Light up your lower body with this dumbbell-only workout from The Movement Blueprint’s Harvey Lawton.

If you’re looking for a seriously tough and highly effective dumbbell-only leg workout, grab your best dumbbells or adjustable dumbbells and get ready to go to work.

Dumbbells are a great option when looking to develop stability as well as strength, since they require the body to stabilise and control more directions of load as opposed to, say, a barbell or machine.

When training your lower body, you cannot go wrong with a full serving of hip- and knee-dominant movements, with some isolation exercises to finish. When you select your weights for each exercise, use one to two sets to familiarise yourself with the pattern and load placement to ensure you get the most out of your working sets.

Don’t shy away from intensity; the working sets should be tough. Select the right weight for you so you can balance intensity with movement proficiency.

The exercises in this dumbbell-only leg workout

2 rounds of the following:

  • Dumbbell goblet squat x 5
  • Weighted side plank x 30 secs

Strength block 1
3 sets of the following:

  • Dumbbell goblet squat x 12-15

Strength block 2
3 rounds of the following:

  • Dumbbell Romanian deadlift (RDL) x 8
  • Dumbbell walking lunge x 12

Hypertrophy block
3 rounds of the following:

  • Dumbbell single-leg RDL x 8
  • Hanging weighted knee raise x 8-12
  • Dumbbell bent-knee calf raise x 12-15

Meet the expert

This dumbbell-only leg workout was created by Harvey Lawton. Harvey is a PT and the founder of The Movement Blueprint. A long-time contributor to Men’s Fitness, he knows more than most about effective workout programming.

The dumbbell-only leg workout

The Movement Blueprint founder Harvey Lawton performing a dumbbell goblet cyclist squat as part of a dumbbell-only leg workout


1. Dumbbell goblet cyclist squat 

Reps: 5
Rest: Go straight into the next exercise

  • Elevate your heels on a couple of weight plates positioned on the floor, with feet shoulder-width apart
  • Hold the dumbbell about three inches away from your sternum, as this will allow you to counterbalance and create a nice upright torso and knees-forward squat position
  • Perform as an eccentric movement, with a tempo of 3 seconds down, 2 seconds pause and 2 seconds up
PT demonstrating weighted side plank exercise

2. Weighted side plank

Time: 30 secs (each side)
Rest: As required, then repeat the first exercise
Rounds: 3

  • Place the dumbbell on your top hip and focus on pushing your hips laterally away from the floor. This will get your hip abductors and lateral core working hard, which are key contributors to lower-body performance
  • Drive your elbow into the floor and down towards your foot position to create tension


3. Dumbbell goblet squat

Reps: 12-15
Rest: 2 mins
Rounds: 3

  • Hold a dumbbell close to your chest with both hands, keeping your elbows pointing down
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes slightly turned out, maintaining a straight back and engaged core
  • Bend at the knees and hinge at the hips, keeping your chest up and heels on the ground, to squat down until your hips are below parallel
  • Push through your heels to return to the starting position, squeezing your glutes at the top
  • Target 40-50% of your bodyweight – these should be working sets at a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) of 8


4. Dumbbell Romanian deadlift (RDL)

Reps: 8
Rest: 30 secs, then move on to the next exercise

  • Begin by holding a pair of dumbbells in front of your thighs with an overhand grip, standing with your feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent
  • Keeping your back straight, hinge at the hips and lower the dumbbells towards the ground by pushing your hips back, maintaining a slight bend in your knees
  • Lower the dumbbells until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, keeping them close to your body. Then, engage your hamstrings and glutes to return to the starting position by driving your hips forward. 
  • Keep your core tight throughout the movement to stabilise your spine
  • Execute these with a 2-second pause at the bottom of each rep
  • Think about pushing your hips back while keeping your sternum over your midfoot
PT demonstrating how to do a dumbbell walking lunge

5. Dumbbell walking lunge

Reps: 12
Rest: 2 mins, then repeat exercise 4
Rounds: 3

  • Begin by holding a dumbbell in each hand, standing tall with your feet hip-width apart
  • Take a large step forward with one foot, lowering your body towards the ground by bending both knees until your back knee lightly brushes the floor and your front thigh is parallel to the ground
  • Push through the heel of your front foot to return to a standing position, bringing your back foot forward to meet the front foot 
  • Repeat the movement with the opposite leg, alternating legs with each step to perform walking lunges
  • Keep your core engaged and maintain an upright posture throughout 
  • Target a weight increase between rounds and use straps if grip becomes the limiting factor – especially after the RDLs


6. Dumbbell single-leg RDL

Reps: 8
Rest: Go straight into the next exercise

  • Begin by holding a dumbbell in one outside your leading leg, with the other hand holding onto a rack or similar sturdy object 
  • Keeping your back straight and core engaged, hinge forward at the hips while simultaneously lifting your non-supporting leg behind you, creating a straight line from your head to your lifted heel
  • Lower the dumbbell towards the ground while maintaining a slight bend in the knee of your supporting leg, feeling a stretch in your hamstring. Then, engage your hamstring and glutes to return to the starting position, driving your hips forward and bringing your lifted leg back down
  • Take a 2-second tempo on the way down, pause for 2 at the bottom of the movement, then drive back up

7. Hanging weighted knee raise

Reps: 8-12
Rest: Go straight into the next exercise

  • Hang from a pull-up bar with an overhand grip, allowing your body to fully extend and keeping your legs straight
  • Hold a light dumbbell securely between your feet
  • Engage your core and bend your knees, raising them towards your chest while keeping your upper body stationary
  • Pause briefly at the top of the movement, then slowly lower your legs back down to the starting position
  • Aim for 10% of your bodyweight. If that’s too challenging to get the desired range of motion (pictured), do the movement without the dumbbell

8. Dumbbell bent-knee calf raise

Reps: 12-15 (each leg)
Rest: 2 mins, then repeat exercise 6
Rounds: 3

  • Sit on a bench or chair with your feet flat on the ground and a dumbbell placed securely on your thigh
  • Keeping your knee bent at a 90-degree angle, raise your heel as high as possible by pressing through the ball of your feet, contracting your calf at the top of the movement
  • Lower your heel back down to the start with control 
  • Place a big emphasis on the eccentric phase, lowering for 3 seconds, then pausing for 2 at the top of the movement

Follow up this dumbbell-only leg workout with the best stretching exercises to avoid any post-workout muscle soreness.