If you want to build an awesome pair of legs, this dumbbell leg workout will put you well in the right direction!
Legs are often neglected in the gym because of the effort you’ve got to put into training them.
But it’s so important that you do train legs – no matter whether your goals are to build muscle, lose fat and tone up or strengthen your muscles!
Exercise #1: Goblet Squat
The goblet squat can be a great alternative to squatting with a bar on your back, especially for beginners to learn squat technique properly.
Having the weight distributed in front of you causes a different challenge, and will also give your abs a blasting.
a) Hold the dumbbell with your palms facing up (hence the ‘goblet’ part of the name), with your feet around shoulder-width apart and your chest forwards, shoulders back.
b) Keeping a straight back, bend your knees and move your butt back and down, so your weight is through your heels. Aim to get your butt as close to the ground as possible.
Keep your chest facing forward.
c) Tense your abs and push back up through your heels to your starting position.
Sets: 3 – Reps: 8
Exercise #2: Dumbbell Deadlift
There are so many different variations of the deadlift, but they all have one thing in common – they’re all more than just a leg exercise.
They’ll fry your hamstrings and glutes, as well as your core and upper back. Talk about effective!
a) Place a dumbbell on its’ end and stand with your feet either side of it, about shoulder-width apart.
b) Bend your knees and this time push your butt back to the wall behind you, instead of down (as in the squat). You should feel a slight pull in your hamstrings (on the back of your leg).
c) Keeping a straight back, with your chest forwards, and shoulders back, reach for the dumbbell with straight arms.
d) With the dumbbell in your hands, tense your abs and stand up straight, by driving your hips forwards and squeeze your glutes.
e) Bend your knees and move your butt backwards again, and lower the dumbbell back to the floor, still keeping your back straight.
Sets: 3 – Reps: 8
Exercise #3: Bulgarian (/Rear Foot-Elevated) Split Squat
Don’t worry too much about what this exercise has got to do with Bulgaria – believe me, you’ll be too focused on the burn in your quads and glutes to do that!
Single-leg exercises can arguably be tougher than two-legged exercises if you do them right. Balance can be an issue initially, but you’ll perfect it with practice.
a) Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your back to a bench. Place your back foot on the bench. Depending on your ankle mobility, you might prefer to have your toe in contact with the bench, instead of your ankle – find what works best for you.
Alternatively, you can hold one heavier dumbbell in the opposite hand to your front leg (i.e. if your left foot is forward, hold the dumbbell in your right hand, and vice versa).
b) Lean forward at a 45 degree angle (this forward lean increases how hard your glutes work, in comparison to standing upright), and put all of your weight on the heel of your front foot.
c) Bend your front knee and lower yourself down to the ground – under control – using the front leg as a brake against gravity.
d) Push back up through your heel to the starting position.
Make sure all of the work is being done by your front leg, and that you’re not using your back leg to help.
Sets: 3 – Reps: 10-12 per leg
Exercise #4: 1-Leg RDL (Romanian/Stiff-Legged Deadlift)
Similar to the dumbbell deadlift we’ve just gone through, this single-leg deadlift variation will really grow and strengthen your hamstrings and glutes, with the added challenge of one leg doing all of the hard work.
a) Stand on one leg (starting on your weaker leg), and hold one relatively heavy dumbbell in the opposite hand to your standing leg.
Alternatively, you can hold one lighter dumbbell in each hand.
b) Bend the knee of your standing leg slightly, and lean forward (you’ll feel a slight pull in your hamstrings, on the back of your standing leg). Lean forward until your body is parallel with the floor, and bring your non-standing leg up behind you.
c) Stand back upright, pushing through the heel of your standing leg, driving your hips forward.
Sets: 3 – Reps: 10-15 per leg
Exercise #5: Walking Lunges
By now your legs should be feeling like they’ve done plenty, and to finish them off we’ll do high-rep walking lunges to get a deep burn in your quads and glutes.
We’ll hit some different muscle fibres (type 1) than you hit earlier in the workout with the heavier, lower rep exercises (type 2) for a complete leg workout.
a) Holding a dumbbell in each hand, step forward and bend the knee of your front leg, placing all of your weight through your front heel, and dropping your back knee towards the ground under control.
If you didn’t step far enough forward, your weight will be through the ball of your foot, not your heel. If you stepped too far, you’ll find yourself using your back leg to help. Find the middle ground for you.
b) Push back up through your front heel, leaning forwards at 45 degrees (as before with the Bulgarian Split Squat), and bring your back foot forward to meet your front foot. Swap legs.
ADVANCED: Push back up through your front heel, and with your back leg, step straight into another lunge.
Sets: 3 – Reps: 15-20 per leg
Take Home Message
Leg growth doesn’t just happen using weights machines – which is great if they’re always being used.
Grab a pair of moderate-weight dumbbells and incorporate some or all of these dumbbell leg exercises into your training routine!