If you’re looking to build lower-body strength without setting foot in the gym, you’re in luck — this dumbbell leg workout can be done from just about anywhere, and targets most of the muscles in your legs. Far from being just an aesthetic goal, strong legs are an important part of building full-body strength and can help maximize athletic performance, whether you’re running a marathon or lifting weights.
Ready to get started? Grab a set of the best adjustable dumbbells and give this one a go. The workout has been devised by fitness trainer Olivia Ostrom, and involves five different exercises in a traditional resistance-style format, with a short break in between each. As a reminder, if you’re new to exercise, or you’re returning to exercise following an injury, it’s a good idea to check your form with a personal trainer before adding weight to the move.
When it comes to selecting the right weight for your workouts, remember it should feel challenging, but not impossible by the final few reps. At no point should the weight compromise your form.
What is the workout?
Here’s the workout to try on your next leg day:
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3x12 reps: Elevated heel goblet squat
For this exercise, start by standing with your feet elevated on a 0.5-1-inch solid object — in her video, Olivia uses a weight plate. To do a goblet squat, get into your normal squat position — with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, and your core engaged. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell against your chest, holding it with both hands, like a goblet. Brace your core, and squat down, sitting back into your heels and keeping your chest up. Drive through your heels to raise back into your starting position.
3x12 reps: Staggered leg deadlift
The staggered stance deadlift positions your feet one in front of the other. Your front foot should be one step in front of your back foot, about hip-width apart; only your heel should be touching the ground on your front foot. Hinge at the hips. As you deadlift, your front leg will be straight, and your back leg will be bending. Once the dumbells lower past your front knee, hinge back to your starting position. Complete all your reps on one side before switching.
3x10 reps: Curtsy lunge
Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, your arms down by your sides, and your gaze focused forwards in front of you. Step your left leg back and around behind your right leg, shifting your weight onto your right side, and step down into a lunge. At the same time, bring your arms up towards your chest, keeping your torso upright, and engage your core. Lunge down until your right thigh is parallel to the floor, then straighten back up on your right leg, pushing from your heel, and return your left leg to its starting position. Repeat all your reps on one leg, before switching sides.
4x10 reps: Dumbbell hip thrust
Start with your back against a bench or box in line with your shoulder blades. Plant your feet shoulder-width apart and place the dumbbell on your hips. Rest your elbows against the box and keep your gaze forward. Grip the dumbbell and tuck your chin, then squeeze your core and inhale. As you exhale, drive through your heels, and thrust your hips upward with power. Keep your pelvis, ribs, and chin tucked under, and squeeze your glutes at the top. Slowly lower your hips back down.
4x8 reps: Lying leg raise
For this exercise, start by lying on your side, with your hips stacked on top of each other, and your body weight resting on your elbow. Engage your core, and hold a dumbbell in the top arm, against the top leg. Squeeze your glutes and raise your top leg up toward the ceiling, pausing at the top, before lowering it back down to its starting position. Complete all your reps on one leg before switching sides.
What are the benefits?
You may have heard the phrase ‘never skip leg day’, but it turns out you really shouldn’t. Workouts like this that target the lower body help build a solid foundation, which you’ll use in upper body movements too.
Working the legs is also important for building functional fitness — “function” means that the workout serves a specific purpose for your body outside of hitting the gym, closely following movement patterns that you would expect to perform each day, including walking, jumping, pushing, or pulling. Read more about functional training, and its benefits here.
Often, leg workouts like this one will engage most of the major muscle groups in the body, helping you build full-body strength. Doing single-leg exercises forces you to engage your core to help stabilize the body, so you’ll be working on your midsection, as well as your legs.
Finally, strength training can help you lose weight and keep it off by building muscle, and has also been shown to strengthen your bones.
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Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.