Leg Workouts With Dumbells: A Complete Workout

Leg Workouts With Dumbells: A Complete Workout

Anyone who is serious about their fitness journey knows to never skip leg day. Training the lower body is neither glamorous nor easy work, but the results are incredibly rewarding. Muscular and toned legs are more than aesthetic assets, they also serve you in the athletic performance aspect and keep you moving and healthy into old age. There are many scenarios that call for leg workouts with dumbbells.

Perhaps you’re getting burned out on the typical barbell and squat rack routine. Maybe you’re traveling and need to make do with a hotel gym, or maybe your home gym setup only has room for a dumbbell rack. Whether you are looking to incorporate dumbbell exercises into your leg day, or you are making do with what you have, rest assured that your lower body workout can be accomplished. Many will tell you that you need intricate cable and pulley machines, barbells, squat racks, and plates to perform a meaningful leg workout, but this is not the case.

This article discusses various leg workouts with dumbbells that work the different muscles making up your lower body. The three major movements that are discussed are the deadlift, lunge, and squat. Athletes can perform each of these exercises along with numerous variations with nothing but a set of dumbbells.


The deadlift is an extremely beneficial exercise that should always be incorporated into your lower body training, and can easily be performed as one of your leg workouts with dumbbells. The exercise and it’s variations generally target your hamstrings, glutes, and core. This movement is lauded as being extremely functional, as it is easily applied to make everyday tasks much easier. With any weight lifting movement, your form is crucial; especially with this movement, as heavier weight is often used and the risk of injury is even more pressing.


Before beginning this exercise, you will need to pick out an appropriate weight. This weight will usually be on the heavier side, as the movement uses large muscles. Beginners tend to underestimate themselves regarding how much weight they can lift.

How to Perform Them

With your feet hip-width apart, and your dumbbells lying horizontally next to each other in front of your feet, hinge at your hips and bend at the knee to pick up the dumbbells with your palms facing your thighs. Once you return to a standing position with the dumbbells, keeping the weights close to your body, lower back into the starting position without letting go of the weights, and repeat. As you lift the dumbbells, keep your shoulders together to ensure your spine is in a neutral position. Be sure to keep your head in line with your spine and never arch your neck to look up or curl your head to look down throughout the movement.


This exercise is similar to the dumbbell deadlift in that it targets your hamstrings and glutes and the primary movement is the hinge of your hips. This movement will target each leg individually and requires only one dumbbell.

How to Perform Them

Once you pick out an appropriate weight, start with your feet hip-width apart with the dumbbell hanging at your side in your right hand. From this standing position, hinge at the hip by allowing your left leg to kick out behind you and lower the dumbbell toward the ground near your right foot. Allow for a very slight bend in the knee to avoid overloading your hamstrings. Your flexibility and balance will determine how close you can get the dumbbell to the ground. After several repetitions of this movement, switch over to your other hand.


This movement is similar to the regular deadlift, but it shortens the range of motion. The exercise uses the same hinging at the hips movement that the other variations.

How to Perform Them

Instead of allowing for a bend in the knee in order to lower the weights to the ground, the legs will stay straight through the movement. As a result, the dumbbells should only go as low as mid-shin. Pay attention to your individual body and level of flexibility during this movement. Lowering the weight further than what your body is comfortable with can lead to hamstring pulls and strains.


Lunges truly are an excellent exercise for lower body training. This movement works several muscles, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. It also requires a certain level of core strength in order to perform it properly. This movement can be accomplished with a barbell or even with body weight alone, but lunges are truly an exercise that can be performed as one of your leg workouts with dumbbells.


Start by picking out two dumbbells of manageable weight. The weight you use will depend on how many repetitions you plan on performing.

How to Perform Them

Standing with a dumbbell in each hand and with feet hip-width apart, step forward with one foot and lower your body until both legs are at a 90-degree angle. Then, stand back up and return to the starting position. Be sure to keep your body upright and core tight throughout the movement.


This exercise is exactly what it sounds like. Start in the same position as you would with the regular dumbbell lunge.

How to Perform Them

For this exercise, you will step backward with one foot and lower your body until both legs are at a 90-degree angle from that position. As with any of your leg workouts with dumbbells, you can choose your weight based on how many repetitions you intend to complete and whether you are looking for cardio work or strength gains.


​This exercise engages all the usual muscles that regular lunges do, but it also targets more abductors and adductors (inner and outer thighs).

​How to Perform Them

​Start by standing upright with a dumbbell in each hand and hands facing in. Take a large step out with one foot then, keeping that leg straight, lower your body until your other leg is at a 90-degree angle. From there, push back up into the starting position. One issue that people run into with this movement is where the dumbbells should go while in the lunge position. Depending on your preference, you can have one dumbbell in hand on the outside of the bent knee and the other on the inside of the bent knee. You can also keep your hands closer together and have both dumbbells hanging on the inside of the knee. If neither of these variations is preferable, you can also curl the dumbbells up into your body and hold them at your chest throughout the movement.


This exercise engages all the usual muscles that regular lunges do, but it also targets more abductors and adductors (inner and outer thighs).

​How to Perform Them

Once you have picked out a suitable weight, start in an upright standing position with the dumbbell pressed into an overhead position. Be sure that your arm stays completely locked out throughout the movement, and close to the ear on that side. In this pressed position, step into a deep lunge with the leg opposite of the raised arm. Perform several repetitions on each leg.


Squats are the building blocks of everyone’s leg day. This fundamental movement works your quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, and glutes. It’s also one of the easiest exercises to perform, but form is still very important to learn and master. As one of your leg workouts with dumbbells, the squat can be broken into several different variations. A number of injuries can result from improper squat technique, which can delay your fitness journey indefinitely. With proper form and training, however, squats really help you achieve all your aesthetic and strength goals.


The simplest leg workouts are built around squatting. The dumbbell squat can be performed as one of your leg workouts with dumbbells in a few different forms, but they all involve holding two dumbbells. The weight you use depends on your preference along with how many repetitions you intend to perform.

How to Perform Them

Start by standing upright with a dumbbell in each hand, feet slightly further than hip-width apart, and toes pointed very slightly outward. From there, push your hips back and bend at the knees while you press your knees slightly outward. Sit into a squat position with your knees hinged past a 90-degree angle. Throughout this movement, be sure that your heels and toes remain planted on the ground and that your chest and shoulders stay back. From the squat position, stand back up to the starting position.

Throughout this common squat movement, you can decide where to hold your dumbbells. Some prefer to let the dumbbells hang by their sides, staying close to the sides of their knees and feet as they lower into the squat. Another way to perform the squat with dumbbells is by curling the dumbbells up and resting them on your shoulders with your elbows high and facing upward. This technique takes pressure off the wrists and forearms throughout the exercise, making it the preference for many athletes.


The sumo squat is similar in movement to the regular squat, with the major difference being the stance at which the squat is performed. This different stance targets the hamstrings and glutes more specifically.

How to Perform Them

Instead of starting with your feet just outside of hip-width apart and toes pointed slightly outward, the sumo squat is performed with the feet much wider than shoulder-width apart and with feet pointing outward in an exaggerated way. When you perform the squat, make sure that your knees are pointing outward throughout the entire movement. There are many different ways to hold the dumbbell or dumbbells throughout the exercise. If you want to use two dumbbells and lift more weight, you can keep them high at your shoulders, or you can curl them up close to your chest. If you choose to use one dumbbell, you can grip it with both hands and let it hang close to your midsection throughout the movement.


The goblet squat is a squat variation that can be performed with a dumbbell, but it’s most commonly performed with a single kettlebell. The only difference between the goblet squat and the regular squat is how many dumbbells are used and position in which the dumbbell is held.

How to Perform Them

The goblet squat requires only one dumbbell, which is gripped with both hands on one end throughout the entire movement. As this squat generally involves a lower weight than a regular squat, the movement is perfect for incorporation into a bootcamp or HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) style workout for a high number of repetitions.


This exercise is a great full body movement, that targets your shoulders and core in addition to your lower body. With lighter weight and several repetitions, this is one of the most effective leg workouts with dumbbells and is a perfect addition for cardio work or HIIT workouts.

How to Perform Them

Start with a dumbbell in both hands, with each weight resting on each shoulder and elbows high and facing upward. With feet hip-width apart and toes pointed slightly outward, drop into a full-depth squat. As you rise back to the standing position from here, use your momentum to punch the weights above your head for a full shoulder press. The key from here is to explode back up into the standing position, to take the burden off your shoulders and upper body. Holding this form requires a great deal of core strength and a decent level of coordination, so beginners should start with a very manageable weight.


woman doing leg workout

Image by Scott Webb from Pixabay 

Whether you are building up your legs for aesthetic purposes, training for optimal athletic performance, or simply looking to make everyday activities less difficult, all you need is a set of dumbbells. If you are short on time or money, or just have a hard time forcing yourself out of the house to get to the gym, you can still get your leg work done every week. Never let your limited access to barbells, squat racks, or cable machines deter you from getting in a great lower body workout. The leg workouts with dumbbells described in this article are all you need to get your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves burning.


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