Leg Workout Dumbbell Only TLDR
One thing we’ve noticed about hotel gyms is that they often have dumbbells but they rarely go beyond 20 kg. If you’re used to deadlifting and squatting heavy when at home, then you might be a little disheartened. However, you needn’t be.
We’ve wanted to build a range of leg workouts that will cater for everyone. Whether you’re looking to build muscle, support your running training, boost strength, or you’re just starting out with exercise, this dumbbell leg session is for you.
We have aimed to design a range of lower body plans that can work with lighter weights but make ALL gym goers feel like they’ve had a good workout. Whether you’re a newbie or a hardcore lifter, this adaptable plan will work for you.
Using our 10 years of experience in training the general population and weightlifters, as well as training ourselves, we know this leg day dumbbell-only workout will work for women, men, runners, weight lifters, and cyclists. Basically, anyone who wants to boost their leg strength!
We’ve given you the chance to make it more of a challenge if you are a gym regular, or modified options if you are just starting out or don’t want to exhaust yourself on holiday!
Oh, and it is for anyone who doesn’t have access to big machines like leg press, abductor, adductor, and hamstring curl machines.
Looking to add size and got access to more than dumbbells? Try this guide:
Best Quad Workout For Mass
All you will need for this workout is 1 to 2 dumbbells. We have aimed for this to not require heavy weights so go lighter than you think. You do not need to hunt out the 30kgs+ for example. Your legs won’t cope.
So if you find yourself in a city with reduced size training options, such as the hotel gyms in Paris, or Berlin’s hotel fitness centres, then this may be the perfect leg day option.
Best Leg Workout Dumbbell Only
We know you can get a decent leg workout with dumbbells – yep, even light ones. So we’ve used our personal training knowledge and years of coaching clients to put together a one size fits all workout for leg day using dumbbells.
If you’re looking for a two-day sesh, keep scrolling for your follow-up leg day dumbbell workout.
What’s the aim of this leg workout?
- Raise heart rate and burn calories
- Improve leg muscle endurance
- Help to strengthen your legs
- To be easily modified to suit all levels
What’s the importance of leg day?
Your legs and their strength play a huge part in your daily life and sports. Walking, taking the stairs, picking something up off the floor, unloading the dishwasher – these are all functional movements that involve squats, hip hinges and lunges. All things that you can strengthen and support during leg day.
Making sure your legs are strong enough for day-to-day life, and your sports is going to help make life easier and improve your athletic performance. Leg day also targets major muscle groups in the body and recruits stabilising muscles such as the core, back and arms. So, while it might be leg day, you’re doing more than just a leg workout!
Never skip leg day!
The Dumbbell Leg Workout
Enough chat, let’s get started on the best dumbbell leg exercises.
Just by changing up the reps and tempo you can make this workout suit a beginner right through to a regular lifter.
If you’re new to weights, use light dumbbells or even body weight. Stick with lower reps too.
If you’re a regular gym goer and want to feel the burn in your lower body even with lighter weights, aim for high reps or a slow tempo on the eccentric. Really think about the movement and make the mind-muscle connection to help increase activation.
1. Universal Leg Workout With Just A Pair Of Dumbbells
Never skip the warm up.
If there’s a treadmill or bike get the body warm with some cardio for 5 minutes then go into 10 bodyweight squats, 10 inch worms and 10 bodyweight good mornings.
No machines? Try:
Jog on the spot, bodyweight squats, bodyweight good mornings, inch worms, hip mobility movements – 1 minute of each
Rep range: 12-20
Rest: 1-2 mins between sets
Weight: body weight or pair of dumbbells
Workout type: lower body workout with just dumbbells
- Exercise 1: Dumbbell front squats / add a challenge by counting to 3 on the eccentric
How to: Start by standing with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold your dumbbells close to your chest. Hinge at the hip and knee until your thighs are parallel to the ground (or almost!). Return to standing position. Add a challenge by counting to 3 on the way back to standing.
- Exercise 2: Split squat / add a challenge by elevating the back leg and turning it into dumbbell Bulgarian split squats.
How to: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Take a wide step back so you can give your legs enough space. Drop your back left knee to the floor and push back up with your front heel. Keep your hips level and glutes engaged as you perform the movement. Add a challenge by elevating the back foot on a bench or sturdy chair. Switch to the other leg after performing 12-20 reps.
- Exercise 3: Dumbbell Romanian deadlift / add a challenge by elevating the toes slightly using a weight plate or gym mat.
How to: Stand upright with your feet hip width apart. With your dumbbells by your sides, hinge at the hips, keeping your knees soft. When your torso is parallel to the ground return to starting position. Make this tougher by elevating the toes slightly on a mat edge or slowing the tempo.
Circuit finisher: high reps, increased tempo to boost the heart rate
- 30s (each leg) Dumbbell step ups onto a weight bench
- 45s Squat and press (let’s give the upper body a little turn!)
- 45s Lunge and knee drive (make it easier by skipping the knee drive)
Cool down stretches
2. Dumbbell Leg Workout Only For Serious Lifters
Warm up (as before)
Rep range: 12-20
Rest: 1-2 mins between sets
Weight: Pair of dumbbells
Workout type: leg workout dumbbell only
- Exercise 1: Single leg dumbbell deadlift / add further challenge by reducing the tempo on the eccentric
How to: Hold a pair of dumbbells in front of your body and fully extend your arms. Keeping your stabilising knee slightly bent and back straight, hinge from the hips. Lower your torso toward the ground, and let your arms go with the movement. When your body is parallel to the floor (or almost depending on your flexibility) Pause, and then slowly move back to the starting position.
- Exercise 2: Dumbbell reverse lunge (alternating legs)
How to: Holding a pair of dumbbells and standing with your feet shoulder width apart, take a step back with your left foot and hinge at the knee, keeping your weight in your front heel. Push back to starting position, squeezing the glutes. Now repeat the movement by stepping back with your right foot. Alternate legs on this reverse lunge.
- Exercise 3: Dumbbell sumo squat with 2 second pause at the bottom
How to: Holding dumbbells in your hands and close to your chest, take a step so your feet are wider than shoulder width and your toes are pointed slightly outward. Keeping your weight in your heels, hinge at the knees and hips until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Pause for 2 counts. Push through your heels to stand.
- 30s dumbbell jump squat
- 30s reverse lunges (alternating legs)
- 30s high knees
Training Tip: Squat Better
You probably know how to squat, it’s likely that you’re doing it every day in your life as it’s a very functional movement. However, it’s a really important movement to get right as you’re using a large muscle group. If you need a reminder, read on. If you’ve been to squat school and know your form is spot on, skip ahead.
- Start with your feet slightly wider than hip width apart
- Toes pointed slightly outward
- Keeping your torso upright and shoulder blades back and down, bend your knees. Be careful not to lean forward.
- When you are in the squat position push back up to standing position.
For a sumo squat, you want your feet hip width apart then take an extra step out each side.
A dumbbell squat adds a nice bit of weight to your exercise. You could hold the weight by your chest like in a goblet squat, at your shoulders, out in front (zombie squat!) or in front of you so they track down between your knees during your squat.
Leg muscle groups you’re targeting in dumbbell leg workouts
These exercises are going to work your posterior chain, which includes some of the largest muscles in the body responsible for functional daily movements. Training these can help with strength in the lower body, increase athletic performance and even manage chronic conditions such as arthritis and heart disease.
The NHS explains that strength and flexibility exercises will help you increase muscle strength, maintain bone density, improve balance, and reduce joint pain.
The main muscles you’ll be working include:
- Calf muscles
Make sure you keep your core engaged to get even more bang for your buck.
The Pick & Mix Workout – FT. The Best Dumbbell Leg Exercises
If you absolutely hate the exercises suggested above (Dumbbell Bulgarian split squats I’m looking at you!), pick a few from this list instead.
- Dumbbell jump squats
- Dumbbell sumo squats
- Goblet squats
- Dumbbell squats
- Dumbbell step ups with knee drive
- Dumbbell front squat slowing the tempo
- Dumbbell deadlift
- Dumbbell hip thrust
- Single leg hip thrust
- Dumbbell leg curl
- Goblet squats with pause
- Dumbbell calf raises
- Cossack squat
- Curtsy lunge
- Front foot elevated dumbbell lunges
- Reverse lunge
- Goblet squats with pause at the bottom
- Dumbbell squats – count 1 on the way down, hold for 2 seconds, and come up in 3 seconds.
- Dumbbell swing
Dumbbell Leg Day Session FAQs
Got questions? We’ve got answers. Using our PT coaching experience and training we are pretty confident in them too.
Most people have a stronger side. Might be your right leg or your left leg. If you do, single leg exercises are great to add to your exercise regime. Try lunges, clamshells and single-legged squats, with or without dumbbells, and do an extra set on the weaker leg to try to help prevent muscle imbalances.
Golden tip: keep your knees slightly bent!
If you are feeling pain in your left or right knee joints it’s really important to check your position – you should feel exercises in your leg muscles, not your joints! You can do this by checking in the mirror or doing a quick film of yourself doing the exercise and watching it back. You should also check you’re not locking out your knees and always keep your knees slightly bent during exercises, if you are hypermobile this is certainly one to watch out for! For example, when coming back to starting position from a squat position, make sure your knees are soft.
Dumbbells are such a great bit of kit. You can work every muscle using dumbbells, and that includes your legs. With the right leg sesh, reps, sets, and tempo you can get strong legs with just dumbbells. They don’t have to be super heavy either. If you have access you can boost the weight using bands, or just change up the rep range and tempo.
With this workout, you’ll be working more than one particular muscle group. You’ll be targeting your glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, core, and even arms and back. While the main muscles you’ll be targeting are in your legs, secondary muscles will also be firing up to stabilise your body during these leg workouts.
3 main exercises for your leg day session is a great place to start. Particularly if you are hitting the compound moves such as dumbbell squats and dumbbell deadlifts. You could always add an extra set if you are an experienced lifter so you are upping the volume. In our workout, we have planned 3 main exercises then a circuit to get your legs really fired up and your heart pumping.
If all you have is 15 minutes then it is better than nothing. But, if you really want to see some results, you need to put the time and effort in. Aim for 20-40 minutes 3 times a week.
Leg workouts with just dumbbells
And that’s a wrap.
That is everything you need to know about your leg workouts with just dumbbells. Remember, if you’re new to lifting, you can use body weight or light weights, if you are a seasoned lifter use the best weight available and increase reps/sets to boost the volume.