Barbell Squats Vs Dumbbell Squats? Which One Should You Do?
Squats are a staple in every single workout program. There’s just no denying that squats are ridiculously effective when it comes to developing a strong lower body. Squats are one of the few exercises that use almost every single muscle in the lower body which builds and unleashes the power of your legs and helps you become a more explosive athlete. But, muscular legs are just one benefit of the squat.
When you work out large muscle groups like the legs with heavy weights, your body naturally enhances your testosterone levels. This means that you improve the muscle building throughout your entire body when you perform squats – not just in your legs. Squats also develop your core strength as you’re bracing while lowering the weights and powering back up while lifting the weights. This leads to better flexibility and more explosion in your legs and hips.
But, while the benefits of the squat are widely recognized and unparalleled, we wanted to take a look at how the more common barbell squat compares to the dumbbell squat.
The Back Barbell Squat
If you polled every gym across the world on the most popular free-weight squat, I’m sure the back barbell squat would win in a landslide. That’s because it’s one of the best strength training exercises there is. It mainly targets the quadriceps, but it also works the calves, glutes, and hamstrings for an entire leg workout. The back barbell squat works the muscles while they’re pushing the barbell upwards.
The exercise is simple and is perfect for beginners and advanced athletes. To start, place the barbell across the back and on top of the traps for support. The head and chest should be pointed straight forward. Your feet should be placed at about shoulder width apart.
Then descend by bending your knees while ensuring your knees stay aligned with your feet. Remember to keep your torso upright as well. Descend until the upper and lower legs touch each other, then reverse the exercise and push the weight upwards.
Barbell Squat Variation 1 – The Front Barbell Squat
This is a variation from the back barbell squat. The main difference is fairly obvious. Instead of holding the barbell on the traps and across the back, the barbell is held in front of the body. The advantage of the front barbell squat is that it develops and requires much more core and upper body strength than the back dumbbell squat.
Thus, the front barbell squat is significantly harder than the more popular back barbell squat version. But, not only does it require significant upper body and core strength, it also requires significant lower body muscle. Like the back barbell squat, it mainly targets the quadriceps. However, this version puts even more strain on the quadriceps because you must be able to stabilize the bar throughout the exercise.
A lack of core or upper body strength could cause you to lean or fall forward and sustain injury. Use caution when performing this exercise.
Barbell Squat Variation 2 – The Overhead Squat
In the barbell squat difficulty hierarchy, the overhead squat sits at the top. This squat variation is mainly used by serious bodybuilders and Olympic weight lifters. In addition to significant lower body, core, and upper body strength, the overhead squat requires significant shoulder and upper back strength, as well as hip mobility.
This squat is rarely seen in the average gym. The difficulty and risk of injury for this variation are both extremely high compared to the back and front variations. Use extreme caution when trying the overhead squat. Always try new exercises with minimal weight until you’ve perfected the form and gradually increase the weight you lift.
The Dumbbell Squat
The dumbbell squat is a less common alternative to the more traditional barbell squat. The dumbbell squat also primarily targets the quadriceps. Like the barbell squat, it also works out the calves, glutes and hamstrings for a total leg workout. However, one of the additional benefits of the dumbbell squat is that the exercise also works out the lower back.
The other additional benefit is how the exercise works. Instead of bracing the weight on across the traps, the weight is being held in your hands on each side of the body. Thus, instead of just pushing the weight up with the legs, you are pushing the weight up with your legs while pulling the weight up on your arms.
To start, hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing the outside of your leg. Place your feet shoulder width apart. Keep your back straight and your head up pointed forward.
Descend by bending the knees while keeping your back straight and your head up and pointed forward. Aim to descend until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Your knees should descend while remaining in line with your toes.
Return the starting position by pushing your feet against the floor and moving the weight upwards.
Dumbbell Squat Variation 1 – The Front Dumbbell Squat
Instead of holding two dumbbells on your side as you would with the standard dumbbell squat, you start by holding a dumbbell in each hand in front of your chest at approximately shoulder height. This is essentially the dumbbell version of the front barbell squat and works in a very similar way. The benefit to the dumbbell front squat over the barbell is that the left and right arms are totally isolated. This means that you’re unable to assist one half of your body with muscles from your other half, which leads to equal muscle growth.
Dumbbell Squat Variation 2 – The Goblet Squat
The goblet squat only requires one dumbbell. Hold the dumbbell in front of your chest with both hands at the top of the dumbbell. Lower your body weight keeping the ideal squatting form of an aligned back and keeping your knees in line with your toes. Lower yourself until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Then reverse the motion.
Take the Goblet Squat to the Next Level
To take the squat to the next level, try the sumo squat. The sumo squat uses the same type of variation as the dumbbell squat. However, stand on an elevated platform with an empty space between your legs. Instead of holding the dumbbell up in front of your chest like in the goblet squat, straighten your arms and let the dumbbell dangle while standing on the elevated platform. Then perform the squat. This variation allows you to use a larger range of motion and maximize the squat.
Dumbbell Squat Variation 3 – The Overhead Dumbbell Squat
This squat variation is a lot like the overhead barbell squat. However, it is slightly easier to perform because you are using two smaller dumbbells as opposed to one large barbell. To do the overhead dumbbell squat, hold a dumbbell above the head in each hand. Then proceed with the squat while using correct form. The advantage to this squat over the barbell version is that is allows you to totally isolate the left and right arms.
So, Which Squat is the Best?
There is no “best squat” for everyone. Your best option is to do what feels best for you and your own body. This will be dependent on preexisting on injuries and different body types. The barbell squat is generally the best squat to begin with to work on form and build strength. Then, use other variations to accelerate muscle growth and for alternatives.
However, not everyone has access to a barbell or feels comfortable doing squats in a gym session – especially when just starting out. If this is the case, then doing different variations of dumbbell squats is the way to go. Work on your form with different forms of the exercise while building up your strength. Then, when you’re comfortable using a barbell, include those in your strength training routine.
If you’re into crossfit, then there are even a squat routine for that. Each of these variations are great for building leg strength and improving your overall muscle development and strength. Every one of them will allow you to build a lot of muscle mass. And when you’re ready to take your gains to the next level, you know where to find us.