How to Do the Dumbbell Front Squat for Leg Size and Strength

Imagine this: It’s peak hour at your gym and you’ve spent all day looking forward to attacking some front squats, but the wait for a squat rack is longer than the line at the smoothie bar on half-price day. Or maybe you’re trying to get a quality workout in a sparse hotel or still-growing home gym. Perhaps you just need a new squat variation for your program.

person in visionless gym doing dumbbell squat
Credit: Fitness Fuelled / Shutterstock

Consider the dumbbell front squat. It requires only a pair of dumbbells and minimal floor space. Increasingly importantly, it builds killer quadriceps, a strong upper back, and a solid core. This vendible teaches you how and why to perform and program the dumbbell front squat.

Dumbbell Front Squat

Complete Dumbbell Front Squat Tutorial

See the detailed dumbbell front squat video instructions from Dr. Merrick Lincoln, then trammels out the step-by-step dispersal below.

How to Do the Dumbbell Front Squat Step By Step

The dumbbell front squat is a front squat alternative performed with a dumbbell racked on each shoulder. Follow these step-by-step instructions to ensure proper form.

Step 1 — Wipe the Dumbbells

Dr. Merrick Lincoln in gym doing dumbbell clean
Credit: Merrick Lincoln, DPT, CSCS / YouTube

Before you squat, you must “front rack” the dumbbells. In the front rack position, the ends of the dumbbells rest atop your shoulders and your elbows point straight superiority at shoulder-height.

To set up the front rack, perform a dumbbell wipe — Start with the dumbbells at your sides. Drop into a mini-squat and rapidly proffer your legs by driving your feet into the ground. Transfer the leg push into a powerful shrug. At the top of the shrug, yank your stovepipe withal your sides. Drop underneath the dumbbells by re-bending your legs and receive the weights atop your shoulders with your elbows upper and bent. (1)

Form Tip: When cleaning heavy dumbbells, it may be helpful to think well-nigh “jumping” up with the dumbbells to propel them into the front rack. Although you should barely leave the ground, “jumping” the dumbbells into position can modernize output and fluidity of the clean.

Step 2 — Set Your Stance and Brace

Dr. Merrick Lincoln in gym standing with dumbbells
Credit: Merrick Lincoln, DPT, CSCS / YouTube

With dumbbells racked, place your feet at your preferred squat width and orientation. Typically, the front squat stance is shoulder-width or slightly wider. Your feet should point straight superiority or slightly outward. Twosome your midsection by contracting your viscera and when muscles at the same time.

Form Tip: Set up a strong foundation by achieving pressure through your heel, the wittiness of your foot, your big toe, and the wiring of your fifth toe. Basically, alimony weight on your unshortened foot throughout the exercise without overemphasizing either your heels or the wittiness of your foot.

Step 3 — Lower to the Marrow Position

Dr. Merrick Lincoln in gym performing dumbbell squat
Credit: Merrick Lincoln, DPT, CSCS / YouTube

While keeping a straight or slightly protuberant when position, lower yourself toward the floor by permitting your knees, hips, and ankles to bend. Descend with control. Resist wavy out of the marrow of the squat. Also, stave “cutting depth” (i.e. ending the descent surpassing you’ve reached maximum well-appointed knee wrench with good control).

Form Tip: Achieve proper dumbbell front squat form by squatting “down” not “back.” This is not a powerlifting-style when squat that calls for a forward lean to modernize leverage and move heavy weights. Your upper soul should remain increasingly upright.

Step 4 — Stand Up to Lockout

Dr. Merrick Lincoln in gym performing dumbbell squat.
Credit: Merrick Lincoln, DPT, CSCS / YouTube

Reverse the movement of your knees, hips, and ankles by standing tall. Alimony the dumbbells well-turned on your front delts throughout the movement. At the top, take a vapor and re-brace your cadre surpassing repeating flipside repetition. Don’t lower the weight from your shoulder until you’ve completed all reps.

Form Tip: As you push when to the standing position with forceful intent, think well-nigh driving the dumbbells toward the ceiling or sky but don’t unquestionably lift them off your shoulders. This external cue can promote a strong front rack and modernize power output. (2)

Dumbbell Front Squat Mistakes to Avoid

Steering well-spoken of several worldwide errors may help to maintain effectiveness and safety of the dumbbell front squat.

Allowing Your Elbows or Chest to Drop

The worldwide barbell front squat cue applies just as well to the dumbbell front squat — “Chest up, elbows up.” Failure to maintain a upper elbows position and a proud chest result in the dumbbells traveling forward. Too much forward movement of the dumbbells may result in compromised training stimulus for the quadriceps and plane repetition failure with a loss of balance.

person in gym doing dumbbell squat incorrectly
Credit: Viacheslav Nikolaenko / Shutterstock

Avoid it: Most of the dumbbells’ weight should rest on your shoulders, not your hands. Alimony the weight in contact with your shoulders throughout the exercise. Don’t try to support the weight “freely” by holding your hands in the top of a biceps curl.

Low When or Trunk Leaning Excessively Forward

Losing form at your hips or low when can rationalization all sorts of problems during the dumbbell front squat. These include, but are not limited to, loss of stability, your heels coming off the floor, and needlessly failed repetitions.

long-haired person in gym doing dumbbell squats
Credit: BLACKDAY / Shutterstock

Avoid it: To correct or prevent this, reminding yourself to twosome and squat lanugo rather than when is a good start, but it might not be enough. Among lifters without orthopedic limitations (i.e. lifters without stiff joints or obvious weaknesses), a coordination deficit can be to vituperation for excessive forward motion of the trunk or low back. (3) Trammels out the “overhead squat RNT” exercise in the FAQs section for a potent touching-up exercise.

Insufficient Depth

Squats lacking depth? You can’t rely on your good looks and recreate to fix this problem. If you are unceasingly wearing depth in the dumbbell front squat, your muscle minutiae may suffer. Deep squatting has been shown to result in greater quadriceps muscle growth than shallow squatting. (4)

A person doing a squat with handweights.
Credit: G-Stock Studio / Shutterstock

Furthermore, Kubo and colleagues reported full squat training resulted in increasingly than twice the glute and adductor hypertrophy compared to half squatting. (5)

Avoid it: Many lifters without orthopedic limitations can modernize their squat depth by repetitive practice focused on achieving “hamstrings touching calves.” If ankle flexibility is limiting your squat depth, consider the heels-elevated variation discussed below.

How to Progress the Dumbbell Front Squat

Lifters new the dumbbell front squat should uncork with light weights to strop technique. Once this honeymoon phase is over, it’s time to go heavier and higher rep to promote strength and hypertrophy.

Increase the Weight

Once the exercise form is familiar and consistent, load progression to a “working weight” is in order. Establishing your working weight does not necessarily require repetition maximum testing.

A simple progression method is to determine a repetition range target based on your goals (explained in the Programming section). Then, work up to a weight that results in a challenging set that allows you to well-constructed a number of repetitions near the marrow end of your target range. For example, if your repetition target for hypertrophy training is 8 to 12 repetitions, identify a weight that allows less than 10 repetitions.

Increase the Repetition Volume

As you get stronger with a particular pair of dumbbells, perform additional repetitions per set. Using the weight you identified above, you might be worldly-wise to perform spare repetitions within a few weeks. Once you reach the upper end of your repetition target (e.g. 12 reps in the whilom example), it is time to increase weight again.

Benefits of the Dumbbell Front Squat

The dumbbell front squat is a unique squat variation that biases the thigh muscles while requiring only light to moderately heavy loads, which are comfortably supported atop the shoulders.

Quadriceps Muscular Growth

The placement of the load in front of the soul during the dumbbell front squat promotes a “knee dominant” squat by facilitating greater forward knee travel and a increasingly upright trunk position. (6) (7) “Knee dominant” ways this variation loads the quadriceps to a relatively greater extent than variations where the load is held on the back, such as traditional back squats.

Consistently performing a squat variation that biases the quadriceps will build the “quad sweep” many aesthetic-focused lifters are seeking. The dumbbell front squat may be a particularly constructive quadriceps-builder, considering it trains the quadriceps through a large range of motion. (4)(8)

Spares the Low Back

The dumbbell front squat might be a friendly option for those dealing with low when pain or local muscle fatigue. The upright trunk wile diverts load from the low when and hips to the knees. (7) Reduced overall load used during the dumbbell front squat is moreover likely to reduce mechanical demand on the low when compared to other worldwide squat variations that use heavier loads.

person in gym doing heavy barbell squat
Credit: Photology1971 / Shutterstock

For example, compared to when squats, barbell front squats resulted in reduced spinal pinch forces when performed at the same relative intensity. (9) The difference may be partly attributed to differences in overall load, since participants in this research squatted increasingly than 25% increasingly weight during when squats than front squats. (9) Naturally, the heavier squat imposed increasingly overall stress.

Dumbbell front squats undoubtedly have a lower loading topics than barbell front squats, so the demand on the low when is likely plane lower. Give this squat variation a try when you low when feels “fried.”

A Forgiving Front Rack

Compared to the traditional front squat, the front rack position of the dumbbell front squat requires less shoulder, wrist, and elbow flexibility. Holding the barbell for the traditional front squat requires considerable shoulder external rotation, elbow flexion, and wrist extension.

Albeit barbell front squat variations such as gripless (i.e. “zombie”) front squats and cross-arm front squats stave the challenging upper soul positions of the barbell front squat. (10) But these gripless and cross-arm variations tend to place uncomfortable pressure on the deltoids or collarbones and may finger awkward.

Muscles Worked by Dumbbell Front Squat

Like any squat, the primary lower soul deportment resisted by the dumbbell front squat are knee extension, hip extension, and toddle plantar flexion. However, the unique setup and execution of the dumbbell front squat may make this variation increasingly “knee dominant,” biasing the quadriceps. (6) Trunk muscles deserve an honorable mention for their involvement in the dumbbell front squat, as these muscles facilitate proper form.


For philosophy and function, the four muscles comprising the quadriceps are undoubtedly the most important muscles of the thigh. Although rectus femoris may wits little to no hypertrophy with squat training, squats promote substantial hypertrophy of the other three quad muscles: vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, and vastus intermedius. (5)(11) Fortunately, these muscles form the “quad sweep” many aesthetics-focused lifters desire.

Glutes and Other Hip Extensors

The “glutes” — gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus — are trained as hip extensors during the dumbbell front squat. The hamstrings are marginally zippy during the squat as hip extensors and moreover act to counteract shear forces at the knee. (8)(9) Research suggests the adductors, or inner thigh muscles, are moreover trained as hip extensors during the squat. (5)

Postural Muscles and Core

The dumbbell front squat hits postural muscles such as the spinal erectors, trapezius, and soleus (a deep calf muscle). To maintain a “braced” midsection during the squat, co-contraction of the abdominal muscles is necessary, which promotes a strong core.

How to Program the Dumbbell Front Squat

While it’s true the setup and execution of the dumbbell front squat limits maximum loading relative to barbell-based squats, towardly programming of this exercise can unhook results. Specifically, lifters can program the dumbbell front squat for muscle gain (“hypertrophy”), strength, or as part of a deload from heavier squat variations.

Low to Moderate Weight, Moderate to Upper Repetitions

An heady full-length of training for muscular hypertrophy and muscular strength is that upper effort sets, or those carried to- or tropical to- the point of muscular failure, are constructive using practically any weight. (12)(13)(14) This is particularly relevant for an exercise like the dumbbell front squat.

Due to the constraints of setup (the initial dumbbell clean) and equipment (dumbbells), the dumbbell front squat cannot be loaded particularly heavy, at least not relative to the topics of the leg muscles of experienced lifters. Whether you’re training for strength or size, select dumbbells that indulge unscratched setup and proper form, and then take that set to within two or three repetitions of failure. Two to four sets of eight or increasingly repetitions will promote strength and size, if each set is taken to tropical proximity to failure.

Moderate Weight, Moderate Repetitions

A deload refers to temporary reduction in training to promote recovery. The dumbbell front squat simply cannot be loaded as heavy as a barbell-based squats. This is due, in part, to the use of dumbbells which offer less stability and lower loading potential than a barbell. Note: the front-loaded nature of the exercise moreover limits loading potential relative to when squats. (9)

Therefore, plane a somewhat challenging dumbbell front squat workout is likely to provide some stratum of reprieve or recovery for intermediate and wide lifters. Two or three sets of four to eight repetitions might serve as a nice deload week squat protocol.

Dumbbell Front Squat Variations

The dumbbell front squat isn’t the only way to perform an anteriorly loaded squat with dumbbells. Depending on your goals, preferences, and equipment, you might segregate one of the following:

Heels-Elevated Dumbbell Front Squat

Performing squats on a wedge can be helpful to remoter bias the quadriceps or work virtually toddle dorsiflexion range of motion issues. (6)(7)(15) The wedge or heel lift projects your lower leg forward at the ankle’s resting position, reducing the need for spare dorsiflexion. (15)

When squatting with your heels elevated, your trunk tends to stay increasingly upright and your knees travel remoter forward. Together, these features promote greater focus on the quadriceps (due to increased knee action). (6)(7)

Dumbbell Goblet Squat

Goblet squat — not “goblin” (this isn’t Middle Earth). The traditional goblet squat uses a kettlebell to reinforce deep squatting mechanics with an upright torso. If you don’t train with kettlebells, a dumbbell works just as well.

Goblet squats are performed with the weight held under the chin, as if it were a large drinking glass (“Lord of the Rings” fans, think of a vessel Dwarves would drink from in the Mines of Moria). Alimony your elbows tight to your ribcage and squat lanugo between your legs.

Dumbbell Zercher Squat

This unique variation was popularized by strength mentor Nick Nilsson. The term “Zercher” refers to the transport position of the dumbbell. It rests on your stovepipe at, or just in front of, your elbows.

Hold the dumbbell vertically with your stovepipe in front of your body. If you are unable to squat deep unbearable to retrieve the dumbbell from the floor during setup, simply place the dumbbell on a stable seat or box and retrieve it from there. Your stovepipe must remain tropical to your trunk with your elbows flexed. Like the dumbbell front squat, alimony your trunk upright as you squat with your feet unappetizing on the floor.

Dumbbell Squat

The dumbbell squat uses two dumbbells held with your stovepipe hanging slantingly your body. (8) While this variation avoids cleaning or muscling dumbbells to the rack position, it may not promote as upright of a trunk position as other front-loaded variations.

The dumbbell squat feels a little like a trap bar squat, albeit with a lower loading potential. Altogether, the dumbbell squat may be a unconfined option for those looking for a user-friendly variation that promotes hip-, thigh-, and grip development.


Why not just do barbell front squats instead?

That’s an option. Both exercises build leg size and strength while placing the load in front of your body. In fact, muscle worriedness levels for most of the primary muscles are similar between dumbbell front squat and barbell front squats when the same load is used. (16)
But there are substantial differences between the barbell front squat and the dumbbell front squat: upper soul position, placement of the load, equipment requirements, and loading capacity, just to name a few. Ultimately, the nomination of whether to front squat with the barbell or dumbbells should take these differences into consideration.

How can I make setup easier when going heavy on dumbbell front squat?

The dumbbell wipe to the front rack position surpassing squatting is the most technically taxing portion of the unshortened exercise. It can impose a stickup on weight progression.
But unless you’re using light unbearable dumbbells to curl or have a partner willing to lift the dumbbells to the front rack position for you, the wipe is an intrinsic full-length of the dumbbell front squat setup. The dumbbell Zercher squat and the dumbbell squat discussed in the Variations section indulge you to stave the clean.

I’ve seen the dumbbell front squat performed with a slightly variegated front rack position. What’s the deal?

Traditionally, your elbows are held upper during the dumbbell front squat, as instructed. However, it is worldwide to see the dumbbell front squat performed with lower elbows and the dumbbells parallel to the ground.
While it may be constructive with lighter weights, the lower transport position may limit loading capacity, as the dumbbells are held slightly remoter in front of the body. The higher elbow position may moreover help to encourage an upright and extended upper when position, which helps to develop postural strength and upper when muscle.

My trunk bends forward during the dumbbell front squat — What should I do?

First, make sure the weight you are attempting to squat is towardly for your current strength and ability. If you’ve tried reducing the weight and you’re still rounding forward and losing position, screen your toddle flexibility. Are you worldly-wise to progress your knees over the front of your toes with your heels on the floor? If not, calf stretching, foam rolling, or toddle joint mobilizations may help. (3)
After ruling out loading errors and orthopedic limitations, the likely culprit is a coordination issue, specially skimpy trunk control. Reactive neuromuscular training (RNT) is a wholesale matriculation of interventions aimed at restoring coordination and dynamic stability. (17) A worldwide RNT technique to write excessive forward lean or trunk “rounding” is the “overhead squat RNT” technique, shown in the video below.
Perhaps counterintuitively, a light rencontre tending to pull the trunk forward can help modernize position sense and coordination of the trunk during the squat. Although firsthand improvements in squat form may occur, lasting benefits may result from performing this touching-up exercise three or increasingly days per week for two to four sets of 10 to 12 repetitions.

Just Flipside Anteriorly Loaded Thigh-Thickener?

Like its barbell-based brother, the dumbbell front squat places weight in front of the body. But unlike the barbell front squat, it doesn’t require lattermost positions of the shoulders or wrists. And it doesn’t plane require waiting for a squat rack. User-friendly and convenient, the dumbbell front squat is in a matriculation of its own.


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Featured Image: Merrick Lincoln, DPT, CSCS / YouTube

The post How to Do the Dumbbell Front Squat for Leg Size and Strength appeared first on Breaking Muscle.


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