that eventually, you’ll reach a point where your grip and arm strength will prevent you from making any further gains.
Some Other Dumbbell Squat Variations For You To Try Out
As we mentioned, there are quite a few variations for squatting when using a dumbbell or two which can be a way of challenging your muscles differently.
Here are some great options:
Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squats
The is a unilateral exercise working one leg at a time.
Unilateral exercises are perfect for working on muscle imbalances.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand and down by your sides.
- Stand a few feet in front of a weight bench or elevated surface.
- Place one foot behind you on the bench.
- Lower your body into a lunge position while keeping your arms relaxed.
- Push through the front heel to return to the starting position.
- Repeat the same number of reps on both legs.
Dumbbell Jump Squats
The dumbbell jump squat is a plyometric exercise that can help to boost engagement of your fast twitch muscle fibers.
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and a dumbbell in each hand.
- Bend your knees to lower yourself into a squat position. Keep your head and chest up and don’t let your lower back round.
- Explosively push through your heels extending your hips and knees to jump off the ground.
- Keep your core muscles engaged throughout.
- Land softly with your knees slightly and immediately go straight into the next rep.
Dumbbell Pulse Squats
Dumbbells pulse squats are an oscillatory exercise which means you’ll be performing them quickly and with a small range of motion.
This can be a great way of increasing your endurance levels as well as adding muscle and strength.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width distance and toes pointing slightly out.
- Keep your arms relaxed and dumbbells by your sides.
- Bend your knees and push your glutes back into a squat position.
- Keeping your head and chest up, push through your heels but instead of returning to a standing position, only ascend a few inches.
- Without pausing, squat back down until your legs are around parallel to the ground.
- Continue squatting in this pulsing action.
Overhead Dumbbell Squat
This is an excellent exercise for improving your core muscles and increasing your overall strength and stability.
It can be quite challenging so make sure you start with a lighter weight and concentrate on good squat form.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand overhead. Your arms should be extended with your palms facing forward.
- Keep your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Brace your core and squat down by pushing your hips back.
- When your thighs are a parallel to the floor, pause for a second then return to the starting position.
Dumbbell Sumo Squat
This variation requires a smaller range of motion as your legs are positioned much further apart.
It’ll work the same muscles as a regular squat but puts more emphasis on your glutes.
So, if building your glutes is a priority then this is a great option.
- Hold a single dumbbell with both hands in front of you.
- Take a wider-than-shoulder-width stance with your toes pointed slightly out.
- Lower your body into a squat, keeping your chest up. Try not to let your knees cave in as this can affect your form.
- Push through your heels back to the start.
Do Dumbbell Squats Build Your Glutes
There are many squat variations you can do and no matter which one you choose; they’ll all have the advantage of recruiting your gluteus maximus.
That’s the largest muscle in your glutes and contributes to the overall shape and size.
But some squat exercises are better than others for building your glutes.
The best squat variation for maximum glute activation will be sumo squats.
This involves placing your feet past shoulder-width apart.
What this does is decreases some of the weight load from your quads and places it straight on to your glutes.
Dumbbell squats offer a versatile and effective way of targeting various muscle groups, promoting overall lower body strength, and enhancing functional movement patterns.
The freedom of movement provided by dumbbells allows for greater adaptability and customization in squat variations.
What’s more, the unilateral nature of dumbbell squats can help to address muscle imbalances and improve your stability.
Be sure to keep your workouts varied as this is the best way of continuing to make improvements.
This can include regular bodyweight squats and, as you get stronger, you can begin to handle heavier loads allowing you to move over to barbell squats for even bigger gains.