Forget squats — this 20-minute dumbbell workout strengthens your lower body in just 4 moves

Hip thrust exercise
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Contrary to popular belief, you can build strong and sculpted lower body muscles without doing squats. There are plenty of other great exercises designed for building muscle in your glutes and legs, much like this four move dumbbell routine.

While we love squats and the benefits of the dynamic strength training exercise, we know that some people don't like the strain they put on the knees or other joints. All you need is a set of the best adjustable dumbbells or just pair of fixed-weight 'bells. 

Then you can get stuck into the squat-less routine designed by trainer Stacey Roberts and still effectively train your lower body. The four exercises use dumbbells to target various muscle groups in the lower body including the hamstrings, glutes, lower back and quads. 

What is the lower body workout?

It's a 20-minute routine, so you really don't need to set aside a  lot of time for this lower body session and, as it's dumbbell-only, there's no need for any fancy equipment. You will perform 12 repetitions of each move and repeat the full routine three times over.

For the fourth and final exercise you will need something to lean your back against as you sit on the floor and perform hip thrust reps. Roberts uses a bench, which you should be able to source if you are practicing this routine at home or you could use a couch if training at home. 

Check out the video demonstrations shared to Roberts Instagram below, and take note of her form in each move. Poor form can result in inefficient movements, leading to less muscle activation and potential injury.

Despite its brevity, this 20-minute dumbbell workout will help you reach your lower body strength goals without the need for a gym or any squatting.  The short duration makes it suitable for those with busy schedules or those who just prefer shorter workouts. 

Amazon Basics Adjustable Dumbbells | available for $49 @ Amazon

Amazon Basics Adjustable Dumbbells | available for $49 @ Amazon
This Amazon Basics set of dumbbells offer versatility and convenience for daily workouts, featuring a range of weight options (3 lbs up to 19 lbs) suitable for targeting various muscle groups, including arms, shoulders, and back. The quick weight adjustment mechanism allows for seamless transitions between exercises, making them an ideal choice for home or on-the-go fitness enthusiasts.

In terms of muscle engagement, these four moves help to target various muscles in the lower body. The Romanian deadlift (RDL), for instance, primarily targets the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles. This exercise also helps improve hamstring flexibility and strength which is beneficial for improving overall exercise performance, preventing injuries, and maintaining proper posture and mobility.

The donkey kicks target the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, and lower back. You isolate the glutes in this exercise, which can enhance their shape, strength, and stability. The glute bridges primarily target the gluteus maximus, but they also engage the hamstrings, quadriceps, and lower back muscles.

Meanwhile, hip thrusts help build strength and power in the hip extensors, leading to improved athletic performance, better posture, and reduced risk of injury. Incorporating dumbbells in this workout adds resistance, increasing the intensity and efficiency of each exercise.

Plus, dumbbells allow for progressive overload, a form of training that enables you to continually challenge and stimulate your muscles for growth and strength gains. However, as always with exercise, consistency is key.

So aim to perform strength training workouts like this regularly and aim to train muscles all over the body, not just the lower body. Finally, allow yourself adequate rest and recovery to let your muscles repair and grow.

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Jessica Downey
Fitness Writer

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her love for keeping fit and fueling her body with healthy and enjoyable food quite naturally led her to write about all things fitness and health-related. If she isn’t out testing the latest fitness products such as the latest running shoe or yoga mat for reviewing then she can be found writing news and features on the best ways to build strength, active aging, female health, and anything in between. Before then she had a small stint writing in local news, has also written for Runners World UK (print and digital), and gained experience with global content marketing agency, Cedar Communications.


Born and raised in Scotland, Jessica is a massive fan of exercising and keeping active outdoors. When at home she can be found running by the sea, swimming in it, or up a mountain. This continued as she studied and trained to become a PPA-accredited magazine journalist in Wales. And since working and living in London, she splits her time between weight training in the gym, trying new fitness classes, and finding scenic running routes. Jessica enjoys documenting this on her fitness-inspired Instagram page @jessrunshere where she loves engaging with like-minded fitness junkies.


She is a big fan of healthy cooking and loves learning more about this area with expert nutritionists she has met over the years. Jessica is a big advocate for building healthy relationships with food rather than building restrictive attitudes towards it. When she isn’t eating or running she also enjoys practicing yoga in her free time as it helps her to unwind and benefits her performance in other sports.