Dumbbell Squat vs Barbell Squat – Which Should You Do?

People are always looking for excuses to get out of doing squats. Whether it’s skipping leg day all together or replacing squats with leg presses, there really is no reason that you shouldn’t be doing squats. The only reason that it is acceptable to skip squats is if your gym does not have the proper equipment to safely perform them or you are prohibited by injury. For the former reasoning, we would recommend you find a new gym or purchase your own home gym equipment.

Your legs are an extremely important part of your body. A strong and toned lower body not only looks good, but it also helps you with a multitude of other physical activities. Your legs house the largest muscles in your body, so it is important to train heavy and to focus on good form. Not only do squats strengthen your legs, they target your glutes and your entire posterior chain as well, and can positively impact the results from other exercises. Supporting the weight will also impact your upper body somewhat as well. It can be argued that the squat is the most important exercise you can do.

Some of the best lower body exercises include squats. There are a multitude of squat variations, including barbell and dumbbell squats. Both powerhouse exercises work your muscles differently, but have countless benefits on your overall strength. In this article, we’ll explain the difference between barbell squats and dumbbell squats and the benefits they both have on your body.

Barbell Squats

The barbell squat is one of the oldest exercises in the books with a rich history among bodybuilders, powerlifters, and fitness enthusiasts alike. There are two types of barbell back squats:

  • High Bar Squat
  • Low Bar Squat

As the names suggest, the high bar squat is a back squat with the bar position higher up on the back and neck while the bar position for a low bar squat is much lower. It is very heavily debated which bar position and thus which back squat is the most optimal. Why does the bar position matter? The bar position dictates your joint angles and how your legs, hips, and posterior chain are recruited in a squat. We aren’t going to get into a deep discussion about which is better, but will likely cover this topic in the future.

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Mark Rippetoe, renowned author of Starting Strength and former powerlifted notes that “The back squat is the only exercise in the weight room that trains the recruitment of the entire posterior chain in a way that is progressively improvable, and that is one of the things that makes the squat the best exercise you can do with barbells and, by extension, the best strength exercise there is.”


Barbell squats are one of the best strength builders for your legs. These squats allow you to work in heavier weights more than dumbbell squats. Barbell squats not only have a tremendous positive impact on your strength and performance, but in the long run, they can strengthen your knees, promote good posture, and decrease lower back problems.

 

Dumbbell Squats

Dumbbell squats are well suited for people who do not have access to the equipment required to safely perform barbell squats. If you’re purchasing home gym equipment and do not yet have the funds or space for a full barbell setup, you can use adjustable dumbbells and perform different variations of squats.

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Intermediate and advanced lifters will quickly outgrow dumbbells and not have enough weight to progressively increase strength. Dumbbell squats do have some advantages over barbell squats. They can be performed safely without a half rack or cage and help prevent muscle imbalances better. If you have limited space, they are also advantageous since the only equipment that is required is dumbbells. The advantages end there.

Some effective dumbbell squat variations include goblet squats, dumbbell front squats, dumbbell plié squat, and overhead dumbbell squats. Split squats are another great option since you can load more weight on just one leg at a time. Dumbbell leg exercises are inherently safe since you can easily release the weights without being trapped under a bar. You can also perform these squat variations with an adjustable kettlebell.

 

 

So which is better?

There really is no debate here. Barbell squats are the more superior exercise because of the higher loads possible. Dumbbell squats simply cannot recruit the posterior chain and build towards increases in strength as well as barbell squats. While most fitness experts and exercise scientists will agree that barbell squats are more effective than dumbbell squats, making due with dumbbell based leg exercises will still give you good results and should not be skipped. If you take anything away from this article, it’s that you should be including squats as a staple in your exercise regimen.

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