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Leg Workouts With Dumbbells At Home: Simple Exercises For Toned Thighs

Cardio exercises might have been all the rage a few years back, but as of late, strength training seems to be taking over top spot. Lower body exercises, known as what you do on ‘leg day’, are a favorite among women.

That said, with all the machinery recommended for these exercises, building leg muscle through glute and thigh workouts can seem like the impossible dream for those who want to exercise at home.

Spotlight on dumbbells. This versatile piece of gym equipment can be used in a variety of ways and can help you exercise all parts of your body from the core to the arms and even to the lower body. That said, can leg workouts with dumbbells help you build strength and muscle?

Read on to find out how this is possible and which leg exercises will help you achieve your goals.

What Are The Benefits Of Doing Leg Exercises With Dumbbells At Home?

Some reasons why you should choose these free weights for your leg workouts at home include:

Versatility 

As stated above dumbbells are quite versatile. Meaning, they can be used to do a multitude of different kinds of workouts, not just lower body exercises making them a good investment. Some core and upper body workouts that use dumbbells include:

  1. Tricep kickback
  2. Bicep curls
  3. Wood chop
  4. Lateral raises
  5. Russian twist
  6. Renegade rows
  7. Shoulder press

Cost effective 

Compared to other kinds of free weights and gym machinery, dumbbells are relatively cheap. You will not need to break the bank to get a set and start your fitness journey.

Space efficient 

Many fitness enthusiasts dream of having a small at home gym, but not many can afford them – mostly due to cost and space required. Because dumbbells are small and compact, they do not need a lot of space and thus anyone, from a college student living in a dorm, to a renter, to even a small home owner can have them without compromising their living space.

leg workouts with dumbbells at home 

Small, but mighty 

Just because dumbbells are not as ‘fancy looking’ as other free weights or as complex as gym machines, doesn’t mean that they are any less functional, nor does it mean that they’ll give you less than optimal results. In fact, leg exercises with dumbbells for beginners can be a very effective routine.

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In one study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 36 novice males were put to the test. The aim of the study was to determine which kind of resistance training among machines, free weights, or a combination of both worked best for anthropometrics, strength, and functional ability.

The men were divided into 3 groups: a machine only group, free weights only and a combination group – those in the last group started with machines then switched to free weights after 5 weeks. The entire study took 10 weeks.

After the 10 weeks, researchers found that regardless of resistance training method used, all participants experienced significant improvements in anthropometrics, muscle mass, strength and functionality (7).

This demonstrates that by using free weights and doing leg workouts with dumbbells for mass or strength, one can have the same results as using complex gym machinery.

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Can You Build Legs With Just Dumbbells?

Yes, you can. As illustrated in the study mentioned above, building leg muscle and strength is absolutely possible when using free weights such as dumbbells. These findings are also supported by a comparative study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2020.

The aim of the study was to compare the effects of resistance training on muscle mass, strength, free testosterone, and free cortisol concentrations using free weights vs. machines. 

The study – consisting of both men and women – went on for 8 weeks and all the participants strength trained for 2 to 3 weeks, doing 3 to 4 sets of 4 to10 repetitions per workout.

At the end of the study, researchers found that in terms of upper body strength, the machine group seemed to show more strength than the free weights group – the increase in muscle mass, however, was the same in both groups. 

In terms of lower body strength and mass, not only did both the machine and free weight groups show similar increases in strength, but they also had similar increases in the sizes of their quads (2).

See also
Best Exercises To Lose Thigh Fat While Targeting Different Thigh Muscles

leg workouts with dumbbells at home  

Can You Build Muscle With Only Dumbbells?

As proven by the studies mentioned above, you can absolutely build both muscle mass and strength using dumbbells – or any other kind of free weights. This, however, is not the only benefit of using dumbbells for exercise. 

According to the American Council on Exercise, dumbbells are fantastic equipment for progressive overload (1) – a type of strength training that gradually increases the intensity of workouts. Not only does this help with hypertrophy, but it also works great to avoid a plateau in muscle mass and strength (5).

How Do You Build Leg Strength With Weights?

Here is all you need to know about building lower body strength using leg workouts with dumbbells for female and male exercisers:

  • Always start with a warm up – This helps increase blood and oxygen flow to your muscles. When your muscles are properly warmed up, you are able to accomplish more in your workouts and are less prone to injury.
  • Use good form – This is very important especially if you are using added weights like with dumbbells. Not having proper form can lead to injury, which can be made worse due to the extra weight you are using.
  • Opt for compound exercises instead of isolation exercises – Isolation exercises target one muscle group at a time while the former targets multiple muscle groups in one move. Not only are they more efficient but they also help burn more calories, improve intramuscular coordination, flexibility, and functionality.
  • Practice progressive overload – As mentioned above, this type of strength training is great for hypertrophy (increased mass) and strength.
  • Stay consistent – Your leg workouts with dumbbells at home will not work if you are not consistent. Try working out your lower body twice a week. Use the other four days to work on your cardio, upper body and core and then take two days off to rest and recover.
  • Fix your diet – You cannot lose weight or build muscle in the lower body – or any other body part for that matter – if your diet is bad. If you need to lose weight while also building muscle, eat at a calorie deficit.
See also
Ankle Dorsiflexion: What Is It and How to Do It Right?  

If your weight is okay but you want more muscle, eat at a calorie surplus but make sure not to overdo it. A surplus of 350 to 500 calories is enough for this (3). Regardless of whether you are eating at a calorie deficit or surplus, make sure that you are eating enough protein – about 1.6 grams of protein per kg of your body weight per day (6).

Read more: Fire Up Your Muscles With Effective Resistance Bands Leg Workout

Will 5 kg Dumbbells Build Muscle?

Yes, they can. You do not always need the heaviest weight at the store/gym to build muscle. For beginners, even small kg dumbbells can help build muscle. Exercises, especially upper body and core workouts do not always need the heaviest weights to execute. 

If you are not a beginner and would still like to try using 5 kg dumbbells to build muscle, try increasing your reps or duration of your workout – this is a simple way to practice progressive overload without necessarily increasing the workout weight you are currently using.

How Long Should Leg Day Last?

The answer varies depending on who you ask. Some believe that a leg day workout session should only last 20 minutes while others say that you can push up to 90 minutes.

The average duration for most weight lifting workout sessions is usually anywhere between 45 to 60 minutes. If you are a beginner, doing 30 minutes of leg workouts at home with dumbbells should be enough. After a while, you can increase the duration to 45 minutes or even an hour.

Work with what your body feels most comfortable with and build on that.

leg workouts with dumbbells at home  

The Best Exercise For A 30 Day Dumbbell Workout At Home

Here are some of the best exercises that you can add to your leg workouts with dumbbells at home routine.

Goblet Squat

Instead of doing bodyweight squats, switch things up with this variation that too, targets the glutes and quads.

  1. Begin standing, holding a dumbbell vertically, with the dumbbell close to your chest.
  2. Lower your body into a squat position with your elbows pointing down.
  3. If you squat low enough for your elbows to reach your knees, your elbows will brush against the inside of your knees. 
  4. Push back up through your feet, squeezing your glutes, and return to the starting position.
  5. This is one rep. Do 10 to 12 sets per set.
See also
Bulgarian Split Squat Muscles Worked: A Comprehensive Guide To Proper Form And Activation

Bulgarian Split Squats

While they primarily work the quads and glutes, they also target the hamstrings, calves, adductors, and core.

  1. Start by standing 2 to 4 feet in front of a bench. The distance depends on how tall you are. Hold your dumbbells in your hands.
  2. Place one foot on the bench behind you. Your laces should be facing down, with your feet in line with your hips.
  3. Sink your body down until the knee of your back leg almost touches the floor. The front knee should be at a right angle.
  4. Push up through your front foot to return to the start position.
  5. This is one rep. Do 8 to 10 reps for 1 set. Switch and repeat the same with the other leg.

Deadlift

This exercise does not always require a barbell. It can still be perfectly executed with a pair of dumbbells.

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, while holding two dumbbells, with your palms facing your body. Squeeze your armpits and belly button to maintain tension in your core and back while keeping a tight grip on the dumbbells.
  2. Breathe through your nose and begin sending your hips back like you are bending over, keeping your back straight through the movement.
  3. Maintain slight knee bend, hinging at the hips and allowing the dumbbells to move down your shins while your hips go back.
  4. Stop once your wrists pass your knees. Do not let the dumbbells go all the way down and touch the floor.
  5. Thrust your hips forward while breathing out, rising to standing. That’s 1 rep.
  6. Do 10 to 12 reps for 1 set

Reverse Lunges

This exercise works your core, glutes, hamstrings, quads as well as your calves

  1. Stand tall and hold your dumbbells with straight arms by your sides. 
  2. Keeping your chest up at all times, take a step backward with one leg, bending your front knee until the back knee touches the ground. 
  3. Stand up and go back to the starting position.
  4. This is one rep. You can continue all your reps with this leg then switch to the other leg at the end or alternate legs with each rep.
  5. Whichever option you choose, remember to pause a little after each rep – helps with balance – and do 12 reps per leg.
See also
8 Basic Outer Thigh Exercises for a Perfectly Sculpted Physique

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Sumo Squats

This exercise targets the adductors, quadriceps, hamstrings as well as the glutes.

  1. Stand with feet wider than hip-width apart, then turn your toes open. Hold a dumbbell in front of your hips.
  2. Bend your knees, reaching the hips back, and lower down into a squat. Allow your arms to hang in front of you so that the weight remains under your shoulders. 
  3. Lower your body until your knee reaches 90 degrees.
  4. Pause at the bottom for two seconds, then drive into heels to return to standing.
  5. This is one rep. Complete 10 to 12 reps for 1 set.

Box Step Ups

Can be done with a stair step if you do not have a sturdy box to step on.

  1. Start by standing facing a box or step, while holding the dumbbells in each hand at your sides. Place your left foot on the bench and right foot on the floor.
  2. Pushing through the left foot, lift your body up until standing on top of the box
  3. Pause, then step off the box.
  4. This is one rep. Complete 10 reps each side.

Read more: A Leg Workout For Mass To Make Your Leg Day Count

leg workouts with dumbbells at home  

FAQs

  • Do Legs Need More Reps?

Not necessarily. While some sources say that legs need more reps than other parts because it takes longer for blood to flow through them, there doesn’t seem to be any scientific evidence behind it.

Leg muscles can be built with both high and low reps – what you choose to do largely relies on your goals. For strength, low reps with heavier weights is recommended, while for mass, higher reps with lighter weights is deemed better (4).

  • Are Leg Weights Safe?

Yes, they are, but only when used during strength training exercise routines. 

Outside of this, wearing leg weights like ankle weights while doing cardio or simply going about your day is not safe. According to Harvard Health Publishing, doing this may lead to muscle imbalance and also increases the risk of tendon or ligament injuries to the knees, hips, and back (8).

  • Are Squats Enough For Legs?

While they are good, no one exercise is enough to help build muscle. Do a variation of lower body exercises for the best results.

  • Is It Okay To Wear Leg Weights All Day?

No, it is not. Only wear the weights during lower body strength day exercises and take them immediately off after the workout is done

The Bottom Line

Leg workouts with dumbbells at home are a simple, cheap, yet effective way to build the strength and muscle definition in your lower body. Remember that building and toning muscle is largely dependent on what you do, not the equipment you use. 

You can stop stressing about fancy equipment and just get a pair of dumbbells, a workout mat and start your journey today!

DISCLAIMER:

This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

SOURCES

  1. 5 Benefits of Dumbbell Training (2015, acefitness.org)
  2. Effects of Training With Free Weights Versus Machines on Muscle Mass, Strength, Free Testosterone, and Free Cortisol Levels (2020, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  3. Is an Energy Surplus Required to Maximize Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy Associated With Resistance Training (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  4. Low-load high volume resistance exercise stimulates muscle protein synthesis more than high-load low volume resistance exercise in young men (2010, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  5. Progressive overload without progressing load? The effects of load or repetition progression on muscular adaptations (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  6. Systematic review and meta-analysis of protein intake to support muscle mass and function in healthy adults (2022, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  7. Using Machines or Free Weights for Resistance Training in Novice Males? A Randomized Parallel Trial (2020, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  8. Wearable weights: How they can help or hurt (2021, health.harvard.edu)
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