You only need one dumbbell move to build leg muscle—here's how

These four step-up variations target your lower body, work your glutes, and develop stronger legs

Man performing a dumbbell step-up
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you imagine someone working out with dumbbells, you might picture them doing arm-focused exercises like bicep curls or bench presses. But with these four dumbbell step-up variations, you only need a single weight to develop lower body muscle.

It's worth investing in a set of the best adjustable dumbbells, as these combine several dumbbells into one. You can change the load quickly mid-workout, and they're a flexible option as you can increase the weight as you grow stronger.

Picking up a pair of weights helps when you want to learn how to deadlift with dumbbells, but for these leg strengthening step-ups, you'll only need a single dumbbell held close to your body at chest height.

The four-move program comes from personal trainer Adam Willis and is demonstrated by nutritionist and medical professional Dr. Hazel Wallace, known by her Instagram handle, The Food Medic.

The way you hold the weight stays consistent between the variations, but you'll change how you step up and step down from the box or other elevated surface. Want to give them a try? You can watch The Food Medic's tutorial to learn the steps and practice your form.

Watch Dr. Hazel Wallace's dumbbell step-up exercises

According to research published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, step-up variations are the most effective way to train your glutes alongside squats, deadlifts, and lunges.

Building stronger glutes—three upper leg muscles including the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus—helps improve your posture, reduce your risk of back pain, and provide a stable base for weightlifting exercises.

You can do step-ups anywhere at any time, as you don't need equipment, just an elevated platform like the curb of a sidewalk, a step, or a low wall. But adding a weight into the mix increases the resistance and helps promote muscle growth.

If you want to continue strengthening your legs with a few other exercises, this glutes and hamstrings workout includes deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats, and glute bridges that work your core—a section of mid-body muscle—and your lower body.

The program also includes kettlebell swings, an effective fat-burning, muscle-building move. This exercise targets your core, works your arms, and builds leg muscle at the same time. And you only need one of the best kettlebells by your side to get started.

James Frew
Fitness Editor

James is a London-based journalist and Fitness Editor at Fit&Well. He has over five years experience in fitness tech, including time spent as the Buyer’s Guide Editor and Staff Writer at technology publication MakeUseOf. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a chronic health condition, which spurred his interest in health, fitness, and lifestyle management.

In the years since, he has become a devoted meditator, experimented with workout styles and exercises, and used various gadgets to monitor his health. In recent times, James has been absorbed by the intersection between mental health, fitness, sustainability, and environmentalism. When not concerning himself with health and technology, James can be found excitedly checking out each week’s New Music Friday releases.