What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the phrase Leg Day?
For most gym-goers, the image in your brain is probably a squat rack, loaded up with a barbell at the perfect height for you and weight plates aplenty (and hopefully without a long line before you get your turn to train). That’s just fine—barbell back squats are a fantastic multi-joint exercise to build strength and size in your lower body and to push big weight—but what about the days that you’re low on time to wait for a chance at the rack, or when you don’t have access to barbells and plates at all? If there’s one thing everyone knows about Leg Day, it’s that you should never skip it. You’ll need to use different equipment, then, namely dumbbells.
While you do have to approach the way you load dumbbell exercises for your lower body differently than you would using a barbell or even kettlebells, you can absolutely build a leg-crushing routine using nothing but dumbbells. You might have a tougher time loading up your movements with heavy weights than if you used barbells, given the way that you have to hold the implements by their handles and the fact that many commercial gyms and commercial adjustable dumbbells only go up to 80 pounds. Here are a few common ways to hold dumbbells for lower body moves:
Front Rack – With one or two dumbbells, hold the weights at shoulder height, with the rear head of the dumbbell on your shoulder.
Goblet – Hold one dumbbell by gripping one end of the weight with both hands, with your palms underneath to support it.
Suitcase (Hands at Sides) – With one or two dumbbells, hold the weights at your side. Grip the handles tightly and let the weight hang, but engage your shoulders to keep your torso upright throughout your movement.
But working with dumbbells allows you to move more freely, making multi-planar exercises much easier to pull off. You can have a more balanced workout that way, with movements that mimic real life instead of always having both feet down on the ground at the same time.
With a little creativity and plenty of effort, you’ve got plenty of options for exercises. Check out this four-move dumbbell-only leg workout you can use to build up your wheels.
The Dumbbell Leg Workout
4 sets of 6 to 8 reps
The goblet squat is all about fundamentals—and it’s one of the best ways you can go heavy with a dumbbell. That will be a challenge for your core, so make sure to keep your elbows high, your shoulders engaged, and your back straight. You’ll need to be sure to work within your mobility, too. Go deep, but make sure that you can keep your form strong for every rep.
3 sets of 8 to 10 reps
Get unilateral and focus on one leg at a time to work your hamstrings and glutes. Instead of kicking back with your non-working leg and making the exercise a balancing act, only lift your foot off the floor and let it float as you move. Also, make sure that you move within your own range of mobility. You should only be lowering to where you feel your hamstrings tighten; don’t worry about how low your torso goes.
3 sets of 8 to 10 reps per side
Kick your lunge in reverse, which can be a lower impact option for your front knee than the forward variation. Hold your dumbbells in any of the positions, but make sure that you can handle the load without bending at the torso or slamming your knee on the floor.
3 sets of 6 to 8 reps per side
Break out of the sagittal plane (front-to-back movement) with this side-to-side lunge, which puts you in the frontal plane. Try this exercise holding one dumbbell in a goblet position. While you can allow your torso to lean forward slightly as you lunge into position, fight to engage your core to keep the weight from pulling you down too much.
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