Dumbbell Deadlift Vs Squat (Differences Compared For Legs)

Building and strengthening the lower body muscles is essential. Not only does it help prevent injuries such as back pain, but it also gives you a fantastic looking body. Two of the most popular methods of training the lower body using dumbbells are squats and deadlifts.

But which is better out of dumbbell deadlift vs squat? In this article, you’ll discover how each exercise compares to the other and some of the similarities and differences.

The dumbbell deadlift is one of the best exercises for developing your posterior chain, particularly your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles.

It's highly functional and is suitable for almost anyone from beginner to advanced gym-goer. 

It also greatly enhances your overall body strength and helps you lift heavier on all your compound lifts.

Here are some common variations of the deadlift.

woman doing dumbbell deadlift

Conventional Dumbbell Deadlift

The conventional dumbbell deadlift is a brilliant way to build strength in your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. You'll also improve your coordination, which will transfer into many different sports. 

To perform the conventional dumbbell deadlift, place the dumbbells on either side of your feet (parallel) and pick them up by hinging from the hip while maintaining a straight neutral spine.

Dumbbell Stiff-Legged Deadlift 

The dumbbell stiff-legged deadlift is a variation that predominantly targets the hamstrings and glutes. The stricter movement forces those two muscle groups to work harder, especially in the lower portion of the movement.  

To perform: Set up conventionally (see above). Pick up the dumbbells and stand tall, then hinge from the hip while keeping the legs stiffer (not fully locked).

Dumbbell Sumo Deadlift 

Sumo deadlifts are brilliant for developing quads, glutes, adductors, and many other muscles in the body. The wider stance creates a smaller range of motion, and some people find they can deadlift more weight using this method. However, this is largely down to preference and your limb-to-body proportions.  

To perform: Set up for a deadlift but place the dumbbells inside your legs while taking a wide stance.  

Staggered Deadlift 

A staggered deadlift or B-stance deadlift is a variation that is a stepping point between conventional deadlifts and single-leg deadlifts. It allows you to isolate one leg at a time, and this is excellent for anyone wanting to iron out any muscular imbalances.  

To perform: Set up for a regular dumbbell deadlift but stagger your stance. 

Partial Dumbbell Deadlift

The partial dumbbell deadlift is one of the best methods for targeting the back muscles. Your lower back, lats, and traps will be working extra hard during this variant. Many lifters use this to help with their deadlift "lockout." Plus, you can go super heavy on it.  

This is performed like a regular deadlift. But, instead of lifting from the floor, the weight is generally elevated, usually just under knee height.  

Single-Leg Deadlift 

Single leg deadlift is an isolateral movement that works one side at a time and is ideal for advanced gym-goers and may be difficult for newbies. If you struggle with this, try the staggered deadlift mentioned above.

You can perform this by staggering your stance and raising your back leg off of the floor as you hinge towards the floor, stretching the hamstring of your floor planted leg. This movement can also greatly improve balance and overall stability.

Suitcase Deadlift

The suitcase deadlift loads one side of the body at a time and looks like you’re carrying a suitcase, hence the name.  

This movement is brilliant at engaging the core muscles and will help you develop balance, coordination, and unilateral strength.  

Perform this movement by placing one dumbbell at your side (on the floor) and hinging from the hips to pick it up. Complete your rep and repeat.  


5 Benefits Of Dumbbell Deadlifts (Are They Effective?)

Dumbbell deadlifts are a fantastic movement that almost anyone could benefit from. The exercise has several key benefits: 

Improves Stability 

Every time you pick something up, your body works hard to stabilize itself, and this happens more so when you pick up heavy items such as dumbbells. Performing the dumbbell deadlift will strengthen supporting muscles such as your core, spinal muscles, glutes, shoulders, and legs. The deadlift is a whole-body movement and requires every part of your body for stability.  

Helps Correct Muscle Imbalances 

By using dumbbells, your body is forced to use both sides independently and can't rely on one side to help out the other. This will help iron out any muscular imbalances from performing bilateral movements, e.g., with a barbell. This is pretty common among newbies. This is one of the best benefits from using dumbbells as opposed to barbells.

Beginner-Friendly 

The dumbbell deadlifts are beginner-friendly. Holding the dumbbells at your side allows you to easily retract your scapular (shoulder blades), giving you a brilliant position to deadlift from.  

Extend Range Of Motion

Unless you're performing partial reps, the dumbbells will be lower than a barbell would be. This makes the dumbbell deadlift have a larger range of motion, which will help stimulate the muscle further.  

Improve Grip Strength 

The dumbbell deadlift is brilliant at increasing your grip strength. This will carry over into sport and other exercises such as bent-over rows, pull-ups, etc.  

woman standing next to a dumbbell rack

Dumbbell Squat (Overview & Variations) 

The dumbbell squat is a brilliant exercise for the lower body, particularly the quads and hamstrings. As a result, it's popular among many gym-goers of all abilities.  

Some of the most popular versions are: 

Goblet Squats 

Goblet squats only require one dumbbell and don't need much room to perform this exercise. It primarily works the quadriceps and core as the squat is front-loaded, but there will be some activation of the glutes, hamstrings, shoulders, and back for stability. 

To perform: Hold the dumbbell chest height and squat as usual. Try to keep the elbows high to maintain the best posture.   

woman doing a dumbbell goblet squat

Bulgarian Split Squat 

The Bulgarian split squat primarily loads one side of your body and is brilliant at working the quads and hamstring muscles.  

To perform, place one foot on a platform (box or bench) and then take a step forward with your other foot. Then bend your knee until both legs are at 90 degrees.

Suitcase Squat 

Similar to the suitcase deadlift, but this time you’re hips come lower, and your knees bend more (knee dominant exercise). 

It primarily works your quads and hamstrings but will also work the glutes, abs, and other stabilizers.  

To perform: Hold the dumbbells at your sides with your shoulders back and chest open. Then bend your knees until they’re parallel to the ground.  

Dumbbell Shoulder Squat 

The dumbbell shoulder squat is the most common version of the exercise you'll come across, and it involves all of the leg muscles and some core & shoulder stability. 

To perform: Hold the dumbbells at shoulder height with your elbows pointed high and forward. Then perform a squat.  


5 Benefits Of Dumbbell Squats 

If you've been looking for a lower body exercise with multiple benefits, then look no further than the dumbbell squat. Here are but a few of the main reasons you should perform them.   

Improves Range Of Motion 

As you're using dumbbells, you're not fixed into a position as you would be with a barbell. This will allow you to move more naturally and find your "groove." By doing so, you'll get a greater range of motion than you would with a barbell.  

Corrects Muscle Imbalances 

Using a dumbbell in each hand loads the body equally and will help you fix any imbalances over time. This is something that beginners will find helpful as muscular imbalances are common. 

Increases Balance  

The unilateral nature of the dumbbell squat means your body will have to work had to stabilize itself. This will increase your balance significantly and will help with many sports. 

Works Many Different Leg Muscles 

Squats are the king of leg building exercises, and they’ll help you develop amazing looking quads, hamstrings, and glutes while burning a load of calories. Each variation will work certain areas differently, so mix it up.  

Easier To learn 

The dumbbell squat is easier to learn and is excellent for beginners as a light load can also be used. Advanced gym-goers can easily use this exercise to add volume to their workouts without needing much equipment.  

man doing a dumbbell shoulder squat

Dumbbell Deadlift Vs Squat: Differences Compared  

After comparing the dumbbell deadlift vs squat, I found that both exercises are difficult to compare as it's like comparing Lebron to Tom Brady. They're entirely different movements.

However, I have managed to separate the two exercises into a few categories and come to a decision on which is best.  

For Leg Muscle Growth & Activation 

Both the dumbbell deadlift and the dumbbell squat are compound exercises that work more than one muscle in the body.  

During a study, researchers found no significant differences in muscle activation between the deadlift and the squat.

However, dumbbell squats help you develop more leg muscle than dumbbell deadlifts, as the quads are heavily engaged.  

  • Which Is Best For Hamstrings?  
    When developing the hamstrings, I find deadlifts are superior to squats. This is mainly because the squat tends to be a quad-dominant exercise, and you’ll only get sufficient hamstring activation with deep squats (below parallel).  
  • Which Is Best For Glutes?  
    While many of you will be thinking that the dumbbell squat is the best for building the glutes, I beg to differ. From my experience, I've found that dumbbell deadlifts are a top-tier glute building exercise. The hip hinge movement of the deadlift stretches the glutes and places them under a large amount of load. Your glutes need to work hard to straighten your body up, and it provides them will a lot of muscle-building stimuliBut, combining both deadlifts and squats is where the magic happens. You can’t go wrong using both exercises to develop your glutes.  
  • Which Is Best For Quads?  
    If you want to develop quads like Tom Platz, then between the dumbbell deadlift vs squat, the squat wins hands down. Squats are superior for developing the quads due to the knee-dominant nature of the movement. Anyone can build a great upper body, but a well-built pair of legs is impressive to anyone. Adding squats into your workout routine regardless of your experience level is always a good idea.  
  • Which Is Best For Lower Back?  
    When looking at dumbbell deadlift vs squat for lower back development, I found that the deadlift is the winner here. Deadlifts are fantastic for building a strong lower back and strengthening the entire posterior chain. A strong posterior chain is robust and resilient to injuries. Dumbbell deadlifts are perfect for anyone looking to strengthen their body and is an exercise that should be implemented into most people’s regime.  

Lower Body Strength Development

Do squats or deadlifts build more muscle? 

Both exercises should be key components of any training program as they're excellent muscle builders. It's the same for strength development; both the dumbbell deadlift and squat are fantastic for building strength.

2020 study concluded that test subjects’ lower body strength development didn’t show much difference between the two exercises.  

If you want to develop strength in your lower body, consider implementing both the deadlift and squat into your program.

Proper Exercise Form 

Using the correct form is an essential aspect when performing any exercise. Your form is especially important for beginners; it will help you develop good habits.  

As deadlifts and squats involve lifting large amounts of weight, using the correct form will help prevent injuries. For the deadlift and squat, always ensure your spine is neutral, and your core is braced.  


People Also Ask (FAQs)

Are dumbbell deadlifts and barbell front squats the same? 

No, they aren’t; dumbbell deadlifts are different from a barbell squat. Apart from using different equipment, deadlifts work your back, hamstrings, and glutes. In comparison, squats primarily work your leg muscles (quads, hamstrings, glutes). In addition, it's worth noting that deadlifts are a hip hinge movement, and squats are more of a knee exercise.  

Can you do a dumbbell deadlift every day? 

While you can dumbbell deadlift every day, I wouldn't recommend it, and your muscles wouldn’t have enough time to recover, and you’d end up with muscular fatigue. This puts you at risk of injury, which isn’t good for anyone.  

You’ll also limit your progression, making your hard work futile.

Should I do squats or deadlifts first? 

This is down to preference. Usually, I’d try to keep each exercise separate to give each movement 100% effort. But if you must perform both movements on the same day, I’d always squat first as it taxes my muscles more than deadlifts do.  

Try it out for yourself and see what you find is best to do, deadlifts or squats first.  

How often should I do dumbbell squats? 

It all depends on how intense each workout is. If you go heavy every time, 1-2 times a week is more than enough.

Again, always allow for adequate recovery between workouts and ensure your legs are fresh and ready to hit dumbbell squats again. You’ll get more out of your workouts and won’t hinder your progress. 


Conclusion

After comparing the dumbbell deadlift vs squat, I've found implementing both exercises into your workout routine will not only help you develop lower body strength, but they'll also significantly increase your lean muscle mass.  

The dumbbell deadlift will predominantly target your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. At the same time, the squat will work your quads, glutes, and hamstrings.  

Whether you're a beginner or advanced gym-goer, the dumbbell deadlift and dumbbell squat will benefit you greatly. They provide a strong base to build your program around, and it’s difficult to separate them from each other. There’s a reason why most athletes and fitness professionals perform these movements every week.   

Last Updated on January 5, 2022