If you’re not using dumbbells in your training, you’re making a mistake. Dumbbells offer distinct advantages over other types of gym equipment.
They allow for an easy progressive overload, aid in stabilization, help fix asymmetrical muscle imbalances, and typically have a larger range of motion, which means more muscle activation and growth.
Dumbbell exercises can also be done at home, at the gym or really anywhere dumbbells exist in your world.
When people do incorporate dumbbells into their regimen, it’s usually for upper body training, like presses and rows. However, your legs can also benefit from a trip to the dumbbell rack. Here are the three best dumbbell leg exercises to add to your leg day.
Squats train more of the front side of your legs, aka your quads. Although barbell squats will allow you to squat more weight than any dumbbell squat variation, dumbbell squats have their place in all levels of training.
The goblet squat is a great exercise for teaching proper squat mechanics. It does not require much weight to be effective.
A goblet squat is when you hold the dumbbell up towards your chest and balance the weight in your palms. When used properly, the goblet squat helps teach better squat technique and allows for a more upright torso, which should lead to a deeper squat and greater range of motion.
How to do a Goblet Squat
To do a goblet squat, hold a medium to heavy weight to your chest.
Push up into the dumbbell with your palms, just enough to hold it in place, but not push it upward. This will keep your back tight, which is important since that is how youre supporting the weight.
The tighter you keep your torso, the more successful the squat will be. Brace your core and bend your knees, think about sitting between your feet.
Move all the way down like you’re popping a squat in the woods.
Keep pressure on your big toe, push the ground down and stand up.
Keep your knees extended forward as long as you can until you are standing erect again.
Deadlifts, or hip hinges, will usually train the opposite side of the leg, ie. the hamstrings. Though you’ll never be able to lift a dumbbell as well as a barbell, dumbbell hip hinging does have a few advantages.
A dumbbell Romanian deadlift, for example, is a great way to isolate your hamstrings, without loading your spine too much, which can be helpful if you are recovering or trying to limit load.
How to do a Romanian Deadlift
To do a Romanian deadlift, grab a pair of matching dumbbells. This exercise is easy to cheat, so be honest with yourself and err on the side of caution.
Stand erect and tuck your shoulder blades back and together.
Breathe low into your belly to create a strong brace.
Dumbbells should be positioned directly over your mid-foot.
To begin the movement, push your hips as far back as possible, like a baboon trying to attract a mate.
Despite popular belief about this exercise, you actually are supposed to bend your knees. However, the trick is to not bring your knees forward as you bend.
Imagine that youre stuck in cement that is knee-high. You can’t move your shin, but you can still extend your hips backward to lower the weight, which is exactly what you should be doing.
Make sure to keep a tight, stiff back as you perform this exercise, no fish-polling.
This variation of the deadlift is harder, meaning you cannot do as much weight, however, since your hips are going into further extension than they normally would in a regular deadlift, your glutes will be more engaged in this lift compared to a regular deadlift.
Lunges are a great exercise for training imbalanced legs. You could lunge with a barbell, but that is a bit cumbersome, which is where dumbbells can help you out.
Unlike a 6-foot long barbell, when you’re done dumbbell lunges, you can simply place them on the ground, and not worry about what to do with the bar.
Lunges can be done in any direction. You can lunge to the front, you can reverse lunge, you can lunge to the side (which will work more of your hip flexors and abductors), or do a curtsy (which will target your glute medius).
You can lunge in place, or walk forward with your lunges. You can lean forward to be more knee-dominant in your lunge, or you can put your chest in your knee as you lunge, bowing forward, to make the lunge more hip and hamstring dominant. It is truly an incredibly versatile exercise.
My personal favorite is the reverse lunge. I find that it offers the most stability and stresses the joint the least.
How to do a Reverse Lunge
To do a reverse lunge with dumbbells, grab a matching pair, or even just one if you want to stress the body more unilaterally. You can also go for a goblet position.
Plant one foot firmly into the ground, balancing off your big toe, little toe, and heel.
Take a big step back with the other foot, and slowly lower yourself down.
Keep your back knee from hitting the ground, instead just hover it about an inch off the floor.
Then, propel yourself up by pushing your front foot into the ground as hard as you can, imagine stepping up a flight of stairs.
The tighter you keep your foot and core, the smoother this exercise will feel.
For a greater range of motion, you can do this exercise from a box or some other elevated surface. If your legs end up becoming stronger than your grip, feel free to use straps or Versa Grips on this exercise.