If you want a really solid lower-body dumbbell workout, making sure you’re including the major movement patterns is key to a balanced—and challenging—routine.
When talking about lower body workouts, you want to include variations of the squat, hip hinge, hip bridge/thrust, and hip abduction, Sivan Fagan, C.P.T., owner of Strong with Sivan, tells SELF. This makes sure you hit all the major muscles of your lower body, including your quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteus maximus, the largest muscle of your glutes. And thanks to the hip abduction movement pattern—which occurs when you move your leg away from the midline of your body—you’ll also work your gluteus minimus and gluteus medius, the smaller glute muscles that make up your side butt.
You also don’t need to go overboard by adding too many exercises to your workout. In fact, the lower body dumbbell workout Fagan created below includes just four moves, but because it hits all those major movement patterns, it’ll definitely challenge your muscles.
The lower body workout ramps up the intensity by focusing on unilateral, or single-leg moves, says Fagan. By working one leg at a time for the majority of these exercises, you’ll not only be doubling the amount of work time as compared to a bilateral variation (making the sets feel more intense), but you’ll also be challenging each side of your body individually. That’s important, since one side may be weaker than the other, which you may not notice as much if you only do two-legged moves. By giving each leg the attention it deserves, you’ll be making sure all the muscles that should be working are actually working, and that one side is not taking over.
Because you’ll be using dumbbells for this workout, it’s easy to progress by adding more weight (or reps, or both) as you get more familiar with the moves, says Fagan. This concept of progressive overload is really important if you want to get stronger or build muscle. Of course, before you load up with heavier weight, or with any weight at all, you should make sure you have the form down for these moves.
Ready to get started? Here’s what you need for a super challenging, unilateral-focused lower-body dumbbell workout.
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What you need: A pair of moderate-weight dumbbells.
- Curtsy lunge with step-through
- Kickstand deadlift
- Frog pump withhold
- Side-lying leg lift
- For Superset 1, complete 10-12 reps per side of each exercise, going from one to the next without resting. Rest for about 1 minute after each round. Complete 3-4 rounds total. Rest for 1-2 minutes at the end of your last round.
- For Superset 2, complete 15-20 reps of each exercise (15-20 per side for the side-lying leg lifts), going from one to the next without rest. Rest for about 1 minute after each round. Complete 3-4 rounds total.
1 Curtsy Lunge With Step-Through
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides. This is starting position.
- Step your left foot diagonally behind you and left your right knee until it almost touches the floor. Your front knee should bend to about 90 degrees.
- Drive through your right heel to stand back up and return to the starting position. Bring your right foot slightly in front of your starting position, tapping your heel to the floor. This is 1 rep.
- Continue for 10-12 reps, then switch sides.
The curtsy lunge is a squat variation that works your quads and your glutes. The added step-through at the end takes your glutes through a bigger range of motion than a traditional lunge, which makes your butt work even harder, says Fagan.
2 Kickstand Deadlift
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Place one foot a foot-length in front of the other, toe on the floor, so your stance is staggered. You’ll be working your front leg.
- Hinge at your hips to lower your body. Push your butt far back and keep your back flat. Your torso should be almost parallel to the floor.
- Keeping your core tight, push through your front heel to stand up straight. Keep the weights close to your shins as you pull up.
- Pause at the top and squeeze your butt. That’s 1 rep.
- Complete 10-12 reps, then switch sides.
The kickstand deadlift is a hip hinge variation that really works your hamstrings, says Fagan. It’s similar to a single-leg deadlift in that you’ll be primarily working the planted leg, but because you’ll have your other leg there for support, it’s easier to keep your balance (and to load up with more weight once you get comfortable with the move).
3 Frog Pump With Hold
- Lie faceup on the floor or a mat, your knees bent, and feet hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell on your lap.
- Press your heels together so your legs make a diamond shape. This is starting position. (To find proper position, start with your heels as close to your butt as you can, though you may need to move them out farther like pictured to really feel the move in your glutes.)
- Squeezing your glutes, lift your butt off the mat, making a straight line to your knees. Pause for 1-2 seconds at the top.
- Lower your hips down to starting position. This is 1 rep.
- Complete 15-20 reps.
The frog pump is a glute bridge/thrust variation, says Fagan. By pressing your heels together, you’re externally rotating your thighs, which takes your hip flexors out of the equation during this move—so you’ll be really zeroing in on your glutes.
4 Side-Lying Leg Lift
- Lie on your left side, with your legs extended straight. Support your head with your left hand.
- Lift your top leg 45 degrees, then lower it slowly. This is 1 rep.
- Complete 15–20 reps, and then repeat on the other side.
The side-lying leg lift is a hip abductor movement, which really isolates your smaller glute muscles, says Fagan.
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