Premier Private Personal Trainer & Online Coach

Dumbbell Squat vs Barbell Squat: Which Is More Effective & Which Should You Be Doing?

By: Zack Mathews, NASM - CPT, CES, PES, PN-L1


dumbbell squat vs barbell squat

The dumbbell squat vs barbell squat debate has been going on for as long as the pineapple vs no pineapple on pizza debate.

It’s hard to find the right answers and everyone seems to have an opinion on it.

Not to worry! Today I’ll teach you about the main differences between dumbbell squats vs barbells squats, how to do different variations of barbell squats with dumbbells, and answer the most frequently asked questions.


Dumbbell Squat vs Barbell Squat Similarities And Differences


Depending on what equipment you have available to you, both of these ways of doing squats can be effective.  What’s most important is how well you perform the movement and pushing yourself with a weight that is challenging enough to promote strength and muscle gains.


Barbell and dumbbell squats have multiple similarities including:


  • Both are considered compound movements so they are working multiple muscles throughout the movement.
  • They target quadriceps and glutes.
  • Good mobility is required to perform the movements through a full range of motion.
  • Core muscles are activated during both exercises.
  • Both are considered bilateral movements, meaning both legs are being worked at the same time.


The differences of dumbbells squats vs barbell squats include:


  • Positioning of the bar, or lack there of.
  • More shoulder mobility is required with barbell squats.
  • Barbell back squats will put more stress on your spine. If you have lower back pain from squats, read this.
  • Dumbbell squats cannot be loaded with weight like a barbell squat can.
  • Grip strength may be the limited factor for some dumbbell squat variations. 
  • More variety for one leg exercises with dumbbell squats since you can hold dumbbells in both hands, one arm, goblet style, etc.

How To Do Barbell Squats With Dumbbells

When you’re wanting to do barbell squats with dumbbells, you need to know you can’t mimic the movement perfectly.  

There’s no way to hold a pair of dumbbells on your back as if you were doing a barbell back squat.

The best way to do barbell squats with dumbbells is to use one heavy dumbbell in goblet position or load up the dumbbells on your shoulders and mimic a front squat.

The Best Dumbbell Squat Variations

Dumbbell Goblet Squats

  • Hold a heavy dumbbell goblet style and position the dumbbell so one end is close to your throat and the other end is against your chest.
  • Take a deep breath to fill your stomach with air and hold your breath.
  • Push your hips back and keep your chest up as you descend into your squat.
  • Once you’ve reached your end range of motion, pause briefly, and then come back up to the start.
  • That’s 1 perfect goblet squat rep!

Dumbbell Front Squats

  • Either hold a pair of dumbbells in neutral position and rest them on the top of your shoulders or have the ends connected and in front of you.  Both of these variations are similar to what a barbell front squat will be doing.
  • Similar to your goblet squat, take a deep breath and fill your stomach with air and then hold your breath.
  • Push your butt back and keep your chest up as you drop into your squat.
  • Since you have all the weight in front of you, it’s very important that the weight doesn’t cause you to fold in half.  Keep that chest up!
  • Once you reach max depth, get yourself back up to a standing position.  

Split Stance Dumbbell Squats

  • Holding a dumbbell in goblet position or holding two dumbbells at your side, step back as if you are going into a reverse lunge.
  • Instead of pushing back up and bringing your feet together like a lunge, you’ll stay in that split stance the whole movement.
  • Bend the knees as you bring your back knee to the ground.  Get it close to the ground or lightly tap it and then stand back up in the split stance position.

If you want more exercises to try, check out the 12 Best Alternatives To Back Squats

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Dumbbell Squats Effective?

Yes, dumbbells squats are an effective exercise because of their versatility.  Dumbbells will allow you to do numerous squat variations, both one leg and two legged, and with one dumbbell or two so you can always find an exercise that works for you and your goals.

To try a free dumbbell only leg workout, click here.

Why Are Dumbbell Squats So Much Harder?

Once you have a barbell on your back, you are good to go for your exercise.  On the other hand, dumbbells require you to hold and stabilize them throughout the whole movement.  That added stability element makes them difficult.

Are Dumbbell Squats More Effective Than Barbell Squats?


Generally speaking, barbells are going to be a better option for strength gains because of the ability to load heavier weights than you can with dumbbells.

Once you hit a certain point with dumbbells, you’ll either run out of heavier weight or holding them will become the limiting factor.  You want your legs to be the limiting factor when building strength and the best way to do that is with a barbell.

If you are looking to improve your stability, get stronger, and build muscle in a joint friendly way, dumbbells will be the better choice.  You won’t have to load your spine with weight and you’ll be able to choose from multiple variations.

The Barbell Squat vs Dumbbell Squat Debate Ends Here!

There is no one exercise that is better than another.  Dumbbell squats are a great joint friendly option that requires increased stability demands while a barbell squat allows you to load heavier weights.

Experiment with both and see which ones you can do pain free, allow you to go to full range of motion, align with your goals, and as always, are exercises you enjoy.