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Dumbbell Squats VS Barbell Squats – What’s The Difference ?

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When it comes to working out your legs the dumbbell and barbell squats are at the core of almost every leg routine. Since they are both essential to building a great pair of legs which one is actually better and if you just had to choose one to do which one should it be ? Well when it comes to the technique there are differences between the two since the barbell squat uses virtually your whole body whereas the dumbbell squat only uses your legs, forearms and core. The biggest difference is that the barbell squat puts a lot of stress on your lower back and spine, but on the other hand using dumbbells can be quite difficult to progress with when you start to use heavier weight loads.

Let’s look at this in more depth:

The Barbell Squat

How To Do It

To begin place your feet shoulder width apart while resting the bar on your shoulders and keeping your toes in an outward position. Stick your chest out and lower your body as if your going to sit in a small chair, once your hip is slightly lower than your knees drive back up using your heels and glutes.

barbell squats

This incorporates virtually your entire body so barbell wins this one.

Range Of Motion/Safety

Your range of motion isn’t affected much unless your not doing this with proper form or using a weight to heavy for yourself too handle. As long as you follow the guide on how to barbell squat and use a weight where you can do 8 reps without struggling your range of motion won’t be affected.

When it comes to safety the barbell squats are definitely less safe than the dumbbell squats because without a spotter or safety rack you can easily injure yourself when you get tired and don’t have enough to push through the rep.

Barbell loses this one since the form is harder to perfect and it is much easier to use a heavier weight that could potentially cause an injury if you don’t have the right safety precautions in place (like a spotter or safety rack).

Muscular Imbalances

Depending on which side of your body (left or right) is more dominant and stronger that side will take over most of the resistance when it comes to doing the barbell squat without you even realising. Especially near the end of the set wear it counts the most. This will result in your dominant side being larger and more developed than your weaker side.

uneven quads

Barbell clearly loses this one.

The Dumbbell Squat

How To Do It

Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them by your side. Keep your feet close together (the reason for this is so that you prevent the dumbbells from hitting your thighs while your squatting) about one foot apart and stick your chest out. Now squat down while maintaining a neutral spine and drive those buttocks back. You want to go down low enough to where the top of your thigh is just about parallel to the ground then drive back up.

dumbbell squats

This only hits your legs, forearms and core so dumbbell loses this one.

Range Of Motion/Safety

When using the dumbbells for squatting your range of motion is similar to that of the barbell, but one massive pro to using dumbbells is that it is much safer because if you don’t have a spotter or safety rack then you could just ditch those weights by throwing them onto the floor. So if your working out by yourself or at home then try to stick to dumbbells in the beginning.

Since the form is easier to perfect and it is safer to do the dumbbells win this one.

Muscular Imbalances

Different to the barbell squat, when doing dumbbell squats you will have a much higher chance to work both sides equally because your holding a dumbbell in each hand.

symmetrical quads

This will help prevent muscular imbalances in your legs so dumbbells win this.

So Who Wins ?

The clear winner here is the dumbbell squat so if you had to choose one to do it would have to be it. Although the barbell squat is still a great exercise and should not be slept on, especially if your goal is to gain strength in your legs then the barbell would be the most effective for that. It is best for you to incorporate both dumbbells and barbells into your routine so then you can benefit from all the pros each one offers. If you have anymore questions about the dumbbell or barbell squat leave a comment below.

Click Here For A Full Leg Routine That Incorporates Both Of These Concepts

8 thoughts on “Dumbbell Squats VS Barbell Squats – What’s The Difference ?

  1. Hi Andrew – you have some great pictures here. I have always wanted more muscular legs and your information here is very useful. I had a small back injury at work just recently and I think I should stay away from the barbell squats due to the added pressure on the back as you have stated. I will stick to the dumbball squats only for now as it seems to be a safer bet. Thanks for sharing…

  2. I personally like the barbell squat, because I tend to go down with my body positioned more equally. When I use dumbbells, I sometimes will not go down evenly because one leg is stronger than the other, as is one of my arms. So for me, the barbell works much better for a more uniform workout.

  3. I am probably not the strongest of men and I take an awful lot more effort than most to try and work on my strength. I have tried dumbells and barbells. I found barbells to offer that much more resistance and therefore a more powerful workout. I think it is the difference in shape between the two that makes all of the difference.

  4. Hey Andrew, nice article and nice website. It’ so interesting to see how seemingly slight differences in your body position and how you hold the weights, makes a big difference in the outcome of your workout. I use dumbbells for most of my exercise’s, but I don’t have many barbells. I also use a Bowflex and have for at least twenty years. I also like to use the Bowflex treadclimber for a cardio workout. Have you ever used this kind of equipment ? Do you feel that weights are better than equipment of this type ? I’d like to get your input on the subject. Thanks in advance for your reply.

    1. Hey Jim,

      I’ve never used any Bowflex equipment, but after a google search they look quite cool, but also very expensive haha. They do seem similar to normal weights though so one shouldn’t be better than the other.

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