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7 Best Dumbbell Leg Exercises (Builds Lower Body Strength)

Tracy Thompson
Published by Tracy Thompson | Senior Coach
Last updated: August 18, 2023

My fitness clients are often skeptical when I tell them that they only need a pair of dumbbells to complete leg-day exercises.

Many people think that effective leg exercises require barbells and machines, but dumbbells can be used for a variety of leg exercises that target diverse leg muscle groups.

So, I’ve combined what I know from my experience with what I’ve learned from a recent talk with a physical therapist to give you the best dumbbell leg workouts.

Here’s what we found.

Quick Summary

  • Dumbbell Romanian deadlift, lateral lunge, Bulgarian splits, and calf raises are examples of leg day workouts targeting leg muscle groups.
  • Dumbbell leg exercises target lower-body muscles such as the quads, glutes, and hamstrings.
  • For dumbbell leg exercises to be effective, you need to combine them with proper nutrition, enough sleep, and a protein powder supplement for faster results.

How Do You Build Leg Strength With Dumbbells?

Dumbbell leg exercises to strengthen and build physique

You can build leg strength with dumbbells by engaging in various lower-body workouts, such as lunges, squats, and deadlifts. Using dumbbells in these workouts adds weight and enables you to increase strength by building lower body muscles.

Below are dumbbell exercises you should consider adding to your routine if you’re looking to build leg strength.

1. Dumbbell Lunges

Starting us off is a popular workout among running athletes that targets almost every muscle in the lower region, including the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.

Performing a dumbbell lunge exercise stretches your hip flexors.

It improves their flexibility by countering the shortening and tightening that occurs when you stay in a seated position for an extended period [1].

In addition, the stabilizer muscles of the back and legs are also challenged when performing the dumbbell lunge [2].

How to Do It

Start by selecting a pair of dumbbells according to your level of fitness. You should start with some light weights if you're a beginner.

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand in a hammer grip stance while standing up straight.
  • Now, take one big step forward with your right leg and bend your knees until the right thigh is almost parallel to the ground.
  • Straighten your knee to return to your standing position before bending the knee, then step back on the right foot.
  • Do the same with your left foot.

Other variations include dumbbell walking lunges and dumbbell split squats.

2. Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squats

Close-up of a Bulgarian split squat

The dumbbell Bulgarian split squat or one-leg dumbbell squat is a variation of the dumbbell split squat. But as opposed to the split squat where both feet are on the ground, the Bulgarian has one foot on an elevated position.

Like other leg exercises, it targets the quads, hamstrings, and glutes and ensures muscular balance and coordination.

How to Do the Dumbbell Bulgarian Split

As usual, start with a pair of dumbbells on both arms with an elevation (chair or bench) behind you.

  • Take one step in front of your chair or bench, keep your feet shoulder-width apart, and place a back foot on the elevation.
  • Bend the front knee and descend until the back knee touches the ground.
  • Repeat the motion about 12 times before placing your other feet on the bench.

3. Dumbbell Goblet Squats

The goblet squat is an exercise that I always recommend to my clients, newbies and advanced alike.

The good thing with this dumbbell leg workout is that it's a full-body workout, although it majorly targets the lower body muscle groups in a compound manner.

“The goblet squat works all the major muscle groups of the lower body, including the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.”

- Laura Williams, Certified Exercise Physiologist 

How to Do the Dumbbell Goblet Squat

Pick one dumbbell, and lift it at chest height with your hands placed on the inner edge of one side of the dumbbell.

  • With your feet wider than shoulder width and toes pointed slightly outward on a standing position, bend your knees to descend to a lower position.
  • Go as low as possible and hold for about five seconds, then push down to straighten up to your starting position.
  • Repeat for about 12 repetitions for a complete set.

4. Dumbbell Lateral Lunge

Doing dumbbel lateral lunges

The dumbbell lateral lunge works legs individually and is incredibly effective in building muscle for strength, balance, and coordination.

This leg workout targets the glutes, hamstrings, quads, adductors (inner thighs), and abductors (outer thighs).

It's possible to perform the dumbbell lateral lunge using two variations:

  • While holding a dumbbell in each hand
  • Using one dumbbell at chest height, like the goblet squat

Here’s how to do it while holding two dumbbells.

How to Do the Dumbbell Lateral Lunge

Start in a standing position, shoulder-width apart, with both dumbbells hanging on each arm.

  • Now take a big step to your right with your right foot while allowing your arms to move in front of you.
  • Bend your right knee while going as low as possible while keeping your left leg straight.
  • Now, shift your weight to your left foot and straighten your right foot.
  • Alternate your left knee and repeat to about 12-15 repetitions.

5. Calf Raise

As the name suggests, the calf raise works on the calf muscles of the lower leg.

It's a pretty straightforward workout yet very effective in building strength and mobility in your lower legs.

Strengthening your calves has massive benefits for your balance and stability.

And as an experienced trainer, I’ve found it quite helpful in reducing my clients' risk of foot and ankle injuries.

How to Do the Calf Raise

You can do it on a flat or raised surface about 2-3 inches off the ground, which is a little advanced variation of the exercise. Today, we’ll be doing the former.

  • Start by holding the dumbbells on each arm as your starting position.
  • Now, raise your heels slowly and keep your knees extended.
  • Hold for one or two seconds, then slowly lower back to your starting position.
  • Repeat about 12-15 times for a complete set.

6. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

Dumbbell Romanian deadlift indoors

The Romanian deadlift is a simple dumbbell leg workout that effectively works the lower region and core muscles. Plus, you only need a pair of dumbbells and enough space to do it.

As an experienced trainer, I’ve also found it helpful in alleviating back pain since the exercise also partly targets the lower back. Other muscles the Romanian deadlift works include the hamstrings and glute muscles.

How to Do the Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

As aforementioned, you only need a pair of dumbbells. Hold them with your palms facing your thighs.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, chest up, and knees slightly bent.
  • Now push your hips back while keeping your spine neutral and squeezing your shoulder blades. Bend till the dumbbells go below the knees.
  • Upon reaching a low point, pause and engage the glutes and hamstring to hinge back to your starting position.
  • Repeat about 12 times for a complete set.

Also Read: How to Do Dumbbell Deadlifts

7. Dumbbell Reverse Lunge

The dumbbell reverse lunge works the quads, hamstrings, glutes, hips, core, and upper back muscles, the same major muscle groups the standard lunge targets.

The difference with this particular variation is that it does not stress the knee joint as much as the standard lunge does.

Performing this exercise also improves your balance and hip mobility.

How to Do It

You will need to hold a pair of dumbbells in each hand.

  • Stand with your feet wide apart and your torso upright while holding the dumbbell pair as your starting position.
  • Now, step back with your right leg and land with the ball of your foot.
  • Bend your knees in a lunge position to lower your upper body. Your back and front knees should be at a right angle, with the front thigh parallel to the ground.
  • Straighten your legs to raise yourself up and return your back leg to your starting position.
  • Do the same with your left leg and keep alternating.

Can You Build Legs With Just Dumbbells?

Showing leg muscles

Yes, you can build legs with just dumbbells. Free weights can effectively target various leg muscle groups, including hamstrings, quads, and glutes.

Being the largest muscle group in the body, it's essential to keep the leg muscles strong and active.

Doing leg workouts using dumbbells can also help you burn calories and fire up your metabolism for more energy.

But like any other workout, you also need to follow it up with a good diet and enough sleep for it to be effective.

Additionally, a protein powder for muscle  gain can help supplement the nutritional gap left by your diet for added gains during leg day.


Do Dumbbell Squats Build Mass?

Yes, dumbbell squats can help you build muscle mass in your lower body, especially the quads. Additionally, dumbbells don’t put pressure on your spine and are considered much safer than using barbells.

What Weight Dumbbells Should I Use for Legs?

The size of weight dumbbells to use for legs depends on your fitness level and goals. If you’re a beginner, start with light weights (up to 5kgs) and move up with experience. Heavy weights are great for muscle building, while light weights are great for toning.

Boost Your Leg Workouts With a Protein Powder

Combining leg workouts such as the dumbbell Romanian deadlift, reverse lunges, goblet squats, and Bulgarian splits with a balanced diet will get you closer to your lower body fitness goals.

However, a regular diet may not be enough to get you the results fast enough. That's why I advise my clients to add a protein powder supplement to the mix.

We’ve thoroughly tested a vast number of supplements and only included the top ones that have yielded the best testing data results.


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