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The Ultimate Dumbbell Leg Workout

A woman is preforming a dumbbell forward lunge as part of a dumbbell leg workout.

If you’re want to build stronger, leaner leg muscles, look no further than this complete dumbbell leg workout. All you need to tackle this scorcher is a bit of space, a training timer and a pair of dumbbells. That’s it!

This workout is ideal for those who have migrated from a commercial gym to a home gym set-up. After a 30-minute run, or 5k row, you could dust off those dumbbells you bought at the start of lockdown and work your way through the 5 functional leg exercises below.

As well as promoting muscle strength and improved tonality in the quadriceps, this leg workout will get your heart rate up. The explosive plyo element of the exercises will engage your cardio-respiratory system which in turn fires up the metabolism and burns fat.

In addition, training the big muscles of the legs – the gluteus maximus and medius, the quadriceps, hamstrings and calves (gastrocnemius) – has been shown to ‘flood’ the body with growth hormones. But this doesn’t just promote lower body growth. Training the legs can stimulate growth throughout your entire muscular system.

To train your legs effectively you need to pry yourself away from the squat rack. Because there are so many muscles in the leg it’s important to diversify you exercises. If you only perform standard ‘static’ leg exercises – such as squats (apparently the only leg exercise in existence) or, god forbid, seated quad extensions – you will of course reduce the number of muscles targeted. This could impede strength development while also constricting the functionality of your legs. After all, legs evolved the capability of doing more than merely exerting force through one plane - aka squatting.

This complete dumbbell leg workout will ensure that you hit every leg muscle while also improving your functional strength.

How it works

There’s two ways you can approach this dumbbell leg workout routine. This first is to apply the sets/reps method. For each of the five exercises compete the specified number of repetitions for the stipulated number of sets. In between each set take a 30-second rest.

The second method has a CrossFit flavour to it; making it much more intense. Comprised of five individual AMRAPs, you are to set a 5-minute countdown on your training timer. As soon as the timer starts you are to perform as many repetitions as possible inside the allotted time. Make a note of your score so that you have something to compete against next time you try this leg workout.

Method of modification

Because dumbbells are a super versatile exercise tool you can swop and change any of the exercises below for ones that suit your preferences. If you choose to do this just ensure to follow the routine as closely as possible.

While working through the first approach method (see above) you could, instead of resting, complete upper body exercises. By incorporating upper body exercises into this workout you would make it a complete training session.

Let’s say you decided to have a go at the second approach method, the five AMRAPs, but you felt that your fitness wasn’t quite up to the challenge. I would say don’t be deterred and instead simply reduce the AMRAP duration from 5-minutes to 3-minutes. Even by lowering the duration to 3-minutes you’d still get a hell of workout.


The Ultimate Dumbbell Leg Workout


1: Bulgarian Split Squat

First approach

Reps: 10 each side Sets: 3 Rest: 60 secs

Second approach

5-minute AMRAP: completing 2-minutes 30-seocnds on each leg how many reps can you perform?

  • Rest the instep of your back foot on a stable object – such a training bench or chair – and plant your front foot so it’s facing forwards. The start position should look resemble a shallow lunge.

  • Ensure that your hips and shoulders are facing forwards; your torso should be vertical.

  • Keeping your core contracted throughout, lower under control until the quad of your active leg is parallel to the floor.

  • At no point during this exercise should the toes of your lunging leg disappear behind your knee. If they do you need to readjust your position so that your foot is further away from the bench.


2: Side Lunge

First approach

Reps: 10 each side Sets: 3 Rest: 60 secs

Second approach

5-minute AMRAP: alternating between each leg how many reps can you perform?

  • Holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides, stand with your feet close together, toes pointing forward.

  • Take a double-shoulder width step to the side and execute a lunge onto your leading leg.

  • To enhance the movement bend your leading knee until the dumb-bells touch either side of your foot. If you’ve got the strength and flexibility you could even touch the floor.

  • To complete the repetition fire through the quadriceps explosively until you are standing back in the start position.

  • Repeat on the opposite leg.


3: Sumo Squat

First approach

Reps: 10 each side Sets: 3 Rest: 60 secs

Second approach

5-minute AMRAP: alternating between each leg how many reps can you perform?

  • With a pair of dumbbells position at your feet, adopt a double shoulder-width stance – as a sumo wrestler would – toes pointing forward, torso nice and straight.

  • Squat down and grasp the dumbbells and stand back up. This is the start position.

  • With the dumbbells dangling between your legs execute a squat ensuring to follow the same protocol as you would when performing a barbell squat.

  • Keep your knees in line with your toes throughout, back straight, breathing in time with the reps.

  • If you’re up for a nasty burn in the quad explode out of the squat into a plyometric jump.


4: Reverse Lunge

First approach

Reps: 10 each side Sets: 3 Rest: 60 secs

Second approach

5-minute AMRAP: alternating between each leg how many reps can you perform?

  • The start position of the reverse lunge is the same as the forward lunge: feet slightly apart; back upright; dumbbells by your sides.

  • Now, as the name suggests, step back into a lunge ensuring to bend your leading leg. Do not make the common mistake of touching the floor with your knee. This could injure your patella.

  • As you smoothly sink into the reverse lunge maintain correct postural alignment: dumbbells by your sides; shoulders braced; back straight; looking forward not down. Sweet!

  • To return to the start position power out of the lunge from the rear.


5: Dumbbell Step-Up

First approach

Reps: 10 each side

Sets: 3 Rest: 60 secs

Second approach

5-minute AMRAP: alternating between each leg how many reps can you perform?

  • To perform this exercise, you will need a solid stable object. I advise against antique furniture and the side of your sofa. If you have a plyometrics box use that. The box or stable object should be about the height of your knee. (If you want to increase the intensity increase the height of the object onto which you are going to step!)

  • With an ironing board-straight back and grasping two dumbbells by your sides, proceed to step up onto the box.

  • When stepping up ensure to plant your full foot on the box and not just your toes. This makes the exercise a little bit harder and a lot safer.

  • To conclude the repetition, step back down under control. When your leading foot is planted on the floor initiate the next repletion.


Dumbbell leg workout Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ: Can you build legs with dumbbells?

Answer: Hell yeah you can! With a pair of dumbbells you can build muscle just about anywhere in the body. Any of the exercises outlined above can help to improve the strength and physical functionality of your legs.

Of course, the ability to build strength and size is limited by the weight used. For example, if you own only one pair of light dumbbells then you will be restricted in your ability to build strength. To keep pushing the boundaries of strength you need to increase the poundage. Otherwise the muscles of the legs will become accustomed to the weight and no further physiological adaptations will take place.

One way to over come this is by purchasing a set of adjustable dumbbells. Adjustable station dumbbells enable you to access a greater range of weights. This will enable you to overload the leg muscles which will result in improved leg development.

A woman completing a dumbbell leg workout. She is using a pair of adjustable station dumbbells.

FAQ: How do you build leg muscle with dumbbells?

Answer: simple, follow the complete dumbbell leg workout above!

When you’ve acquired the technical ability to perform the five exercises above, you can begin to add more exercises to your repertoire. By doing so you will be able to target a wider range of leg muscles, which in turn should help you to build bigger, more defined muscles.


Enjoyed this circuit? Has it left you hungry for more? Click on the image below and get your copy of the Hungry4Fitness Book of Circuits Vol. 1.

Circuit training is one of the best forms of physical exercise for maintaining and increasing overall-fitness. A well designed circuit will provide a great cardiovascular workout, strengthening the heart and lungs in the process, whilst also improving muscle endurance and developing functional strength. This unique combination, of fat burning and muscle building, which singular exercises, such as running, cycling, swimming or weights cannot give, will help to sculpt a lean defined physique.


(As we are very interested in user experience here at Hungry4Fitness, we would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)

Blog Author

Adam Priest, former Royal Marines Commando, is a personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.

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