These 5 exercises build your lower body using just dumbbells

a photo of a man doing a lunge with a dumbbell in each hand
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

When it comes to building strong leg muscles, you don’t need a fancy gym with endless equipment to get a good workout. In fact, a set of resistance bands or a pair of dumbbells will do the job. Don’t believe us? Check out this dumbbell-only leg workout, that targets your lower body in just five exercises. 

A strong lower body is far more than just an aesthetic goal — as well as sculpting your leg muscles, working on your lower body strength is important for your fitness goals whatever sport you play. A strong lower body can help you run faster, lift heavier, and walk further. Regular strength training can also increase your stamina and bone strength, and reduce your risk of injury.

This dumbbell-only leg workout by Krissy Cela, trainer and co-founder of the workout app Evolve You involves five different exercises. As the name suggests, all you’ll need is a set of dumbbells — check out the best adjustable dumbbells for strength training at home here. 

If you’re completely new to the exercises below, or you’re returning to exercise following an injury, it’s worth checking your form with a personal trainer before adding weight to the movement. 

Looking for more workout inspiration? Check out what happened when we tried 50 glute bridges every day for a week, or the exact resistance band workout Chris Hemsworth used on the set of Thor: Love and Thunder

These 5 exercises build your lower body using just dumbbells

Let’s get into the workout, which involves five dumbbell exercises to work the muscles in the lower body. It can be done from home, or on days when the gym is super busy and you want to avoid waiting for equipment to become free. 

The workout involves three sets of each of the five exercises. All three sets should be completed before you move on to the next exercise. Take a 60-second break between each set, and a three-minute rest between each exercise. 

Sumo squats into bodyweight squats — 15 reps into 10 reps 

For this exercise, start in a sumo squat position, with your legs wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing outwards. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, keep your weight in your heels, lower your hips, and bend your knees into a squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Raise back to your starting position, squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement. 

After 15 sumo squats, drop the dumbbells and complete 10 reps of bodyweight squats in the same wide stance. 

Double pulse reverse lunges — 10 reps each leg 

Holding a dumbbell in each hand, take a big step back with your right leg, bending your left knee until it is at a 90-degree angle. Keeping your spine perpendicular to the floor, lower your body to the ground until both legs are at a 90-degree angle. The front knee should be over the front ankle, and your back knee should be underneath your hip. Straighten your back leg, then pulse back down before returning to your starting position. 

Read what happened when our fitness editor did 100 reverse lunges every day for a week here

Single-leg Romanian deadlift — 12 reps each leg 

In this exercise, Krissy uses a wall for stability. Holding a dumbbell in one hand, start with your legs shoulder-width apart, with a slight bend in your standing leg (your standing leg is the same side as the hand holding the dumbbell). Keeping the bend, hinge your hips forward and lower your torso until it is almost parallel to the floor, kicking the opposite leg out behind you. As you hinge, lower the dumbbell to the floor, then hinge back up to your starting position. 

Lateral squat knee-up — 10 reps each side 

To do a lateral squat, start with your feet slightly wider than your hips, facing forwards. Shift your weight to your left, pushing your hips back as you bend your left knee and keep your right leg straight. From here, push off your left foot to stand up straight, raising your left knee to your chest as you do. Lower your foot back to your squat position, and repeat the squat so the exercise is one fluid movement. Keep one dumbbell on your left shoulder for all ten reps, then swap it to the right when you work on the right side.

Romanian deadlift — 12 reps 

Holding a dumbbell in each hand, engage your core and hinge at the hips. Whilst doing this, graze the barbell or dumbbells down your legs and keep your back flat. Your torso should ideally become parallel with the floor and the dumbbells or barbells hang at shin level. When done correctly, you should feel tension developing in the hamstrings and across the back (lower and middle, especially around the shoulder blades). Once you get to the bottom of the movement, pause, then raise your torso back up to your starting position. 

Here's more on how to do a Romanian deadlift, and the variations to try.

Looking for more workout inspiration? Here are three of the best glute exercises to try in the gym, plus try this exercise, which is one of the best at targeting your inner thighs. And this is what happened when I did 50 bird dogs a day for a week.

Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.