5 Dumbbell Leg Exercises to Workout Every Muscle

woman holding dumbbells

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Dumbbells are an excellent tool for resistance training. You can use them to build muscle, increase strength, improve bone density, or perform weighted cardiovascular workouts that build muscular endurance at the same time.

Dumbbells also are extremely versatile and take up less space than barbells or machines. When it comes to training your legs, dumbbells help you progress your strength or muscle gains by providing more weight than your bodyweight alone. Here are the best dumbbell leg exercises to try.

What You Need to Know About Dumbbells

Although dumbbells are easy to pick up and use, there are some factors to consider to make the most out of your dumbbell leg workouts. You must know how to perform each movement with proper form to avoid injuries and work the muscles effectively.

If you want to progress in your workouts, you must use a challenging weight and increase the amount you lift over time. You can do this by adding more repetitions with the same weight, or by increasing the amount of weight lifted for the same number of reps, or both.

To build strength, you should increase the amount of weight you lift each training session. To build muscle size (hypertrophy), you can add weight and repetitions, thereby increasing the volume of work you do each week, which is essential for building muscle mass. 

Benefits of Using Dumbbells for Leg Exercises 

Dumbbells are very effective for leg exercises because they provide resistance that increases strength, muscle size, and muscular endurance, depending on how you train. Dumbbells are very versatile and can be used for multiple types of exercises.

Dumbbells are also easy to adapt to your fitness level since they come in a wide range of weights. For those who are not strong enough to start with a barbell, this adds more options for traditional weight lifting exercises for the legs such as deadlifts and squats.

Dumbbell Leg Exercises

While there are a large number of dumbbell leg exercises and their variations possible, below are the best exercises to try if you want a highly effective leg workout. For muscle hypertrophy, aim for anywhere between 8 to 30 repetitions, but be sure to start at your own level and add volume (sets, repetitions, and weight) each week.

For strength gains, focus on heavier weights in the 5 to 10 repetition range and add weight each week. Circuit training and muscular endurance work can be done with these exercises as well. You can add any of these exercises to a circuit training workout in the same rep ranges as hypertrophy sessions.

Dumbbell Lunges

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Dumbbell lunges work your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. For another variation, try walking lunges. Here is how to perform the basic dumbbell lunge.

  1. Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing inward (hammer grip) and your feet slightly less than shoulder-width apart.​
  2. Step forward with a large step using your right leg.
  3. Brace your core and bend your right knee until your thigh is about parallel to the floor and your back knee just about touches the floor, left foot balanced on the toes.
  4. Step your right foot back to your left by pushing through your right foot and rising up.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

If you find lunges are too challenging for your balance with the return step, you can perform all repetitions on one leg without returning your front leg to the center. Then repeat all reps on the other leg.

Dumbbell Squat

Dumbbell squats work your quads, glutes, and calves. They are also fantastic for mobility and core stability. You can perform these with dumbbells on your shoulders or by your sides. When using heavy weights with lower repetitions, it's best to keep them by your sides as they may be too heavy for your shoulders. Here is how to do the dumbbell squat.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding dumbbells by your sides with your palms facing in.
  2. Stand straight and hinge your hips back, bending your knees to squat down until your thighs are parallel or lower with the floor.
  3. Pause for a count before pushing through your feet to rise to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for desired repetitions.

Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlift

Stiff leg deadlifts are a hinging movement that works your hamstrings. Your glutes will also feel the fire with this movement to some extent. It's important to arch your back, sticking your glutes up toward the wall behind you to protect your lower back. Below you will find the steps for doing the dumbbell stiff leg deadlift.

  1. Place a pair of dumbbells on the floor and stand facing them, your feet about shoulder-width apart, toes pointing forward, and your knees bent very slightly.
  2. Bend to pick up the dumbells in an overhand grip, stand up, and brace your core.
  3. Exhale and hinge at your hips, arching your back slightly, and keeping a slight bend in your knees until you feel the tension of a stretch in your hamstrings.
  4. Think about sticking your glutes up and back, keeping your chest up.
  5. Contract your glutes once you feel a good stretch and think about using your hamstrings to pull you upright.
  6. Lockout your hips and squeeze your glutes at the top.
  7. Repeat for desired repetitions.
  8. Replace the dumbbells on the floor by acting as if you will do another rep, but setting them down. Never bend suddenly to replace them as you may hurt your back.

Dumbbell Step Up

dumbbell step up

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Dumbbell step ups are excellent for targeting your entire legs, especially the hamstrings and quads. Your glutes, hip flexors, and calves will also be recruited during step ups. Since it is a unilateral exercise, it helps build stability, balance, and functional strength. Here are the basic instructions for dumbbell step ups.

  1. Stand in front of a bench and hold a pair of dumbbells, facing the bench.
  2. Engage your core and look straight ahead.
  3. Lift your right knee and step on to the bench.
  4. Press into your right foot, placing all effort in your right leg to raise yourself to stand on the bench.
  5. Reverse the motion slowly back to the starting position and switch legs. Alternatively, repeat all reps on one leg before switching sides.

Dumbbell Calf Raise

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Dumbbell calf raises help you progress from the bodyweight version shown above. This type of calf raise targets your calf muscle, specifically the part of the calf called the gastrocnemius. Movements from standing target this part of the calf while those performed with a bent knee (knee flexion) target the soleus calf muscle. Here is how to perform the dumbbell calf raise.

  1. Place an exercise step or other sturdy platform about 3 inches high on the floor in front of you.
  2. Hold a pair of dumbbells in each hand.
  3. Step your toes and balls of your feet on the step.
  4. Avoid placing the arches of your feet on the step. Your heels are on the floor.
  5. Press through the balls of your feet to raise your heels as high as possible, extending your ankles.
  6. Pause here for a count and contract your calves.
  7. Lower to return to the starting position slowly, or as far down until you feel the stretch in your calves.
  8. Repeat for desired repetitions.

The soleus attaches below the knee joint and is not target as much in the standing version of a calf raise. To target the soleus, perform a calf raise from a seated position with dumbbells on your thighs, close to your knees.

A Word From Verywell

Dumbbells are excellent for training your lower body. They help provide resistance for the large, powerful muscles of your legs and glutes. Be sure to progress your workouts by increasing the weight, volume, or intensity of your training to keep seeing results.

If you are unsure about your form for any of these movements, consult a personal trainer for guidance. It's also a good idea to also discuss any new training regimen with a healthcare provider. They can let you know what is right for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you target your legs with dumbbells? 

    Target your legs with dumbbells by performing squats, lunges, calf raises, step ups, deadlifts, and other lower body compound or isolation movements.

  •  How often should I workout legs?

    You should workout your legs at least twice per week. This is the case no matter your goal. Building muscle mass requires adding volume (sets, reps) each week. Splitting up the volume over two to three sessions is a good idea. You also need rest days to recover between sessions, so leave 24 to 48 hours for recovery between leg workouts.

  •  How can I build my leg muscles at home?

    You can build leg muscles at home by using your bodyweight, a suspension trainer, or dumbbells, among other pieces of equipment you may have access to. Perform enough sets and reps to work your legs at least twice per week and continue to add volume over time to build more muscle.

  •  Should you train calves everyday?

    It's best to train calves every other day instead of every day. Resting in between training sessions allows your muscles to repair and recover so you can build muscle tissue.

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Schoenfeld BJ, Contreras B, Krieger J, et al. Resistance training volume enhances muscle hypertrophy but not strength in trained menMedicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2019;51(1):94-103. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001764

  3. Myer GD, Kushner AM, Brent JL, et al. The back squat: A proposed assessment of functional deficits and technical factors that limit performance. Strength Cond J. 2014;36(6):4-27. doi:10.1519/SSC.0000000000000103

  4. Simenz CJ, Garceau LR, Lutsch BN, Suchomel TJ, Ebben WP. Electromyographical analysis of lower extremity muscle activation during variations of the loaded step-up exerciseJ Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(12):3398-3405. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182472fad

  5. Ugbolue UC, Yates EL, Ferguson K, et al. Electromyographic assessment of the lower leg muscles during concentric and eccentric phases of standing heel raise. Healthcare. 2021;9(4):465. doi:10.3390/healthcare9040465

By Rachel MacPherson, BA, CPT
Rachel MacPherson is a health writer, certified personal trainer, and exercise nutrition coach based in Montreal.