Dumbbell Quad Workout for Strength and Mass

Of all the muscle groups in your body, the quadriceps is a four-headed muscle that stands out as essential for athletic performance and aesthetics. This dumbbell quad workout will help you build lower body strength and muscle mass without expensive gym equipment.

When leg day rolls around, it’s time to get serious. Without any doubt, building your quads takes hard work. But doing so doesn’t require more than a pair of dumbbells.

Quad muscle exercises

In this article, you’ll learn how to perform the best dumbbell exercises for your quads with easy step-by-step instructions. Then, we’ll combine them into one of the best dumbbell leg workouts for muscle growth, no matter your fitness level or training experience.

Benefits of Dumbbell Quad Workouts

A fully equipped gym gives you endless ways to build your quads: from machines where you can do leg extension exercises and leg presses to barbells and squat racks.

If you have access to all that equipment, why would you do a dumbbell-only leg workout?

You probably wouldn’t, to be honest, unless you really love dumbbells.

But you might not always have a smorgasbord of training equipment the next time leg day rolls around. Or you work out at home and don’t have the space (or the money) for a room full of iron.

That’s when a dumbbell quad workout can be a lifesaver—or at least a leg day saver. Even though barbell exercises and leg training machines are excellent for building muscular and strong legs, you can get fantastic results with a set of dumbbells.

That all being said, using dumbbells to train your quads offers several benefits.

  • Range of motion. Dumbbells don’t lock you into a fixed range of motion like a machine. You get a natural freedom of movement that adapts to your body, not the other way around.
  • Safety. Strength training is one of the safest forms of physical activity, and with dumbbells, you can never get stuck under a heavy weight. You don’t need a spotter even when you lift near your 1RM (the maximum weight you can lift for a single complete repetition with proper form); at the sign of any trouble, you can drop the dumbbells to the floor.
  • Versatility. Dumbbells can be used for a wide range of exercises, from lunges and squats to step-ups and Bulgarian split squats, offering a tremendous variety of workout options with minimal equipment. 
  • Unilateral training. Most of us have one side that is stronger or slightly bigger than the other. Unilateral exercises that work one side of the body at a time can help correct muscle imbalances between the right and left sides of your body, improving overall symmetry and reducing the risk of injury. Dumbbells are superior to barbells for training one leg at a time.
  • Improved coordination and balance. Dumbbell quad exercises recruit muscles that help stabilize your body during the movement and require greater core strength, which can improve your coordination and balance.
  • Convenience and portability. Dumbbells are far more portable and easier to store than machines or barbells, making them a good option for home workouts or traveling. Well, maybe not for traveling. It depends on how heavy dumbbells your quad workout requires. Lugging around 100-pound dumbbells in a suitcase is not the best way to travel light.

Quadriceps Anatomy

The quadriceps femoris, or the quads, are a group of four muscles located in the front of the thighs. The four muscles are the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius. Together, they are, by far, the most voluminous group of muscles in the body.

The primary function of the quadriceps muscles is to extend the knee joint, meaning straightening the knee from a bent position. 

Your quads also have four other vital functions:

  • Hip flexion
  • Maintaining your posture
  • Managing your step/gait cycle
  • Patellar stability

These are the four quad muscles and their function:

  • The rectus femoris is the only quadriceps muscle to cross both the hip joint and the knee joint. Together with the other three quad muscles, it flexes the hip and extends the lower leg at the knee. When seated, the rectus femoris is one of the weaker knee extensors.
  • You might know the vastus medialis as the teardrop muscle because it forms a tear-shaped bulge on your inner thigh when well-developed. The vastus medialis is the innermost and smallest of the quadriceps muscles. It extends your knee along with the other quad muscles and stabilizes and tracks your kneecap.
  • The vastus lateralis is the largest quadriceps muscle,located on the outer side of the thigh. Its primary function is knee extension, and together with the vastus medialis, it stabilizes the knee joint.
  • Finally, the vastus intermedius lies beneath the rectus femoris, almost hidden by the other thigh muscles. You might not be able to see it like the other quad muscles, but the vastus intermedius is no less important for extending the knee joint. It works alongside the other muscles at the front of your thigh to straighten your leg at the knee joint and maintain knee stability. In addition, it helps with eccentric control of the knee, like when you land from a jump or walk down a set of stairs.

Recently, a fifth quadriceps, the tensor of the vastus intermedius, was discovered. We don’t know much about how it works, but it likely allows correct kneecap movement and helps tense the intermedius muscle. You don’t have to target this muscle specifically in your training. No need for a specific quindriceps workout, in other words.

What Equipment Do You Need for This Quad Workout?

This is a quick one! This workout only requires a set of dumbbells. That’s it.

You do need an elevated surface of some kind for a couple of exercises. However, you can use anything sturdy you have at hand: a bench, a stable chair, a set of steps, and so on.

It’s difficult to say precisely how light or heavy dumbbells you need. It depends on your strength level, training experience, and the exercise.

Weights suitable for you might be too heavy for someone else, and vice versa. Or the dumbbells you use for lunges might need to be increased for squats.

While you can get a quality quad session using fixed dumbbells, I suggest you get one or two pairs of adjustable dumbbells for your at-home workouts. You can quickly change to the suitable weights mid-workout as needed with the flip of a switch, allowing you to perform various quad exercises requiring different loads without having an arsenal of dumbbells.

adjustable dumbbells

Warming Up to Prepare for Your Dumbbell Quad Workout

You don’t want to jump straight into the heavy sets of your dumbbell quad workout. Warming up is a good idea for several reasons.

  • It prepares your body, brain, and central nervous system for the work to come.
  • Warm muscles are more powerful and perform better than cold ones.
  • You activate the muscle fibers in your quads and glutes.
  • You could reduce the risk of injury.

The following steps are an example of a great warmup routine for your dumbbell leg workout:

  1. Cardio. Start with a few minutes of light cardio, such as jogging in place, jumping rope, or jumping jacks, to get your heart rate up and your blood flowing.
  2. Bodyweight squats. Perform 10–15 air squats, pumping blood into your quads and activating the muscles.
  3. Glute bridges. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Lift your hips towards the ceiling and squeeze your glutes at the top. Do 10–15 repetitions to get those glutes to fire.
  4. Jump squats. Including a dynamic part, like jump squats, in your warmup is a great way to increase your lower body power for the upcoming workout. Ten squat jumps are enough to prepare your quads and glutes without tiring you out.

By performing this warmup routine, you’ll be sure to get your muscles warmed up and ready for your dumbbell quad workout and activate the major muscle groups for optimal strength and performance.

StrengthLog’s Dumbbell Quad Workout: the Exercises

This quad workout consists of two to four exercises depending on your training experience and fitness level. You’ll perform two exercises at the beginner level, while intermediate-level lifters and advanced trainees perform three and four, respectively.

The workout is based on the following exercises:

  1. Dumbbell Squat
  2. Goblet Squat
  3. Bulgarian Split Squat
  4. Dumbbell Lunge
  5. Dumbbell Step Up

Let’s go through them all, detailing the benefits of each exercise, with easy step-by-step instructions on how to perform them.

Dumbbell Squat

The squat is one of the best exercises for overall strength and lower body muscular development and is widely regarded as highly effective for enhancing athletic performance. It’s also a staple in bodybuilding quad training for building massive leg muscles.

While the traditional barbell squat is the most performed variant of the exercise, dumbbell squats hit the same muscles just as effectively.1 They are a great exercise for the quadriceps muscle and build and strengthen your glutes, lower back and even the calf muscle to some degree.

The dumbbell squat offers two significant benefits over barbell squats:

  • You don’t need a squat rack, barbell, and weight plates, saving you money and space.
  • You can’t get stuck at the bottom if you fail a heavy lift. Worst case scenario, you simply drop the dumbbells on the floor, minimizing the risk of injury. You can even use this strategy to your advantage during a high-intensity workout, training to muscular failure without worrying about how you will get the weight up in the last rep.

There are also two potential downsides to dumbbell squats.

  • When you’re strong enough to use heavy weights, it can be challenging to find dumbbells to match.
  •  It can be difficult to hold onto them for an entire set.

You can solve the first issue by doing higher rep ranges if you don’t have heavier weights. Any number of reps between 5 and 30 is equally effective for muscle gain.2 High-rep leg training is challenging and taxes your entire body. However, it allows you to practice progressive overload without continually investing in heavier weights and still get a solid dumbbell leg workout.

The grip issue is quickly resolved with a pair of lifting straps. Some would argue that you should strengthen your grip if you can’t hold onto the weight, and I agree to a point, but your leg workout is not the time or place to do so. If your grip limits the effectiveness of your dumbbell quad exercises, reinforce it with a pair of straps.

How to Perform the Dumbbell Squat

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand with your arms extended down by your sides, palms facing inwards.
  2. Inhale and brace your core muscles to stabilize your spine and pelvis during the movement.
  3. Squat down as deep as you comfortably can. Keep your knees tracking over your toes and maintain a straight back throughout the movement.
  4. When your thighs are parallel to the ground or slightly lower, reverse the movement and return to a standing position, exhaling on the way up.
  5. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

Goblet Squat

The goblet squat works the same muscle groups as the regular squat, but you perform the two exercises in quite different ways. 

Unlike the traditional squat, the goblet squat involves holding a dumbbell or kettlebell at chest level while performing the movement. Having the weight in front of the body makes it easy to keep your torso upright and maintain proper posture during the movement.

Many lifters also find that goblet squats allow them to perform a deeper squat without discomfort or mobility issues.

The goblet squat is an excellent alternative to the front squat if you don’t have access to a barbell or prefer training with dumbbells. It is easier to learn proper form in the goblet squat as it doesn’t require the same level of mobility in the wrists, elbows, and shoulders.

The only major drawback of the goblet squat is that weight progression becomes awkward as your leg strength surpasses your arm and shoulder strength. At that point, you can use goblet squats as a workout finisher when your leg muscles are already tired and don’t need as much weight to fry your quads.

How to Perform the Goblet Squat

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell or kettlebell with both hands at chest level, close to your body, and with your toes pointing slightly outward.
  2. Inhale, brace your core muscles and keep your chest up with your shoulders back and down.
  3. From the starting position, squat down as deep as you can comfortably go. At the bottom of the squat, your elbows should be inside your knees.
  4. Straighten your legs and return to the starting position, exhaling and pushing your hips forward as you rise.
  5. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat

The Bulgarian split squat is a unilateral (one leg at a time) lower-body exercise that targets the quads, hamstrings, and glutes while challenging your core stability and balance.

Incorporating the dumbbell Bulgarian split squat into your leg workout routine helps build strength, muscle mass, and stability.

If you’re new to Bulgarian split squats, be prepared that you might have to use lighter weights during the first few workouts until you’re used to it. 

How to Perform the Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat

  1. Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart, facing away from a bench or chair.
  2. Place the top of your back foot on the elevated surface behind you.
  3. Step forward with your front foot and plant it firmly on the ground, ensuring your knee is directly above your ankle.
  4. Keep your chest up and your shoulders back, and engage your core muscles to maintain proper posture.
  5. Slowly lower your body towards the ground, bending your front knee and keeping your rear foot elevated.
  6. Descend until your front thigh is parallel to the ground or as low as you can comfortably go.
  7. Push yourself up and return to the top of the movement using your front leg quad and glute strength.
  8. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions before switching legs and repeating the movement.

Dumbbell Lunge

The dumbbell lunge is an excellent alternative if the Bulgarian split squat feels too challenging. Both are two of the best dumbbell leg exercises, but the Bulgarian split squat requires significantly more technique and stability because you balance more of your body weight on one leg.

Dumbbell lunges target many different muscles in your lower body, primarily your quads and glutes, but also your hamstrings and calves to some extent. Unilateral exercises are excellent for improving your overall coordination and balance, which translates into better performance in sports and everyday life.

In addition, lunges are very effective for stimulating growth in your quad muscles and butt, making them a great inclusion in any dumbbell-only leg workout.

You can take a step backward instead of forward if you prefer. Some find the reverse lunge easier on the knee joints than the forward lunge.

How to Perform the Dumbbell Lunge

  1. Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing inwards.
  2. Lower your body towards the ground by bending your front knee and lowering your back knee until it almost touches the floor.
  3. Return to a standing position by pushing yourself up with your front leg.
  4. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions, switch legs, and perform the exercise on the other side.

Dumbbell Step-Up

The dumbbell step-up is a versatile and efficient lower-body exercise that targets the quadriceps, making it an excellent addition to any quad workout.

In addition, it also engages the glutes, hamstrings, and calves, as well as the stabilizing muscles in your core and lower back.

Dumbbell step-ups are a functional movement that works multiple muscle groups and aids in improving balance, coordination, and overall athletic performance. It’s beginner-friendly while allowing experienced athletes and bodybuilders to use a range of weights to increase the challenge and load.

How to Perform the Dumbbell Step-Up

  1. Begin by holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing your body, or, if that feels too heavy, use your body weight only.
  2. Place your right foot on a sturdy bench, chair, or step, ensuring your entire foot is flat on the surface.
  3. Push through your right foot and lift your body up until your right leg is straight and you stand on the bench or step.
  4. Keep your core tight and your upper body straight as you step down with your left foot and return to the starting position. Maintain tension in your right leg as you lower your body.
  5. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions, switch legs, and perform the exercise on the other side.

Creating the Best Dumbbell Quad Workout

Those are five of the best quad exercises for gaining strength and building muscle using only dumbbells.

Let’s combine them into the ideal workout for your experience level.

Beginner Workout

You don’t need many exercises to build quad muscle and strength as a beginner. Instead, you focus on a few select compound exercises and learning the movements correctly.

The first exercise is the goblet squat, the perfect dumbbell quad exercise for beginners. It automatically teaches you how to get into an effective squat position and is an excellent, safe option for improved mobility and activating the proper muscles.

The second exercise is the dumbbell squat, which allows you to use heavier weights for strength and mass.

  1. Goblet Squat: 3 sets x 10–12 reps
  2. Dumbbell Squat: 3 sets x 10–12 reps

Two weekly sessions are ideal for getting started with your leg training, and before you know it, you’ll be ready for the intermediate workout.

Intermediate Workout

After a couple of months of regular training, you’re ready for the next step: the intermediate dumbbell quad workout.

You’ll find two changes compared to the beginner workout.

Firstly, the goblet squat is not the starter exercise anymore. By now, your lower body strength has likely increased significantly, and by placing goblet squats later in the workout, you won’t have to struggle with holding a heavy dumbbell to your chest. You want the movement to target your quads, not exhaust your upper body.

Secondly, you add a unilateral movement to the workout, either the Bulgarian split squat or the dumbbell lunge. Feel free to pick the one you prefer or mix and match as you like. The lunge requires a lower baseline of strength and skill, so you might want to start there and advance to the split squat, but that’s only a suggestion.

  1. Dumbbell Squat: 3 sets x 10–12 reps
  2. Bulgarian Split Squat or Dumbbell Lunge: 3 sets x 10–12 reps
  3. Goblet Squat: 3 sets x 10–12 reps

Again, two weekly workouts are the sweet spot for continued growth and progress.

Advanced Workout

At the advanced level, you already have plenty of training experience. The advanced workout provides enough volume for bodybuilders and high-level lifters to keep gaining.

The advanced workout is very similar to the intermediate, with the addition of the dumbbell step-up. Not only is the step-up an excellent exercise in its own right, but it also helps improve your squat, making it a perfect complement to the advanced routine. 

You can perform this session twice weekly:

  1. Dumbbell Squat: 3 sets x 10–12 reps
  2. Bulgarian Split Squat or Dumbbell Lunge: 3 sets x 10–12 reps
  3. Goblet Squat: 3 sets x 10–12 reps
  4. Dumbbell Step Up: 3 sets x 10–12 reps

Or, if you follow a split routine training each muscle group once weekly, you can add a couple of sets to each exercise, like this:

  1. Dumbbell Squat: 5 sets x 10–12 reps
  2. Bulgarian Split Squat or Dumbbell Lunge: 5 sets x 10–12 reps
  3. Goblet Squat: 5 sets x 10–12 reps
  4. Dumbbell Step Up: 5 sets x 10–12 reps

How to Integrate the Dumbbell Quad Workout into Your Training Routine

Even though the quads are supremely important for overall athletic performance and looks, you’ll also want to train the rest of your legs.

The hamstrings are somewhat involved in squat-type movements, but for symmetry and strength balance, you also want to include some dumbbell hamstring exercises.

In addition, your calves don’t get much attention when you train your upper legs. Although the calves are notoriously challenging to develop for many people, you might want to include some calf raises in your lower-body workout for good measure.

Calf muscles

Here’s an example of a complete dumbbell workout for your entire lower body, including your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.

  1. Dumbbell Squat
  2. Bulgarian Split Squat
  3. Goblet Squat
  4. Dumbbell Romanian Or Stiff Leg Deadlift
  5. Dumbbell Calf Raise

Exercise Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Quad Workouts

  • Rest up between sets. According to research, both short and long rest periods are great for building muscle.3 As the quads are a large, demanding muscle group to train, you should take at least a 1-minute breather to recover between sets.
  • Maintain proper form. Using good form ensures you effectively target the intended muscles and allows you to get the most out of your workouts, leading to improved long-term muscle gain. By maintaining proper form, you also reduce the risk of injury and keep your body safe.
  • Gradually increase the load. As you get stronger, you must practice progressive overload and use heavier dumbbells or do more reps to promote continued growth. If you keep doing the same thing, your muscle size and strength stay the same, too.
  • Prioritize rest and recovery. Muscle growth occurs during the hours and days following your training sessions when you allow your body to recover appropriately. Working your quads twice weekly is ideal for most, but get at least 48 hours between sessions to allow for repair and to promote growth.
  • Eat a healthy diet. You need building blocks in the form of enough calories and plenty of protein to get the results you want from your quad workouts. A balanced and nutritious diet is essential for muscle growth and strength gains.

Read more:

>> Protein for Strength Training: The Ultimate Guide

>> Eating for Muscle Growth: When, What, and How Much

Track Your Progress with StrengthLog

A workout log is the best way to keep track of your progress. 

Remember that progressive overload is the key to consistent gains over time. To continue making progress, you must gradually increase the demands on your muscles. That is particularly important when training your quads, which are some of the most powerful muscles in the human body.

A training log helps you stay consistent, set and achieve specific goals, track your progress over time, identify patterns in your training, and hold yourself accountable to your fitness goals. 

StrengthLog is 100% free to download and use as a workout tracker and general strength training app. All the basic functionality is free – forever. It’s like a personal trainer in your pocket.

Download StrengthLog for free, keep track of your weights and reps, and try to beat your previous numbers each workout. 

Download StrengthLog Workout Log on App Store
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Good luck with your training!

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  1. J Sport Rehabil. 2020 Feb 1;29(2):200-205. Effect of Loading Devices on Muscle Activation in Squat and Lunge.
  2. Sports (Basel). 2021 Feb; 9(2): 32. Loading Recommendations for Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Local Endurance: A Re-Examination of the Repetition Continuum.
  3. Eur J Sport Sci. 2017 Sep;17(8):983-993. The effects of short versus long inter-set rest intervals in resistance training on measures of muscle hypertrophy: A systematic review.
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Andreas Abelsson

Andreas is a certified nutrition coach with over three decades of training experience. He has followed and reported on the research fields of exercise, nutrition, and health for almost as long and is a specialist in metabolic health and nutrition coaching for athletes. Read more about Andreas and StrengthLog by clicking here.