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6 Single Leg Exercises With Dumbbells

Strengthen your lower body AND core with these single leg exercises. This unilateral leg day workout allows you to increase the load on each individual leg – without needing extra weights or fancy gym equipment. This workout targets the hips, hamstrings, glutes, calves and quads in around 30 minutes.



 

This post is brought to you in partnership with the Minnesota Pork Board.

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of strength training around here. Our Drop Set Arms and Abs and Drop Set Leg Day workouts are focused on heavy strength training – and some of your favorite workouts.

Unilateral exercise (or single-sided training) increases the intensity while keeping things low impact.

Single leg work increases the load on the working leg, making the exercise more difficult without adding heavier weights. Additionally, single leg exercises require more balance and stability which means your abs and core muscles are constantly engaged.

That makes this workout an effective lower body strength workout AND sneaky core training.

This unilateral leg day workout is all strength training and naturally low impact. It is designed to build muscle in the quads, hamstrings, glutes, hips, calves and core — all in around 30 minutes.

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three women standing in front of a bench performing a single leg exercise (a bulgarian split squat)

Single Leg Exercises FAQs

What Are Single Leg Exercises?

Single leg exercises (also called unilateral leg exercises) are performed by isolating one leg at a time. This is in contrast to bilateral exercises (such as standard squats) that require both legs to work at the same time.

Why Are Single Leg Exercises Beneficial?

Single leg exercises build muscle in the working leg, isolate and correct muscle imbalances, and improve balance and core stability. Unilateral training forces each leg to do the work without allowing more dominant leg muscles to take over (like they can in bilateral training).

three women performing a lunge with a knee drive as part of unilateral leg workout

35-Minute Single Leg Workout

Build strong legs with this ALL STRENGTH unilateral leg workout with dumbbells!

Unilateral leg exercises recruit more muscles (specifically core muscles) than bilateral exercises. The abs and lower back are more engaged in single-leg exercises to help the body maintain balance.

Add this lower body workout to your home workout plan 1-2 times a week to build and maintain strength in the lower body.

Workout Equipment:

Medium Set of Dumbbells.

I recommend between 5-25 lbs depending on your fitness level. We used 10, 15 and 20 lb dumbbells in today’s workout. Option to drop weights at any time and do this workout with just your bodyweight.

You’ll also have the opportunity to add a yoga block (or stack of books) and a step/bench if you choose.

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I’m using 15-20 lb dumbbells for this lower body strength workout.
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woman performing a front foot elevated split lunge

Workout Instructions:

Follow along with the guided Unilateral Leg Day on YouTubeled by certified personal trainer, Lindsey Bomgren. 

Your Workout Looks Like This:

  • 3 Circuits (2 single leg strength exercises per circuit and 1 single leg burnout exercise)
  • Timed Intervals (30 seconds of work, 15 seconds rest; complete as many repetitions as you can in the timed interval)
  • Repeat Each Circuit x4 Sets (x2 sets back-to-back on the right leg, then x2 sets on the left leg).
  • Perform Burnout Move After Set 2 (Right Leg) and Set 4 (Left Leg)

Workout Outline

CIRCUIT ONE:

  1. 80/20 Squat (Heel Elevated)
  2. Front Foot Elevated Reverse Lunge and Side Squat

Burnout: Front Foot Elevated Lunge Hold and Explosive Knee Drive

CIRCUIT TWO:

  1. Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (Bulgarian Lunges)
  2. Rear Foot Elevated Single Leg Deadlift

Burnout: Uneven Suitcase Swing

CIRCUIT THREE:

  1. Lateral Lunge Knee Drive
  2. Single Leg Glute Bridge 

Burnout: Kneeling Hip Thrust + Adductor Kickout 

three women performing a split lunge as an example of a single leg exercise

Prefer to Watch On YouTube?

youtube icon Unilateral Legs

6 Single Leg Exercises

80/20 Squat (Heel Elevated)

Targets: Legs, glutes, quads, and core.

three women performing a staggered 80/20 squat as part of unilateral leg day workout

How To Do A 80/20 Squat (Heel Elevated)

  1. Start standing, right heel on a block (or stack of books), left heel on the ground, hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and frame your right leg.
  2. Inhale as you bend your knees and sit your hips back (as if sitting down in a chair). Aim for 90-degree bends at each knee.
  3. Exhale as you press through your heels to stand tall, driving your hips forward to return to standing.

Modification: Keep both heels on the ground, 80% of the work in your “working leg”, using your other toe as a kick stand. Hold one dumbbell at your chest in a goblet-hold or use just your bodyweight.

Front Foot Elevated Reverse Lunge and Side Squat

Targets: The glutes (outer gluteus medius), quads (including the VMO, the small teardrop-shaped muscle group that helps move the knee joint and stabilizes the kneecap) and core.

three women performing a single leg exercise (reverse lunge and step into squat)

How To Do A Front Foot Elevated Reverse Lunge and Side Squat

  1. Begin in neutral standing position, feet shoulder width apart, right heel on a yoga block or stack of books. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides.
  2. Step your left foot back into a reverse lunge, lowering down so both knees form 90-degree angles.
  3. Press through your front right heel to drive forward, returning to standing position.
  4. As you return to standing, step out with your left foot, feet slightly wider than hips. Right foot remains planted and dumbbells frame right leg as you lower down into a squat, pushing your hips back and down until your hips align with your knees (knees bent at 90 degrees).
  5. Then drive through your heels, squeezing your glutes as you stand tall. As you stand, step your left foot back, returning to a reverse lunge position.

Modification: Perform this move with both heels on the floor rather than adding a yoga block.

Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (Bulgarian Lunges)

Targets: Legs, glutes, quads, hamstrings, hips and core.

This single leg exercise will challenge your balance and has been named one of the best exercises to build glute strength.

3 women performing bulgarian lunges single leg exercises

How To Do A Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (Bulgarian Split Squat)

  1. Kneel in front of your bench or chair, then place your left foot behind you on a chair or bench, shoelaces down. Hold a dumbbell in your left hand.
  2. Step your right foot forward (it will vary for everyone, but a little over a foot in front of your bench). Your front thigh will be parallel to the floor. This is the bottom of your movement.
  3. Drive through your front right heel, squeezing your right glute to return to standing. Feel your front glute engage to power the movement.
  4. With control, bend your knee to lower down back to the starting position (back left knee should lower down close to the ground), to make your front thigh parallel with the ground. Shoulders remain stacked over hips throughout the movement.

Modification: Perform a standard reverse lunge or split squat, keeping your back foot on the ground rather than elevating it on a chair.

Rear Foot Elevated Single Leg Deadlift

Targets: Hamstrings, core and glutes.

three women performing a single leg deadlift with rear foot elevated

How To Do A Rear Foot Elevated Single Leg Deadlift

  1. Start standing in front of a bench or chair, holding a dumbbell in your left hand. Place your left foot behind you on the bench, shoelaces down.
  2. Keeping hips square, press your glutes back towards the wall behind you, hinging at the hips and gliding the dumbbell down your front leg until you feel a stretch along the back of your right leg. Range of motion will be different for everyone.
  3. Exhale as you press through your front heel and stand tall, returning to starting position.

Modification: Perform a staggered deadlift from the ground, keeping 80% of your weight in your front heel and 20% in your back toe.

Lateral Lunge Knee Drive

Targets: Gluteus medius (the outer part of your butt used for side-to-side movements), quads, hamstrings, hip adductors and abductors, hip flexors, calves and core.

three women performing a lateral lunge with balance knee drive

How To Do A Lateral Lunge Knee Drive

  1. Stand with your feet under hips, holding a dumbbell in your left hand.
  2. Step your right leg out to the side as you push your hips back, bending your right knee while leaving your left leg straight. Think of performing a single leg squat with your right leg while your left leg remains straight. Knees and toes are pointing forward.
  3. Then, drive off your right foot to reverse the movement, exploding back up to center. Drive your right knee up, forming a 90-degree angle. Balance on your left foot and hold for a breath.
  4. Then repeat, stepping out with your right foot to perform another lateral lunge.

Modification: Drop the weight, performing this move with just your bodyweight. Tap your right foot in rather than balance.

Single Leg Glute Bridge

Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, hips and pelvic floor.

three women lying on their backs performing single leg glute bridge as one of the best single leg exercises

How To Do A Single Leg Glute Bridge

  1. Start laying on your back, right foot planted on a yoga block, left foot extended straight overhead (ankle stacked over knee).
  2. Press through your heels to lift your glutes off the mat, squeezing your glutes as you lift. Think about keeping your core engaged and knees in line with your hips.
  3. Exhale, slowly lowering your hips to hover an inch above the mat.

Modification: Perform a staggered stance glute bridge by planting your left heel and stepping your right foot out slightly further away from your body. Keep most of your weight in your left heel, right toes popped off the ground.

three women performing a lunge with a knee drive as part of unilateral leg workout

About Our Sponsor: Minnesota Pork

We were so excited to have Dr. Taylor Spronk join us for today’s workout – she is a wealth of knowledge and we learned so much from her! Dr. Taylor is a veterinarian (and a former MN Pork intern) who works with farmers daily.

Pulled Pork Recipe

We love pork around here because it’s the basis of so many easy and healthy meals. Our family-favorite Smoked Pork Butt Recipe from The Real Food Dietitians (pictured above) has been on repeat lately! Stir frys, kebabs, tenderloin roasts and carnitas – pork pairs so well with many different flavor profiles.

Pork is also an excellent source of protein and provides several important vitamins and minerals. A 3-ounce serving of pork is an excellent source of: 

  • Protein: supports muscle growth.
  • Selenium: supports thyroid health.
  • Vitamin B-6: supports mood and brain health.
  • Zinc: supports tissue repair and maintenance of a healthy immune system.
  • Beta-alanine: form of amino acid found in pork and a crucial element in muscle development.

SHOPPING TIP: Dr. Taylor recommends looking for pork tenderloin at the store – it is considered “extra lean” and has the same amount of fat as skinless chicken breast.

How to cook pork graphic

Tips for Cooking Pork:

One of my favorite things about pork is how simple it is to cook. The secret to keeping pork juicy and delicious is to avoid overcooking it – a little pink in the middle is okay! You can take all the guesswork out by purchasing a meat thermometer, which makes it even easier!

  1. Season Pork
  2. Cook to 145°
  3. Rest for 3 minutes

And then enjoy!

This is a sponsored post in partnership with the Minnesota Pork Board. All words and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting Nourish Move Love, making the content you see on this blog possible.

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14 comments
  1. I love that you are focusing more on strength. Most of 3 and recently postpartum and diagnosed with hypothyroidism- So I have to watch my cortisol spikes so I can’t thank your workouts enough. Found you during Covid and never want to leave!

    • Samantha! So glad you’re loving the strength workouts — I’m definitely in a season where strength training is my focus and sounds like you are too! So glad you found our workouts and stay tuned we have A LOT more strength workouts coming! Praying you’re able to balance out your hypothyroidism — thyroid issues are never fun. Keep up the great work mama! -Lindsey

  2. I absolutely loved every exercise in this workout. Circuit 2 was especially spicy! I really appreciate the effort you put in all your workouts. I have been doing them exclusively for months now and I love the changes I am seeing. Thank you so much!!

    • Fatma! I’m so glad you loved this workout! And I hear you on circuit 2 — it was 🔥 ! I’m so glad you’re loving the workouts AND seeing results! I hope you keep coming back for more! -Lindsey

  3. I found you during COVID and will never leave you. You are so dedicated and so much energy . I do especially love these strength training. Take care of yourself and thank you

    • Fran! So glad you found our workouts and are loving them! We have a lot more strength workings coming so stay tuned! Thanks for following along and keep up the great work! -Lindsey

  4. Another fantastic NML workout! Definitely shaky legs feeling with the supersets – very challenging. Great energy from all three of you! Thanks and keep up the great work!