Dumbbells are versatile pieces of workout equipment that allow you to train every part of your body.
When it comes to leg workouts with dumbbells, a range of exercises allows you to hit the major lower body muscles for complete leg training with little to no additional equipment.
This article lists the top 7 lower body dumbbell exercises and explains the best ways to combine these exercises for a perfect leg workout.
With so many leg exercises and workouts available, you may feel overwhelmed when planning your leg workout with dumbbells.
While there are many exercise variations for legs, most functional leg exercises fall within one of the following lower body movement patterns:
- hip hinges
These three movement patterns are the primary functional uses of the lower body, and between the three of them, you’ll work nearly every leg muscle, as well as your core.
Performing these exercises while holding dumbbells allows you to increase the intensity beyond what’s possible with just your body weight, leading to greater gains in strength and muscle mass compared with doing the exercises without weight.
Because dumbbells come in a range of weights, you can increase or decrease the weight as needed to get the perfect intensity leg workout for your current fitness level.
Dumbbells allow you to add more weight to a variety of leg exercises for increased strength and muscle gains.
The squat pattern is vital for sitting down and getting up from a seated position with ease, and it primarily works the quads and glutes, as well as the hamstrings, calves, and lower back.
Meanwhile, the hip hinge is vital for safely picking objects up from the ground without injuring your spine. The deadlift variations primarily train the hip-hinge pattern.
Finally, the lunge is a key locomotive movement, particularly when it comes to walking, running, and stair climbing.
Performing lunge variations like the lateral lunge, stepup, and Bulgarian split squat allow you to improve unilateral coordination and stability.
The lunge pattern works the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves using a different pattern than the squat and deadlift, allowing more variation and functional strength when all these movements are combined in your dumbbell leg workout.
Dumbbell leg exercises work the quads, glutes, and hamstrings alongside a variety of core and stabilizing muscles in the hips, trunk, and legs.
The following section breaks down the technique for the seven best dumbbell leg exercises. Afterward, you’ll learn how to plan your leg exercise program and choose the right dumbbell to start.
The goblet squat is an excellent leg exercise that utilizes the dumbbell as external resistance. The goblet squat trains the squat pattern movement.
You should aim to squat as low as possible with good form, as research suggests full depth squats are more effective at developing muscle than partial depth squats (
To perform a dumbbell goblet squat:
- Pick up a dumbbell and hold it vertically by cupping one side of the weight while the other side hangs underneath.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and your feet turned out 5–12 degrees.
- Begin the movement by shifting your hips backward and lowering them down as your knees begin to bend.
- Keep your torso as upright as possible and work to keep your torso angle parallel to your shin angle at each point of the movement. Work to minimize any forward lean.
- Keep your knees in line with your toes by actively driving them outward as you lower your hips. It’s OK if your knees go past your toes as you reach the lower points in the movement.
- Lower as much as your mobility allows before your knees cave inward or you cannot maintain an upright torso.
- At the bottom of the movement, pause briefly then push through the floor with both feet to return to a standing position. Actively thinking about squeezing your glutes as you rise will help increase activation in these muscles.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps.
The reverse lunge is a lunge movement in which you step backward instead of forward.
The reverse lunge trains the lunge pattern and improves your functional coordination.
To perform the reverse lunge:
- Begin holding two dumbbells at your side with your feet roughly hip-width apart, as if you’re standing in a normal stable stance.
- Step one leg backward, slightly larger than a standard step.
- Lower your back knee toward the ground. You can slightly rotate your back foot inward as you lower your knee to have a smooth movement pattern.
- Pushing through your front leg, lift your back leg to return to the starting position.
- You can perform all repetitions on one side before switching sides, or alternate sides until you’ve complete the desired number of reps.
After performing at least 4 weeks of a training program with the backward lunge, you’re ready to progress to the forward lunge.
The biggest thing to ensure the safety of your knees is to focus on lowering your back knee toward the ground after your first forward step, as opposed to driving your front knee forward in an attempt to lower your base.
To perform the forward lunge:
- Begin standing with a dumbbell in each hand and your feet hip-width apart.
- Step forward slightly further than a standard step and plant your foot on the ground.
- Lower your back knee toward the ground. Rotating your back foot slightly inward as you lower your knee will improve the movement pattern.
- When your knee is just above the ground, drive through your front foot to return to the starting position. You can step all the way back to the original stance or keep the lunge stance as you rise back up.
- Perform all reps on one side or alternate sides until you finish the desired number of reps.
The stepup is a lunge pattern movement that mimics climbing stairs or other elevations, but it offers greater activation of the gluteus maximus than standard lunges.
You’ll need a box or other elevated surface that’s 6–18 inches (15–45 cm) high.
Research suggests that the stepup is one of the greatest activators of the gluteus maximus (
To perform the stepup:
- Begin standing with the box in front of you and a dumbbell in each hand.
- Step one leg up onto the box.
- Drive through your raised leg and bring your trailing leg next to your raised foot to stand up fully onto the box.
- Reverse the movement by stepping back with the trailing leg and returning to the starting position.
- Perform all reps on one side or alternate legs until you finish the desired number of reps.
The lateral lunge combines the lunge and squat patterns. This movement trains the quads and glutes, as well as improves hip flexibility and mobility.
The lateral lunge is difficult to perform with a lot of weight, so it’s best used as a mobility warmup once you can comfortably perform it, as opposed to using it as the primary lunge pattern exercise in your workout.
To perform the lateral lunge:
- Hold a single dumbbell with both hands, each one cupping opposite sides of the dumbbell.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Take a large step directly to the side while continuing to face the original direction.
- Shift your hips backward and bend one knee as you lower your hips toward the ground. The toes of the straight-leg foot can come off of the ground slightly to increase your range of motion.
- Lower down to your comfort level, then drive through the foot of your bent leg to return to the starting position.
- Repeat all reps on one side or alternate sides until you finish the desired number of reps.
The Romanian deadlift is one of the safest and most effective ways to train the hip-hinge pattern using dumbbells. Research suggests that this deadlift variation is very effective at activating the hamstrings (
You want to feel the stretch in your hamstrings as you lower down, as this improves the strength of your drive back upward.
The goal is to maintain a neutral spine as you hinge forward, with minimal knee bend and most of the movement coming from bending at the hips, which is one of the main distinctions between the squat and standard hip-hinge movements.
To perform the Romanian deadlift with dumbbells:
- Begin with a dumbbell in each hand, with the dumbbells horizontal to the ground and your palms facing toward you.
- Bend your knees slightly and shift your hips backward to initiate the movement.
- Maintain the same amount of knee bend but continue bending at the hips until the dumbbells approach the floor, your hamstrings activate, or you cannot maintain a neutral spine.
- Contract your glutes and rise back up to the starting position. Keep the dumbbells as close to your thighs and shins as possible as you lower and rise.
- Perform the desired number of reps.
The sumo squat, also called the sumo deadlift, is a squat variation that activates the inner thigh muscles more than traditional squats. It’s also effective at improving your ability to pick heavy objects up from the ground.
The sumo squat combines both the squat and hip-hinge patterns, and it involves a wide stance in which your feet are turned out roughly 45 degrees.
As you lower down by bending your knees, you’ll feel a stretch in your inner thighs given the increased activation of these muscles.
To perform a sumo squat:
- Begin holding a single dumbbell vertically by one end.
- Take a wide stance with your feet turned out roughly 45 degrees.
- Bend your knees while ensuring they stay in the same line as your toes to lower the weight toward the floor. At the same, hinge at the waist while maintaining a neutral spine.
- Lower the weight until your mobility prevents you from going any lower.
- Drive through your feet, engage your glutes, and return to the starting position.
- Repeat the exercise for the desired number of reps.
A variety of exercises can help train the different movement patterns and muscles in your lower body.
Dumbbell leg workouts should revolve around 3–4 movements, using 3–5 sets per movement, and performing 8–12 reps per set.
Rest for 1–2 minutes between sets and 2–3 minutes between each exercise.
You should begin your session with a 5–10-minute aerobic warmup, such as walking or jogging.
Aim for a total of 80–120 reps on each leg per workout. For double-leg movements, a single repetition counts as one for each leg, while single-leg movements must be performed on each side to count as one repetition per leg.
Ideally, you should pick at least one lunge, squat, and hip-hinge movement in each workout.
For simplification purposes, the stepup will be considered a lunge, while the sumo squat can act as your squat or hip hinge movement.
For example, the following workout would be a comprehensive dumbbell leg training session:
- 5–10 minutes of brisk walking
- Goblet squats — 4 sets of 10 reps using medium weight dumbbells
- Stepups — 3 sets of 10 reps per leg with medium weight dumbbells
- Romanian deadlifts — 4 sets of 10 reps using medium weight dumbbells
When it comes to selecting weights, you should start with a weight of 10–20 pounds (roughly 5–10 kg) or lighter depending on your current strength.
Perform the workout with the same weight twice per week for 1 week, and then increase the weight by 5 pounds (roughly 2 kg) the following week.
The weight should ideally be heavy enough that you have 2 reps or less “in the tank” by the time you reach your target reps of each set.
You’ll ultimately be limited in maximum weight by your ability to hold the weight itself, and most dumbbell leg exercises have a practical maximum limitation that’s lower than your theoretical maximum weight due to the grip strength required to hold the dumbbells.
Nevertheless, you can always increase the number of repetitions if you find yourself unable to use heavier dumbbells.
Every 4 weeks, swap out 1–2 exercises for another exercise in the same category.
These dumbbell workouts will be most effective if you perform 2 workouts per week in conjunction with upper body training on separate days.
Dumbbell leg workouts should include 1–2 exercises for each movement pattern for a total of 80–120 reps twice per week. You’ll ultimately be limited in the maximum useable weight due to grip-strength requirements.
Training legs with dumbbells is a straightforward and effective way to strengthen and grow your major lower body musculature.
You can combine a variety of exercises to train your various lower body muscles effectively and efficiently.
Performing dumbbell leg routines twice per week is more than enough training to see substantial improvements in lower body strength and muscle mass, particularly if you’ve recently started an exercise routine.