How to Do a Dumbbell Shoulder Squat

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Also Known As: Dumbbell front squat

Targets: Quadriceps, gluteus maximus

Equipment Needed: Dumbbells

Level: Beginner

The dumbbell shoulder squat is an excellent weighted squat that builds the quadriceps and gluteus maximus. This exercise requires you to balance the dumbbells on the shoulders with a hammer grip and then proceed with the standard squat execution.

It can be used as an alternative to the barbell front squat or as a progression from the dumbbell squat with weights held in low position (suitcase squat). You can do this squat as part of a strength training program or a circuit training workout.


Gritty Women
svetikd / Getty Images

The dumbbell squat targets the quadriceps muscles in the front of the thighs and the gluteus maximus in the buttocks. The hamstrings at the back of the thighs and the soleus in the calves act to stabilize as well. These are all large muscles and the squat exercise builds functional fitness.

Throughout daily life you must pick up and carry items. As compared with the suitcase dumbbell squat, your body is required to do more stabilization, so you get more of a workout by holding the weights at the shoulders. This is a great exercise for shaping and toning your buns, thighs, and calves.

Step-by-Step Instructions

squat with dumbells
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Choose dumbbells of a weight that will enable you to complete the exercise sets you have chosen. Trial and error will enable you to settle on a suitable weight. Start with a light weight. Ten squats in each set is a reasonable number to aim for with this exercise.

  1. Rest a dumbbell on each shoulder with the dumbbell end pointing forward.
  2. Position the feet about as wide as the hips. Keep the heels planted firmly on the floor and do not allow them to rise up during the exercise.
  3. Brace the abdominal muscles. You can identify these by pretending to clear your throat or by coughing. You will notice the "abs" tightening automatically in the stomach region.
  4. Stand tall, shoulders pulled back with good balance.
  5. Point your butt backward as you start to lower your body by bending at the knees. Make this a deliberate movement. If you concentrate on that butt backward movement you are off to a good start with the squat. Don't arch the back forward on descent or when you return to the start position.
  6. Descend to where your thighs are parallel to the floor. Less than the full distance is OK until you develop good form.
  7. Press into your heels to straighten your knees and hips and rise back up to standing position. Be sure to keep your chest tall so that back stays in neutral position.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors so you get the most from this exercise and avoid strain or injury.

Rounding the Back

Don't round the back, going down or coming up. A rounded back under weight can cause damage to the spine at the upper or lower end. Keeping that butt pointing backward and the chest tall is the key.

Knees Alignment

Keep those heels planted firmly on the ground. Keep the lined up with the feet and not splayed in or out.

Looking Down

Try not to look down. Look straight ahead or at least be aware that your back and butt are in the correct position: chest tall and butt extended.

Heavy Weights

Don't start with weights that are too heavy. Try one set of 10 to 12 squats at a manageable weight, then increase the weight for an additional 2-3 sets until you are sufficiently challenged.

Modifications and Variations

The squat can be done in many different ways to make it more accessible for beginners and to provide progression for experienced exercisers.

Need a Modification?

Beginners might start with the basic bodyweight squat before adding weights. Once you have good form, doing the squat with the weights held on each side of the body in a low carry position is the next step. Then progress to the dumbbell shoulder squat using light weights.

Up for a Challenge?

For a shoulder exercise, you can add a press to this squat after you return to standing position. Once upright, press the weights overhead, extending the elbows on an exhale. Pause, and return them to the shoulders on an inhale. Then do the squat. Repeat as desired.

If you have a barbell setup available, the barbell front squat is the typical choice for bodybuilding and serious strength training.

Safety and Precautions

Talk to your doctor or physical therapist if you have had an injury or condition involving your ankles, knees, legs, hips, or back to see if this exercise is appropriate for you. You will feel your muscles and core working during this exercise, but stop if you feel any pain.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bird SP, Casey S. Exploring the front squatStrength & Conditioning Journal. 2012;34(2):27-33. doi:10.1519/SSC.0b013e3182441b7d

  2. Graham JF. Exercise technique: dumbbell squat, dumbbell split squat, and barbell box step-upStrength & Conditioning Journal. 2011;33(5):76-78. doi:10.1519/SSC.0b013e3181ebcf12

  3. Stastny P, Lehnert M, Zaatar AMZ, Svoboda Z, Xaverova Z. Does the dumbbell-carrying position change the muscle activity in split squats and walking lungesJ Strength Cond Res. 2015;29(11):3177-3187. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000976

  4. Lorenzetti S, Ostermann M, Zeidler F, et al. How to squat? Effects of various stance widths, foot placement angles and level of experience on knee, hip and trunk motion and loadingBMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2018;10(1):14. doi:10.1186/s13102-018-0103-7

  5. Czaprowski D, Biernat R, Kędra A. Squat - rules of performing and most common mistakesPolish Journal of Sport and Tourism. 2012;19(1):3-7. doi:

  6. Sands WA, Wurth JJ, Hewitt JK MD. National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) Basics of Strength and Conditioning Manual. National Strength and Conditioning Association. 2012.