Dumbbells are an amazing addition to any workout!
Whether you’re at the gym or working out at home, dumbbells offer you versatility that a barbell simply can’t.
Think about it: with a dumbbell, you can train one or both hemispheres of your body at once. Working both sides engages your muscles evenly, but unilateral exercises increase core muscle engagement, leading to stronger abs, back, and oblique muscles.
With dumbbells, the weight is divided evenly between the two sides of your body, but both sides have to work independently of each other to lift the weight.
The result: better coordination, greater joint stability, enhanced muscle stimulation, and better correction of muscle imbalances.
Below, we’ve compiled a list of our absolute favorite lower body exercises using only dumbbells.
These movements will be great for a workout at home with minimal equipment, or at the gym if you want to switch things up for your lower body training sessions.
Doing these exercises using dumbbells won’t just shred your legs and develop strength, but they’ll help to improve your balance, posture, and form overall!
11 Best Leg Workouts with Dumbbells
Train your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves with these amazing dumbbell leg exercises!
1. Dumbbell Squats
Squats are, hands down, one of the single most effective leg exercises you can do!
Not only is it a compound movement (involving multiple muscle groups across multiple joints), but it specifically targets both your quads, glutes, and hamstrings. It even helps to strengthen the muscles around your knees to “bulletproof” them against injuries.
Best of all, they engage your core to maintain balance and stability throughout the squat, which means they strengthen your abdominal and lower back muscles very effectively.
Watch this video to see how to master the Dumbbell Squat:
2. Dumbbell Sumo Squats
The Sumo Squat is an awesome variation on the standard squat, one that shifts the focus slightly inward to target your inner thigh and hip abductor muscles along with your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core.
Sumo Squats require greater hip and knee mobility than regular squats, so they’re an excellent exercise to help loosen up tight joints and increase your lower body flexibility.
Paying extra attention to your inner thigh and hip muscles can have some truly marvelous benefits, including:
- Increased leg range of motion
- Improved circulation to your groin
- Reduced tension in your hip joints
- Greater flexibility
- Less risk of muscle tears or strains
- Better, more natural movement
Doing Sumo Squats are an excellent way to pay more attention to these often-ignored muscles and joints!
Watch this video to see how to perform the Dumbbell Sumo Squat the right way:
3. Dumbbell Walking Lunges
Walking Lunges take the standard Lunge and add an element of forward motion that encourages better mobility in your lower body.
With standard Lunges, you’re stepping forward and lowering into the Lunge, but then pushing up and stepping backward into the original position. Walking Lunges, however, involve a step forward, a movement that is far more natural—it’s how you walk, run, and sprint!
Using dumbbells for the Walking Lunge can increase the difficulty, making your leg muscles stronger through this “stepping forward” movement.
Though it targets your quads, the extra attention paid to your glutes, hips, and core leads to better lower body mobility and more fluid natural movement.
Watch this video to see how the Dumbbell Walking Lunge is done:
4. Dumbbell Around the World Lunges
Around the World Lunges take the classic Lunge and add in a new level of difficulty by changing the angle of the Lunge. It’s not just a Forward Lunge, but it incorporates a Side Lunge (also known as a Lateral Lunge), Reverse Lunge, and, with some variations, even Angled Lunges (to 45 and 135-degree angles).
By incorporating these variations, it targets the hips, quads, glutes, hamstrings, and core muscles thoroughly, and encourages better mobility in the knees, hips, and ankles.
Adding in the weight of a dumbbell makes it a truly challenging exercise, one that will lead to smoother leg movement and greater overall leg strength.
Watch this video to see how the Dumbbell Around the World Lunge is done:
5. Dumbbell Reverse Lunge
The Reverse Lunge isn’t just the Forward Lunge in reverse, not truly.
Both Lunges target the quads, hips, glutes, and core muscles. However, the emphasis on the muscles changes when you step backward instead of forward into the Lunge.
Reverse Lunges increase the emphasis on your hamstrings and the gluteus maximus, with a little less focus on your quads (the primary focus of Forward Lunges).
Reverse Lunges also create less instability than Forward Lunges, which means there is less core engagement and more focus on the leg muscles. They’re even a gentler exercise that places less strain on your knees, giving you greater control over the motion of your lower leg and ankle.
Watch this video to see how the Dumbbell Reverse Lunge is done:
6. Dumbbell Skater Squats
If you’re looking to up the intensity and difficulty of your lower body workout, look no further than Dumbbell Skater Squats!
Skater Squats are a unilateral movement that places all the weight on just one leg at a time, forcing it to do ALL the work of squatting your bodyweight (plus dumbbells). They require not only a standard squat, but also increased hip hinging to maintain your balance one-legged.
This combination of movements leads to better recruitment of your hamstrings, glutes, and quads, but reduces spinal strain. It also challenges stability and forces you to maintain your balance, leading to better, more fluid motion. Best of all, it’s an exercise that will highlight any incorrectness in your posture, form, or movement, giving you immediate body feedback that will help you correct your technique right away.
Watch this video to see how Dumbbell Skater Squats are done:
7. Dumbbell Step-Ups
Step-Ups utilize the same muscles as Lunges, and the motion is actually fairly similar to the classic Lunge movement.
However, the main difference is that with Step-Ups, your legs are pushing upward to lift your body weight off the ground, while Lunges merely involve pushing forward and backward with no added effort of raising/lowering your body.
The beauty of Step-Ups is that they simulate the action of climbing stairs or stepping up onto a ledge. You can customize the height of the step by using a taller or shorter box, bench, or solid surface. This makes it great for not only post-injury recovery, but also to increase your range of motion and target muscular development through a much more versatile movement.
Watch this video to see how Dumbbell Step-Ups are done:
8. Dumbbell Crossover Lunge
The Crossover Lunge is a fascinating variation of the classic Forward Lunge. It targets the same muscles—quads, hamstrings, and glutes—but pays extra attention to the hamstrings and glutes to enhance your lower body strength overall.
Thanks to the addition of the crossover movement, this exercise introduces an element of instability that your body will have to compensate for. Over time, performing exercises of this nature will improve your coordination and balance far more noticeably than exercises that utilize the natural range of motion.
Watch this video to see how the Dumbbell Crossover Lunge is done:
9. Standing Calf Raise
The Standing Calf Raise is one of the best exercises to target your calf muscles, a muscle that gets far less love than your upper leg muscles but is actually a lot more important than most people realize.
Calf muscles play a role in the stability of your ankle and feet joints. Strong calves will actually reduce the risk of ankle and foot injuries.
Runners, in particular, need to pay attention to the strength and endurance in their calf muscles. The calves control your stride, how your foot lands, and how you push off into the next step.
And, best of all, calf exercises will help to strengthen and protect your knee joints. They work with your upper leg muscles to absorb impact when you jump or run, and will increase joint mobility throughout the entire range of lower body motion.
By adding dumbbells, you increase the load on your calf muscles, forcing them to work even harder to lift your body weight and encouraging better strength development.
Watch this video to see how the Standing Calf Raise is done:
10. Goblet Squats
Goblet Squats are an excellent variation of standard Dumbbell Squats.
They work the same muscles, targeting the quads, hips, hamstrings, glutes, and core, but they also recruit your shoulders, biceps, forearms, and even your upper back into the mix. Because you’re holding the dumbbell up to your chin, your upper body muscles are engaged.
But what makes the Goblet Squat such a great choice is the fact that it improves your posture. The load is up by your chest, and you have to pay attention to how you lower into the squat to maintain your balance. Your abs and lower back fire to keep you upright while your legs are going through the motions of squatting and standing back up.
All in all, it’s a full-body movement that deserves its place in your Dumbbell-Only Leg workout for sure!
Watch this video to see how the Goblet Squat is done:
11. Bulgarian Split Squat
Last, but certainly not least, we have the Bulgarian Split Squat.
This unilateral exercise targets your quads, hips, hamstrings, glutes, and even your calves, while your core has to work extra-hard to maintain your balance with this very unstable movement.
One more great thing about the Bulgarian Split Squat: you can get deeper into the squat than you could with a Front Squat. You’ll increase hip flexibility and improve mobility throughout your entire lower body thanks to this amazing exercise.
Watch this video to see how Bulgarian Split Squats are done:
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Using dumbbells for your leg workouts lowers the load placement, reducing the strain on your lower back while still enabling you to target the leg muscles effectively. It’s also a great alternative to working out at home if you don’t have barbells, squat racks, and other equipment.
With the movements above, you’ll be able to shred all the critical leg muscles—quads, hamstrings, glutes, hips, and calves—for a better, stronger, more mobile lower body!