Most of us know the importance of squatting and deadlifting, as both of those are core ingredients for a well developed lower body and posterior chain. For some lifters, training at home means they may or may not have access to heavy barbells…
In this article, we will set out to discuss various lower body dumbbell exercises that can be done to stimulate new muscle growth in the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, an erectors; specifically:
- The Best Leg Exercises to Do With Dumbbells
- 3 Sample Leg Workouts to Do at Home With Dumbbells
The Best Leg Exercises to Do With Dumbbells
Below are six (6) leg exercises that coaches and athletes can do to increase muscular strength, hypertrophy, and endurance with dumbbells. Unlike the barbell and bodyweight training, dumbbells still allow for maximal strength and muscular development (assuming you have heavy enough dumbbells) with all the added benefits of unilateral training.
Dumbbell Clean (Full Squat)
The dumbbell clean (receiving the weight in the full front squatted position) is a ballistic and athletic exercise that can increase overall muscle explosiveness and posterior chain performance. This exercise can be a good option for sports training, conditioning purposes, and general fitness/movement.
Dumbbell Goblet Squats
The goblet squat is a foundational squat exercise than can be done to educate newer lifters on how to squat properly and/or allow more advanced lifters an opportunity to use high amounts of dumbbell loading to subject their quadriceps and glutes to higher volumes. This exercise can be thought of the barbell squat equivalent.
Dumbbell Front Squat
This exercise, like the goblet squat, can be a mainstay for squat strength and overall hypertrophy training in times when a barbell is not present. This exercise will often enable a lifter to use higher amounts of loading than they might with overhead squats and other unilateral squat variations. Additionally, this exercise can increase core strength and target the quadriceps.
Dumbbell Overhead Squat
The overhead squat can be done to incorporate more core strength, an upright squat positioning, and upper body stability during lower body training sessions. This exercise, while highly complex and demanding of mobility, can be an effective exercise at increasing upper back, core, and leg hypertrophy while also increasing movement abilities.
Dumbbell Split Squats and Lunges
Dumbbell split squats, Bulgarian split squats, and lunges all offer unilateral training benefits to athletes and coaches. By incorporating these unilateral lower body exercises within a training program, you can increase unilateral leg loading and demand which will help to address any muscular development asymmetries and imbalances.
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
The dumbbell Romanian deadlift can be done to increase hamstring and glute development, and should be one of the most dominant posterior chain strengthening exercises using dumbbell. Lifters can also perform sumo deadlifts and suitcase deadlifts with dumbbells to increase glute and hamstring size and strength; however Romanian deadlift variations can be done to pinpoint muscle weakness in those areas.
Dumbbell Glute Bridge
The dumbbell glute bridge is a weighted variation of the glute bridge (can also be done as a hip raise) and allows a lifter to add load to glute and hamstring/hip training. Single leg variations can also be done with dumbbells to increase muscular strength and hypertrophy.
Dumbbell swings are just like kettlebell swings, however are done by holding the kettlebell vertically (often grasping the end of the dumbbell rather than the handle). This allows for some powerful hip extension training to improve athletic abilities and maximize posterior chain muscle growth.
Dumbbell Calf Raise
Dumbbell calf raises, with seated or standing, can increase ankle stability, calf hypertrophy and strength, and have an impact on activities like lifting, running, and explosive jumping/sprinting.
3 Leg Workouts You Can Do at Home with Dumbbells
Below are three leg workouts you can do at home with dumbbells (and bodyweight). Assuming you have dumbbells heavy enough (for stronger lifters), you should be able to maximize muscle growth, strength, and unilateral pressing performance. Note, that many of these workouts integrate dumbbells and non-weighted leg exercises as well.
For the Athlete…
The below workout is built to increase overall leg strength, muscle hypertrophy, explosiveness, and athleticism. Like most traditional strength and conditioning programs, the below workout encompasses explosive movements (like the clean), plyometrics, strength and hypertrophy based training blocks, and accessory work.
- Dumbbell Hang Squat Clean (3 second eccentric in the lowering of the hang position) – 5 sets of 5 repetitions, with heavy weight
- Vertical Squat Jumps (hands above head) – 5 sets of 5 repetitions
- Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat – 4 sets of 8-12 repetitions per leg, heavy
- Single Leg Glute Bridge – 4 sets of 8-12 repetitions per leg, 2-3 second contraction at the top of every repetition
- Tempo Goblet Squat – 4 sets of 15 repetitions, with a 2020 tempo (2 seconds in the eccentric and concentric phases, no pausing in between)
- Dumbbell Swing – 4 sets of 15 repetitions
- Standing Calf Raise – 3 sets of 20 repetitions, 2-3 second contraction at the top of every repetition
For the Metcon Warrior…
The below workout is a quick and harsh leg workout that will increase muscular endurance and stamina. The workout should be done for time, resting as little as possible in between sets/exercises. Be sure to adhere to proper technique and form guidelines for exercise movement to ensure proper muscle recruitment and safety.
- Once you have properly warmed-up (I recommend you try this dynamic warm-up), perform one round of the below activation exercises prior to going into the next section of the workout.
- Cossack Squat (bodyweight) – 20 repetitions (10/leg)
- Single Leg Glute Bridge – 20 repetitions (10/leg)
- Dumbbell Woodchopper – 20 repetitions (10/side)
This second part of the workout should be done with unwavering effort and consistency, focusing on settling in at a manageable pace, minimizing resting in between exercises and rounds. Keep form strict and feel the metabolic and muscular burn!
- Perform 5 rounds for time
- 20 Goblet Squats (heavy)
- 5 Burpees
- 20 Dumbbell Swings (heavy)
- 5 Burpees
For the bodybuilder…
This workout is a more tradition bodybuilding lower body workout that can be done to increase muscle hypertrophy and overall development. Perform the below exercises in straight sets or as pairs (supersets), resting 60-90 seconds in between sets.
- Dumbbell Goblet Pause Squat – 5 sets of 8-10 repetitions
- Front Foot Elevated Split Squat – 4 sets of 8-10 repetitions per leg
- Single Leg Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift – 4 sets of 8-12 repetitions per leg
- Step Up with Slow Eccentric – 4 sets of 8 repetitions per leg
- Walking Lunge (bodyweight) – 200 steps (100/leg)
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