April 12, 2021 9 min read
When you’re chasing gains, it’s easy to overlook the legs. Hiding under your pants and out of reach of squad selfies, they don’t have the immediate wow-factor of a chiseled six-pack, so you give them the same old squats and lunges you’ve been doing for years.
But seriously strong legs are vital for full-body fitness, and sometimes the leg day classics just aren’t cutting it. Adding dumbbells to your leg exercises will bring you a whole new world of leg strength, taking your workout to the next level and burning up those thighs, quads, and calves. If you’re ready to step up to the challenge, it’s time to get those gains.
Your lower body does more than just carry your torso around. Strong legs are a necessity in a lot of sports and daily functional fitness - whether you’re running a marathon or walking up stairs, you’re not going to make it if you’re not regularly moving your lower body.
Your legs are also surprisingly active in a lot of upper-body lifts, providing a lot of the power and stability you need to pump iron, so you’ll need serious leg strength if you’re looking to lift heavier and go harder at the gym.
Together with your core, a strong lower body is important for balance and stability and will decrease your risk of lower-body injury and lower back pain. Firing up your leg muscles is also a great way to lower your body fat and build lean mass.
Your legs include the largest muscle groups in the body, so building strong legs will burn up calories and turn up the heat on your metabolism. And finally, chicken legs are just not a good look - there’s a reason we don’t skip leg day.
Before you hit the dumbbells, it’s time to do some anatomy. Don’t worry, we’re not going to med school, just getting you the tools you need to get torching.The legs are made up of five main muscle groups:
So you’re ready to build muscle and power in your legs. But what’s the best way to grow those thunder thighs? Keep it varied. As your legs include a range of muscles performing different functions, you’ll see the most progress if your lower body workout uses all of them in a wide range of motion.
Mixing compound strength exercises in with your cardio and HIIT workout will bring you maximum gains in minimum time. This will also make sure you’re building functional strength, helping you perform with power in sports and daily life.
Regular but rested is the way to go. Make sure you’re hitting your legs hard at least once a week, but give them rest and the fuel they need to recover to make sure you get gains, not pain.
Stay safe and shredded. Whatever exercise you’re doing, good form is important. Start with weights and a number of reps that allow you to maintain good form throughout a set. As you get more comfortable with the exercise, gradually increase the weight and reps to set your legs on fire.
Finally, you definitely can try this at home. You don’t need a leg press or step machine to build bulk in your lower body. But while bodyweight exercises are a good starting point, if you want to build serious strength you’re going to need some heavy metal.
All of the exercises below require only a pair of dumbbells, and will give your legs a challenge they won’t forget. A dumbbell leg workout also builds balance, core strength, and grip strength, benefiting every part of your strength program. Time to put your best foot forward.
The Bulgarian split squat will destroy your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, sending muscle growth into overdrive. Single-leg exercises are great for balancing growth, improving coordination, and building muscle.
Goblet squats get your whole body working, punishing your quads, calves, glutes, and core while also building arm and grip strength. They’re a great way to build muscle and increase mobility. Goblet squats can also be done using a kettlebell.
No prizes for guessing what muscles this exercise works. The calf raise may be simple, but it’s an incredibly effective way to build strength and mobility in your calves and lower legs. If you don’t have an exercise step or suitable surface at home, calf raises can also be done with your feet starting on the floor.
Exercises that work the legs individually might seem like they’re taking more time to get the same amount done, but they’re incredibly effective ways to build balance, strength and coordination.
Taking exercises one leg at a time increases the mass each leg has to handle, and is also a great way to correct muscle imbalances. Lateral lunges target your glutes, quads, and hamstrings, building tree-trunk thighs.
The reverse lunge will light up your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, while putting less stress on the knee joints than a standard lunge. It also challenges and develops balance and coordination.
Are you ready for a challenge? This exercise will set your quads, glutes, and hamstrings on fire while developing hip mobility and balance.
The Romanian deadlift works the posterior chain - your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings - and also builds core strength. Compared to a standard deadlift, this variation hits your hamstrings harder, growing big legs fast.
The single-leg dumbbell deadlift strengthens your hamstrings and glutes while building balance and core stability. Good form is key, so practice these without weights and only add dumbbells when you can reliably maintain good form.
A whole-body workout in just one move sounds too good to be true, but dumbbell thrusters are here to deliver. Combining a front squat and overhead press, thrusters are an insanely effective way to build strength and size in your lower body, core, upper back, and shoulders.
The dumbbell swing builds whole-body strength, attacking your glutes, quads, hamstrings, core, and shoulders. It’s simple but deadly, requiring strength, power, endurance, and speed. This exercise can also be completed with a kettlebell.
The exercises are best used together with cardio or other strength training exercises. Pick a few to mix into your leg day routine. We do not recommend completing all of the moves in one session, as that’s likely to leave your legs shattered, not shredded.
As with any exercises, avoiding injury is critical. When you’re first trying out a new exercise, consider working with a personal trainer or coach to develop good form. If you experience pain while doing any of the exercises, stop immediately and speak to a health or fitness professional.
Choose weights that will allow you to maintain good form throughout a set. And with any exercise, make sure to warm up beforehand, cool down afterward, and give your muscles the rest and fuel they need to grow big and strong.
If you’re looking to spice up leg day and supersize your legs pronto, you’re going to want to add a pair of dumbbells to your workout. Mixing the exercises above in with your cardio and strength training will help you to build muscle and strength fast, and take your functional fitness to the next level. It’s time to make leg day the best day of the week.