Dumbbells are a great way to crank up your legs. Here are the best dumbbell leg exercises for a stronger lower body.
Friends don’t let friends skip leg day!
It doesn’t matter if you’re hitting all the leg machines at the gym or just working out at home, Leg Day is one of the most important training days because it A) maintains muscular balance and B) strengthens the important muscles that (literally) enable you to move around.
To be stronger, fitter, and more athletic all around, you’ve got to hit Leg Day hard at least once a week (twice, if you’ve got the chance) and shred those leg muscles.
Really, to get a good workout, all you need is a set of dumbbells (or a pair of the best adjustable dumbbells will do just fine!) and you’re ready to go.
These dumbbell leg exercises below will help you maximize gains and develop those beefy thighs you want.
Let’s jump right in.
Benefits of Using Dumbbells for Lower Body Workouts
- Work out anywhere, anytime. You don’t really need a full gym or a squat rack to get a heck of a workout if you’ve got a set of dumbbells. With just a few weights (just 10-, 15-, 20-, and 30-pound pairs), you have more than weight enough to max out your resistance training!
- More variety. With barbells and machines, you’re pretty much stuck doing the exact same exercises every Leg Day. Dumbbells, however, let you mix it up and add some spice and variety to your training sessions. You’ll never get bored of training if you’re always pushing your body in a new way.
- New angles. With the weight of a heavy barbell loaded on your back/shoulders, you’ve pretty much got to work in the straight up/down and forward/backward ranges of motion. Dumbbells, however, let you incorporate lateral movements that target your thighs, glutes, hamstrings, and the muscles supporting your knees.
- Improve balance and coordination. Dumbbells are excellent for unilateral (one-sided) exercises, that let you work one arm or leg at a time. While these exercises don’t require as much weight, they do wonders to improve your balance and coordination, making you overall more agile.
Talk about some great reasons to mix some dumbbell leg exercises into your routine!
The Best Dumbbell Leg Exercises
Below, I’ve compiled a list of my all-time favorite dumbbell leg exercises, along with simple instructions on how to do each properly.
Whether you add them into your regular barbell/machine-predominant workout or create your own workout plan using only dumbbell leg exercises (which I have, in the following section), you’ll find these exercises do wonders to strengthen your legs and improve your agility and coordination.
💪 Exercise #1: Dumbbell Squats
Because of course we have to include dumbbell squats into this list of the best dumbbell leg exercises!
Squats are the best leg-engaging exercise on the planet, the most effective way to target your quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
Thanks to the dumbbells’ position (hanging at your sides, rather than loaded on the front or back of your shoulders), you get a more balanced, and ultimately more effective, squat workout.
To perform this exercise:
- Stand with your feet planted shoulder width apart, spine straight, and let the dumbbells hang down by your side.
- Hinge at your hips but keep your back as straight as possible as you bend your knees and lower into the squat. Make sure to lower under control—this hits the muscles during the eccentric phase of the workout, as well as the concentric!
- Stop when your legs reach a 90-degree angle, thighs parallel to the floor. Pause at the bottom for a 1-count.
- Drive through your heels as you push back up to standing position. Thrust your pelvis forward slightly at the top of the movement to engage your glutes.
- Pause for a 1-count at the top, then repeat as desired.
💪 Exercise #2: Dumbbell Split Squats
Split squats are similar to lunges (in the sense that they engage your glutes and thigh muscles along with your quads and hamstrings), but the elimination of forward/backward movement makes it easier for those with knee/hip problems to complete.
Trainer’s Note: You can read our article on why split squats and lunges are both excellent additions to your training session, and the pros and cons of each.
Split squats are also unilateral, meaning they train one leg at a time. They’re a highly effective exercise to develop serious leg power!
To perform this exercise:
- Start with your feet placed side by side, spine straight, dumbbells hanging at your sides.
- Step your right leg forward to a full, comfortable extension. Your weight should be balanced evenly between your two legs.
- Bend your knees and keep your back straight as you lower into the split squat. Lower until your right leg is bent to a 90-degree angle, but just before your left knee touches the ground.
- Drive through your right heel and left forefoot as you push back up to your starting position.
- Repeat for 10-12 reps, then switch leg positions.
💪 Exercise #3: Dumbbell Jump Squats
Want to max out explosive power? Then try these badass jump squats!
Jump squats take the standard squatting movement and add an explosive element, forcing your legs to propel you not just up to normal standing position, but actually jumping off the ground.
You’ll find that adding any sort of jumping exercises does wonders to increase your agility, coordination, and jump height.
To perform this exercise:
- Start with your feet spread roughly shoulder width apart, spine straight, dumbbells held in a neutral grip at your side.
- Lower into the squat, stopping when your legs hit the 90-degree angle with your thighs parallel to the ground.
- Explode upward to leap off the ground. You really only want to jump 1-2 inches, just enough for your feet to leave the ground.
- Land and control your descent as you drop into another squat.
- Repeat as desired.
Trainer’s Note: Go light and fast with jump squats. Start with between 10-20% of your 1RM and go no heavier than 30%. The focus is speed and explosiveness.
💪 Exercise #4: Dumbbell Hip Thrust
The dumbbell hip thrust is one of the best glute-focused exercises you can do, strengthening the critical posterior-chain muscles that support your quads.
They’re the same as a standard barbell hip thrust, but because you’re using a dumbbell, they can be performed anywhere you are—great for home-based or on-the-go workouts!
To perform this exercise:
- Sit with your back resting against a weight bench, with a dumbbell cradled in your lap.
- Plant your feet on the floor, push your upper back/shoulders against the bench, and thrust your hips upward to form a table with your legs, core, and torso.
- Hold at the peak for a 1-count, then lower slowly and under control until your butt almost touches the ground.
- Just before your butt touches the ground, thrust back up to form the tabletop position.
- Repeat as desired
💪 Exercise #5: Dumbbell Step-Ups
Step-ups are an amazing exercise to help strengthen your knees along with your legs, and develop the power and joint mobility needed to climb stairs (a movement that grows more difficult with age).
This exercise will help to keep your legs “young” and enable smooth, efficient climbing.
It’s also one of my top dumbbell glute exercises (especially the crossover version).
Trainer’s Note: Pair this dumbbell exercise with a daily habit of climbing 5-10 flights of stairs and you’ll do wonders to improve your knee health.
To perform this exercise:
- Set up a bench, box, or elevated platform (roughly around knee height) directly in front of you. Stand facing the platform with the dumbbells held at your side in a neutral grip.
- Lift your right foot, plant it firmly on the platform, and push off your left foot to step-up.
- Once you’re on the platform, plant your left foot beside your right foot, pause for a 1-count, then lower your right foot back to the ground where you started.
- Repeat for 10-12 reps leading with your right foot, then switch to lead with your left foot.
20-Minute Dumbbell Lower Body Workout for MAX Hypertrophy
Ready to put these exercises together into one killer Leg Day routine? Here’s how you can max out your training in just 20(ish) minutes!
- Dumbbell Squats – 2 sets of 10-12 reps, with 60 seconds of rest between sets.
- Dumbbell Split Squats – 3 sets of 10-12 reps, with 60 seconds of rest between sets.
- Dumbbell Jump Squats – 2 sets of 10-12 reps, with 60 seconds of rest between sets.
- Dumbbell Step-Ups – 2 sets of 10-12 reps, with 60 seconds of rest between sets.
- Dumbbell Hip Thrusts – 3 sets of 10-12 reps, with 60 seconds of rest between sets.
Dumbbell Leg Exercises — FAQs
Can you build stronger glutes with dumbbells?
Absolutely! All you have to do is switch to more glute-focused exercises, such as lunges, back squats, hip thrusts, Bulgarian split squats, and curtsy lunges.
Because you’re holding the dumbbells at your sides rather than carrying the load on your shoulders, you’ll get a more balance/coordination-targeting training session that will max out glute strength development.
For more dumbbell exercises that primarily focus on the glutes, check out this article.
Are dumbbell squats enough for legs?
The truth is that any kind of squats will be enough to strengthen your legs. Front squats, back squats, sumo squats, dumbbell squats—they all train the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves effectively.
However, I want to add a caveat here: if you only train squats, you’ll only be strong when squatting. That strength won’t translate as efficiently into other types of movements (lungeing, climbing, jumping, etc.).
If your goal is simply to max out your squat strength (like a powerlifter or squat world record-holder), then by all means, train only with dumbbell squats.
But if your goal is better overall strength, agility, and more bulletproof knees, it’s a good idea to mix it up and incorporate a wide variety of movements into your training beyond just squats.
The Bottom Line
Your legs deserve a proper workout, and thanks to the exercises above, you can give them that using nothing more than some basic equipment.
Dumbbells are compact, portable, and available pretty much anywhere—from your home gym to fitness centers at whatever hotel or resort you’re staying at when on vacation.
Having these dumbbell leg exercises in your routine will ensure that no matter where you are, you can still get in one heck of a potent, leg strength-boosting workout.
Say goodbye to “chicken legs” forever, because with these, you’ll never be tempted to skip Leg Day just because you don’t have the right machines or barbells!
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