10 Dumbbell Leg Workouts to Add to Your Routine ASAP

When you think of dumbbells, chances are the exercises that come to mind are ones to build arm strength, such as bicep curls or tricep kickbacks. For leg exercises, we tend to think we need bigger equipment like weighted barbells or Nautilus machines.

That actually isn't the case, though. Dumbbells can be incredibly effective tools for building your leg muscles. Leg exercises using dumbbells can work a wide variety of muscles and muscle groups, and they can be used for toning or to build more muscle mass. If you're a fan of smaller equipment, dumbbell leg workout moves may be the best new addition to your workout routine.

From lunges to squats, we've given all the basic leg moves you know and love a dumbbell makeover. Read on for 10 different dumbbell leg exercises, straight from fitness pros Joy Puleo and Nico Gonzalez.

Meet the Expert

  • Joy Puleo, MA, PMA-CPT, is the program manager at Balanced Body Education and a Pilates expert.
  • Nico Gonzalez is an integrated movement specialist, master instructor for Balanced Body Education, and the owner of Fitness Physiques by Nico G.

Safety and Precautions

Using dumbbells for leg moves generally requires you to hold the dumbbells in your hands, so to do these moves you should first ensure you have sufficient strength for that, and that you are free of any wrist or shoulder injuries. These moves shouldn't be performed if you have any lower body or back injuries. Additionally, Puleo tells us that "adding dumbbells should be done only once the primary form of the exercise is mastered."

"Populations who should be careful or who might want to avoid some of these exercises would include clients who are pregnant and those who are super flexible," continues Puleo. "As a pregnancy progresses, the pregnant person will become laxer in their joints and ligaments. When doing leg works outs, adding dumbbells—if they have not already been doing these exercises prior to pregnancy—would not yield enough results for the risk. While exercises such as squats and lunges are great for the pelvic floor, doing them too deeply and with added weight might also have the opposite effect and negative impact."

"Clients who are super flexible need to be careful when adding dumbbells to their leg workout," says Puleo. "Control of the weight and good lower body mechanics are a must to avoid the risk of a client hurting themselves."

10 Dumbbell Leg Workouts

01 of 10

Forward Lunge and Knee Balance

Forward Lunge and Knee Balance

Nico Gonzalez / Design by Tiana Crispino

  • Holding a dumbbell in your hands, step forward with one leg. Gonzalez recommends your legs be at a 90-degree angle.
  • While holding steady, twist your torso toward your front leg.
  • Twist your torso back to starting position, and push off your front heel, balanced on one leg.
  • Return to your starting position. Repeat.
02 of 10

Single Leg Deadlift and Back Leg Lift

Single Leg Deadlift and Back Leg Lift

Nico Gonzalez / Design by Tiana Crispino

  • Hold a dumbbell in one hand and step back with the leg on that side. "Keep all your weight on the front leg that has a slightly bent knee," says Gonzalez.
  • With your torso neutral and your abs engaged, hinge forward at your waist.
  • Lift your back leg and squat down.
  • Lower your leg back down and return your torso back up. "The front foot should be connected into the foot in the big toe, little toe, and heel," says Gonzalez. "Feel the triangular connection into the floor to keep yourself balanced."
03 of 10

Squat and Overhead Press Twist

Squat and Overhead Press Twist

Nico Gonzalez / Design by Tiana Crispino

  • Hold a dumbbell in your hands, in front of your chest.
  • Lower into a squat. "As you flex the hips, knees, and ankles to lower into the squat, the upper body also tilts over the legs," says Puleo. "The spine remains neutral as the torso tilts and balances over the thighs."
  • Return your legs to standing. With your arms, press your hands overhead and twist your torso so that you are turning to one side.
  • Repeat on the other side.
04 of 10

Hip Lift and March

Hip Lift and March

Nico Gonzalez / Design by Tiana Crispino

  • Lie on your back on the floor or on a mat. Your knees should be bent, and your feet flat.
  • Lift your hips off the ground and place a dumbbell on your hips. This should appear as a straight line from your hips to your knees.
  • Raise one leg off the ground as if in a marching move.
  • Lower that leg, and raise the other leg similarly. Repeat.
05 of 10

Side Lunge and Soccer Kick

Side Lunge and Soccer Kick

Nico Gonzalez / Design by Tiana Crispino

  • Holding a dumbbell in one hand, lunge to that side and hinge forward at your waist. Gonzalez says to keep your "knee and toe facing the front for proper alignment. "
  • Return to your starting position, and soccer kick your leg across your body while doing a bicep curl with the dumbbell.
  • Repeat on the other side.

For an added challenge, while in the lunge you can add a row with the dumbbell.

06 of 10

Weighted Deadlift

Weighted Deadlift

Nico Gonzalez / Design by Tiana Crispino

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand. Your arms should be straight, and your knees slightly bent.
  • Bend forward at your hips. Keeping your back straight, lower the weights down. If you need to modify the move, Puleo says to limit your range of motion and not lower all the way down.
  • Squeeze your glutes and press back up into your starting position. Repeat.
07 of 10

One Arm Dumbbell Deadlift

One Arm Dumbbell Deadlift

Nico Gonzalez / Design by Tiana Crispino

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with a dumbbell on the floor outside of one of your feet.
  • Squat and grab the dumbbell with your hand. Your back should be flat and your chest should be up, with your gaze in front of you.
  • Press with your legs, holding the dumbbell, until you are back to standing. Then, lower back down and release the dumbbell back to the floor.
  • Repeat on the other side.
08 of 10

Split-Lunge-Step-Forward-Back

Split-Lunge-Step-Forward-Back

Nico Gonzalez / Design by Tiana Crispino

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding dumbbells in both hands.
  • Drop one leg back into a lunge position. 
  • Without getting up, move that leg forward so it meets your front leg, still in a squatting position.
  • Drop that leg back into the lunge position, with the same foot behind you, and stand back up. The act of this should look like stepping forward and then back. 
  • Repeat on the other side. 
09 of 10

Walk The Plank

Walk the Plank

Nico Gonzalez / Design by Tiana Crispino

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand, in front of you, with your legs wide and turned out.
  • Squat down and place the dumbbells on the floor.
  • Walk yourself back into a plank position, one leg at a time. "Imagine smashing the floor with the dumbbells while in plank to keep the upper body active and in good posture," says Gonzalez. "Connect your belly button into your spine to keep your low back from dropping."
  • Pause in plank, then walk back into a squat position again.
  • Stand back up, again holding the dumbbells.
10 of 10

Cross Behind Lunge

Cross Behind Lunge

Nico Gonzalez / Design by Tiana Crispino

  • Hold one dumbbell in your hands in front of you.
  • Shift your weight to one leg as you cross the other leg behind you. Make sure your hips face forward as you do this; Gonzalez says to "be mindful to only cross the leg as far as you can keep your hips from rotating. It is not about how big the movement is but rather performing the movement with your best form."
  • Lower both legs towards the floor in a lunge, keeping your weight in the front leg and your chest up.
  • Step back up to your starting position.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Dumbbells are a highly useful tool for building lower body strength. Using them for workout moves like lunges, squats, and twists makes those simple exercises more complex and challenging. Dumbbell leg exercises should be avoided by anyone with a lower body, wrist, or back injury. Pregnant people and anyone who is hypermobile should also take caution with these exercises. If any of the moves are new to you, try them first without weights, then slowly begin using lightweight dumbbells to increase the difficulty level. If you're looking to build lower body strength without large equipment, dumbbells have you covered.

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