The Squat. Whenever you think of leg day, your mind immediately goes to squats. The squat is one of the best exercises for you and should be in everybody’s workout program.
The squat is an essential movement that we perform almost every day. The squat is a multi-joint exercise that targets your ankles, knees, and hips.
Squatting will target most of the lower body muscles, specifically targetting your quadriceps and your glutes. The hamstrings, calves, and core are there to support you.
People often come to me with the question of “what sort of squats should I do?” but like most things in the fitness world, it’s not all black and white.
There are many things to consider in choosing your squat, and there are various differences and benefits between the different squats.
In this article, I want to dive into the differences between a barbell squat and a dumbbell squat and help you make the best decision for your ability and goals.
Dumbbell Squat vs. Barbell Squat
If you’ve ever set foot in a gym, you’ve most likely seen someone squatting, and whether it was a dumbbell squat or a barbell squat, someone is always hogging the only rack in your gym!
Squats are a significant muscle maker. They chisel your legs, butt, and core and are also crucial in shedding those few extra pounds. They are great for building stabilizing muscles that assist with posture and movement, and they’ll burn a crazy number of calories.
But which is going to be more effective?
When it comes to building muscle, barbell squats are king. Barbell squatting allows you to add more weight, which recruits larger muscles.
Dumbbell squats effectiveness comes in the form of safety and stability training. Think of how locked in you are during a barbell squat – you’re in a rack with a few hundred pounds on your back, and there’s no easy way out.
With a dumbbell squat, you can escape with ease. Just drop the dumbbells or place them down (even safer!).
Dumbbell squats also require a bit of stability since you’ll be holding a dumbbell in each hand. You may find your non-dominate side is a bit weaker, requiring more stabilizing muscles to be recruited.
This is a nice added benefit to using dumbbells!
Am I trying to say you can’t build muscle with dumbbells? Absolutely not! However, it will take more time with dumbbells.
Let’s take a look at these exercises a bit closer.
Barbell squats will incorporate a majority of the lower body muscles, including quadriceps, glutes, hips, hamstrings, calves, and your core.
Because of the amount of weight you can add to a barbell squat, you’ll gain strength and size in your legs faster than you would if you used dumbbells.
There are a few different variations of barbell squats, including the high or low bar back squat, the front squat, and the overhead squat to name a few. Each of these has a slightly different set up that will incorporate other muscles.
Barbell squats are going to be more challenging. They’ll force your body to grow through stress and are excellent in any intermediate to expert level lifter’s program.
Dumbbell squats are a great addition to any program, but they won’t build the same strength and size compared to barbell squats.
There are quite a few variations of dumbbell squats, which all provide significant benefits for your lower body. These include regular dumbbell squats, goblet squat, sumo squat, dumbbell overhead squat, and I’ll even throw in a split squat. A split squat is a unilateral movement, like a lunge, that will assist in building muscle equally in both legs.
These are all fantastic variations of an already great exercise, but you would be OK with just a regular dumbbell squat.
Dumbbell squats are safer than barbell squats, and they’ll aid in fixing muscle imbalances.
So, which is Better?
Well, it depends. This is a common theme in the fitness world. Like I said, not everything is black and white.
Take this example. Say your grandma comes into the gym for a nice leg day. Would you have her get under a barbell or have her use dumbbells? Now consider a veteran powerlifter; which do you think he would choose?
Yes, these are two extremes, but they make the point.
Now, barbell squats will build more muscle, burn more fat, and overall are great for you. Therefore, most people inherently think they are the best. But are they the best for you? That all depends (there’s that word again) on you, your experience, and your goals.
If you’ve never squatted before, getting under a barbell wouldn’t make much sense. But light dumbbells would help you perfect your form and ensure you’re using both legs equally.
So, yeah, barbell squats are more superior because they recruit more muscles, but that doesn’t make them a better choice for everyone.
Which Should You Do?
Everyone should squat. Squats are great at building muscle and are safe despite what some of your Facebook friends might be telling you.
If you’re an experienced lifter who has confidence in your ability and wants to gain strength and size, please use barbell squats and experiment with the variations. Throw in some front squats or try a low bar back squat compared to the usual high bar.
If you’re newer to the gym or not looking for size, I’d go with dumbbell squats to start. You still get most of the benefits, and you can torch fat. Dumbbell squats are the safe alternative as well, and you can work on different muscular imbalances.
The decision ultimately comes down to you. I think everyone should include a combination of barbell squats and dumbbell squats in their programs. The benefits are exponential when it comes to squatting, and there are so many variations.
Give a few different squats a chance and see what sticks. Continue to build muscle and burn fat, and you’ll love the outcome!
Nick, is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the NSCA and a Pn L1 Nutrition Coach. He has over 10 years in the fitness world including training, coaching athletes, and working 1 on 1 with clients in the gym.