The dumbbell squat is an alternative exercise to the traditional barbell squat and it is a good exercise for beginners. This exercise mainly works the quadriceps and gluteal muscles. It also activates about every other muscle in your lower body, including your hamstrings and calves. This variant is ideal for people with back problems (especially cervical damage), or who find it difficult to grip a barbell securely. It can also be used for the sake of variety.
Difference Between Dumbbell and Barbell Squat
The main difference between this exercise and traditional barbell squats, is the use of dumbbells. Because of this, the upper and lower back are not as stressed because the weight lies on the sides and not on the upper back. The barbell version tends to allow for greater overload because larger weights can be used.
Dumbbell squats allow you to get used to the squatting motion. Once you gain confidence, you can move up to using a barbell or a Smith machine. The drawback to doing this exercise with dumbbells is that you
can’t hold enough weight to build massive thighs.
Dumbbell Squat Proper Technique (Exercise Instructions)
STARTING (INITIAL) POSITION: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart (or just little wider than shoulder-width) a grab a pair of dumbbells. Hold the dumbbells at arm’s length next to your sides, your palms facing each other (neutral grip). Keep your weight on your heels, not on your toes, for the entire movement. Move your shoulders back and your chest out so your back is flat and your torso is erect.
EXERCISE EXECUTION (MOVEMENT): Brace your abs, and lower your body as far as you can (or at least until your thighs are parallel with the floor) by pushing your hips back and bending your knees. Keep your back straight by sticking your buttocks out. Pause for one count and then slowly push yourself to the starting position by driving up through the middle of your feet or even through the heels of your feet.
Dumbbell Squat Tips & Key Points
- Keep your weight on your heels, not on your toes, for the entire movement. The heels should not lift off the floor.
- Stick your chest out. Keep your torso as upright as you can for the entire movement (don’t lean forward), with your lower back naturally arched. Do not let your back round at any time during the lift.
- Keep your head up; looking down when you squat puts you at greater risk of injury.
- When you squat down, your hips should be dropping straight down, not coming forward. Descend by bending your hips rather than starting with your knees.
- Don’t point your knees in or out when you’re lowering or pushing the weight. Your knees should be directly above your toes (bottom position)—if they track forward past your toes, this can place unnecessary stress on your knees.
Muscles Used When Performing a Dumbbell Squat
The dumbbell squat is a compound exercise that strengths the lower body, including the quads, hips, hamstrings, and glutes. The exercise also activates the muscles in your core, and requires core strength and ankle mobility to achieve greater depth. Much of the emphasis will depend on where the dumbbells are hanging and how your torso is positioned (hip angle).
Main muscles: quadriceps, gluteus maximus
Secondary muscles: hamstrings, adductors, gastrocnemius, muscles of the lower back and along the spine
Antagonists: iliopsoas, sartorius
Dumbbell Squat Variations
- Goblet squat
- Sumo squat
- Dumbbell front squat