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Exercise Technique

The Exercise Technique Column provides detailed

explanations of proper exercise technique to optimize
performance and safety.



Exercise Technique:
Dumbbell Squat,
Dumbbell Split Squat, and
Barbell Box Step-up
John F. Graham, MS, CSCS*D, FNSCA
Lehigh Valley Health Network, Allentown, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided
in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journals Web site (http://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj).

SUMMARY  Pick up the 2 dumbbells from the  Heels of both feet should remain in
rack, the floor or have them handed contact with the floor at all times
by a trainer or training partner. throughout the descent.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION AND  Maintain consistent spacing between  Keep the knees directly above to
PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE PROPER knees throughout the movement; do slightly in front of the ankles during
EXERCISE TECHNIQUE FOR A not allow knees to move outward or the descent. Do not allow the knees
DUMBBELL SQUAT, DUMBBELL inward. to move in front of the toes.
SPLIT SQUAT, AND A BARBELL  Arms should hang at the side with  Continue the descent until the backs
BOX STEP-UP. dumbbells held firmly in the hands. of the thighs are parallel to the floor,
 Torso should remain erect. heels begin to lift off the floor. The
 Keep chest out and up. flexibility of the lower body will
 Shoulders are back. determine the actual depth of the
Dumbbell Squat: Lower body and
 Keep head and neck straight with descent.
eyes looking straight ahead.  At the bottom position of the descent
PRIMARY MUSCLES USED maintain control by avoiding bounc-
Gluteus maximus, quadriceps (vastus DESCENT (DOWNWARD ing before beginning the ascent.
MOVEMENT)  Inhale during the descent.
lateralis, vastus intermedius, vastus
medialis, rectus femoris), hamstrings  Initiate the exercise by slowly flexing
(semimembranosus, semitendinosus, the knees and hips (Figure 1b). ASCENT (UPWARD MOVEMENT)
biceps femoris).  Descend with control.  Extend the hips and knees force-
 Maintain a neutral spine throughout fully and with control to ascend
STARTING POSITION the descent. (Figure 1c).
 Select 2 dumbbells of equal weight  Keep the eyes focused straight ahead  Maintain a neutral spine throughout
(Figure 1a). with the head erect. the ascent.

76 VOLUME 33 | NUMBER 5 | OCTOBER 2011 Copyright National Strength and Conditioning Association
 Continue the descent until the lead
leg thigh is parallel to the floor and
the trail leg knee nearly reaches the
 The flexibility of the lower body will
determine the actual depth of the
 At the bottom position of the de-
scent, avoid bouncing or increasing
the rate of descent before beginning
the ascent (Figure 2b).
 Stand up forcefully by extending the
lead leg knee and hip.
Figure 1. (a) Dumbbell squat: start of descent. (b) Dumbbell squat: mid position.  Keep the torso upright. Do not arch
(c) Dumbbell squat: start of ascent.
the lower back during the ascent.
 Continue the ascent by extending
the lower-body joints at a consistent
 Arms should remain at the side  Torso should remain upright.
rate until the initial starting position
holding the dumbbells firmly and  Before beginning the descent, inhale.
is reached.
head erect with eyes looking straight  Exhale at the completion of the
MOVEMENT) ascent (Figure 2c).
 Push through the entire foot on both
 Descend by lowering the hips and
feet with weight evenly distributed
from the heels to the toes to ensure flexing the lead leg with control. TYPE OF EXERCISE
 Keep the lead leg knee above the Barbell Box Step-up: Lower body and
that the entire foot remains in
contact with the floor. ankle throughout the descent. Knee multijoint (supplemental digital con-
 Avoid having the body weight move moving forward of the foot at the tent 1, http://links.lww.com/SCJ/A4).
toward the toes. bottom of the movement (because of
 Maintain consistent spacing between the exerciser pushing forward during MUSCLES USED
knees throughout the movement; do the movement and not dropping Quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals, and
not allow knees to move outward or the hips straight down) should be abdominals.
inward. avoided as this compromises the
knee and makes the exercise prob- STARTING POSITION
 Continue the ascent by extending
lematic (Figure 2a).  Choose a box or a bench with
the lower-body joints at a consistent
 Avoid moving the lead leg foot a stable surface and place in front
rate until the initial standing position
is reached. during the movement. of a squat or power rack.
 Exhale during the ascent.  Maintain an upright torso by acti-  Height of box should be approxi-
 On completion of the set, return vating the abdominal musculature. mately knee height or lower (1218
the weights to the dumbbell rack.
Dumbbell Split Squat: Lower body and
multijoint (supplemental digital con-
tent 1, http://links.lww.com/SCJ/A2).

Gluteus maximus, quadriceps, and

 Position the feet shoulder width
apart with one leg forward and the
opposite leg back. Feet of both the
legs should be pointing forward. Figure 2. (a) Dumbbell split squat: mid position. (b) Dumbbell split squat: completion
 Arms should hang at the side with of descent and start of ascent. (c) Dumbbell split squat: completion of
dumbbells held firmly in the hands. ascent and start of descent.

Strength and Conditioning Journal | www.nsca-lift.org 77

Exercise Technique

Figure 3. (a) Backward box step-up: starting position/completion of descent. (b) Barbell box step-up: ascent. (c) Barbell box step-up:
completion of ascent. (d) Barbell box step-up: start of descent. (e) Barbell box step-up: descent.

inches) depending on the ability of  Take a few (23) steps forward to DESCENT (DOWNWARD
the client/athlete. A box higher than directly in front of the box. MOVEMENT)
knee level may create undue stress at  Feet are between hip and shoulder  Step back off the box with the right
the knee. width apart and pointing forward. leg, keeping all your weight on the
 Position a standard barbell at the  Torso should remain erect. left leg (Figure 3d).
chest level in a squat or power rack.  Keep chest out and up.  Maintain the same upright body
 Load the barbell evenly on both  Shoulders are back. position as you slowly lower toward
the sides and secure weights with  Keep head and neck aligned with the floor.
collars. eyes looking straight ahead.  Once the right foot is firmly placed
 Step underneath the barbell and on the floor behind the box, bring
position at the base of the upper ASCENT (UPWARD MOVEMENT) the left leg down so you are back in
middle back and the hips and feet  Starting with the left leg, place the your starting position (Figure 3e).
directly under the barbell. Feet left foot firmly on top of the box and  Complete a desired number of
should be parallel to each other. step-up. repetitions on the left leg then switch
 Grasp the barbell using a pronated  With the body weight positioned to the right leg.
closed grip slightly wider than the over the left leg, extend the knee and
shoulder width. hip, pushing you up onto the box RETURNING THE WEIGHT TO THE
 Place the barbell evenly above the (Figure 3b). RACK
shoulders at the upper middle back.  Maintain erect posture with hips  At the completion of the set, return
 Raise the elbows upward (Figure 3a). parallel to box. The knee of the left the barbell back slowly to the
 Stand facing the box; maintain an leg should extend no further than support hooks of the rack.
upright body position with abs below the hip to avoid hyperextension.
drawn in throughout the exercise.  The left leg follows, and the foot is John Graham is the director of
 Extend the hips and knees to lift the placed on the box to stabilize the Community and Corporate Fitness for the
barbell off the rack. body (Figure 3c). Lehigh Valley Health Network.

78 VOLUME 33 | NUMBER 5 | OCTOBER 2011