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I was wondering, if I were to use the same amount of weight with dumbbells as I would with a barbell while doing a squat, will I get the same benefits as I would using a barbell?

Now I understand that one of the obvious benefits with barbells, is the fact that I can use massive weight, weight that would be extremely difficult to use with dumbbells - but that is why I am asking about the case where I am using the same amount of weight. In other words is there a difference as to whether I have the weight by my side with the dumbbells, or across my shoulders with the barbell?

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up vote 15 down vote accepted

There is a difference, in that you are changing the load on your core. Squats are not "just a leg exercise" as many people assume that it is. There are several variations of squats, and they each have their place.

If you choose to do dumbbell squats, I highly recommend Goblet Squats. Instead of the weight at your sides, it is in front of you. This accomplishes two things:

  • Helps improve your squat form and depth--complete with better carryover to back squats.
  • Helps increase the core component of the dumbbell squat.

Another option is to "clean" the dumbbell to your shoulders. That is, use your hip to launch the dumbbell up to your shoulders. That will help keep your core involved as well. This approach has more carryover to front squats (where the bar is across the front of your deltoids in front of your neck).

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"i have the weight by my side with the dumbbells, or across my shoulders with the barbell?" You answered your own question, there is a physiological difference in the origin of the weight and therefore a difference in where the force / work is applied to move that weight, specifically the posterior chain.

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This would depend on a number of factors. For instance, if you lack the shoulder ROM to position the bar properly for a back squat, the flexibility in choosing the exact position that allows symmetrical positioning of your arms for dumbbell squats could end up making them much more effective than barbell squats. That's a specific example of the general idea that any exercise you can perform safely and without pain is more effective than one you can only perform with pain. If you can perform both dumbbell squats and barbell squats perfectly fine without any pain and with good form for the respective exercises, you'd probably benefit most from alternating between them at the same weight.

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The main difference you will find is that barbells are a much more intense and "explosive" workout that uses more weight than most comparable dumbbells. In addition, you will change your form depending on if you do a barbell or a dumbbell squat. I recommend starting with barbells and perhaps experimenting with dumbbells if you find that you want to change up your workout. Check out this article on the Barbell Squat and decide for yourself.

Best of Luck- Neil Cook

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