How to Build Bigger Legs with Just Dumbbells

Ah leg day. A part of the week most could do without, but if you want to take your muscle gain and weight loss goals seriously, then it’s something you can’t live without.

Fortunately, when it comes to exercises, there are many to choose from – think barbell squats, deadlifts, lunges and leg presses, not to mention an endless supply of machines, all designed to work different parts of your lower body.

But with choice comes confusion, which is why we’ve kept it simple with our top ten dumbbell-based lower-body moves that will help you take your next leg day to the next level.

Whether you train at home, at a sparsely equipped gym, or just don’t have time to queue for the next available squat rack, our Fitness Editor and Head of Elite Training for Squad Membership Andrew Tracey has handpicked the best exercises to create bigger legs only with dumbbells.

Best Dumbbell Leg Exercises

dumbbell exercise

1. front squat

      AT says: Probably the heaviest squat you can do with just dumbbells – and when it comes to building your legs, every pound counts. You’ll also build a stronger core and upper back as you resist being pulled forward and folded like origami.

      How it goes: Clean the heaviest dumbbells you can muster on the front of your shoulders (A). From here, front squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor (B) before booting up again. Your grip and upper back can be tiring, but stay upright, it’s crucial to keep your core engaged throughout.


      2. Deadlift with dumbbells

      AT says: Although you may not be able to go as heavy as with a barbell, deadlifting with dumbbells shifts the focus to your legs and allows you to really drive from the lower body, avoiding all-too-common lower back pain. Building stronger quads while also putting you in a more secure position to pull heavy weights off the ground, what’s not to like?

      How it goes: Hold a pair of heavy dumbbells by your sides and, with your back flat, push your glutes back, fold down, and touch your dumbbells to the floor (A). Engage your lats and stand up straight, pushing off the floor with your feet and making sure your hips don’t shoot up too soon (B). Your arms should be hanging straight during this movement, think of them as ropes connecting to your dumbbells.


      3. Reverse lunge

      AT says: Whether you’re holding your dumbbells by your sides or in the “front rack” position, the reverse lunge is a great option for everyone from beginners to seasoned pros. “One-sided strength” – ie. Exercising one side of the body at a time – is essential to correcting imbalances, avoiding injury, and building the kind of strength and coordination that translates to sports like soccer or rugby.

      How it goes: Hold your dumbbells at your sides with your arms straight (A). Always keeping your chest up, step back with one leg and bend your front knee until the back knee touches the floor (B). Stand up explosively, pause, and repeat with the other leg. Keep your upper body upright throughout the exercise and control the descent of each rep. Avoid just falling on the ground.

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      4. Chalice squats

      AT says: If you have trouble keeping your upper body upright high For squats, the goblet variation might be your solution. By keeping the weight close to your body, you’re forced to maintain an upright position, which helps you focus on what’s really important – your legs. A great tool for beginners or excellent for high rep sets where form can start to break down.

      How it goes: Hold a single dumbbell close to your chest (A). Take a deep breath, engage your core and lower your hips back and squat (b). Your elbows should come down between your knees. Drive back up, exhaling on the way up and tightening your glutes at the top. To repeat. Push through these, you can probably do more than you think.


      5. Walking lunge

      AT says: They’re a challenge to your balance, coordination, and core “integrity” as well as a leg movement, which makes them great for building pins that are useful in and out of the gym. Again, keep your upper body strong and upright and avoid hitting the floor too hard with your knees. If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong.

      How it goes: Standing tall, grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them by your sides with your arms straight (A). Always keeping your chest up, take a long step forward with one leg and bend your front knee until the back knee touches the floor (B). Stand up explosively, pause, and repeat the movement with the other leg as you move forward.


      6. Romanian Deadlift

      AT says: Hamstrings tend to be a bit of a secondary concern in most lifters’ leg exercise choices, but they really shouldn’t be. Not only are these hammies one of the most important factors in your athletic ability, but not training them directly can lead to stagnant progress on your squats and deadlifts. This is a movement that should be there everyone leg session.

      How it goes: Raise your dumbbells to waist height, feet shoulder-width apart (A). With knees slightly bent, push your hips back and slowly lower the bar toward the floor (B), pull your shoulders back and maintain a flat back throughout. When you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, pause and raise yourself back to the starting position. Keep your dumbbells close to your body.


      7. Goblet Cyclist Squats

      AT says: We’ve already touted the benefits of the goblet squat, but by simply kicking our heels up a few inches, we can increase the intensity significantly – putting an incredible focus on the quadriceps muscles in the front of our legs and building the surrounding muscles (and supports) the knees. Perfect for runners and cyclists. Try high reps and light sets to end your workout with a serious burn.

      How it goes: Raise your heels on a weight plate or block and keep your feet within 6 inches of each other, heels close together. Keep your dumbbell close to your chest. Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor, (A) Stand up explosively, stopping just before extending your legs to keep the tension on the quads (B). To repeat.

      8. Hack Squat with Wall Support

      AT says: The squat is a great move that helps push your body through a range of motion ideal for building bigger, stronger legs. It’s also a huge machine that wouldn’t even make it through the door of most home gyms. Place a foam roller or exercise ball between your back and a wall, then grab your dumbbells to recreate this fluid motion, which also helps relieve back injuries.

      How it goes: With a pair of dumbbells directly behind you, place a foam roller in the cross between your body and a sturdy wall. Take a small step forward and lean your body weight against the wall before crouching and allowing the foam roller to roll your back up towards your shoulders. At the end of the squat, hold onto your dumbbells (A). Create tension in your core and push away from the floor, lifting back up as the roll works down into your lower back. Once you are fully upright (b)take a deep breath and repeat.


      9. Split squat with back foot elevated

      AT says: The split squat has a lot in common with the lunge, everything except the lunge part. By keeping your foot on the ground and simply moving up and down on the same knee, we can maintain tension and focus on one leg, leading to significantly more muscle activation and, with luck, growth. Raising the back leg increases the range of motion and recruits more muscle into the mix.

      How it goes: Stand upright with your back foot resting on a bench or box behind you, dumbbells hanging at your sides (A) Bend your front knee and slowly lower it until your front thigh is parallel to the floor (b). Drive your weight through your front foot and explosively stand back up.

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      10. Box step up

      AT says: The bigger, uglier brother of the lunge and split squat, box step-ups not only create a much greater range of motion by engaging the glutes and hamstrings more, they also closely resemble our movements. have to be made in real life, which makes them extremely practical. Alternate legs from rep to rep to properly replicate a “climbing pattern,” or focus on one leg at a time to increase the burn.

      How it goes: Stand hip-width in front of a box, dumbbells by your sides (A). Put one foot on top and propel your foot into the box. Lean forward slightly for balance, but keep your torso upright (B). When you reach the top, stand up fully by straightening your knees and hips. Slowly step backwards off the box and repeat with the other leg.

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