Legs

9 Effective Dumbbell Leg Exercises For Stronger Legs

Dumbbell Leg Exercises

If you’re stuck at home and can’t get to the gym but still want to work your legs, then we’ve got you covered. 

In this article we’re going to suggest some of the best leg exercises with dumbbells that you can do.


Recommended Reading – 8 Simple Cable Leg Exercises With Ankle Strap For Targeted Leg Growth


Before you grab your dumbbells, let’s address some commonly asked questions. 

Are Dumbbell Leg Exercises Effective?

If you want to address any muscle imbalances, improve your functional fitness, and fire up your stabilization muscles, then leg exercises with dumbbells can be highly effective. 

dumbbell lunge muscle workout

However, it’s important to manage your expectations. 

If your goal is to pack on some serious leg muscle and significantly increase your strength, then you’re going to need to lift heavy weights and that means barbell work or using leg machines in the gym (like the leg press or hack squat). 

Why Can’t Dumbbells Build As Much Leg Muscle

Your quads and glutes make up the strongest muscles in your body and these are more than likely going to be activated during a leg day workout

They’re also much stronger than your grip strength and your arms. 

This essentially means that while your lower body muscles may be able to handle a certain weight load with ease, your grip strength will probably let you down when holding a heavy pair of dumbbells. 

bulgarian dumbbell split squat

For example, maybe you can squat 250lbs for reps with a loaded barbell resting across your back. 

But grab hold of a 125lb dumbbell in each hand and see if you can rep out the same number. 

Probably not, because you don’t have the same support from your posterior chain muscles with all the stress being placed on to your arms and hands.  

Because of this additional weight load on these smaller muscle groups, your arm and grip strength will more than likely give out. 

With that in mind, try and keep your leg workouts varied by using dumbbells, barbells, and machines in your gym for maximum results. 

How Many Leg Exercises Per Workout

A common approach taken on leg day is to perform anywhere between 3 and 6 leg exercises per workout once a week. 

These can be a combination of compound and isolation movements. 

In terms of repetitions and sets, when executing compound exercises (multi joint movements such as the squat) look to do between 6 and 10 repetitions for at least 3 sets. 

For isolation exercises (single joint movements which typically activate one muscle group like the calf raise) you can increase the reps to around 10 to 15 and again, for a minimum of 3 sets. 

You’ll probably find you can lift more weight when doing compound exercises, hence why you’d keep the reps lower so as not to overtrain. 

As long as you can see continuous improvements and listen to your body there’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to how many exercises you do for a leg workout.    

Best Dumbbell Leg Exercises To Strengthen And Tone Your Leg Muscles

The below exercises can be performed in any order and it’s not necessary to perform all of that in one workout. 

Pick and choose the ones that suit your abilities and goals. 

As with all exercises, make sure you concentrate on the correct form and start with a lighter weight (or just use your bodyweight) so you can get used to the movement.

Dumbbell Split Squat

dumbbell split squat

The dumbbell split squat is a unilateral exercise, meaning that you’ll be working one leg at a time. 

This makes them ideal if you want to work on any weaknesses to either leg.

At first glance it looks similar to the lunge. 

However, instead of moving forwards and backwards, when doing a split squat, you move your body up and down. 

When it comes to the muscles worked, this exercise puts a lot of emphasis on your quads with secondary muscles being your glutes, hamstrings, abs and calves. 

How To Do A Dumbbell Split Squat:

  1. Holding a dumbbell in each hand adopt a split stance position (one foot in front of the other).
  2. Bend both knees so that you begin to descend towards the floor.
  3. Make sure to move in a downwards position and not forwards.
  4. Stop when the knee of your back leg touches the floor and then push back up.
  5. Perform an equal number of reps on each leg. 

Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlift

dumbbell stiff leg deadlift

A stiff leg deadlift is a compound exercise that involves a hip hinge motion which will activate your hamstrings and glutes and other muscles that make up your posterior chain. 

When done properly, it’s great for building a stronger back which can help alleviate low back pain and help with your posture. 

As it’s a functional movement it will also transfer over to common daily activities such as picking something up off the floor. 

During this movement it’s important not to round your lower back and keep it straight throughout. 

How To Do A Stiff Leg Deadlift

  1. Begin by standing with your feet hip width apart and holding a dumbbell in each hand, keeping them down and in front of your thighs.  Your grip should be overhand so that your palms face you.
  2. Keeping a slight bend to your knees, hinge forward at your hips and push your glutes back so that the dumbbells lower towards the ground. 
  3. Make sure to keep the dumbbells close to your body as they descend.  Keep your head and chest up with your shoulders back.
  4. Your knees should remain fixed and your back straight.
  5. Go as low as possible until you feel a good stretch to your hamstrings.
  6. Squeeze your hamstrings and push through your heels back to the starting position.

Dumbbell Reverse Lunge

dumbbell reverse lunge

Performing the dumbbell reverse lunge will strengthen all your lower body muscles and help to improve your balance and coordination along with boosting core strength

When doing this exercise, it’s important to take a big enough step back so that you can do it with proper form and to a full range of motion. 

How To Do The Dumbbell Reverse Lunge

  1. Start by standing up straight and holding a dumbbell in each hand down by your sides.
  2. From here, take a big step back with one leg dropping the knee to the floor.  Keep your back straight and lunge down to a position that is most comfortable.
  3. Make sure you keep your head and chest upright throughout.
  4. Pause briefly at the bottom then step back up to the start. 
  5. Repeat with the other leg and keep alternating until you’ve completed your reps. 

Dumbbell Squat Jumps

Dumbbell Squat Jumps

The dumbbell squat jump is a plyometric exercise that will engage your hamstrings, quads, and glutes. 

When using a lighter dumbbell, it’s a good way to warm up your body and fire up your central nervous system.

How To Do The Dumbbell Squat Jump

  1. Take hold of a dumbbell in each hand and hold them down by your sides, your palms should be facing inwards for a neutral grip.
  2. Keep a slight bend to your knees and place your feet around shoulder width apart with your toes pointing out a little.
  3. Push your hips and glutes back so that you squat down towards the floor. 
  4. Stop when your upper legs are roughly parallel to the ground.
  5. Use power to push through your heels and jump up as high as possible.
  6. Keep your arms fully extended throughout.
  7. Make sure you land on the balls of your feet.
  8. Without pausing, propel yourself upwards to complete another jump.
  9. Continue with this until you’ve completed your chosen number of reps.

Dumbbell Goblet Squats

dumbbell goblet leg squat

The goblet squat is a good choice for those of you who are new to squatting, helping you to perfect your form. 

It’s a front-loaded squat variation that requires you to hold a dumbbell just in front of you at chest height. 

As you’re forced into a more upright position throughout the movement, this shifts the focus on to your quads. 

For this exercise, you’ll only be making use of one dumbbell. 

If you choose a heavier weight, it’s a good idea to position it on a bench resting on one end making it easier to get into position.

How To Do The Dumbbell Goblet Squat

  1. Begin by holding the end of one dumbbell just in front of your chest (keep it close to your chest and hold it with both hands).
  2. From here, push your hips back and descend as though sitting down on a chair.
  3. Keep your back and chest up and core braced to help with stability.  Don’t allow your back to round as this can cause an injury. 
  4. Once your upper legs are parallel to the ground, pause for a second before pushing through your heels back to the starting position.

Standing Dumbbell Calf Raise

This exercise is an isolation movement that will really work your calf muscles, specifically the gastrocnemius and the soleus, helping to increase shape and add definition. 

Make sure to perform the exercises with a slow and controlled manner and avoid any jerky movements. 

You can place emphasis on different parts of your lower leg by altering the position of your toes. 

By pointing them slightly in will place greater emphasis on your outer calf muscles. 

On the other hand, pointing them outwards will activate more of the inner calves. 

How To Do The Standing Dumbbell Calf Raise

  1. Stand on the edge of a step with your feet hip-width apart holding a dumbbell in each hand.  Your heels should be hanging off the edge of the step.
  2. Keep your arms relaxed with the dumbbells down by your sides.
  3. Now contract your calf muscles and raise your heels as high as possible.
  4. Hold this position briefly before using control to slowly lower back down. 
  5. Repeat for your chosen reps.

Dumbbell Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

The single leg RDL is an accessory exercise that will work each leg independently making it ideal as a finishing movement or if you just want to work on any muscle or strength imbalances. 

It’s going to work your posterior chain muscles, specifically your hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and stabilizers. 

Start with a lighter weight dumbbell to begin with and work on balance and stability before increasing the weight load. 

How To Do The Dumbbell Single Leg RDL

  1. Start by standing upright with a dumbbell in each hand, keep these down by your sides.
  2. Bring one foot off the ground holding it just out in front of you with your upper leg parallel to the floor.  This will act as a counterbalance.
  3. Tuck your pelvis forward to help engage your glutes.
  4. Very slowly hinge forward at your hip to lower your upper body towards the ground, keeping your back straight as you go.
  5. Simultaneously take your front leg back out behind you.  Straighten out this leg if you can.
  6. As the dumbbells get lower to the floor you should feel a good stretch to the hamstring of your planted leg. 
  7. Stop when your free leg and torso are parallel to the floor.
  8. Push through your heel to raise back up to the starting position.
  9. Repeat the same number of reps on each leg. 

Lying Dumbbell Leg Curl

The lying dumbbell leg curl is an isolation exercise that will activate your hamstrings and is a great alternative to using a lying leg curl machine in the gym. 

Start out with a light dumbbell so you can work on technique. 

As you get used to it and the strength of your hamstrings improves, you can move up to a heavier dumbbell. 

How To Do The Lying Dumbbell Leg Curl

  1. Place an exercise mat on the floor with a dumbbell at the end (make sure the dumbbell is resting on one end).
  2. Get down in a prone position on to the mat so that the dumbbell is located towards your feet and your legs are fully extended.
  3. Rest on your forearms for support.
  4. Take hold of the dumbbell with both feet and make sure it’s secure. 
  5. Squeeze your hamstrings and curl the dumbbell up and stop once your feet are directly above your knees.
  6. Hold for a second before lowering the dumbbell back to the floor.  Go slowly to increase tension on your hamstrings.

Skater Squats

The skater squat is a great exercise for improving strength in your knees. 

When your knees are strong this can help with mobility and better performance with other exercises and in certain sports. 

It’s a unilateral exercise that’s like a reverse lunge but is much more challenging, especially for balance and stability. 

The primary muscle worked will be your quads.

How To Do Skater Squats

  1. Start by standing upright and holding dumbbells down by your sides.  These will act as a counterbalance at the bottom of the exercise.
  2. Lift one foot off the ground and take it behind you lowering your knee towards the floor without letting your foot touch the ground.
  3. At the time, raise both dumbbells straight out in front of you.
  4. Keep your back straight with your head and chest up to ensure you remain stable throughout. 
  5. Return to a standing position and repeat.  Complete the same number of reps on the other leg. 

Last But Not Least

Dumbbell exercises for legs are a great alternative to gym machines if you need to train at home or can’t get to the gym.

They’re easy to use and, as well as working on increasing size and strength, can help to improve your overall balance and mobility.

You don’t have to use them just for leg training either, add in some upper body exercises using your dumbbells for a whole-body workout.

With that in mind, have a read of our article which offers some great suggestions for building your back muscles with just a pair of dumbbells; 8 Best Dumbbell Back Workout Exercises To Build Mass.

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