One thing I like a lot about the Starting Strength program is its focus on squats. Why? Because I could practice and practice them, getting my form right, without weights.

Now that I can squat well, I'd like to do the other exercises. Is there a good way to practice them without weights, to get my form right?

(Why practice without weights? 1) It lets me practice at home, a big plus 2) It's much easier to get the form right)

UPDATE: I also have a set of very light dumbbells - could I use those to practice the form?

  • 1
    To get accustomed to the form when you don't have access to an olympic barbell, you could use household appliances like pipes or brooms. It doesn't necessarily have to have the same weight, so long as it is the same shape. However, this will only get you 90% of the way; the remaining 10% you will need to use the barbell so you can get accustomed to maintaining form with weight.
    – Moses
    May 8, 2012 at 16:09

2 Answers 2


Squatting without weight is totally different than squatting with weight. Your center of balance is changed dramatically, as is your posture. (Air squats are sometimes considered more similar to front squats.)

Squatting with dumbbells helps build strength, but is not the same form as a barbell squat, and so will not substantially help you learn. You'll be ingraining the wrong movement pattern: back angle, hip drive, and the upper thorax will all probably be allowed to (or forced to) take different positions from that of a true barbell back squat.

That doesn't mean they're counterproductive or bad, just that air and dumbbell squats are better for mobility and accessory work than ingraining the correct form for a different exercise.

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    "As stated extensively in the Starting Strength book, squatting without weight is totally different than squatting with weight". Missed that? Where is that, and what's the difference? May 7, 2012 at 15:35
  • @S.RobertJames Looks like you're right, I misremembered. I'll edit. May 7, 2012 at 15:58
  • Other than squats the general form for many of the lifts can be trained without weight or with just a bar. You'll want to work on your wrist flexibility too. It's needed for front squats and to be able to to cleans and rack other weight properly. Actually, it's needed i back squats too, to keep your elbow coming forward, etc. I suggest practicing with the bar (45lb bar used in bench press).
    – VISQL
    May 10, 2012 at 22:06

I find doing the motions with no weights at all is actually challenging. I usually find at a certain point there's a click where the downward force of the weight is enough to actually force me to use the right form. Now given that a bar without weights is 45lbs, it's probably more accurate to describe it as doing the form without weight plates, rather than doing the form without weights entirely.

With dumbbells specifically, you could use them to practice deadlifts as you would do them with a trap/hex/shrug bar. Naturally you'd have to place them on a box that puts them at the right height. The deadlift is the exercise I found I had the least difficulty getting with good form right off the bat using minimal weight (possibly because lifting a dead weight off the ground is something I've been doing almost all my life). Otherwise putting a broom stick, or some other stick on the boxes, getting it right against your shins could work, although you'd probably want to off centre it so the broom part doesn't unbalance the stick.

The press should also work well, particularly since it is not unlike stretching your arms up above your head. Also, like the deadlift, it's a motion you've likely done quite often to put something on a high shelf. The dumbbells wouldn't work quite so well as a barbell substitute as it's pretty hard to hold them the way you should hold a barbell in front of your chest for the press.

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