11 Lower Body Exercises You Can Do at Home with Kettlebells, Dumbbells, or Your Own Body Weight to Burn Fat and Build Muscle
It’s amazing how much you can accomplish from the comfort of your own home in 20-30 minutes with minimal equipment. Below you will find eleven exercises you can do at home with bodyweight, kettlebells, or dumbbells. Following the exercises, I’ve included a few examples of workouts you can do and a quick guide on how to implement these exercises into your workout regimen.
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You can do most of these with your body weight or weighted objects around your house. As you progress in strength and skill, however, you may want to invest in a kettlebell or two. I prefer cast iron kettlebells like these from Amazon (affiliate link).
This is my go-to movement for coaching the squat movement pattern. The placement of load in the front, instead of on the back like in a barbell squat, forces you to maintain thoracic extension (upright chest). Ingraining this upright position in your muscle memory will help keep your lumbar spine safe if/when you progress to heavier loads and more advanced squat variations.
- Knees out and in line with foot position (toes and knee pointing in the same direction)
- Upright chest – if the kettlebell or dumbbell drifts away from your chest or pulls your hands away from neck/chin position, you are leaning too far forward
- Push the hips back and down – like sitting in a chair
- Some forward knee travel (knees going over toes) is okay
- Your weight should be on your heels
- Push through the heels and squeeze glutes (butt) to stand back up
- Maintain knees out on the up portion
The Sumo Squat is very similar to a Goblet Squat in its benefits to learning proper movement patterns and safety, with the biggest differences being glute activation and hand positioning to allow for heavier loads. I mention glute activation because, for most beginners, the sumo squat stance is easier to achieve maximum glute recruitment.
One thing to think about is each exercise’s progression. If the goblet squat could be progressed to a barbell front squat, the sumo squat could be progressed to a barbell sumo deadlift – use accordingly.
- Wider than shoulder-width stance with toes pointed slightly outward
- Push your knees out to remain in line with your toes, or point them in the same direction
- Shoulders should always be above the level of your hips
- Push hips back and down; bend at the hip before the knee
- Aim for vertical shins and a 90-degree angle between your shin and thigh at the bottom of your squat
- Range of motion can be increased by elevating feet on steps or another type of platform
Stiff Leg Deadlift
A fantastic hamstring/glute builder, the stiff leg deadlift is excellent for learning the hip hinge movement pattern while simultaneously building serious muscle.
- Knees slightly bent, nearly locked at top of movement
- Increased range of motion compared to that of a Romanian Deadlift (RDL)
- Maintain flat lumbar spine (low back), minimal upper back rounding at the bottom of the movement (weight should be lighter than traditional deadlifts or RDLs)
- Bar (or kettlebell) path travels away from your legs and over your toes
- You will also notice that the hips don’t travel as far back as they do in an RDL
- The front squat’s movement pattern is similar to that of the goblet squat, with slightly more forward knee travel (knees over toes)
- Front rack position requires mobility in the lats and a stable “shelf” made by your shoulders
- Aim to keep your upper arms parallel to the floor at all times, fighting the urge to let the elbows point toward the ground
- When coming out of the bottom of your squat, think about pulling the knees backward (or curling the hamstrings) to activate the posterior chain
Single Arm Front Squat
Meet one of the best core exercises in existence. When performed properly, this exercise will light your abs and obliques on fire.
- The movement for the squat is no different than the front squat, except you’ll have one arm free
- The biggest coaching cue will be to brace your core (flex your abs) before every rep and to make sure your belly button remains centered and facing forward
- A mirror may be helpful to keep yourself in check on rotation at the bottom
- When performed properly, this exercise should look exactly like a front squat with one arm out for balance
Single Leg Stiff Leg Deadlift
This is a fantastic exercise for developing balance and stability while working the hamstrings, glutes, and core. Once you have mastered the stiff leg deadlift, moving to a single leg will significantly increase the challenge. I’ve seen a lot of strong athletes have to perform this exercise without any weight to learn the movement.
- Maintain a balanced pelvis and hips – don’t twist or rotate to one side (it’s easy to cheat on this exercise)
- Maintain a neutral spine just as you would in any other deadlift
- Stability and balance will be a major limiting factor in this exercise. Start out without any weight and hold on to a stable surface until you’ve mastered the movement pattern.
- Don’t focus as much on range of motion until you’re able to do the exercise with a neutral spine and balanced pelvis
For as much love as squats and deadlifts get, the kettlebell swing is possibly the superior exercise for most fitness goals. It’s a dynamic exercise that challenges muscles and the anaerobic/aerobic systems simultaneously. Meaning, you can burn a ton of calories while building strong, functional muscle.
- The swing is not a squat – there should be knee bend but not much
- The swing is a hip hinge – meaning your body should “hinge” at the hip like a door and the doorway it’s attached to
- From a standing position, you will push your hips back to load the hamstrings (feel a stretch) – a great cue for this is if you were shutting a car door when your arms are full of groceries
- To raise the kettlebell or initiate the swing, you will “fire” or contract your glutes as explosively as possible
- This explosive movement is what swings the kettlebell, your arms/shoulders shouldn’t do any work
- Keep your hands close to your upper thighs during the downward loading phase – if you find the kettlebell close to the floor at any point, you’re squatting instead of swinging
- Always maintain a neutral spine during kettlebell swings – as long as your hands are close to your thighs and your torso remains as upright as possible in the loading position, you should be fine
Split Squat (Glute Emphasis)
Single leg training is a great way to stimulate new muscle growth by challenging balance, stability, and in most cases, a greater range of motion.The walking lunge is a great exercise, but I prefer the split squat due to its reduction in eccentric force on the knee (think about all of your body weight moving forward into your knee during a lunge versus it remaining in the same plane during a split squat).
- Elevate rear foot to a comfortable height (a chair or couch works great for most)
- Front foot position influences activated muscles: a vertical shin engages the glutes better than allowing your knee to travel over your toe, which hits more of the quadriceps. (move your foot out farther than mine in the video below)
- Use a rack, wall, or another stable object to help with balance should you need it
- Start without any weight if you’re just starting out with split squats. Once you have mastered these with your bodyweight, progress to weighted options like front rack and overhead holds with kettlebells/dumbbells, smith machine, or free barbell
Quite possibly the best booty building exercise in existence, the glute bridge is the female version of a bro’s bicep curl. The glute bridge teaches a lifter to properly activate the glutes which could improve posture, reduce low back pain, and build buns of steel of course.
- Push through the heels to better activate the posterior chain (lifting the toes off the ground can help develop the mind-muscle connection)
- Squeeze the glutes as hard as you can at the top of each rep, fully locking out the hips
- Pause for a 1-second count to ensure you’re achieving peak contraction
- Elevating your shoulders on a bench or stability ball can increase the difficulty and range of motion
If you don’t have access to heavier loads or don’t want to go to the trouble, progressing to single leg glute bridges will accomplish progressive overload. This exercise should ease the transition to a single leg bridge.
- Perform a glute bridge as you always would
- At the top, when your glutes are fully contracted (butt is squeezed), lift one foot off the floor and extend at the knee to lock that leg out
- It’s important to minimize pelvic tilt or shifting the hips from side to side
- Keep the raised leg even with the other to avoid one hip going higher/lower than the other
- Brace your core and flex your abs to combat the urge to rotate the hips
- Don’t progress to single leg glute bridges until you can slowly lower yourself without any tilting of the pelvis
Single Leg Glute Bridge
After you’ve mastered the single leg eccentric with two-up, one-down, you’ll be ready for single leg glute bridges. Keep all of the cues from the previous glute bridges in mind for this exercise.
- Maintain foot placement as if you were doing a normal glute bridge
- I find exaggerating the toe lift and being on your heel activates more muscles and creates stability
- Remember, balanced hips and pelvis
Building a Workout
For a full run down of building your own workouts and designing a training program, read my article, How to Design Your Own Strength Training Program Like a Pro.
Using interval-style training is a great way to get your heart rate up, stimulate muscles, and improve functional ability. Intervals, in my mind, are the best way to make “cardio” fun. A few examples using the exercises above might be:
- 40 seconds working, 20 seconds rest for 20 minutes total – incorporate as many exercises as you’d like and rotate during rest periods
- Every Minute on the Minute (EMOM) – Set a timer and at the beginning of each minute perform a challenging set of one exercise and rest for the remainder of that minute. If you’re wanting to improve your front squat, for instance, you could choose a weight that’s challenging for 10 reps and perform 4-6 reps EMOM for 10 minutes.
- Tabata – 20 seconds working to 10 seconds rest (this works best with kettlebell swings and squats)
Hypertrophy & Strength Focused
If you want to slow things down a bit and train for muscular development and strength, you’ll want to perform 12-15 sets of 8-12 reps per workout, 2-3x per week. This might look like:
- Goblet Squat – 4 sets of 12 reps
- Stiff Leg Deadlift – 4 sets of 12 reps
- Single Leg Glute Bridge – 3 sets of 8 reps per leg
- Split Squat – 3 sets of 12 reps per leg
- Front Squat – 2 sets of 12 reps
- Sumo Squat – 3 sets of 8 reps (heavier weight)
- Single Leg Stiff Leg Deadlift – 2 sets of 10 reps per leg
- Single Arm Front Squat – 6 sets of 8 reps (3 sets in right arm, 3 sets in left arm – no rest between arms)
A Final Word
These workouts and exercises will work best when paired with upper body training as well. For ideas on exercises to train your entire body, check out my article, 37 Exercises You Can Do at Home.
Cover image credit: https://thoroughlyreviewed.com
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