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December 12, 2021 6 min read

Leg day can prove more demanding than any other day of the week because exercises like squats use larger muscle groups. The quads are some of the largest muscles in the body and can require more weight and volume to grow and strengthen. 

You might think of squats first when you think of training your quads, but they're not the only exercise that can target this muscle group. Using dumbbells instead of a barbell can also add unique benefits to your strength and performance. 

Importance of the Quads 

The quads aren't just there to help your legs look strong and sculpted. Their main responsibility is to flex the knee and extend the hip. These muscles help to stabilize the knee cap during anytime of movement. Whenever you run, walk, jump, or kick, you're using your quadriceps. Let's take a deeper look. 

quadriceps muscle anatomy 3d medical vector illustration

Looking at The Quads 

Look down at the front of your thigh. The muscle that you can see is your quadriceps femoris.

This is a four-headed muscle that is in turn made up of four unique parts: 

  • Vastus Lateralis 
  • Rectus Femoris 
  • Vastus Medialis 
  • Vastus Intermedius 

Each of the four heads of the muscle starts at the femur and connects to your kneecap. The main function of the quads is to extend your leg from your knee. It also stabilizes the patella, which is the small bone in front of the knee.

Starting from the outside of the leg to the inside, here is a short description of each of the four muscles:

  • Vastus Lateralis: This is the biggest part of the quads. You can find the vastus lateralis on the outer side of the upper thigh. Apart from supporting leg extension and patella stabilization, it also plays a part in helping you rise from the bottom of a squat. 
  • Rectus Femoris: This muscle is found in the center of the front of the thigh. It is the only quad muscle that can flex the hip and thigh. You can see this for yourself if you extend your leg straight out and up and then contract the quad at the top and slowly lower your leg.
  • Vastus Medialis: This part of the muscle can be found on the inside of your thigh, and it's popular in the world of bodybuilding because of its unique shape. Building this muscle can really thicken the appearance of your thighs.
  • Vastus Intermedius: This muscle lies beneath the rectus femoris, so it can sometimes be hard to target. Squats are excellent exercises, but there's a lot more to training your quads than just that one foundational movement.

Best Dumbbell Quad Exercises

To train your quads, you can use dumbbells, kettlebells, or barbells. Dumbbells and kettlebells work in a more similar way than a barbell does as they can provide more unilateral work. They can also require more stability than a barbell because the weight isn't equally distributed.  

With dumbbells, each side pulls its own weight so you can improve your weaker side quickly. 

Below are some of the best dumbbell quad exercises for building strength. Many of these exercises are ideal for beginners as well as advanced bodybuilders. Integrating them into your routine can have you building bigger, stronger legs in no time. 

Exercise #1: Dumbbell Leg Extension 

How to do the Dumbbell Leg Extension:

  • Sit on the edge of a bench or stable surface.
  • Safely secure a dumbbell in between your feet.
  • Start with your feet planted on the ground and keep your chest tall.
  • Slowly start to extend your knees to raise your legs.
  • Stop when they reach hip height.
  • Return to the starting position. 

Exercise #2: Dumbbell Squats

How to do the Dumbbell Squat:

  1. Stand upright with your feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in front of your chest with your palms facing your body. 
  3. Keep your head up and shoulders locked down.
  4. Sit your hips down while pushing your knees outward so they stay inline with your toes. 
  5. Squat down until your hips are below the plane of your knees. 
  6. Push through your heels back up to the starting position.

Exercise #3: Lunge Pulses

How to do Lunge Pulses: 

1: From a standing start, step forward like a regular dumbbell lunge. 

2: Lunge down partially into the starting position, about a quarter of the way down as you would for a normal lunge. 

3: Begin pulsing up and down, performing the lunge by going up and down about 3 inches. Stay in the lunge position and never stand up during the exercise. 

4: Complete for the desired number of repetitions.

Exercise #4: Bodyweight Single-Leg Squat

How to do Single-Leg Squats:  

  1. Stand on one leg with your foot pointing straight ahead and the knee of the other leg slightly bent. You can extend your arms for balance or keep them at your sides. 
  2. Roll your shoulder blades back and keep your back straight. 
  3. Keep your weight centered over the ball of your foot, your torso upright, and your head facing forward. 
  4. Raise your back knee from the floor slightly. 
  5. Lower to a squat position, with the knee of the supporting leg still over the ball of the foot. 
  6. Start with shallow squats and work your way closer to the ground. 
  7. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Exercise #5: Close-Stance Dumbbell Front Squat


How to do Close Stance Dumbbell Front Squats:
  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells in front of your shoulders with your palms facing you. 
  2. Stand with your feet  just a couple of inches apart narrower than hip-width. Point your toes forward. Keep your torso as upright as you can. 
  3. Push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body until your upper thighs are parallel to the floor. 
  4. As you lower, press your ankles, lower legs, and thighs outward. 
  5. Push yourself back to the starting position, and repeat as many times as you can.

Exercise #6: Step Ups 

How to do Step Ups:

  1. Stand in front of a bench or stable surface.
  2. With one dumbbell in each hands, keep your chest tall and core tight.
  3. Step your right foot up onto the bench and press your heel into it.
  4. Step all the way up onto the bench.
  5. Step back down and repeat on the other side. 

Exercise #7: Lateral Lunge 

 How to do Lateral Lunges: 

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. 
  2. Take a big step to the side with your left leg, then bend your left knee, push hips back and lower until your left knee is bent 90 degrees for about two seconds. 
  3. Push back to the starting position. 
  4. You can alternate, or complete all reps on your left before moving on to your right.

Exercise #8: Bulgarian Split Squat 

 How to do the Bulgarian Split Squat: 

  1. Stand with your back to a bench or stable surface.
  2. Place your right foot behind you on the bench and the left foot planted on the ground.This should resemble a lunge position.
  3. Hold one dumbbell in each hand and keep your chest tall and core tight.
  4. Lunge down to the ground until you've reached full range of motion. 
  5. Stand back up and repeat on the other side. 

Exercise #9: Goblet Squat

 How to do the Goblet Squat:

  1. Hold a dumbbell and stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and your toes pointed slightly out. 
  2. Pin your elbows to your rib cage and hold the weight right under your chin.
  3. Keep your arms close to your chest and your elbows pointing down.
  4. Bend your hips and knees to lower your body as far as you can slowly.
  5. When you are in your deepest squat, pause and then push through your glutes, legs, and heels to return to the starting position.

Exercise #10: Dumbbell Hack Squats

 How to do the Hack Squat:

  1. Place the back of your torso against a back pad. 
  2. Place your legs on the platform at about shoulder width. Keep your toes slightly pointed out. 
  3. Hold the side handles of the machine. 
  4. Straighten your knees without locking them. This is the starting position for the exercise. 
  5. Slowly lower by bending your knees as you maintain a straight posture. Keep moving down until the angle between your upper leg and your calves is a little less than 90 degrees. 
  6. Push on the floor with the heel of your foot as you straighten your legs and return to the starting position. 
  7. Repeat for the number of reps in your set. 

Why Use Dumbbells?

Dumbbells can provide unilateral benefits that you just can't get from a barbell. With a barbell, if one side is weaker than the other, the stronger side can compensate for that weakness, creating more muscle imbalances.

If you don't correct these imbalances, they can turn into a bigger issue for performance and can put you at a higher risk for injury. 

Dumbbells can also help improve grip strength. The better your grip, the more weight you can hold, meaning you can lift heavier with stronger hands, wrists, and forearms. 

Getting the Results You Want

Remember that even though the quads are a big and strong muscle, they need their rest as well. ADABOLIC can help accelerate muscle recovery and get you back in the gym building bigger and better legs in no time.

Although you might normally rush to the squat rack on leg day, it can be beneficial to change it up every now and then. Give the barbell a rest for the day and grab some dumbbells to help grow those quads.