Dumbbell Squats Vs Barbell Squats – Which One Is Better?

By | February 14, 2015

Dumbbell Squats Vs Barbell Squats – Which One Is Better?

Dumbbell Squats Vs Barbell SquatsLot of people wonder about which one is more effective dumbbell squats or barbell squats. There is a lot of different factors what determine which one is the best.

But to be honest both of them are excellent choices and the whole dumbbell squats vs barbell squats is quite misleading because both of them are effective in their own different ways.

With dumbbells you got a dozens of different kind of squats you can do so there is a lot of different stimulus to work the muscles but the truth is it’s quite difficult to experience huge strength gains with dumbbells. Then again with the barbell you might have a bit fewer options to choose from.

So a good idea would be to incorporate both of them to mix up your workouts and to gain some new stimulus for your muscles!

Let’s look a bit indepth to both of them now:

The Positives Of Barbell Squats

One of the best mass and strength builders for your lower body. Opposed to dumbbell squats, barbell squats allow you to work with heavier weights and build strength in a better fashion than dumbbell variations of squats.

The front- and back squats have been a staple in every serious athlete who wants to enhance their performance for a specific sport or for bodybuilders who want to pack on some lean muscle on to their lower body.

When done right barbell squats not only have huge effects on performance and muscle growth but they also strengthen your knees, improve posture and help with lower back problems.

The positives of barbell squats when compared to dumbbells are:

  • Greater strength development
  • Better carryover to sport specific athleticism

The Most Common Barbell Squat Variations:

Back SquatDumbbell Squats Vs Barbell Squats

This is the squat movement where the biggest amount of weight is moved. This is the one and original squat movement which has been around for as long as people have been lifting weights.

And it’s no wonder since being able to perform back squat with good technique this movement can be one of the best lifts you can do if you want to increase total body strength as well as enjoy benefits that carry over to your general well being.

There is basically two kinds of back squats which are:

  • High Bar Squat
  • Low Bar Squat

High Bar Squats are the ones what olympic weightlifters use. As the name implies the bar rests high on your back. This type of back squat often requires a bit more mobility than the low bar version. Also the core needs to be stronger here. Usually the stance is quite narrow with high bar.

Low Bar Squats most of the time used by powerlifters. The bar placement is ofcourse lower on your back. These squats can be hard for beginners since usually they don’t have enough muscle on their upper back for a proper bar placement. In low bar squat you’ll lean a lot more forward compared to the high bar. The stance used in low bar is usually wider than in high bar.

If you’re thinking about which one of these to choose just pick a bar placement which feels natural for you and stick with it. As you progress you’ll learn more of your body and which stance width and bar placement works best for YOU.

Check out my guide on how to to basic back squat HERE!

Front SquatDumbbell Squats Vs Barbell Squats

The difference between front- and back squat is ofcourse the fact that in front squats the barbell is resting on front part of your body.

Front squats are more of a whole body movement compared to the back squats and on top of that they require way more mobility and strength in your core and upper body.

To be able to front squat you have to have enough mobility in your wrists and shoulders along with adequate strength levels of your core and upper back. If you lack the mobility and strength you’ll end up leaning forward and dropping the barbell on the floor. A way to counteract this is to take an arms crossed grip from the bar.

Front squats recruite more of your quads and core compared to the back squats. You will not be able to use the same weights with front squats as back squats since you have to use a lot more energy to just keep the bar in place where as in back squat the bar is basically resting on your back.


Overhead SquatsDumbbell Squats Vs Barbell Squats

A very challenging exercise mostly used by olympic weightlifters. This form of squat requires a lot of mobility in your shoulders and also strength of the upper back. You don’t really see this squat performed in regular gyms.

Also mobility of the hips plays a great role in this lift. If this squat feels awkward to you try adding small weight plates under your heels to give you more range of motion.

Zecher Squat

zecher_squatEven more rare than Overhead squats are these ones. This lift developes a lot of upper back strength, doesn’t compress the spine and has a good carryover to deadlifting.

But don’t go overloading the bar with huge amounts of weight since the bar is putting a lot of stress to your elbows. As with any lift start with light weights and progress gradually.

Here is a video to explain this not so common squat:

The Positives Of Dumbbell Squats Vs Barbell Squats

Dumbbell squats gives you more creativity since there are a lot of different variations. But the truth is that generating strength is faster and more effective with Barbell squats.

But if you don’t have access to a barbell, dumbbell squats are an effective way to enjoy benefits that squatting can bring.

The positives of dumbbell squats include:

  • More options for different kind of squats
  • Prevents muscle imbalances better
  • Makes the movements more “natural” to execute
  • Easier to work around injury
  • Safer to do

Let’s look a bit to the effective squats done with dumbbells:

Goblet Squatgoblet_squat

A bit different version of front squats for dumbbells. This exercise will be easier than done with a barbell since you don’t have to have the wrist and shoulder mobility. Simply just grab a dumbbell and keep in front of your chest with both hands. As always upper back should be tight throughout the movement.

Dumbbell Front Squat

DB_FrontSimilar to Goblet Squat but here you will take two dumbbells and hold them in quite the same fashion as in barbell front squat. In this variation you are performing almost the same movement as with the barbell front squat since the idea is to hold the dumbbells with the same kind of grip. What the dumbbells will do is you’ll be working both of your hands without the help of the other so you’ll end up minimizing the muscle imbalances what might happen when performing the same exercise with a barbell.

Dumbbell Squat

This can be done either with the dumbbells on your shoulders or arms hanging down. If you put the dumbbells on your shoulders this will simulate the high barbell back squat. If you keep them hanging on your side it will be more of mix between squat and and trap bar deadlift.


Plie Dumbbell Squat / Sumo Squatdb_sumo_plie

A lot of people who have back problems prefer this squat. Basically its the same as Goblet squat but your holding the dumbbell between your legs arms straight down. This exercise have to be done in a elevated platform where you have empty space between your legs. The idea of elevated platform is just to get enough range of motion so you can squat down low enough without the dumbbell touching ground.

Overhead Dumbbell Squat

db_overheadDumbbell variation for the overhead barbell squat. This will be harder to do with dumbbells since you cannot take as wide grip as with barbell and you need to use way more stabilizers since both arms are working independently. A really effective squat for increasing mobility, core strength and stabilizers.

Conclusion On Barbell Squats Vs Dumbbell Squats

All in all an excellent idea would be to work on your strength with the basic Barbell Back squat and on top of that do different variations of the squat with dumbbells or barbells. Experiment and try what feels the best for YOUR body.

If you don’t have access to a barbell then try to build your exercises around Dumbbell Back- and Front Squats and on top of that incorporate some of the other Dumbbell variations listed above.

Don’t think that you cannot build your legs if you don’t own a barbell. If you focus on progressing and adding weight and reps with the dumbbells I really don’t see any reason why you wouldn’t pack on some serious muscle to your lower body.


Just to recap important points here let’s make a bullet point list:

  • Dumbbell Vs Barbell is nothing to worry about when the goal is to build muscle, both are excellent ways to workout and build muscle and strength
  • Barbell builds strength faster
  • Dumbbells require more stability
  • Dumbbells are better for individuals who have tight shoulders, wrists, back
  • Dumbbells give more of a natural range of motion
  • Keep your upper back tight when performing any kind of squat
  • Focus on progression, adding reps or weight over time
  • For the maximum effectiveness one should incorporate both types of squats to their program

Here is a video showing couple of the most common squats:

Also check out my dumbbell exercise regimen for chest HERE!

Did you find this article helpful? I’d love to hear you suggestions or opinions. Drop me a comment down below and tell me what’s on your mind!

Remember to train hard and train SMART!

Check out my other informative articles:

Beginner’s Guide To Muscle Building

How To Eat To Build Muscle

The Progressive Overload Principle

Supplements That Really WORK

10 Health Benefits Of Weightlifting

14 thoughts on “Dumbbell Squats Vs Barbell Squats – Which One Is Better?

  1. Win Bill

    That’s a lot of variation in squats. In terms of comparing barbell squats and dumb bell squats, which one is safer for beginners to start with?

    1. Jesse Post author

      I’d like to think that a good progression for absolute beginners would be: Bodyweight squats -> Goblet Squats -> Barbell Back Squat. Dumbbells are generally “safer” since they’re smaller and if you have to drop them the chance of hurting yourself with the process is smaller than barbell, ALTHOUGH everytime you perform front or back squats with a barbell if possible do them in a power rack with safety pins! That way you don’t have to worry about squashing yourself underneath the barbell.

  2. Ed

    Hi Jesse,
    That was some really great information about squats. I never knew there were so many different variations. thanks for the great info.

  3. HighCalibre

    Great website! Very thorough coverage of one of my favorite exercises and it’s many variations. Is there any guidance you can offer for someone who lacks ankle flexibility?

    Thanks in advance.


    “What day is it?”
    “Leg day!”

    1. Jesse Post author

      Absolutely! I myself have very tight right ankle due to injury when I was younger so I know a thing or two about it! You have to massage your whole calves with lacrosse ball and stretch them right after you’ve massaged. Foam roller is ok for this purpose also but it doesn’t dig as deep into the muscle as lacrosse ball. Then another thing is to wear olympic lifting shoes or if you don’t own pair put a small weight plates such as 1.25kg or 2.5kg under your heels when squatting. This will tilt your shins forward and giving more range of motion which results in a more natural squat and it’s way easier to hit proper depth along with keeping your upper back tight since your ankle is not making your body to compensate for the limited range of motion.

  4. Emily

    Hi Jesse
    Lots of great ideas there! I work out in the gym almost every day and I have worked out my legs for years. I do both squats with a bar and dumbbells. I particularly like overhead dumbbell squats or high back bar squats. But I also do a sort of overhead bar squat. But I think I would need to go lower. I just think that working your legs no matter which way you choose is very important. As legs support you in basically any movement you make. I see so many guys in the gym constantly working their upper body without working their legs. Makes for some skinny legs….

    1. Jesse Post author

      Emily that’s great you hit the gym on a regular basis. If you have problems hitting the depth try putting small weight plates such as 1.25kg or 2.5kg under your heels when squatting. The ankle tightness is one of the most common reason for not being able to hit the proper depth. Chinese olympic lifters even glue plastic blocks under the heels of OLYMPIC LIFTING SHOES to gain better range of motion. Happy trainings 🙂

  5. Elasa

    Very detailed and informative article. You have an awesome website, and I know a lot of people who enjoy reading this. I can do some dumbbell squats, but I’ll definitely use a lot less weight than these guys in the photos lol.

    1. Jesse Post author

      Elasa thank you! And don’t worry about the weights, just do what feels best for you 🙂

  6. Dani

    Thanks. I only do dumbbell squats (regular and goblet) at home and wondered about whether I should switch it up. Maybe I’ll give the overhead ones a try as well.

    1. Jesse Post author

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      Absolutely! The more movements you perform, the stronger overall you will get. High exercise selection is one of the best way to get stronger overall 🙂 Although be mindful that with the overhead squats you will have to have enough shoulder / upper back mobility to perform them.

      All the best to you and keep working at it!


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