20 Best Dumbbell Leg Exercises for Strength and Mass

Dumbbell Leg workout and Exercises

Building sturdy and defined legs requires consistent training, a healthy diet, and proper recovery.

You can train your lower body with multiple equipment, such as barbells, machines, and dumbbells.

However, if you are looking for the best dumbbell exercises to build firm, toned, and athletic legs, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, I’ll share the 20 best dumbbell leg exercises that you can integrate into your workout program to sculpt your lower half.

Dumbbells are an incredible piece of equipment that is easy to hold, provides a full range of motion, and allows you to train each muscle from multiple angles.

They also enable you to do unilateral movements (using one leg or arm at a time). The unilateral exercises enable you to work more on the weaker side, fix strength imbalance, and improve muscular symmetry.

Anatomy of Leg Muscles for Workout Training

First, you need to have a basic understanding of the anatomy of leg muscles because hitting the right muscles with the right exercises in the right way will help you achieve your desired result faster.

There are four major muscles that you need to work on: quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes.

Within these larger muscle groups, there are several smaller muscles, and their functions are different from one another, such as flexion, extension, adduction, and rotation.

For example, the vast lateral, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris are all parts of the quadriceps.

DUMBBELL LEG WORKOUT: ANATOMY OF LEG MUSCLES FOR BODYBUILDING.
Leg Muscles Anatomy

Here, we take a look at the functions of major muscles of the lower body so that you can better understand and train your leg muscles.

Hamstrings

The hamstring is the largest muscle of the lower body, which includes three large muscles, semimembranosus, femoris, and semitendinosus, that form the back of the thigh.

Targeting and working on the hamstring is very important because it plays a major role in walking, jumping, and running.

You may have seen that sometimes athletes get out of the tournament or series because of a hamstring injury.

Quadriceps

This muscle includes vastus-lateralis, vastus-medialis, vastus-intermedius, and the rectus femoris.

Targeting and building stronger quads is of utmost importance because they help in walking, jumping, squatting, and running.

Glutes

The glutes include three parts: gluteus maximus, gluteus maximus, and gluteus minimus.

The functions of these muscles include extension, abduction, external rotation, and internal rotation of the hip joint.

The gluteus maximus also supports the extended knee through the iliotibial stretch.

Calves

The calf muscles are located on the back of the lower leg. It included the gastrocnemius (larger) and the soleus (smaller) muscles.

Its function is as a flexor of the foot at the ankle joint and the knee joint. The calf muscle stretches the heel up to allow forward movement during walking, running, or jumping.

20 Best Dumbbell Leg Exercises to Build Muscle and Strength

It includes dumbbell exercises for each leg muscle group, such as quad, hamstring, calves, and gluteus.

Quadriceps

  1. Front Lunges
  2. Front Squat
  3. Leg Extension
  4. Reverse Lunges
  5. Goblet Squat
  6. Bulgarian Split Squat
  7. Lateral Squat
  8. Curtsy Lunges
  9. Sumo Squat
  10. Dumbbell Step-up

Hamstrings

  1. Leg Curl
  2. Good Morning
  3. Romanian Deadlift
  4. Stiff Leg Deadlift
  5. Unilateral Bridge
  6. Hamstring March
  7. Single-Leg Deadlift

Glutes and Calves

  1. Glute Bridges
  2. Pop Squat
  3. Leaning Dumbbell Calf Raises

1. Forward Dumbbell Lunges

Dumbbell Front Lunges

Exercise Overview:

  • Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate
  • Target Muscles: Quadriceps, Glutes, and Hamstrings
  • Mechanics: Compound
  • Benefits: Strengthen and tone quads and build up athletic legs.

Steps to perform a front lunge:

  1. Grab one dumbbell in each and stand in the lunge stance with your feet around 10-12 inches apart.
  2. Bend your knees until your rear knee nearly touches the floor.
  3. Push through your leading foot until both knees are fully extended.
  4. Perform 8-10 reps, then repeat on the opposite side.

Exercise Tips:

  • Make sure your knees don’t pass your toes when you lower into a lunge stance, as it can put excess stress on the knee joints.
  • Keep your chest up and back straight and your core and glutes engaged during the movement.

2. Dumbbell Front Squat

Front squat, a dumbbell leg workout

Exercise Overview:

  • Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate
  • Target Muscles: Quadriceps
  • Mechanics: Compound
  • Benefits: Build firm and defined thighs, enhance muscular endurance, and improve performance.

Steps to do it:

  1. Grab one dumbbell in each hand, hold it on your shoulder, and stand in the shoulder-width stance with your toes pointing slightly out. That’s the start.
  2. Brace your core, maintain a neutral spine position, and lower into a squat until your glute is aligned with your hips.
  3. Pause at the bottom for a couple of seconds, then press through your feet to return to the standing position.

Exercise Tips:

  • You can also grab one dumbbell and hold it against your chest with bent arms.
  • Maintain a flat back throughout the exercise.

3. Dumbbell Leg Extension

Exercise Overview:

  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Target Muscles: Quadriceps
  • Mechanics: Isolation
  • Benefits: Primarily targets the quads and improves the front thigh muscle definition.

Steps to do it:

  1. Sit on a flat bench so your thighs are on the edge of it and legs are lower legs are hanging.
  2. Clamp a dumbbell between your feet and hold the sides of the bench for support.
  3. Contracting your quads, extend your knees until your legs are straight.
  4. Pause for a moment, then return to the start. That’s your one rep.

Exercise Tips:

  • You can also use a chair for additional back support.
  • Keep your torso slightly leaned backward so your quads can feel the full contraction.

4. Dumbbell Reverse Lunges

Exercise Overview:

  • Difficulty Level: Intermediate
  • Muscle Worked: Glutes, Hamstrings, and Quads
  • Mechanics: Compound
  • Benefits: It strengthens and tones legs, improves balance, increases core stability, and enhances lower body functionality.

Steps to do it:

  1. Stand straight shoulder-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells in your hand at your sides with arms fully extended.
  2. Take a big step backward with your one leg by bending both knees at 90 degrees so your back thigh is parallel to the floor.
  3. Push back through your heels and knees and return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat the movement with your opposite leg by moving forward.

Exercise Tips:

  • Keep your chest up and back straight and your core and glutes engaged during the movement.
  • Take a smaller step back and focus on maintaining balance throughout the movement.

5. Goblet Squat

Standing dumbbell leg workouts
Goblet Squat

Exercise Overview:

  • Difficulty Level: Beginner
  • Muscle Worked: Quadriceps
  • Mechanics: Compound
  • Benefits: Reinforce the quads and glutes and maximize lower body mobility.

Steps to do it:

  1. Grab the top of a dumbbell with a hammer grip and stand straight in a shoulder-width stance.
  2. Bend your arms and hold the dumbbell against your chest with your elbows pointing down.
  3. Brace your core and lower into a squat until your thigh is parallel to the ground.
  4. Hold for a second, then return to the starting position by pushing through your heels.

Exercise Tips:

  • Keep your chest up and core tight at all times.
  • Make sure your toes are pointing slightly out.
  • Keep your heels grounded all the time because lifting them off can destabilize your stance and lead to balance issues.

6. Bulgarian Split Squat

Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat

Exercise Overview:

  • Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced
  • Target Muscles: Thigh and Gltutes
  • Mechanics: Compound
  • Benefits: Enhance lower body stability and balance, increase abdominal strength, and help build one leg at a time.

Steps to do it:

  1. Hold one dumbbell with a neutral grip in each hand, and keep your arms straight at your sides. Palms are facing your body.
  2. Place the top of your rear foot on a bench behind you. That’s the start.
  3. Lower yourself toward the ground so your rear foot comes close to the ground, and your front thigh becomes parallel to the floor.
  4. Now, pushing through your front heel, return to the starting position. That’s one repetition.

Exercise Tips:

  • Ensure your front foot is far enough forward so that your knee is over your ankle and your back foot is securely positioned on a bench to avoid wobbling or falling during the squat.
  • Avoid leaning too forward, as it can place excess stress on your front knees, which can be more harmful than good in the long run.

7. Lateral Squat

Exercise Overview:

  • Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate
  • Target Muscles: Groin and Lateral Thigh
  • Mechanics: Isolation
  • Benefits: The side lunges are a great way to activate the side glutes and hamstring, important stabilizer muscles for the hip joint. They strengthen the lower body, enhance stability, and improve body balance.

Steps to do it:

  1. Holding a pair of dumbbells, stand straight shoulder-width apart with your arms extended at your sides.
  2. Take your right leg out and lower into the squat until your left leg is fully extended.
  3. Hold for a second, then return to the starting position. That’s one rep.

Exercise Tips:

  • Make sure to shift your weight onto the lunging leg When you step to the side while keeping the other leg straight.
  • Keep your toes pointing forward and your feet in a straight line throughout the movement.

8. Dumbbell Curtsy Lunges

Exercise Overview:

  • Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced
  • Target Muscles: Quad, Glutes, and Hammies
  • Mechanics: Compound
  • Benefits: Targets the adductor (inner thigh) and abductor (outer thigh) more than traditional lunges, as well as increases the lower body strength and mobility.

Steps to do it:

  1. Grab one dumbbell in each hand and stand upright with your feet together.
  2. Lift your right foot off the floor and cross it behind your left leg as you bend your knee to squat down until your hip is in a normal squat position.
  3. Drive through your left foot to return to the start and repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep.

Exercise Tips:

  • Brace your core muscles during curtsy lunges to maintain balance and support your lower back.
  • Start with light dumbbells and increase the weight as you gain confidence.

9. Sumo Squat

Exercise Overview:

  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Target Muscles: Inner and Outer Thighs
  • Mechanics: Compound
  • Benefits: Target the thighs from a different angle than the standard squats and lunges, improve hip mobility, and develop a firm lower body.

Steps to do it:

  1. Grab a dumbbell, bend your elbows, and hold it firmly in front of your chest.
  2. Stand upright in the sumo stance with your feet wider and your toes pointing out.
  3. Push your hips back and squat down, keeping your back straight and core tight.
  4. Hold for two seconds, then return to the starting position by pushing through your heels.

Exercise Tips:

  • Make your knees stay in line with your toes when you squat down.
  • Aim to lower your body until your thighs are at least parallel to the ground.

10. Step Up

Exercise Overview:

Steps to do it:

  1. Stand in front of a higher, holding one dumbbell in each hand with your arms straight at your sides and palms facing each other.
  2. Place your right foot on the higher object and, pressing downward, bring your left foot in the same position so both feet are together on the object.
  3. Now reverse the movement and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Exercise Tips:

  • Place your feet flat on the bench or stepper when you step on it.
  • Start with a lower step and light dumbbells, and gradually increase the height and weight as you become used to it.

11. Leg Curl

Exercise Overview:

  • Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate
  • Target Muscles: Hamstrings
  • Mechanics: Isolation
  • Benefits: Isolate the hamstrings effectively and help build strength and mass in the rear thigh.

Steps to do it:

  1. Lie on your stomach on a flat bench, knees at the end of it, and grip the sides of the bench with your hands for support.
  2. Clamp a dumbbell between your feet and keep your legs straight behind you. That’s your starting position.
  3. Engaging your hamstring muscles, curl your legs so the weight comes toward your buttock. Hold for a couple of seconds and then return to the start. That’s one repetition.

Exercise Tips:

  • Place a pad or towel under your hips to reduce the pressure on your hips and pelvis.
  • Keep your hips grounded throughout the movement to avoid putting strain on your lower back.

12. Good Morning

Exercise Overview:

  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Target Muscles: Hamstrings and Lower Back
  • Mechanics: Isolation
  • Benefits: It works on posterior chain muscles, primarily the lower back and hamstrings, and helps increase strength, mobility, and flexibility.

Steps to do it:

  • Grab the ends of a dumbbell with each hand, bend your elbows, and hold it under your arms.
  • Stand upright with your back straight and feet shoulder-width apart. That’s the starting position.
  • Pushing your hips back, slowly bend your torso forward without bending your knees until your chest is parallel to the floor.
  • Pause for 1-2 seconds, then extend your hips and return your torso to the start. That’s one rep.

Exercise Tips:

  • Keep your abdominal muscles tight when you bend forward.
  • It’s a hip-hinge movement, so avoid over-bending the knees to keep the stress on the hamstrings and lower back.

13. Romanian Deadlift

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift Form

Exercise Overview:

  • Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate
  • Target Muscles: Hamstrings, Glutes, and Lower Back
  • Mechanics: Compound
  • Benefits: Primarily target the hamstrings and increase the lower body strength, balance, and flexibility.

Steps to do it:

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand upright with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Pushing your hips back, bend your torso forward until the dumbbells are close to the shin.
  3. Pause for two seconds, then push through your feet and return to the standing position until your hips are fully extended. That’s one rep.

Exercise Tips:

  • A soft bend in your knees is fine, but avoid bending them excessively.
  • Focus on pushing your hips back while keeping your chest up to avoid excess leaning of your torso.

14. Stiff Leg Deadlift

Dumbbell Leg Exercises

Exercise Overview:

  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Target Muscles: Hamstrings, Glutes, and Lower Back
  • Mechanics: Compound
  • Benefits: It strengthens the back, quads, hamstrings, and glutes and makes the lower body flexible.

Steps to do it:

  1. Stand straight with your feet about hip-width apart, Holding your arms extended in front of your thighs. Palms facing the body.
  2. Push your hips back and bend your torso forward until the dumbbells reach close to the ground.
  3. Press through your feet to stand back until your hips are fully extended.

Exercise Tips:

  • Try to keep the dumbbells close to the body during the movement.
  • Lower the weight as close to the ground as possible while keeping your legs straight.

15. Unilateral Bridge

Exercise Overview:

  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Target Muscles: Glutes and Ham
  • Mechanics: Isolation
  • Benefits: Bolster the hamstrings, glutes, and core all at the same time while improving balance and hip mobility.

Steps to do it:

  1. Lie on the floor with your knee bent and feet flat on the ground.
  2. Grab a dumbbell and place it on your hip.
  3. Lift your one leg off the floor and extend your knee.
  4. Thrust your hips as high as possible, pause for two seconds, then return to the start.

Exercise Tips:

  • Keep your core and glutes tight throughout the exercise.
  • Position your one foot flat on the ground while the other leg is straight.

16. Hamstring March

Exercise Overview:

  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Target Muscles: Hamstring, Quad, and Glutes
  • Mechanics: Compound
  • Benefits: Works on multiple muscle groups simultaneously, especially the hamstrings and lower back.

Steps to do it:

  1. Holding a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip, stand upright with your feet together.
  2. Perform a split stance Romanian deadlift, then return to the standing position.
  3. Take a step with the opposite foot and repeat the same above instruction to complete one rep.

Exercise Tips:

  • Make sure your back remains flat and your arms straight during the movement.

17. Single-Leg Deadlift

Exercise Overview:

  • Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced
  • Target Muscles: Hamstring, Quad, and Glutes
  • Mechanics: Compound
  • Benefits: Strengthen glutes, hamstrings, and lower back, allow you to work on one leg at a time, and improve balance and muscle coordination.

Steps to do it:

  1. Holding one dumbbell in each hand, stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart, and keep your arms straight in front of your thighs with your palms facing inward. That’s the start.
  2. Maintaining a slight bend in your right knee, hinge forward at your hips, and extend your left leg behind you until your torso is parallel to the floor. Lower the dumbbells toward the ground as you lower your upper body.
  3. Pause for a second and push through your right heel, return to the start, and repeat for the desired number of times.

Exercise Tips:

  • Keep your core engaged at all times, as it helps maintain balance and allows you to perform each rep with a proper form.
  • Hinge forward at your hips and try not to bend your knees like you do during the standard deadlift.

18. Glute Bridges

Exercise Overview:

  • Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate
  • Target Muscles: Glutes and Hamstrings
  • Mechanics: Isolation
  • Benefits: Primarily targets the gluteal muscles and helps build a firm, rounded butt.

Steps to do it:

  1. Lie on your back on the mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
  2. Hold the dumbbell on your lower abs. That’s the setup.
  3. Now, engaging your glutes, lift your hips off the floor until your knees, hips, and shoulders are in a straight line.
  4. Pause for a second or two, then lower to the start.

Exercise Tips:

  • Brace your core before lifting your hips off the floor. It provides stability to the lower back, increases exercise efficiency, and reduces the risk of low back injuries.

19. Pop Squat

Exercise Overview:

  • Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced
  • Target Muscles: Entire Lower Body
  • Mechanics: Compound
  • Benefits: Pop squat is a high-intensity exercise that combines elements of traditional squats with explosive movements. It helps increase explosiveness and cardiovascular fitness and build lean mass.

Steps to do it:

  • Grab one dumbbell in each with a neutral grip and hold them in front of your chest.
  • Stand upright with your feet together, jump high, and land in a squat with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • Jump back to the starting point where your feet are together and repeat.

Exercise Tips:

  • Aim to land softly with slightly bent knees to feel the impact. For example, imagine landing on the balls of your feet and rolling through to your heels.

20. Leaning DB Calf Raises

Exercise Overview:

  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Target Muscles: Calves
  • Mechanics: Isolation
  • Benefits: The Calf raise is a great way to target and build bigger calves and strong lower legs. It also enhances ankle strength and stability.

Steps to do it:

  1. Grab a dumbbell in your right hand, stand against the wall, and place your empty hand on it by slightly leaning forward.
  2. Keep your one leg bent and off the floor while the other one is firmly on the ground.
  3. Raise the heel of the ground foot as high as possible.
  4. Lower it back and repeat.

Exercise Tips:

  • Keep your chest up and back straight and your core and glutes engaged during the movement.

How to Design Dumbbell Leg Workout Routines?

A balanced lower-body workout routine must involve at least two exercises for the quads and one exercise each for the hamstring and glute. You can also include an exercise for the lower leg (calves) to make your workout super effective.

Here are some examples of lower-body dumbbell workout routines:

20-Minute Leg Workout with Dumbbells

  • Front Squat (2 sets x 15 reps)
  • Reverse Lunges (2 sets x 10 reps/leg)
  • Romanian Deadlift (2 sets x 10 reps)
  • Glute Bridge (2 sets x 10 reps)

30-Minute Dumbbell Workout for Legs

  • Front Squat (3 sets x 15 reps)
  • Reverse Lunges (2 sets x 10 reps/leg)
  • Romanian Deadlift (2 sets x 10 reps)
  • Dumbbell Leg Curl (2 sets x 12 reps)
  • Glute Bridge (2 sets x 10 reps)

45-Minute DB Leg Workout to Build Muscle at Home

  • Front Squat (3 sets x 15 reps)
  • Reverse Lunges (2 sets x 10 reps/leg)
  • Romanian Deadlift (2 sets x 10 reps)
  • Dumbbell Leg Curl (2 sets x 12 reps)
  • Step-up (2 sets x 10 reps)
  • Glute Bridge (2 sets x 10 reps)
  • Calf Raises (2 sets x 10 reps)

Final Words

Strong legs and glutes are crucial for athletic and lifting performance.

Like other equipment, you can also train your legs with dumbbells to build strength, mass, and mobility.

Dumbbells provide a full range of motion, allow you to train each muscle from multiple angles, fix strength imbalance, and improve muscular symmetry.

Above, I’ve outlined the 20 best dumbbell leg exercises that can help develop strength in your lower body, enhance endurance, build muscles, tone your leg muscles, and strengthen the joints.

Whether you’re a male or female, beginner or intermediate, you can integrate some of them into your training program to level up your lower body fitness.

References

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Murshid Akram

I’m a personal trainer, fitness blogger, and founder of thefitnessphantom.com. For the last six years, I’ve been working and training with people who use all sorts of equipment and follow multiple types of workouts, from calisthenics to powerlifting. I primarily design workout plans and share science-based, practical, and logical information that can help you become stronger, flexible, and healthier.

About Me

I’m a personal trainer, fitness blogger, and founder of thefitnessphantom.com. For the last six years, I’ve been working and training with people who use all sorts of equipment and follow multiple types of workouts, from calisthenics to powerlifting. I primarily design workout plans and share science-based, practical, and logical information that can help you become stronger, flexible, and healthier.

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