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

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

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

Let’s focus 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 the lower body. But 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?

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

Versatility

As stated above, dumbbells are incredibly versatile. This means that they can be used to do a multitude of different kinds of workouts, not just lower-body exercises, which makes 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 won’t 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 the space required. As dumbbells are small and compact, they don’t need a lot of space and so anyone from a college student living in a dorm to a renter or a small home owner can have them without compromising their living space.

Small, but mighty

Just because dumbbells aren’t as ‘fancy looking’ as other free weights or as complex as gym machines doesn’t mean that they’re 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.

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 10 weeks, researchers found that regardless of the 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, you can get the same results as using complex gym machinery.

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Can You Build Legs with Just Dumbbells?

Yes, you can. As shown 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 that was 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 included both men and women and went on for 8 weeks. All participants strength trained for 2 to 3 weeks, performing 3 to 4 sets of 4 to 10 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. However, the increase in muscle mass 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, they also had similar increases in the sizes of their quads (2).

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. However, this 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). This is a type of strength training that gradually increases the intensity of workouts. This helps with hypertrophy and also works great to avoid a plateau in muscle mass and strength (5).

 

How Do You Build Leg Strength with Weights?

Here’s 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 can accomplish more in your workouts and are less prone to injury.
  • Use good form – This is very important, particularly if you’re using added weights such as dumbbells. Not having proper form can lead to injury, which can be made worse due to the extra weight you’re 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, they also help burn more calories and 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 won’t work if you’re 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 can’t 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, you must eat at a calorie deficit.

If your weight is okay but you want more muscle, you need to 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’re eating at a calorie deficit or surplus, make sure you’re eating enough protein – approximately 1.6 grams of protein per kg of your body weight per day (6).

Will 5 kg Dumbbells Build Muscle?

Yes, they can. You don’t always need the heaviest weight at the store/gym to build muscle. For beginners, even low-weight dumbbells can help build muscle. Exercises, particularly upper-body and core workouts, don’t always need the heaviest weights to execute. 

If you’re 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’re currently using.

Read more: Healthy Blueberry Muffins with Oats 3 Ways

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 weightlifting workout sessions is generally anywhere between 45 to 60 minutes. If you’re 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 it.

The Best Exercise for a 30-Day Dumbbell Workout at Home

Here are some of the best exercises you can add to your leg workout routine with dumbbells at home:

Goblet Squat

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

  1. Begin standing, holding a dumbbell vertically, with the dumbbell close to your chest.
  2. Engage your core muscles and lower your body into a squat position.
  3. Squat low enough for your knees to be parallel with the ground if possible.
  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.

Bulgarian Split Squats

While this exercise primarily works the quads and glutes, it also targets 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.  Place your dumbbells either side of your feet.
  2. Kneel down onto both knees, then place one foot on the bench behind you. Your laces should be facing down, with your feet in line with your hips.
  3. Place your front foot down in front of you. Your front knee should be at a right angle.
  4. Pick up the dumbbells in each hand. Engage your core and push up through your front foot, standing tall.
  5. Lower your body down and backward toward the start position with your rear knee almost touching the floor. Next, stand back up, pushing through the front foot to stand tall. Maintain a strong core throughout.
  6. This is one rep. Do 8 to 10 reps for 1 set. Switch and repeat the same with the other leg.

Deadlift

This exercise doesn’t always require a barbell. It can still be perfectly executed with a pair of dumbbells.

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding two dumbbells, with your palms facing your body. Pull your shoulders down, engaging your lats (back). Engage your core muscles and keep a neutral spine to maintain tension in your core and back while keeping a tight grip on the dumbbells.
  2. Breathe through your nose and start sending your hips back as if you’re bending over until the dumbbells reach your knees. Keep your back straight through the movement and your dumbbells underneath your shoulders with straight arms.
  3. Once the dumbbells reach your knees, bend your legs until the dumbbells are halfway down the shins. Do this while maintaining the same angle of your back, keeping tension in your back and core for stability.
  4. Don’t let the dumbbells go all the way down and touch the floor.
  5. Push the ground away with your feet, rising with your legs until the dumbbells reach your knees, then thrust your hips forward until you’re standing tall.  Breathe out whilst standing tall. This is 1 rep.
  6. Do 10 to 12 reps for 1 set.

Reverse Lunges

This exercise works your core, glutes, hamstrings, quads, and 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 return 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 – this helps with balance – and do 12 reps per leg.

Sumo Squats

This exercise targets the adductors, quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.

  1. Stand with your feet wider than hip-width apart, then turn your toes open. Hold a dumbbell in front of your hips.
  2. Bend your knees, reach your hips back, and lower down into a squat. Allow your arms to hang in front of you so 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 your heels to return to standing.
  5. This is one rep. Complete 10 to 12 reps for 1 set.

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Box Step Ups

This can be done with a stair step if you don’t have a sturdy box to step on.

  1. Start by standing facing a box or step, holding the dumbbells in each hand at your sides. Place your left foot on the box/bench/step and right foot on the floor.
  2. Lean your weight onto your front left foot and push through the front left foot, lifting your body up until standing on top of the box/bench/step with both feet.
  3. Step off the box backward with your right foot first, keeping your weight over your front left foot, and slowly lower down till your right foot is on the ground, and then return your left foot to the ground. This is one rep for the left leg – repeat on the other leg.
  4. Complete 10 reps on each side.

Read more: Benefits Of Leg Workouts, Or Why You Shouldn’t Skip Your Leg Day

 

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 strength and muscle definition in your lower body. It’s important to remember that building and toning muscle is largely dependent on what you do, rather than the equipment you use. 

You can stop stressing about fancy equipment and just get a pair of dumbbells and a workout mat to 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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