T Nation

The Dumbell Squat

Dr Darden,
I have noticed you utilising this particular exercise in the Killing Fat book, whereas in your older books I cannot remember it getting a mention.
Is there a particular reason why ? , perhaps suitability for the 30-10-30 ? , or just an exercise you haven’t previously looked closely at ?
I know that Jeff (Shaw) is a fan of the exercise , and I would be interested in his thoughts/experiences.
Personally, I tried it as part of my first cycle of 30-10-30 , and have to admit that I liked it , as once I got in the mindset of focusing on the lower body and found my groove, it was a surprisingly tough movement considering the modest resistance.
Anybody else reading this, feel free to comment.


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Hi Mark,
I like them because they’re easy to set up - i.e. no humping loads of weight on or off a squat bar, no pressure on my spine, don’t need a squat rack - and I can really focus on my legs doing the work. I do find I have to pick a spot high on the wall and keep my eyes on it otherwise my back rounds too much and I do some sort of cross between a deadlift, a squat and a crouch. I also use straps or else my grip gives out. I would worry about doing 30-10-30 in a conventional squat due to finishing the movement with a fully loaded bar when you’re in the low position and having to rely on a squat rack. In the dumbbell squat all I have to do is let go of the dumbbells!

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Have you noticed any difference in the degree of leg stimulation/subsequent results from doing them, compared to say Barbell or hip belt squats , or a leg press ?

I have found a wider stance is best for me - I always feel them in my frontal thighs, my leg biceps and my hips. Overall I’d say my legs look more balanced since I’ve been using them - especially my leg biceps although size wise I’m about the same as I was before I did the movement. If I do Leg Press I don’t feel any involvement from my leg biceps or hips at all. I haven’t done full Squats since 1985 when I stopped because I had access to the Nautilus Duo Squat. I was capable of using so much weight in regular Squats that it wasn’t doing my spine any good and never went back to them. More recently I’ve used the Hammer V-Squat which I like but our gym has the plate loaded version so it’s a pain to load up and then take the weights back off and it really digs into my shoulders so Dumbbell Squat wins every time. My current gym has no facility to do Hip Belt Squats so can’t make a judgement. What experiences are you finding with Dumbbell Squat?

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Yes, I remember the V-squat. You can really load it up, but a pain to do so. That is one reason why (when prices inevitably drop, and the market becomes flooded with equipment) if I get a leg press for my home gym, it will be a horizontal selectorised one , rather than a plate load 45 degree one (I used to end up doing one legged on those as the amount of plates required when doing it regular style was ridiculous).
As for my experience with the Dumbell Squat, I like it.
I do have to “lock in” my feet and visualise myself pushing into the floor , otherwise I tend to utilise my body upper too much in the lift (much like I would with trap bar deadlifts) and the weight ends up feeling too light, and the leg involvement seems lessened.
The slow negative at the beginning with a protocol such as 30-10-30 though , really does help in the mental process.

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I’ve been doing dumbbell squats as kind of a finisher to my leg workout - I do some high rep sets with light weight and a short rest period after I’ve done a (relatively) heavy rear foot elevated split squat close to failure.

My observations:

  • I have to work hard to keep my shoulders back. I have a natural tendency to roll my shoulders forward as if the goal were to set the dumbbells on the floor. With a bar across the shoulders, it is much easier to keep the chest up and shoulders back; that just feels more natural.
  • I do focus on keeping my hands back and over the mid point of the foot. Helps to supinate the hands slightly.
  • I also find it helpful to squat to a box; I set the height at 13”, which means my butt touches down just as I drop below parallel. Keeps me honest on the depth, helps to encourage an upright position, and makes sure that I feel the squats in my quads.
  • I personally prefer to use a narrow stance. That is mainly because wide stance squats seem to bother one of my hips. But it also makes it easier to let the dumbbells hang straight off my shoulder, and again facilitates a more upright torso.
  • Definitely safer than barbell squats for the simple reason that your overall center of gravity is much lower. You are still loading the spine, however, because the weight is still applied to the shoulders.
  • Much harder to load heavily. It is a lot harder to hold two heavy dumbbells that can spin and tilt versus the same weight on a straight bar or a trap bar. And, of course, most people are not going to have big enough dumbbells to match the weights typically used on a barbell squat. (I should probably try the 30/10x/30 protocol as another way of getting more out of the limited weight that I have).

I also have the parts on hand to build a hip belt squat apparatus with a long lever arm (8’ laminated beam). The design will look something like what is shown in this video: https://youtu.be/qQZ2Z_olFcY

I’ll still be limited on weight, but once barbell plates are back on stock, I’m hoping it will allow for safer, heavier leg work.


Interesting subject guys. I’ve tried these a few times but I was putting the DB’s on my shoulders. It was just for a change but cleaning the DB’s was a real pain. I haven’t tried doing these holding them at arms length. I will give this a try since I do get back pain from time to time since I’ve ruptured one of my disks some years ago. I do try to deadlift a couple times a month for something different and like to do them. Barbell squats aren’t as fun as they used to be… I certainly can’t squat as much as I did in college…


How different are dumbbell squats from using a trap bar?

Overall, the feel is similar. You still have to work to avoid the movement turning into a deadlift. Easier to go heavy with a trap bar, and your arms are forced out, so they aren’t dragging against your legs. With 45lb plates, you will probably have to stand on a platform to get a full range of motion. If you don’t mind the plates hitting the floor, then just call it a dead squat.

If I had a trap bar, I’d use that rather than dumbbells.

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A trap bar deadlift is a whole body movement and a tough productive one at that, which can work the legs pretty well.
You are though limited by the bar and can only really shorten or increase the range of movement on it.
Also , one it’s strengths, the systematic demands it imposes can also be a weakness. As one becomes stronger on it the demands get higher, and one has to question it’s place in a routine as for many people exercises such as barbell squats and leg presses would be better options as workout volume has to be managed as one gets stronger.
In regards the Dumbell Squat you have potential to manipulate the levers by moving the Dumbell and feet positions around (changing a Dumbell Deadlift to a Dumbell Squat being an example) .
With experience and practice you can potentially provide a significant stimulus to the lower body with moderate weights and less systematic demands , which according to the context of the routine can be good or bad.
Just a few thoughts of mine.

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Long time lurked of the old site. Thought I might try and post on this one.
If I may make a suggestion…If you are going to do these, and you have access to the equipment, then why not try using one of those free motion trainers with low pulley handles? Or something similar. A step box can be used if the required depth can’t be reached.
The back is sometimes forced out of neutral and starts to round from the weight of the dumbbells pulling your shoulders forward, as well as down as you descend. You don’t get this with cable handles. Plus there is no tipping or swinging as there can be with an unbalanced trap bar. The weight is even easier to dump than dumbbells are and the cable handles are easier to negotiate around the legs.
The only downside is that very strong individuals might soon use the full weight stack.
Just a thought.


Cable Squats are a worthwhile addition to ones training arsenal.
When my knees on occasion really get sore they are probably the best movement for working my lower body without significant pain.
I don’t quite get the quad stimulus that I get from other squatting movements, but I like them .
A good contribution to this topic.

I prefer a one legged dumbell squat and rotate these with leg press…alternating every other workout.

Basically, you use one hand to hold onto something to stay steady where as the other hand holds the dumbell on the side of the leg you are training. For me, it basically takes any lower back straining out of it.

Thanks Mark…
…An answer to the systemic fatigue posed by the trap bar might be to do as I’ve done when using it and not let the weights touch the floor at the bottom, and not locked out at the top. This reduces overall stress and localised the effort and means that less weight has to be used.
If the .cable squat doesn’t give too much quad emphasis (I see where you are coming from here) ,then the one legged split squat with upright torso will. Unlike Heavyhitter I do mine on the smith machine. Far less weight needed than a normal squat, and the smith machine takes the balance requirement out of it, so that you can really focus on the effort.

we are certainly on the same wavelength with exercise selection as I have done the split squat in the past and like it.
In regards the continuous tension trap bar deadlift , I think these would be best utilised for myself as the final movement in a Pre-exhaust or Double Pre-exhaust cycle as the resistance will be significantly lower than normal and the quadriceps already fatigued.

Dr Darden, what do you think of goblet squats and how do they compare to the regular dumbbell squats? They’re quite popular these days.


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Goblet squats, as defined and demonstrated in your link, are a fine exercise. I would rate them at the same level as dumbbell squats.

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Your going to want to be very careful with a trap bar. It’s an exercise that you don’t want to move too slow on negatives. Even the positive.

I don’t like exposing the deep muscles of the low back to that much time under load. More on this at the end of this post.

I’m talking about the multifidus and iliocostalis lumborum muscles. Not the erectors. They are easy to overtrain and injure. Worse yet blow a disc as a result

Even the DB squat can become a problem if you go too heavy and do use good form. I talking about 40 -50 pound DB’s

The goblet works great for 30-10-30 and 30-30-30 if you can hold a DB that long. I hold it against my chest. Never out in front.

I used to do the trap bar standing on a plate for more range of motion. I used 30-10-30 a few times.

Even 130 pounds that slow was enough to remember an injury I had.

I now think a 30 second negative or even a 10 second negative is to slow for any deadlift.

I think trap bar work would be better with high reps at about a 2-2 or 3-3 speed. Maybe even to rest pause.

It might be the only exercise I would not move slow with. Proabaly the SLDL as well

Many years ago I got hurt doing the TBDL with a 10-10 speed. I did a rest pause. One rep 10-10 with 10 seconds between reps.

It will put you on the floor for a few minutes. I worked up to 250 and my back went out.

Be careful. I still like to use 30/30/30 or 30/10/30 . Or a hybrid of 30/30/30 with 10/10 But for lowback I like a machine

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I agree.

I’m not doing slow reps at the moment, and would not do them with squats or deadlifts unless the weights were pretty light. My preference is to do both of those exercises with a normal tempo and high effort, stopping before failure, and doing an extra set or two.

I tend to reserve to failure training for machines, and especially single joint machine movements.

So what to do for legs growth when one hasn’t got access to machines?
And a lower back that is very sensitive to injuries.
I am now prwtty much recovered, but don’t have a clue how to restart and not risk injury again.