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So it’s time for your leg day, and you don’t have any barbells at your disposal. Does this mean you can’t get a good workout in? Absolutely not!
Unless you really want to have chicken legs. Then go ahead, skip your workout.
But in all seriousness, you can get a very good leg workout in with dumbbells only. You can perform virtually the same exercises as you would with a barbell and even add some additional exercises that aren’t possible without dumbbells.
Dumbbells give you the flexibility of being able to move around pretty comfortably while still performing some key exercises for your legs. They are also great for progressive overload.
So, what is the best leg workout with dumbbells only, then? Read on to find what they are and how to perform them. Note that the exercises are not in a particular order, and are just listed as the best exercises for legs you can do with dumbbells.
Exercise 1: Dumbbell Squats
You thought you would escape the squats, huh? Well, you thought wrong.
Squats are and should be the core of every leg workout, no matter what equipment you have at hand. Some even perform them with their own body weight, although there will inevitably come a limiting point where you will need to add some resistance to the movement.
You can easily do that with dumbbells. What is more, dumbbell squats are much easier to do than barbell squats because you don’t have to bother putting the barbell on your back, which is uncomfortable, especially for beginners.
Dumbbell squats will work almost the entirety of your legs, including:
Instead, you can keep your dumbbells at your side or you can lift the dumbbells and keep them at shoulder’s level.
Once you’re comfortable with the movement, you can start adding heavier dumbbells to it. You might think that overloading the movement is hard with dumbbells, but it is possible. To make it more challenging, you can add additional movements to it such as jump squats, but that’s for more advanced squatters, which you will become soon, hopefully.
If you’re someone who does sports regularly, then lunges should be an unconditional part of your leg routine.
Bodyweight lunges might not be enough for you to feel anything. However, you can easily add some weight to the movement with a bar or with dumbbells.
The advantage of adding dumbbells to the movement is that it’s much easier to control the weight, and it’s also much more comfortable than a bar. Lunges are a fantastic exercise that will work your:
In addition, lunges will strengthen some secondary muscles that allow you to move in space easier. This is very important for sports, especially sports where there’s a lot of leg movement and running involved. This includes the adductor muscles in your legs, which are crucial for helping you move around swiftly.
Again, you can keep the dumbbells at your sides during the movement, or you can bring them to your shoulders and keep them there. Both can work, although it might be easier to keep the weights at the sides at first.
Deadlifts are sometimes put in two different categories: they can either belong to your back workouts, or you can do them in your leg workouts. The truth is that it’s a compound movement that works both your leg and back muscles.
To be more precise, it focuses on your posterior chain muscles – the lower back, especially, It also focuses parts of your upper back. But you’ll definitely notice the biggest amount of soreness in your glutes and hamstrings the next day. Here are all the muscles worked in a deadlift movement:
- Lower back
- Erector spinae
- Upper back
From this large list of muscles worked, you can see why the deadlift is one of the most revered exercises by gym buffs. To be honest, if you would only be able to do three exercises for the rest of your life, the deadlift would definitely be one of them.
And while it is more common to perform it with a barbell, it’s also viable if you decide to do them with dumbbells. Sure, it might be slightly harder for you to progressively overload the deadlifts, but dumbbells are great especially for beginners who can’t handle large amounts of weight on the deadlift yet.
The goblet squat is an incredibly popular movement for legs with people who only have kettlebells or dumbbells at their disposal. They can effectively replace the traditional squats, or they can be used as a supplementation movement to traditional squats.
The main advantage of goblet squats is they put extra focus on your quadriceps muscles. While it probably won’t work your glutes as much as the classic squats, you will also notice some more strain in your hamstrings. And because you’re holding your dumbbell in your hands, it’s likely you’ll also notice that your arms will have to work during the movement.
The goblet squats work the following muscles:
- Arms (forearms)
One of the more common mistakes people make with goblet squats is they go too low during the movement. The key is to have the right balance during the exercise and not dive too deep, or else you’re risking the health of your knee and your spine. You should have a tall spine in all cycles of the squat, which is hard to do if you go too low.
As always, you should make sure you perform the exercise with proper form. To learn more about it, watch this video.
Hip thrusts are normally done with the barbell, but it’s completely possible to do them with dumbbells, too. Even if the barbell allows for more weight, the dumbbell is slightly easier to do because it’s not as awkward to perform as it is with the barbell.
But the effects can be just as good as with the bar. The primary muscle worked is still the glute, while there are some effects in the hamstrings and your quads. To be more precise, the movement targets the vastus medialis and vastus lateralis muscles. It’s also partially effective for your calves.
Here are the muscles affected by the hip thrusts:
The advantage this type of movement has over the traditional barbell hip thrusts is that it’s much easier to perform. When you use the barbell, there’s always the nagging issue of putting the barbell comfortably onto your belly. But the dumbbell allows much more comfort.
The downside is obviously that you won’t be able to add as much weight as you would with the bar. So this movement is fantastic for beginners, but it’s also good for more advanced trainers provided you have heavy enough dumbbells and that you do enough repetitions to allow you to progress.
If you’re not sure how this movement looks, here’s how you can do hip thrusts with dumbbells.
Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgarian split squat is perhaps one of the most effective leg movements with the dumbbells. It’s slightly similar to lunges, although it targets your glutes far more than lunges do.
It’s also a great exercise if you simply don’t have enough space to do lunges. It can be done on a yoga ball or on a bench, or you could use something as simple as a chair if you’re doing the workout at home.
These are the muscles that Bulgarian split squats target:
This is definitely one of the most effective leg exercises you can do with dumbbells. Progressing the exercise is also quite easy because the movement is challenging as it is already.
You can even add a slight twist to the movement by bending your upper body slightly forwards, which can result in more activation of your lower back. Overall, you should definitely try to include this exercise into your routine.
Best Dumbells For Leg Workouts
You can use any set of dumbbells if you’ve already got some at home. However, if you need a new set, here are the ones I recomment.
A Sample Leg Dumbbell Workout
So, how would all of this tie together, then?
Here’s a sample workout you can follow based on the exercises we’ve analyzed in this article.
Dumbbell Squats – 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Dumbbell Lunges – 3 sets of 8 reps
Dumbbell Deadlifts – 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Goblet Squats – 3 sets of max reps
Hip Thrusts – 3 sets of max reps
Bulgarian Split Squats – 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Obviously, you should take a short rest between sets and between exercises. Aim for 1-2 minutes of rest between sets and 2 minutes of rest between exercises.
It’s possible to get a very good leg workout in with dumbbells only, you just need to know which exercises to do. Hopefully, you have a better idea of which exercises will help you build impressive and strong legs with dumbbells only.