In our pursuit to flatten our tummies and put our pecs on show, it can be easy to overlook our legs, especially when hidden away under gym wear. But leg workouts are important. Your leg muscles are those upon which the rest of your body literally depend; without giving your leg muscles the same level of attention, you’re simply not giving yourself a ‘full body workout.’ And as with working your upper body, whether you’re working out at home or in the gym, a set of dumbbells can be your friend.
Benefits of Dumbbell Leg Workouts
There are three main benefits to using dumbbells:
Portability & Storability: You can use them either at the gym or at home. If you’re working out at the gym, you can even take your home set with you, should you be more comfortable with those. Dumbbells take up about as little space as it’s possible for a piece of gym equipment to take up, so they’re perfect for home use and easy to store.
Versatility: Their distinctive shape makes them suitable for a wide variety of different exercise types.
Cost: A perfectly usable set can cost as little as one month’s gym subscription. At this price point, it is simply common sense to invest in a set of your own for home use.
Dumbbell Leg Exercises
Here’s a quick run-through of some effective dumbbell exercises. Don’t forget to warm up first. Weak hamstrings–the large muscles that run down the back of your thighs–can be particularly susceptible to injury, so it’s important to make sure your leg muscles are all fully loosened up before you start.
For this workout, your position should be standing with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed out at 45 degrees, torso slightly forward, holding a dumbbell with both hands in front of you. Now inhale, bend your knees, and lower your hips until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Now exhale and drive through your heels to return to your starting position.
Your starting position should be holding a dumbbell in your left hand, your feet shoulder-width apart and your right hand clenched into a fist, arm extended out to your side at a 45-degree angle. Engage your abs and keep your knees soft, then sit your hips back to slowly lower your weight until it reaches the middle of your left shin. Your back should be flat and parallel to the floor. Now press through your heels and contract your core to quickly return to your starting position, and squeeze your glutes once completely upright.
Supported Single-Leg Deadlift
Your starting position should be standing on your left leg with a dumbbell in your right hand, your palm facing toward your thigh, and your left arm down at your side. Step your right leg back around a metre behind your body, lift your heel, and press your right toes into the ground to improve your balance. Keep your left leg slightly bent. Now lean forward, hinging at the hips with your flat back to lower the weight toward the floor. Then drive into your left heel to return to your starting position. You can amend this move into a full single-leg deadlift by lifting your back foot up off the floor while performing your hinging motion.
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
Starting on your weaker one, stand on one leg and hold either one (relatively heavy, if possible) dumbbell in the opposite hand to your standing leg. or one lighter dumbbell in each. Now bend the knee of your standing leg slightly, and lean forward, feeling 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. Then stand back upright, pushing through the heel of your standing leg and driving your hips forward.
Dumbbell Overhead Lunge
Your starting position should be with your feet positioned around shoulder-width apart and with your knees slightly bent. Now, inhale as you raise the weight above your head. Keep the weight directly overhead and centred between your shoulders. Exhale as you take a step forward into a deep lunge position. Inhale and pause for 1-2 seconds. Check your body shape; your forward knee should remain over your forward foot and not in front of it. Now exhale as you forcefully drive your forward heel into the ground, and inhale as you return yourself to the starting position.
Isometric Squat Hold
Start by standing with your feet around shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in front of your chest. Now engage your core, push your hips back, and bend your knees until your thighs are nearly parallel to the ground. Hold for 30 seconds, then rest for 15 before returning to your starting position.
How Often Should I Do a Dumbbell Leg Workout?
There’s no uniform answer to this, but in general, it’s recommended to exercise your legs about three times a week and for around twenty minutes per session. This allows a good balance between working those muscles and getting plenty of valuable recovery time.
What Are the Best Dumbbell Exercises for Targeting Different Leg Muscle Groups?
Your leg muscles are broadly divided into six groups; the adductors and abductors, the hamstrings, the quadriceps, the glutes, the calves and the lower leg muscles. Different exercises will strain different muscle groups; for a full-leg workout, it’s best to mix up your exercises.
Dumbbell Side Lunge (Adductors & Abductors)
The side lunge is an excellent exercise to improve balance, stability and lower body strength. The side-to-side movement is both a strengthening and stretching exercise that works both the hip adductors and hip abductor muscles. Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart and hold a weight at your chest level.
Now, take a large step to your side and drop your hips down and back until your thigh is parallel with the ground while keeping your other foot planted to the floor, and push through your bent leg's foot, bringing you back to the starting position.
Dumbbell Deadlift (Hamstrings)
Any sort of deadlift is a great workout for your hamstrings. Your starting position for a basic deadlift should be holding dumbbells in both of your hands and placing your hands down by your sides, with your arms straight and bent forward at your hips, with a slight bend in your knees. Now lower the dumbbells slowly to the floor by keeping your back straight, and then move back into your starting position by engaging your core and glutes.
Goblet Squat (Quadriceps)
Your standing position should be with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart and with your toes pointing out at around 30 degrees. Hold one dumbbell with both hands at chest height and, while bracing your core, push your hips back and bend your knees to lower yourself into a squatting position. Keep your back flat throughout the movement. Lower as deep into the squat as you can, then hold the low squat for 5-10 seconds and push back through your heels to come back up to the starting position.
Walking Lunge (Glutes)
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. It is important to focus on your exact body positioning with this exercise. If you don’t step far enough forward, your weight will end up upon the ball of your foot rather than your heel. But don't step too far forward; if you do, you’ll likely find yourself having to use your back leg to help support you, so find a middle-ground that works for you. Now push back up through your front heel, leaning forward at an angle of around 45 degrees, and bring your back foot forward to meet your front foot.
Calf Raises (Calves)
Put an exercise step, weight plate, or similar raised surface 5cm to 8cm off the ground in front of you. Place your toes and the balls of your feet on the step while leaving your heels on the floor. The arches of your feet should not be on the step. Now, take a dumbbell in each hand and hold it down by your sides. This is your starting position.
Now push through the balls of your feet and contract your calves to raise your heels off the floor and as high as you can manage. Hold for a count of one, then slowly lower yourself back to your starting position. You should feel your calf muscles stretch with this movement.
Bulgarian Split Squat (Lower Leg Muscles)
Your starting position should be standing around two feet away from a bench or step, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Face away from the bench, reach your left foot back, and rest it on the bench.
Bend your knees to lower your body as far as you can, or until your right thigh is parallel to the ground and your left knee is just above the ground. As you move down, keep your shoulders back and chest up. Pause for 1-2 seconds, then press yourself back up into your starting position, keeping your glutes engaged.
Can I Do Dumbbell Leg Workouts at Home Without Gym Equipment?
Dumbbells are just about the most portable exercise equipment there is, so leg work doesn’t need to be confined to the gym. If you don’t want the cost of a gym subscription, it’s perfectly possible to train your lower body without the need for expensive gym equipment. If you’re worried about what your fitness regime might look like, you can always contact one of our online personal trainers.
Can You Build Leg Muscle With Dumbbells?
Dumbbells are incredibly versatile, you can use them to target any muscle group and – as well as giving you a great-looking body – they provide balanced gains. That’s because when you hold one in each hand you have to control their movement completely, ensuring that each side of your body does an equal amount of work.
How Long Does It Take to See Results From Dumbbell Leg Workouts?
To a great extent, this is dependent on your metabolism, your exercise regime, and a number of other factors. But as a general rule of thumb, you should see initial changes within four to six weeks, and actual results within eight to twelve.
Tips for Effective Dumbbell Leg Training
Proper technique is essential if you’re to maximise your gains. If you’re not sure whether you’re doing a particular exercise correctly, ask a registered fitness professional, gym instructor or doctor for help. The same goes for form. Maintain a strong form while lifting, as this will prevent injury through incorrect technique. Always train within your own capabilities and slow down or stop if you feel the weight is out of control or too heavy.
Nutrition and Recovery
Of course, nutrition and recovery are critical to the success of any exercise regimen, and it’s not as simple as choosing vegetables over doughnuts. You need to eat the right types of food at the right times of the day. Complex carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals are all important, and there’s plenty of advice available. A balanced diet is key to maximising the gains that you can make from your weight loss programme.
You don’t need an expensive gym membership to be able to keep yourself in shape at home, and dumbbells are an inexpensive, versatile and easily storable addition to your personal keep-fit equipment. It’s easy to forget about those legs, especially if you keep them covered while exercising, and keeping them in shape is crucial to any full-body workout programme. Dumbbells aren’t only for working your upper half. You can get the bottom half to match; all you have to do is add a leg workout to your programme, whether at the gym or at home.