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Many of us have dumbbells but are unsure if this is enough to stimulate major leg muscle growth. Is it possible to do effective at-home leg workouts with dumbbells alone?
The answer is yes. You can build strong, powerful legs without the equipment that you would normally find in the gym.
You can check out our 100 squats a day challenge if you really want to see growth.
I understand if some people have doubts, but I show people how to do this all of the time. As a trainer, I’ve helped many of my clients get incredible results with nothing more than a set of dumbbells and a little creativity.
Today, I’ll share the 15 best leg workouts with dumbbells that help build lean and muscular legs.
Keep reading to learn more about the anatomy and benefits. I’ll also share professional tips and a full dumbbell leg workout plan you can start today.
Let’s jump in.
Anatomy of the Legs
The muscles of the legs are some of the strongest and largest in the body.
To start, let’s break down the anatomy of our legs and their function. This can help you understand which fibers you will be targeting during your workout.
|Quadriceps||Knee Extension, Hip Flexion (Minor), Maintain Posture||Squats, Lunges, Step-Ups|
|Hamstrings||Knee Flexion, Hip Extension, Stabilizes Knee||RDL, Hamstring Curls|
|Calves||Plantar Flexion (Pointing toes downward)||Calf Raises, Seated Calf Raises|
|Glutes||Hip Extension, Thigh External Rotation||Hip Thrusts, Squats, Lunges, Step ups, RDLs|
Can you build legs with just dumbbells?
Related: Tired Of Skinny Legs With Big Belly?
You can build legs with just dumbbells provided that you are progressively overloading the muscle tissue and are eating a calorie surplus with plenty of protein.
This will ensure your leg muscles adapt to the mechanical stimulus of weight training and have the fuel to build lean muscle tissue.
What are the benefits of training your legs with dumbbells?
While dumbbell training at home may seem limited, they can provide a massive upside to your workouts.
Here is a list of benefits of training your legs with dumbbells.
Easy to Use
Dumbbells are ergonomic and incredibly easy to use, with the weight evenly distributed at either side or a comfortable handle.
This makes holding, moving, and balancing them effortless, allowing you to just simply hold them while you focus on performing your exercises.
Great for Beginners
Dumbbells are great for introducing weight to any leg workout since they come in a range of sizes.
Often, when we think about adding weight without the assistance of machines, we think of heavy barbells with loads of plates stacked on.
Dumbbells give us the opportunity to use smaller weights and gradually build up our strength and confidence toward those larger weight stacks.
Wide Range of Motion
Dumbbells offer a freedom of motion that is not possible with many other pieces of equipment around the gym.
By holding a dumbbell in each hand, you have a greater range of motion, which improves comfort.
This also is beneficial for building strength for each side, as it requires each side of the body to work to independently support the weight, avoiding your stronger side taking over during lifts.
Reduces Joint Stress
In the same vein, the freedom of movement can be beneficial for reducing stress on joints.
Typically, when we hold a barbell or place it in a machine, both sides of our body need to assume the form of the piece of equipment.
This can be difficult on our joints, as both sides of our bodies are not always equal, leading to discomfort and restricting our range of motion.
The freedom of dumbbells, on the other hand, allows your joints to move freely, reducing pressure.
Dumbbells are an amazing piece of equipment for adding variety to your training.
The freedom of movement allows you to place them in a variety of positions that are not always doable with a barbell or machines.
While this may take a little creativity on your end, using them for your dumbbell leg workout can add complexity and difficulty to your training that machines simply can’t.
Things To Consider When Training Your Legs With Dumbbells
Related: How To Get Big Legs?
Now, before we get into the 15 best dumbbell exercises, here are a range of factors you need to think carefully about.
Your level of experience plays a role in what exercise, the number of sets, and the intensity of your dumbbell leg workout.
A beginner may only need a few pounds and a modest amount of sets to stimulate muscle growth.
Meanwhile, an advanced lifter may require heavier weight, more sets, supersets, and shorter rest times to get the job done.
Identifying your training goals should be at the top of your list before starting your dumbbell leg workouts.
This will give you something to aim for with your training. It can also help you remain focused during those training blocks where you feel like your progress is slow going.
Identifying your training goals will also help you determine the repetition ranges, the volume of training, and how to program your rest days.
Identifying the correct rep ranges for your training is key to hitting your target leg training goals.
Studies suggest that performing sets of one to five repetitions at 80%-100% of your one repetition maximum (1RM) is needed to promote strength.
You should also consider sets of eight to 12 reps at 60%-80% of your 1RM for muscle hypertrophy and sets of 12-15+ at 60 or less for building muscle endurance. .
When training dumbbells, you may like to choose one of these or mix things up and dabble in all rep ranges to challenge yourself and keep your training fresh.
Training volume is another thing you need to consider when performing a lower body dumbbell workout.
Science suggests that increasing training volume can enhance muscle hypertrophy.
That means that if you want your legs to grow with dumbbell training consider training legs twice per week.
Rest days are a crucial part of your training and recovery, and when it comes to training legs, you’re going to need a break.
Studies recommend 48-72 hours between training sessions to allow muscle to repair.
This window can be used to train other parts of the body or to simply take a break with some active recovery such as walking or recreational physical activity.
15 Best Dumbbell Leg Workouts To Include in Your Workout Program
Now it’s time to reveal the 15 best dumbbell leg workouts, complete with videos, descriptions, how to perform the movement, and pro tips to help you get the most out of every set.
1. Dumbbell Front Squat
The dumbbell front squat targets the legs but engages the entire body.
How To Perform a Dumbbell Front Squat
- Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Position dumbbell in the front rack position at shoulder height.
- Begin by leading back with the hips and lowering yourself to the floor.
- Lower until your knees are bent at 90 degrees.
- Push yourself back up to the starting position. Repeat.
- Engages upper body
- Increase leg mass
- When you are holding the dumbbell in the front rack position, keep your elbows up at all times. This will stop them from falling forward as you lower into the squat.
- Before each rep, inhale and tense your core. This will help keep it rigid for the rep.
2. Dumbbell Goblet Squat
The dumbbell goblet squat is a great way to introduce weight to your squats.
Having the weight in the front rack position can act as a counter weight when your hips lower. This is great for teaching correct squat technique.
How To Perform the Dumbbell Goblet Squat
- Stand holding a single dumbbell. Lift it into the goblet position just under your chin.
- Place feet shoulder-width apart.
- Begin by unhinging the hips and lowering them toward the floor.
- Lower until your hips and knees are bent at 90 degrees.
- Push yourself back up to the starting position and repeat.
- Requires core and upper body to engage
- Great for building full-body strength and mass
- Focus on breathing, inhaling as you lower and exhaling as you push up.
- Keep elbows up for the duration of the set to stop the dumbbell from falling forward.
3. Dumbbell Split Squat
The dumbbell split squat is a great exercise for beginner and advanced lifters who want to build and strengthen their lower body.
How To Perform Dumbbell Split Squats
- Stand upright with a dumbbell in each hand.
- Assume a split stance with the weight of your back foot resting on the balls of your feet.
- Start by lowering the back knee toward the floor.
- Lower until the back knee is bent at 90 degrees.
- Using both legs, push yourself back up to the starting position.
- Complete all reps, then switch sides.
- Build lower body mass
- Improves balance
- When performing the split squat, focus on dropping the rear leg.
- When pushing up, do so with both legs and aim to tense your glutes at the top. This will improve activation of your target muscles.
4. Dumbbell Walking Lunges
The dumbbell walking lunge targets all the muscles of the lower body and improves strength and function.
How To Perform Dumbbell Walking Lunges
- Holding a dumbbell in each hand, take a step forward with one foot to assume a split stance.
- Lower the rear knee to the floor until it is bent at 90 degrees.
- Push back up and bring the rear leg forward to meet the front leg.
- Alternate legs for the remainder of the set.
- Strengthens a functional movement
- Building mass for all lower body muscles
- When performing your lunge, focus on dropping the rear leg directly to the floor. This will provide comfortable angles for your knees and hips.
- Concentrate on your breathing, inhaling as you lower and exhaling as you push yourself back up.
5. Dumbbell Reverse Lunges
The dumbbell reverse lunge is an excellent way to teach the lunge, especially for those who suffer from knee pain.
By stepping backwards, you avoid the pain put on the knee joint, allowing you to focus on building muscle to support the knees.
How To Perform Dumbbell Reverse Lunges
- Hold a pair of dumbbells while in the standing position.
- Take a step back with one foot to assume a split stance.
- Lower the knee of the rear leg straight down to the floor until it is bent at 90 degrees.
- Once at the bottom, push yourself back up.
- Bring the back foot forward to meet the front foot – this is what separates it from split squats.
- Alternate legs for the remaining reps.
- Reduced pressure on knees
- Great introduction to lunges
- While holding dumbbells, keep your shoulders back and your chest proud. This will minimize any unwanted swing of the dumbbells.
- Aim to have the rear foot resting on the ball. This will improve balance and control.
6. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts
The dumbbell Romanian deadlift targets the glutes and hamstrings and is great for teaching correct lifting mechanics that can be used in daily life.
How To Perform the Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
- Stand holding a pair of dumbbells.
- With a slight bend in the knee, push back with your hips.
- Gradually lower your torso forward until it is parallel with the floor.
- Once at the bottom, lift your torso back to the upright position. Repeat.
- Targets glute and hamstrings
- Great for teaching correct lifting technique
- Before performing each rep, engage shoulder blades back and down to activate lats. This will create tension through the upper body and back.
- Initiate the movement with your hips, pushing them back. This will make your glutes and hamstrings do the lifting.
7. Dumbbell Thruster
The dumbbell thruster is one of the most feared dumbbell leg exercises in the gym.
By pressing the dumbbells overhead after your squat, your body is required to pump blood to the entire body, which provides you with an incredible workout.
How To Perform Dumbbell Thrusters
- Stand with a dumbbell in each hand in the front rack position.
- Place feet shoulder-width apart.
- Begin by unhinging the hips and lowering them toward the floor.
- Lower until your knees are bent at 90 degrees.
- Once at the bottom, push up with both legs and drive the dumbbells up overhead.
- Once you are upright and your arms are straight overhead, lower the dumbbells back down to the front rack position.
- Full-body movement
- Increases heart rate
- When performing the thrust, push up with legs and arms in one fluid motion. This creates the momentum that pushes the dumbbells up over head.
- Focus on breathing, inhaling as your lower and exhaling as you press.
8. Dumbbell Step-Ups
The dumbbell step-up is great for building the glutes and quads through the use of a functional movement that can benefit your daily life for years to come.
How To Perform Dumbbell Step-Ups
- Stand in front of the step with a dumbbell in each hand.
- Place one foot on the step and step up on to the top, following with the rear foot.
- Once your feet meet at the top, step down with the leading leg and allow your other leg to follow.
- Alternate sides for the desired number of reps.
- Improves functional movement
- Targets all muscles of the lower body
- To get the most out of each leg, push through the heels of the leading leg. This will help to target the quads and glutes.
- When you are lowering back to the floor, do so with control rather than dropping.
9. Dumbbell Hip Thrusts
The dumbbell hip thrust targets the glutes, which can help to improve strength, function, and other lifts around the gym.
How To Perform Dumbbell Hip Thrust
- Sit down to the side of a bench.
- Place a dumbbell on your pubic bone.
- Position feet shoulder-width apart with your back against the side of the bench.
- Begin by lifting the hips up until your legs and quadriceps are parallel with the floor.
- Once at the top, lower hips back to the floor. Repeat.
- Builds glute muscles
- Great for activating glutes
- When performing the hip thrust, think about lifting the hips rather than pushing down with your legs. This will help you focus on contracting the glute muscles.
- Focus on breathing, exhaling as you lift up and inhaling as you lower.
10. Dumbbell Single-Leg Hip Thrust
The dumbbell single-leg hip thrust is brilliant for developing unilateral glute strength and working on muscular imbalances.
How To Perform Dumbbell Single-Leg Hip Thrusts
- Sit on the floor at the side of a bench.
- Place a dumbbell on one hip with the same-side foot firmly planted on the floor.
- Lift the free leg off the floor.
- Position your shoulder blades against the side of the bench.
- Start by lifting the hips off the floor until your torso and leg are parallel with the floor.
- Once at the top, gradually lower back to the beginning position.
- Complete all reps and then switch sides.
- Improves individual leg strength
- Great for building balance and control
- Aim to have your hips parallel with the floor and don’t allow one side of your hips to drop.
- When raising the hips, focus on lifting up instead of pushing down. This will help you focus on your glutes.
11. Dumbbell Elevated Heel Goblet Squat
The dumbbell elevated hell goblet squat is great for building the quads.
Elevating the heel allows for depth, putting an emphasis on the quad muscle.
- Weight Plate
How To Perform Dumbbell Elevated Heel Squats
- Standing upright, hold the dumbbell vertically by the top weight.
- Step onto the weight plates, positioning them under your heels.
- Begin by leading back with the hips and lowering yourself down.
- Lower until your heels touch your glutes.
- Push back up with both legs. Repeat.
- Builds quad mass
- Elevating heels allows for great ROM and depth
- Keep elbows up while holding the dumbbells in the front rack position. This will ensure the weight doesn’t fall forward during your squats.
- Focus on gradually lowering and squeezing the quads as you push back up. This will increase activation.
12. Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat
The dumbbell Bulgarian split squat is an incredible exercise for building mass and unilateral strength.
By having the back leg elevated off the floor, you will reduce the pressure placed through both knees.
How To Perform Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squats
- Position yourself at the side of a bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Take a step forward with the leading foot.
- Place one foot back on the bench, so the top of the foot is making contact with the bench.
- Start by lowering the rear knee down to the floor until the front knee is bent at 90 degrees.
- Once at the bottom, push back up with the front foot to the starting position.
- Complete all reps, then switch sides.
- Decreases pressure on leading leg
- Builds quads
- Make sure you keep your hips forward for the duration of the exercise.
- Focus on dropping the rear knee to the floor. This you get the perfect form and angle for the front knee.
13. Dumbbell Elevated Front-Foot Lunge
The dumbbell elevated front-foot lunge is a great exercise for increasing the deficit of your rear leg, which is great for building your glutes and quads.
How To Perform Dumbbell Elevate Front Foot Lunges
- Set yourself up in the split stance with your front foot on the step.
- Pick up a dumbbell in each hand.
- Begin by lowering the back knee down to the floor.
- Lower until your rear knee is bent at 90 degrees.
- Push back up to the starting position.
- Complete all reps and then switch legs.
- Lunging into deficit increases stretch and activation of glutes and quads
- Builds quads and glutes
- Beginners should focus on technique and gradually lower into the deficit. This will ensure you can still come back up.
- Concentrate on breathing, inhaling as you lower and exhaling as you push back up.
14. Standing Dumbbell Calf Raises
Standing dumbbell calf raises work the gastrocnemius, the large belly of the calf. This exercise will increase mass and size of the lower leg.
How To Perform Standing Dumbbell Calf Raises
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Lift heels off the floor until you are up on your toes.
- Once at the top, lower heels back to the floor. Repeat.
- Targets calves
- Increase mass
- Focus on performing the calf raise through its full range of motion.
- At the top of each rep, squeeze the calf muscles.
15. Seated Dumbbell Calf Raises
Dumbbell seated calf raises target the soleus muscle, which will help build width and fill out your lower leg.
- Weight Plate
How To Perform Seated Dumbbell Calf Raises
- Place a weight plate on the floor at the side of a bench.
- Sit down to the side of the bench with your feet on the weight and heels hanging off.
- Hold the dumbbells vertically on your quads.
- Begin by pushing down with toes and lifting your heels.
- Once your heels are fully elevated, lower them back to the starting position. Repeat.
- Targets soleus
- Increases calf width
- At the top of each calf raise, tense your calf muscles. This will improve activation and results.
- When lowering, do so completely to get a stretch.
Related: Top 10 Exercises & A Full Dumbbell Chest Workout Without Bench
The Best Dumbbell Leg Workout Program
Here is a dumbbell leg workout program for beginners and advanced lifters.
Each program will come with a weekly schedule, and a listing of sets, reps, and rest times to help you get the best results with your leg training with dumbbells.
Both programs will be based on an upper and lower body split. However, these can be changed to suit your current routine and preferences.
Beginner Dumbbell Leg Workout Program
Beginner Weekly Schedule
Beginner Dumbbell Leg Workout Program (Duration 35 – 40 minute)
|Dumbbell Hip Thrust||3||10-12||45-60 secs|
|Dumbbells Goblet Squat||3||10-12||30-45 secs|
|Dumbbell Walking Lunges||3||10||30-45 secs|
|Dumbbell Step-Up||3||8||30-45 secs|
|Standing Dumbbell Calf Raises||3||12-15||30-45 secs|
|Seated Dumbbell Calf Raises||3||10||30-45 secs|
Advanced Dumbbell Leg Workout Program
Advanced Weekly Schedule
Advanced Dumbbell Leg Workout Program (Duration 40 – 45 minutes)
|Dumbbell Hip Raises||3||15||45-60 secs|
|Dumbbell Single-Leg Hip Raises||3||10||30-45 secs|
|Dumbbell Front Squat||4||8-10||30-45 secs|
|Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat||3||8-10||30-45 secs|
|Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift||3||8-10||30-45 secs|
|Dumbbell Thrusts||3||8||30-45 secs|
|Dumbbells Elevated Heel Squat||3||8-12||30-45 secs|
Tips for Training Your Legs With Dumbbells Effectively
Performing leg day with dumbbells can be intense and requires correct nutrition and planning. Below are tips to help you get the best results from your dumbbell leg exercise.
Increase Calorie Intake
When you are training to build bigger, stronger legs, you will need extra calories to increase mass and power your workouts.
The standard calorie intake is 2,500 for men and 2,000 for women. That’s to maintain body weight.
However, if we are looking to increase muscle mass, this number should increase an additional 500 calories.
The best way to calculate the correct calorie surplus for you is to use a macro calorie calculator.
These allow you to determine the exact calorie surplus based on your age, gender, height, weight, and activity level.
Once you have your target calories, you can put them into a calorie tracking app like MyFitnessPal.
Here, you will be able to set your calorie targets to ensure you’re meeting your daily goals.
Increase Protein Intake
Eating enough protein is a vital part of increasing muscle mass and recovery.
Research recommends a daily intake of 1.6g – 2.2g of protein per kilogram of body weight to build lean muscle mass.
This can be done by eating a protein-rich diet of lean meat, nuts, and seeds.
And if you need an extra boost, consider taking a protein supplement such as a shake or protein bars.
Follow a Program
Following a program and tracking your progress is one the most effective ways to achieve your goals.
By setting out a program for each week, complete with clearly outlined goals, you will stay on track for the long haul.
Programs and tracking are also great for looking back on progress and previous lifts. These can be excellent motivational tools when you feel like your gains have begun to plateau.
Increase Training Volume
Increasing training volume is one of the best ways to increase leg growth.
Your legs contain some of the strongest muscles in the body, and with that, they require a huge stimulus to build lean muscle mass.
By hitting them two to three times per week, you will provide them mechanical tension required to increase mass.
Contrary to what you may believe, training legs with dumbbells is one of the best ways to increase muscle mass.
While the options may seem limited in the beginning, thinking outside the box and being creative can give you endless options to stimulate muscle growth from anywhere.
If you are training with just dumbbells, begin with the basics. Focus on increasing sets and reps, and train with intensity.
This, supplemented by increased calorie and protein intake, will help you build strong and powerful legs without setting foot in the gym.
So, are you considering leg training with a dumbbell or two?
Which exercise are you most interested in trying? Let us know in the comments.
Are dumbbells better for legs?
Dumbbells are an effective way for training legs. However, to get the most out of your dumbbell leg workouts, train multiple times per week, eat a calorie surplus, hit your protein targets and aim for consistency.
What are the top 5 dumbbell leg exercises?
The top 5 dumbbell leg exercises are the exercises that you can perform and get your best results with. If we had to choose, ours are Bulgarian split squat, RDL, goblet squat, hip thrusts, and walking lunges.
How do you work out your legs with dumbbells?
To work out using dumbbells, simply hold the weights by your side or in the front rack position while performing different squat, lunge, and deadlift variations.
How many times a week should you weight train legs?
You should train your legs one or two times per week depending on your experience level. If you are new to training, one session will likely be enough to stimulate growth. However, if you want greater growth, you should consider further increasing your leg training to two to three times per week.
What is the best leg workout?
The best leg workout is the one that you enjoy performing week in and week out, that progressively overloads your muscles. Doing a leg workout that challenges you and that you enjoy will ensure that you stick to it long-term, which will yield the best results.
Do dumbbell squats make your legs bigger?
Yes, dumbbell squats do make your legs bigger, provided you are progressively overloading during your sets to stimulate muscle hypertrophy. This, combined with a calorie surplus and high-protein diet, will help you increase leg mass.
How long does it take to tone legs with weights?
It takes between three and four months to get toned legs. However, this depends on the individual. If you are trying to lose weight but gain mass, you will need to eat in a caloric deficit but keep your diet high in protein.
Can you build leg muscle without heavy weights?
Yes, you can build leg muscles without heavy weights. However, as you progress with your training you may find that you will require greater weight to stimulate muscle hypertrophy.