8 Best Dumbbell Exercises for Your Quads

8 Best Dumbbell Exercises for Your Quads 

The quads are an underrated muscle, a key driver of everyday movements like climbing stairs or getting up from a chair. This four-pronged powerhouse muscle stabilizes the knees and flexes the hips in most any lower-body exercise. Studies suggest that weak quads can lead to injuries in these areas. Utilizing the right adjustable dumbbell will help with weight displacement, application to training, and biomechanics.

Because of our modern cubicle culture, where we hunch over computers and smartphones all day, there’s an emphasis on glute activation and loosening the hips and hamstrings that have tightened from too much sitting.

That’s important, but if we fail to address the quads, we’re going to have poor posture since the quads help us maintain proper posture while sitting or standing. The quads come into play in just about every movement. Not only that, a well-developed set of quads is a thing of beauty, giving a body symmetry and curvature. It’s arguably the one muscle group that looks equally impressive on men and women.

With this dumbbell workout, we’ll work through four sets of these eight moves in a circuit fashion to produce quads that will look awesome and handle the burdens of everyday life.  We will alternate between pushing and pulling movements, so we can produce maximum results with minimal time and equipment, resting only briefly between sets.

Dumbbell Step-ups 

What it does: This builds explosive power in the quads.

How to do it: Stand facing a bench, dumbbells in both hands. Place one foot on the bench, bending that knee to 90 degrees. While keeping the other leg straight and on the ground, push your shoulders back and chest out. Push through the top foot to raise your body over the bench with your back leg suspended in midair.

How many? 4 sets of 10 reps on each side.

Goblet Squat

What it does: It’s a full-body maneuver that challenges the quads as it takes the pressure off your back, making it more accessible than a traditional barbell squat. The counterbalance with the weight in front of the body allows you to sit back more easily, encouraging proper form.

How to do it: Hold a dumbbell with both hands under your chest. Squat by pushing your knees out so your elbows can move in between them. Squat as low as you can and return to starting position.

How many? 4 sets of 10 reps.

Lateral Lunge with Dumbbells

What it does: The quads are underrated when it comes to lateral movement and this simple yet effective move mimics that process.

How to do it: Stand holding dumbbells on your shoulders with elbows up. Step to one side and squat back and down with the stepping leg, keeping the other leg straight. Return to starting position by pushing up with the bent leg. Switch sides and repeat the movement.

How many? 4 sets of 10 reps per side.

Split Squats

What it does: These work the quads by increasing balance and strength throughout your legs.

How to do it: Step out into a lunge with dumbbells at arm’s length at your sides. Lower your hips by squatting back and down. Without letting your back knee touch the floor, drive your weight back up with the front leg.

How many? 4 sets of 10 reps per side.

Hang Snatch – 1 Arm 

What it does: It’s a full-body exercise with power coming from the hips, but your quads help drive the movement.

How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart while holding a dumbbell straight down in front of you. Keeping your back flat and chest up, push your hips back and down to lower the weight between your knees. Explode in one motion, extending the hips quickly and pulling the dumbbell straight up. When the weight reaches maximum height, drop your body underneath and catch it overhead. Lower back to starting position.

How many? 4 sets of 10 reps per side.

Bulgarian Split Squat

What it does: A variation on Split Squats, this provides a deeper squat, further challenging the quads.

How to do it: Place your back foot on a box or bench and then lower your hips toward the floor by squatting back and down. Without letting your back knee touch the floor, drive your weight back up with the front leg.

How many? 4 sets of 10 reps per side.

Step-Ups

What it does: These challenge the quads by flexing and extending the knees in a stepping-like motion.

How to do it: Stand holding dumbbells with one foot on a box or stair with your torso leaning slightly forward. Stand tall, bringing the lower foot to the box or stair. Return to starting position and switch legs.

How many? 4 sets of 10 reps per side.

Deadlifts

What it does: These challenge the whole body but the quads are the engine of this move.

How to do it: Start with dumbbells in front of you. With feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, push your hips back, grab the dumbbells and lift. Return to the starting position and repeat without leaving the dumbbells on the ground.

How many? 4 sets of 10 reps.

Squat Jumps 

What it does: This builds explosive power in the quads.

How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart holding dumbbells. Drop into a squat and drive from the floor, jumping as high as possible. Land on the balls of your feet and drop right back into a squat.

How many? 4 sets of 10 reps


Pete Williams is a NASM-CPT and the author or co-author of several fitness books, including Core Performance and Every Day is Game Day. His work has appeared in publications such as Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, and USA Today.