Dumbbell Leg Exercises - Swolverine

You don’t get the ass you want by sitting on it. That’s why this next leg day is going to be different because we’re going to share with you the 10 best dumbbell leg exercises you’re not doing to sculpt your legs. Whether you’re short on equipment, looking to get that competitive edge in your athletic performance, or developing your legs one muscle at a time, it’s time to do these free-weight leg exercises and train like you mean it.

Leg Anatomy

The lower body is a smoke stack of muscles that help your posture, balance, and ability to run, jump, and be agile. When developed well, they can do even more than that. Believe it or not, each of your lower extremities are comprised of more than 40 muscles with the four major ones being the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes.

Dumbbell Leg Exercises - Leg Anatomy - Swolverine

Benefits Of Dumbbell Leg Exercises

Successful training requires an understanding of the mind-muscle connection, how the muscles work, and how to prevent injuries with proper form. Let’s dig into these a little bit more to fully understand the benefits of dumbbell leg exercises.

1. Improve Imbalances and Muscular Symmetry

Often times we can over- or under-compensate movements in the gym because of our muscular imbalances and poor development on one side or the other. Unlike using a trap bar or barbell that distributes weight evenly across the body, dumbbell leg exercises can help an individual work on one side or another, or one muscle as compared to another, to improve strength, imbalance, and overall balance.

2. Convenience and Availability

Dumbbells are the most common type of weight equipment found in apartment gyms, globo gyms, and even CrossFit/functional fitness gyms. So if you don’t have a squat rack or barbell to get those legs working, or even machines, don’t fret. With the 10 best dumbbell leg exercises in this article you’ll be sure to get a killer workout that will leave you walking like a baby giraffe for days *wink*.

3. Increase Training Volume

By successfully and safely performing dumbbell leg exercises you can increase volume without putting extra pressure or unnecessary stress on other areas of the body, like the back or joints. This is ideal for individuals who train at a high volume pushing a lot of weight, individuals who are new to training, older individuals, and people looking to grow the lower body for shape and size for the gram (lookin’ at you Gymsharks).

4. Reduced Injury Risk

Nobody wants to get injured, especially people who use their body often in the gym. By incorporating dumbbell leg exercises into your training regularly you can not only address those imbalances that we talked about previously but you can also strengthen the smaller muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments that support those major muscle groups of the lower body. In doing so, you can effectively reduce your risk of injury, improve mobility, and be able to train longer and harder without putting your body into a place of pain (the bad kind).

5. Improve Mind-Muscle Connection

Ever do a big free weight movement or machine and think to yourself “I’m not sure I know where I’m supposed to feel this”? Dumbbell leg exercises can help with that. Since you have the ability to hold one or two dumbbells, you can really target specific areas of the lower body and get that mind-muscle connection going. Why is mind-muscle connection important? Because it allows you to focus specifically on a muscle or muscle group without the recruitment of secondary muscles to support the movement. You might not be able to lift as much, but you’ll be able to create a stronger, more developed muscle body in turn.

PRO TIP: when working with one dumbbell, use your hand to touch or hold the muscle that you’re focusing on working for a conscious and deliberate muscle contraction.

Types Of Weight To Use For Leg Exercises

While the focus of this article is about the best “dumbbell” leg exercises, it may be worth noting that most all these movements can be performed with free-weights such as dumbbells, kettlebells, bumper plates, sand bags, and medicine balls. The point of them though isn’t to go as heavy as possible. Most times you don’t need super heavy weight to feel the movement in the right spot, and by isolating the muscle groups, you want to feel challenged, but not to the point where you’re overworking or overstraining the muscle group. Lastly, remember, form comes before weight.

The 10 Best Dumbbell Leg Exercises You're Not Doing

1. Dumbbell Side Lunge

This is a great movement to target the quads, abductors, glutes, adductors, and hammies. The dumbbell side lunge is also referred to as the Cossack Squat. Your stabilizers are going to be on fire and unlike other leg movements, you can really target the glutes more so than just the front or back of the legs. You can do this movement with the dumbbells off to each side of your body or hold one in a goblet/front rack position.

How To Do Dumbbell Side Lunge

  • Start by holding a dumbbell in the middle of your chest or with two dumbbells positioned at your sides
  • Start with your feet shoulder width apart. Your first step, transfer the weight to one side, plant your foot on the floor, bend your knee, and push your booty behind you as you keep your torso upright (your extended leg should be straight
  • Pause in the side lunge position and try not to use your momentum to get back to your starting position
  • Step inwards and repeat on the opposite side

2. Front Foot Elevated Split Squat

You may have done rear foot elevated split squats as a dumbbell leg exercise but by elevating the front foot you can increase the range of motion of the exercise significantly. As compared to rear foot, you can also target more of the hamstring as compared to the quad.

How To Do Front Elevated Split Squat

  • Start by holding your dumbbell in a suitcase position at your sides
  • Place the front foot on a platform (usually 4-6” incline) and the back foot on the ground
  • Keep your feet planted, lower the body towards the ground keeping the weight in your mid foot
  • Pause in the bottom of the split squat position then raise the torso back up vertically to the starting position

3. Front Rack Dumbbell Squat

If you’re looking for a dumbbell leg exercise that not only lights up the lower body but strengthens your core, then look no further than the front rack dumbbell squat. In addition to recruiting the muscles of your posterior chain, glutes, and hams, you’re also going to be able to stabilize and recruit the smaller stabilizer/supporting muscles around the knees and ankles. 

How To Do It Front Rack Dumbbell Squat

  • Grab two dumbbells and clean them up into the front rack position
  • Get into your squat stance, with the toes slightly pointed outwards (think 10-2) and with the feet slightly outside the shoulders
  • Stand tall, brace the core, keep the elbows up and lower into the squat position
  • Pause for a moment at the bottom, inhale, and raise the body back to the standing position

4. B Stance Dumbbell Deadlift

The B stance dumbbell deadlift, also known as the split stance dumbbell Romanian deadlift, is a variation of straight leg deadlifts. By incorporating a staggered stance position, the front leg is the working leg and the back leg is the support for the movement. Stability is going to be greatly improved and the body can build strength in a similar movement pattern to the squat. So if you’re looking for a bigger, better squat, then the b stance dumbbell deadlift is a must accessory movement to incorporate into your training.

How To Do B Stance Dumbbell Deadlift

  • Start by holding your dumbbells at your side in a shoulder width stance
  • Move one leg back into a kickstand/supporting position for your front foot
  • Root your weight into the mid foot of the front leg and from here, begin to hinge forward, keeping the shoulders level and the core braced, pushing the booty back behind you
  • Go until your depth allows feeling the movement in your hamstrings and glutes
  • Pause for a moment, then hinge back towards the starting position

5. Dumbbell Sumo Squat

If you’re looking for a very effective dumbbell leg exercise look no further than the dumbbell sumo squat. Similar to the barbell sumo squat, this is a movement designed to seriously strengthen the lower body and target muscles that are harder to work, like the inner thighs and glutes, in order to promote stability, prevent injury, and improve performance in other lifts like deadlifts, back squats, and cleans.

How To Do Dumbbell Sumo Squat

  • Place a dumbbell between your feet
  • Widen the feet past the shoulders into a wide sumo stance. The toes should be pointed slightly out
  • With an upright torso and braced core, squat down to grab the dumbbell head so that the weight is positioned at the bottom of your hips
  • Stand up with the weight, roll the shoulders back, and slowly squat down until you reach depth
  • Hold for a pause, then raise the torso vertically to the starting position, squeezing the glutes

6. Dumbbell Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts are just like the barbell version, but instead of using both legs and a barbell, you’re going to use one or two dumbbells and isolate one leg at a time. You may need to reduce the weight that you use here so that you don’t overcompensate with the upper body and so that you can keep your balance. The muscles worked are the hamstrings and the glutes.

How To Do Dumbbell Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

  • Stand upright with your feet hip width apart. Grab a dumbbell(s) and hold it in front of you on the leg you’ll isolate
  • Bend your knee slightly, chest up, core tight, shoulders down, hinge forward, with the dumbbell tracking the leg and the elevated leg coming behind you
  • Once you reach the depth where you feel like if you go further you’ll compromise form, pause for a second, and then hinge back to a standing position
  • Make sure the hip doesn’t come out to the side

7. Banded Cross Body Dumbbell Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

This next movement, the banded cross body dumbbell single leg Romanian deadlift is a more difficult movement which places the emphasis of the movement on the resistance from the band. This really requires you to drive the hips on the hinge movement and brace the core significantly.

How To Banded Cross Body Dumbbell Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

  • Place a resistance band on a rig at the feet using the j-hooks with a dumbbell under the band in the middle
  • Approach the band and dumbbell with your hips at shoulder width apart
  • Bend your knee slightly, chest up, core tight, shoulders down, hinge forward, grabbing the dumbbell, with the dumbbell tracking the leg and the elevated leg coming behind you
  • Once you reach the depth where you feel like if you go further you’ll compromise form, pause for a second, and then hinge back to a standing position

8. Dumbbell Box Step Ups

Dumbbell box step ups are an exercise most everyone should do but often they don’t. Not only does it train the lower body but it helps eliminate those muscular imbalances we talked about earlier that we often see in the training world. Not only that, but you can work on explosiveness, isolating the front leg, and driving into the glutes for a juicer peach, if you know what we mean.

 How To Do Dumbbell Box Step Ups


  • Grab a box, bench, or something that is stable and able to support your weight when you step on it. If you have limited mobility or strength, start with something smaller and work your way up
  • Grab dumbbells, roll the shoulders back, brace the core, and keep them at your side or in a front rack position
  • From here, step one foot on the box, control your movement, shift your weight forward, and step up, driving the hip and knee back behind you, keeping the hip in line with the knee
  • Bring the back foot to step together, squeeze the glutes without over arching, and repeat them movement back to the starting position on the ground

9. Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat

The rear foot elevated split squat is an intense leg burner of a movement that is going to light up the glutes, hamstrings, core, and quads. Toss some weight in there and this dumbbell leg exercise should absolutely be a staple in your normal training day. Since your core is forced to work in overdrive to keep your body balanced and in line, this single leg exercise provides a ton of benefit. The closer your front leg is the more the quad will be worked. The further your front leg is the more the hamstring and glutes are worked. This movement is often referred to as the Bulgarian Split-Squat.

How To Do Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat

  • Grab a bench, safety bar, or box so that you can elevate the rear foot for the movement. Then grab a pair of dumbbells that you can hold in a side or front rack position
  • Stand in a lunge position for the start of the movement with your weight
  • Bend the front knee, lowering the body back towards the bench behind you, keeping the torso upright, pelvis tucked, and the core braced
  • Hold for a 1 second pause at the bottom and drive through the front foot back to the starting position

10. Dumbbell Death March With Row

Traditionally the dumbbell death march is a pre-hab and back exercise but we’re using it as a compound, full body movement to add to your library of dumbbell leg exercises. Similar to the b stance dumbbell deadlift, the dumbbell death march with a row is going to target the lower and upper body equally.

How To Do Dumbbell Death March With Row

  • Start with your feet at shoulder width apart and with your dumbbells at your side
  • Take a step forward, get into a b stance, hinge forward with the hips until you reach depth
  • Once depth is reached, pause, and row the dumbbells to the torso, squeezing the shoulder blades together and bracing the core
  • From here, release the dumbbells back to the floor, brace the core, and hinge back to your starting position

Dumbbell Leg Exercises: Takeaway 

While you may think that the machines and the barbell are going to be the movements that give you the most bang for your buck when training legs, it's important not to undervalue the importance and effectiveness free-weight leg exercises. With the 10 best dumbbell leg exercises you're not only going to sculpt your lower body and get stronger, but you'll also develop stability, mobility, and prevent injury for those bigger lifts, compound movements, and for your athletic performance.

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