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Navigating a lower-body dumbbell workout with weak knees can feel like trying to dance in tight shoes. Just like the wrong footwear can limit your ability to dance freely, knee discomfort can make it difficult to exercise effectively, reducing mobility and increasing the risk of injury.

“If you experience achiness in the knees during a lunge or a squat, it could be an indication of a lack of mobility or strength in your ankles or hips (or any other part of your leg),” says Izzi Lynn, instructor at Barry’s and host of our Movement of the Month Club focusing on dumbbells.

“But when we do load-bearing lower-body exercises, we are strengthening the muscles that surround and support the knee like the quad, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. That said, if you experience sharp pain or a popping sound, always check with a doctor to clear you for movement!”

This lower-body dumbbell workout is designed with your knees in mind, providing you with a series of movements that strengthen your legs and, by extension, protect your joints. By focusing on controlled, fluid motions, this routine helps you build muscle to support your knees and help prevent future knee problems.

Join the movement

If you’re following along with our July 2024 Movement of the Month Club, these are the moves for week 4. You’ll do one dumbbell exercise each day, Monday through Saturday, really focusing on perfecting your form. (But you can do this workout anytime!)

Then on Sunday, you’ll do the full workout:

  • Deadlift at a moderate pace for 60 seconds, followed by 30 seconds at a quicker pace.
  • Rest for 30 seconds.
  • Split squat (right leg) for 30 seconds, finished with 10 seconds of pulses.
  • Curtsy lunge (right leg) for 30 seconds.
  • Bear plank to pike for 30 seconds.
  • Rest for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat the whole circuit on the left leg.
  • Rest for 60 seconds.
  • Single-leg deadlift (left) for 30 seconds.
  • Snatch (left) 30 seconds.
  • Repeat.
  • Rest.
  • Single-leg deadlift (right) for 30 seconds.
  • Snatch (right) 30 seconds.
  • Repeat.

Here’s your lower-body dumbbell workout

1. Deadlift

There’s a reason deadlifts are one of the “big three” lifts: They engage multiple muscle groups including the glutes, hamstrings, lower back, core, and upper back, improving overall body strength and posture.

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, with a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs. Engage your lats by drawing your shoulder blades together.
  2. Bend your knees slightly and press your hips back as you lower the dumbbells toward the floor, stopping at mid-shin.
  3. Drive through your heels to lift the weights, straightening your legs and hips simultaneously while keeping the weight close to your body.
  4. As you reach the top, tighten your glutes and pull your shoulders back slightly, but avoid leaning back.
  5. Lower the weights back to the floor by hinging at the hips and controlling the descent.
  6. Repeat for 60 seconds.

2. Split Squat

Think of these like a lunge-squat hybrid. Split squats target the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes while improving balance and coordination.

  1. Stand with your feet staggered, right foot forward and left foot back, about two to three feet apart.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in your left hand.
  3. Lower your body by bending both knees, keeping the right knee in line with the foot, and dropping the back knee toward the floor.
  4. Your right thigh should be parallel to the floor, and your torso should stay upright.
  5. Push through your right heel to return to standing (feet still staggered).
  6. Complete all reps on one side (30 seconds) before switching to the other leg (30 seconds).

3. Curtsy Lunge

Take a cue from the royals and practice your curtsying for stronger hips and legs. Curtsy lunges focus on your gluteus medius and inner thighs, helping to strengthen these areas and improving hip stability.

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in your left hand at your left shoulder.
  2. Take a step back with your right leg, crossing it behind your left leg as you do a deep lunge.
  3. As you lunge, lower your body until your left thigh is parallel to the floor.
  4. Keep your torso upright and your hips and shoulders as square as possible to the front.
  5. Press through your left heel to return to standing.
  6. Complete all reps on one side (30 seconds) before switching to the other leg (30 seconds).

4. Bear Plank to Pike

This exercise combines two challenging ab exercises into one! You’ll build core stabilization with the bear plank and dynamic strength with the pike, building strength in your quads and abs, as well as flexibility in the hamstrings and lower back.

  1. Start on your hands and knees with your hands under shoulders and knees under hips.
  2. Tuck your toes and press into your hands and toes to lift your knees a few inches off the ground.
  3. Press through your hands and feet as you lift your hips up and back, driving your heels toward the ground and your chest toward your thighs into a pike.
  4. Pause at the top, then return to the bear plank.
  5. Continue for 60 seconds.

5. Single-Leg Deadlift

Build balance and single-leg strength with this deadlift variation. Single-leg deadlifts are an important lower-body exercise, as they target the entire posterior chain, including the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.

  1. Stand on one leg with a dumbbell in the opposite hand.
  2. Keep that knee slightly bent, hinge at your hips, and extend your free leg behind you for balance.
  3. Lower the dumbbell toward the ground, keeping your back flat and hips square to the ground.
  4. Squeeze your glute to pull yourself back to a standing position.
  5. Complete the set on one side (30 seconds) before switching to the other leg (30 seconds).

6. Snatch

The snatch is a complex Olympic lift that increases power, speed, and coordination. It engages the entire body, particularly the shoulders, back, and legs, while significantly boosting athletic performance and functional strength.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, a dumbbell on the ground between your feet.
  2. Squat down with your back straight and grasp the dumbbell with one hand, palm facing your body.
  3. Drive through your heels to extend your legs while simultaneously lifting the dumbbell close to your body with a straight arm.
  4. As the dumbbell reaches chest height, powerfully shrug your shoulders and then use the momentum to “snap” the dumbbell upward. Immediately drop under the dumbbell by slightly bending your knees.
  5. Rotate your wrist so that at the peak of the lift, your palm faces forward and you’re holding the dumbbell overhead in a locked-out position.
  6. Stand up straight to fully complete the movement, then lower the dumbbell back to the ground safely.
  7. Complete all reps on one side (30 seconds) before switching to the other (30 seconds).


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