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October 03, 2022 6 min read

Dumbbell squats are an excellent lower body exercise designed to work the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Using dumbbells as resistance when squatting will increase the load you put on the working muscles of your hips, legs, and upper body.

Therefore, you activate the stabilizers of your core, ankles, and hips to steady the weight throughout the entire range of motion. Dumbbell squats make a highly effective exercise to include in your workout toolbox, especially if you are looking for general strength development and hypertrophy at the gym.


Dumbbell Squats – Image from Shutterstock


Benefits of Dumbbell Squats

Dumbbell squats offer several key benefits.

  1. Dumbbell squats are versatile. Dumbbells are versatile free weights used in various squat variations like the front squat, Bulgarian split squat, goblet squat, overhead squat, box squat, and more. Weightlifters who typically do barbell squats could use barbell squats in their pre-workout warm-up routines.

  2. Dumbbell squats strengthen your core and lower body. The additional weight of a pair of dumbbells boosts activation in your posterior chain muscles, like your gluteus maximus and hamstrings. Furthermore, dumbbell squats activate the stabilizing muscles around your ankles and knees.

  3. Dumbbell squats are good for all. Dumbbell squats are a great exercise for all, with squat variations for beginners, bodybuilders, lifters, and anyone who wants to build muscles. With practice and good form, dumbbell squats are a great way to build up from beginner level to more advanced dumbbell squat variations like dumbbell front squats, box squats, sumo squats, back squats, and Bulgarian split squats.

What Muscles Do the Dumbbell Squat Work?

Trainers call the squat exercise the king of lower body exercises for good reasons. No other move engages more muscle groups below the waist. The dumbbell squat targets the muscles of the thigh and butt, but also works the hamstrings and calves. When you perform the exercise with proper form, you also enlist a host of stabilizing muscles.


Quadriceps – Image from Shutterstock


The quadriceps muscles comprise the front of your thigh and their functions include hip flexion and the straightening of your knee and flexion of your hip. Your quads consist, as the name indicates, of four muscles: the rectus femoris, vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis, and vastus medialis.


Glutes – Image from Shutterstock


These are the muscles of your butt, working to straighten your hips, rotate your legs, and draw your leg out to the side. The gluteus maximus is the biggest single muscle in your body. The other two in this muscle group are, in descending size, the gluteus medius and the gluteus minimus.

Don’t be mistaken, squats are compound exercises that benefit a whole lot more than the lower body. This video will show the fascinating anatomy of squats.


How to Do a Dumbbell Squat

Here is what you need to know about the basic dumbbell squat that forms the basis of all other varieties. This is a great exercise to grow with you, since you can start without weights and build up resistance as you progress.


Starting position: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, making sure that your balance and gravity are centered. Your feet must face straight ahead because if your toes are not pointed to the front, your knees risk excessive pressure build-up.

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them at your sides.

  2. Lock your back at a straight angle because throughout the entire range of motion your back should be rigid and your abdominal muscles tight. This is because abs, quad muscles, gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus must do all the work.

  3. Slowly bend your knees as you slowly descend to a squat position until you reach a 90-degree angle.

  4. Stop and push your feet into the floor and use your quads, hips, and glutes to get back to the starting position. Do the recommended number of reps.

Dumbbell Squat Form Notes

Proper form is critical in all the different dumbbell squats since they directly engage primary movers that span numerous joints, increasing the movement complexity and the injury potential, so you’ll want to ensure you do it right.

  • Contract your abs while performing each squat to increase the effectiveness of the exercise, and squeeze your glutes when you stand up.

  • Lock your back at an angle, and maintain that angle throughout the full movement to ensure your squats impact your glutes instead of your spine.

  • Research shows that looking down while squatting puts undue strain on your neck and back. So, keep your head up and look straight ahead — don’t even turn your head to admire your mirror reflection.

  • If you are a beginner, starting out without weights is advisable. Once you have mastered the form, and you feel confident doing weighted squats, start with light dumbbells before moving on to heavier weights.

  • Avoid arching your back as you squat at all costs. It is a common mistake that could cause significant spinal strain.

  • Once you’ve settled into a comfortable, but proper, posture, ensure your core is braced and your load is evenly distributed.

In a nutshell: Maintain good and proper posture throughout to avoid placing your back at risk of injury. It is also a great way to make sure that your glutes, quadriceps, and hip flexors do most of the work.

Advanced Dumbbell Squat Options

To make your dumbbell squats more challenging, you can increase the squat depth. Additional challenges include rising up onto your toes, strengthening your calves, performing single-leg variations, or adding a shoulder press. You can further increase the challenge by performing the squat on a Bosu ball or another unstable surface to improve balance and stability.


Bosu Ball Squats – Image from Shutterstock


Common Dumbbell Squat Mistakes and Solutions

Rounded Back:  This is usually caused by insufficient core strength. Reducing the resistance may help. Strengthening your core with exercises like Planks and Hypers before adding additional weight to your squat can resolve the problem.

Knees Travel Beyond the Toes:  Too heavy weights could be the problem here, and squatting with little or no resistance might be the answer. You should also focus on sitting your hips back while keeping your chest up and pushed out.

Knees Collapse Inward: Once again, reduce resistance for subsequent sets. You can strengthen the muscles responsible for knee alignment by performing bodyweight squats with a mini resistance band wrapped around your thighs just above your knees.

Leaning Forward: When you lean forward while performing dumbbell squats, your lower back is excessively strained. Bodyweight squats can help you improve mobility. Focus on sitting your hips back and keeping your chest up.

This video will help you fix squat mistakes.


Dumbbell Squad Varieties

Let’s look at a few alternative dumbbell squats to add to your workout routine to keep things interesting.

Goblet Squat



The Goblet Squat is typically done with a kettlebell. Unlike the traditional squat that puts the load on your upper back and the tension on your lower back, the load is brought to the front in the goblet squat, acting as a counterbalance, making it easier for the spine to handle and for you to maintain the correct posture.

Dumbbell Back Squat


In comparison, the front squat requires quite a bit more mobility than the back squat, so the back squat may be the best option for those just starting out. However, if you're comfortable with both movements, consider your goals. If your goal includes strength and power, the back squat is the better choice.


Bulgarian Split Squat



As a lower body exercise, the Bulgarian split squat strengthens the leg muscles, including the hamstrings, quads, glutes, and calves. Moreover, as a single-leg exercise, your core is forced to work in overdrive to maintain your balance.

Sumo Squat



The dumbbell sumo squat is a popular lower-body movement using a single dumbbell held in front of the legs. It is performed with a wider than shoulder-width stance, which increases the demand on the glutes, hamstrings, and adductors while still benefiting the quads, core, and upper body.


Dumbbell Front Squat



Dumbbell front squats are a simple and effective exercise to help you build stronger abs and overall full-body strength. Because you are holding two dumbbells in front of you as a counterbalance, you can increase your squat depth without compromising on quality.

Dumbbell Overhead Squat



The 2-arm dumbbell overhead squat is a challenge for both mobility and stability. It’s a relatively advanced exercise, as it demands excellent mobility and stability. It’s more helpful for stability because the arms are independent and cannot support each other.


Dumbbell Box Squat



The purpose of using the box or bench in the dumbbell box squat or in any box squat exercise is to eliminate the ‘stretch reflex,’ which occurs at the bottom of the squat and aids in the ascending phase of the repetition. Eliminating the stretch reflex makes the exercise more difficult and therefore allows you to overload the squat movement pattern with the use of less weight.

Fueling up with the  ENHANCED PRE-WORKOUT STACK beforehand will guarantee you can keep your leg muscles pumping longer and harder, so you can get more out of your training.