Dumbbell Squat Vs Barbell Squat (Compared For Leg Workouts)

The squat is arguably the king of all exercises; it builds an unbelievable amount of strength in your lower body muscles and will give you a brilliant looking pair of legs.

Two of the best squat variations are the dumbbell squat and the barbell squat, but which one is the best for lower body development?

In this article, I'll be going deep into dumbbell squat vs barbell squat and showing you the similarities and differences between the two movements.

From my experience in the fitness industry, I've found that dumbbell squats are ideal for all ability ranges. Beginners will find that dumbbell squats are much easier to perform than barbell squats, and intermediate/advanced users can use the exercise to complement their leg workouts.  

The dumbbell squat has a place in most people's workout routines, whether to strengthen weaknesses or simply add variation.  

There are many variants of the dumbbell squat; here are some of the most popular.  

Goblet Squats

The goblet squat is one of my favorite movements to teach and perform. Not only does it massively engage the core muscles, but it's fantastic for developing the quadriceps.

One aspect I love about goblet squats is that they're straightforward for beginners to learn and are a much safer movement for newbies, and it's something all-new gym-goers should master before attempting barbell squats.

To perform a goblet squat, pick up a dumbbell and hold it vertically (so it looks like a goblet), then place your feet hip-width apart and slowly lower yourself while maintaining a straight spine. Then reverse the movement and stand up tall.

woman performing a goblet squat

Bulgarian Split Squat 

When it comes to leg exercises, the Bulgarian split squat is an absolute killer. It will work your lower body iso-laterally, allowing you to iron out any muscular imbalances you might have.

It’s an excellent leg builder and works your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and even your calves.

To perform the Bulgarian split squat, place your foot on an elevated platform (or bench), then step forward with the opposite leg. From there, you need to lower yourself until both legs reach around 90 degrees, then return upward.  

Suitcase Squat 

The dumbbell suitcase squat is an iso-lateral movement that resembles you picking up a suitcase, hence the name.  

This dumbbell squat variation is brilliant at developing leg strength and fixing any imbalances your body might have developed over time.  

To perform this movement, place a dumbbell on the floor and stand beside it. Then squat down and pick up the dumbbell. Lastly, reverse the movement and repeat.   

Front Squat 

The dumbbell front squat is a brilliant exercise for developing great looking quads. The positioning of the arms (out front, elbows high) helps you stay more upright throughout your squat.  

It’s another brilliant variation suitable for all abilities from beginner to advanced lifters.  

Pick up two dumbbells and hold them shoulder height with your elbows upwards, pointing forward. Begin the movement by sitting back, bending at your knees, and pushing the legs outwards (opening the hips up). Then hit the bottom of your movement and push upwards back to the starting position.  


5 Benefits Of Dumbbell Squats 

Dumbbell squats are a brilliant exercise for any workout routine. Here are a few reasons why: 

Increased Stability 

The dumbbell squat can be performed in various ways using both unilateral and bilateral variants; it can help with your body’s stability. You’ll develop strong wrists, shoulders, and core muscles performing these. 

The positioning of the dumbbells on the front of the body also helps increase your core stability by engaging your abs, erectors, obliques, and more.  

Increased Muscular Strength  

Using the dumbbell squat to build muscle is a smart move. They're fantastic for muscular development, especially if you're looking to add more volume to your leg workout in a safe manner.  

Many Variations To Target Different Muscles 

As you can see from the previous section, there are many variations of the dumbbell squat that'll help you target different muscles. Each one can easily be implemented into any workout routine not only to add variation but to keep pushing your muscles to develop.  

Requires Minimal Space 

Dumbbell squats require barely any space at all. Generally, if you can stand up and sit down on the floor the area is large enough for dumbbell squats, and a few feet is plenty of space.

Great For Beginners 

As I mentioned previously, dumbbell squats are perfect for beginners. They're easier to learn, safer to perform and build a brilliant base strength before attempting barbell squats.


Barbell Squat (Overview & Variations) 

The barbell squat is the most common type of squat and the one you no doubt picture in your head when you think about squats.  

It’s best suited for intermediate to advanced gym-goers, although there is the odd occasion where a beginner picks up a barbell squat with ease.  

Generally, Barbell squats require more skill and coordination than Dumbbell squats and are slightly harder to learn.  

The barbell squat mainly targets your posterior chain muscles such as hamstrings, glutes, and adductors, with activation of the quad muscles too.

Here are a few variations of barbell squats to increase strength and versatility in your workouts.

woman doing a barbell front squat

Back Squat 

This is your standard squat with the barbell on your back (back loaded). It works predominantly on your hamstrings, glutes, and quads. And, due to the large load, you'll be able to place a lot of force through these muscle groups.  

To perform the back squat, place the barbell on your back and un-rack the barbell. Squat downwards, push your knees out, and return to the starting position. Repeat for the next rep.  

Front Squat 

The front squat is similar to the back squat, except that it’s front-loaded. The barbell sits across the front of your body, and it predominantly works your quadriceps and core muscles.

This variant is brilliant for developing thick quads by lifting a significant weight.  

To perform the front squat, place the barbell across your shoulders and support the weight with your hands (elbows outward). Then squat down and push back up to complete your rep.  

Overhead Squat 

The overhead squat is a much tougher variation of the squat best suited for advanced gym-goers.  

It requires a large amount of control, core stability, and overall strength. If you have any weaknesses in your movement chain, they’ll be identified here.  

To perform: Hold the bar above your head, arms locked out. Squat downward below parallel and push back up to your starting position.  


4 Benefits Of Barbell Squats 

Barbell squats are fantastic for lifting large amounts of weight and overloading the leg muscles. In addition, it can help develop raw strength, and there’s a reason why power-lifters, bodybuilders, and athletes favor this movement above all others.

Here are a few reasons why: 

Large Muscle Engagement 

The Barbell squat activates many muscles in the body ranging from the quads and hamstrings to the core and spinal erectors. This makes the barbell squat one of the best muscle builders around and is my go-to leg exercise if I want to add muscle mass to my lower body.  

Heavier Load Capacity 

With the barbell squat, you can generally lift more weight than you could during a dumbbell squat. The heavier loads are ideal for stimulating muscle growth and increasing your lower body strength.  

Inherent Balance & Stability 

All variants of the barbell squat will require you to stabilize your body by bracing your core muscles. Other areas such as your hip flexors, adductors, and abductors will need to work hard to keep your legs in the correct position during the squat movement.  

Increased Safety When Using Rack  

While using any type of squat rack during the Barbell squat movement, the racks safety arms add an extra layer of security for you while you squat. If you happen to fail or get stuck, the arms will support the weight and allow you to remove yourself from under the bar safely 

man performing a barbell back squat

Dumbbell Squat Vs Barbell Squat: Key Differences Compared 

Physical Equipment  

A dumbbell is a short handle with weight on either side, commonly weighing between 2.2lbs – 220lbs.

Dumbbells alone take up very little space, especially adjustable ones, but a complete set can soon add up and take up a significant amount of room.  

However, a Barbell is often around 8ft in length and weighs 45lbs (approximately).

It requires additional weighted plates allowing you to lift a substantial amount of weight compared to the dumbbell.  

man doing a dumbbell squat

For Muscle Growth & Activation 

Which is Best for Mass?  
When comparing dumbbell squat vs barbell squat for building mass, there's no competition in my eyes; the barbell squat wins every time.

This is mainly because you can lift significantly heavier weight when performing a barbell squat than you can during a dumbbell squat. 

Which is Best for Quads?  
If you’re looking to develop your quads, you have two options. You can either perform a front-loaded barbell squat or perform a dumbbell goblet squat. Now, I'm a big fan of both exercises but for different reasons. 

The barbell front squat allows you to overload the leg muscles by lifting a much heavier weight than you would be able to do using dumbbells, making it great for muscle mass.

However, sometimes your core will be weaker than your legs, causing you to stop your set early. In this instance, I would switch over to heavy dumbbell goblet squats and exhaust my legs. 

This one is down to preference, but from my experience, a combination of both dumbbell and barbell will serve you well.  

Which is Best for Glutes?  
After comparing which is best for glutes, barbell or dumbbell squats, I found that barbell squats are far superior for developing well-rounded glutes.

This is mainly because the barbell back squat is fantastic at working the entire posterior chain, whereas dumbbell squats don't activate the posterior chain as effectively. So, if you want better glutes, I'd choose barbell squats every time.  

Lower Body Strength Development 

When it comes to developing lower body strength, I'm inclined toward barbell squats, but again, this is due to the sheer load you can place on your lower body by using a barbell.  

I'm not saying that you can't develop strength using dumbbell squats, but from my experience, unless you're a beginner, you'll develop lower body strength much faster using barbell squats.  

So when it comes to dumbbell vs barbell squats for lower body strength, barbell squats win again.  

Proper Exercise Form 

After comparing squats with dumbbells vs barbells, I found that the dumbbell squat form was much easier for beginners compared to the barbell squat form.  

Note: When performing any exercise, you should always use proper form. If you find your form slipping, you should lower the weight and focus on regaining complete control of your body.  

Best For Avoiding Injuries 

While both types of squats help strengthen your body, which will help avoid injury, I found that after comparing the dumbbell squat vs barbell squat, one fared better than the other.

The Dumbbell squat is a better exercise to perform to prevent injury, which is due to a couple of factors.  

  • A large amount of stabilization is required during a dumbbell squat (such as the goblet squat) so your body is better protected from injury.  
  • The load is a lot less than what would be used during a barbell squat.  
  • Dumbbells prevent muscular imbalances (common among beginners). 
  • Easy to perform without a cage or squat rack. 
  • You only need a small amount of space.  

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Are dumbbell deadlifts and barbell front squats the same? 

No, they’re entirely different exercises altogether. Dumbbell deadlifts are primarily a back movement, although deadlifts work the hamstrings and glutes too.  

Barbell front squats use a barbell (obviously) but are a quad-dominant leg movement. A combination of both these exercises in a workout routine makes for a brilliant plan.   

Do barbell squats make your glutes bigger? 

They sure can. However, for bigger glutes, you'll want to focus on some isolation exercises that will solely target the glutes, exercises such as kickbacks, barbell hip thrusts, banded hip thrusts, and abduction movements.  

While squats do allow you to overload your legs (and glutes), you’ll find that your legs do the brunt of the work.  

Are barbell box squats any good? 

Barbell box squats are a significant variation to add to your workout, and they will help you activate more muscles such as your glutes, hamstrings, quads, spinal erectors, lower back, and more.  

Box squats can also provide you with some confidence to go deeper than you usually would do, with the knowledge that the box is there to catch you. 

From a performance point of view, they can help with sticking points during the squat movement, helping you strengthen your weak points.  

How much weight should I squat with dumbbells? 

There is one answer and one answer only when it comes to how much weight you should use. You should only increase the weight of an exercise if you can complete your set with excellent form using the current weight.  

In other words, so long as your form is spot on for each rep, you can use the heaviest dumbbells you can lift.  


Conclusion

From comparing dumbbell vs barbell squats, I've found if you're looking to develop muscle and strength in your lower body, you should focus your attention on barbell squats. The main reason is that you can lift a lot more weight and recruit your posterior chain more efficiently than the dumbbell squat can.  

However, you shouldn't overlook dumbbell squats if you're new to resistance training. They're brilliant for beginners and will help you develop base strength before tackling barbell squats.  

It's also worth noting that a combination of both dumbbell and barbell squats will work best in any workout program, helping you develop superhero-esque legs.