You can train your legs with dumbbells, FACT. You can get a great leg workout with dumbbells, FACT.
If you think that ‘leg day can’t be done effectively without a barbell and squat rack’, today I’m here to say rubbish to that.
If you know my story – you’ll know IronmasterUK happened almost by accident, because I got so frustrated with commercial gyms that I decided to fit out a pro-quality home setup.
But during some ‘lean’ times in my late teens and early 20s – before any of this – I didn’t have a commercial gym membership either – so I just worked out in my garage with the absolute basics of a plywood bench and ancient rusty dumbbells.
People would tell me things like: ‘You can’t build muscle at home.’ Or ‘ ‘No one gets big with dumbbell only workouts.’
I didn’t believe it then and I still don’t now.
Old School Rules
Gyms want your money (even better if they can collect without you showing up), and the fitness industry loves to appeal to our sloth and magpie-like tendencies, by promising us better results in less time than ever before with every latest-and-greatest shiney contraption.
“Step into my office…”
It’s all nonsense – a basics-focused approach is just as good now as it was then.
By the 1970s, Arnold and the Pumping Iron era bodybuilders had access to modern fitness innovations – but earlier in the 20th Century there were already plenty of guys in ridiculous condition working out with very little equipment.
Take a look at these photos from the 1950s:
L->R: Reg Park, Steeve Reeves, Vince Gironda
And here’s the OG of modern weight training, Eugen Sandow – sometime around 1910:
He’s better known as the IFBB ‘Mr Olympia’ trophy
But maybe getting huge isn’t even your goal and you want to have the ‘cover model’ look with less muscle mass but excellent conditioning – as a natural lifter that’s a safer and more realistic expectation.
Smart Programming FTW
Equipment is almost never the problem – it’s almost always your nutrition training programme that needs adjustment
It doesn’t matter what kit you have – consistent evidence-based programming, thoughtful exercise selection, isolating muscle groups correctly and allowing enough time for recovery leads to real gains and an injury-free program.
Progressive Overload is your ‘secret weapon’ here. It’s what I used for my own body transformation and is basically:
Use a diary or app to record the weight, reps and sets for every workout
Make sure that each session you increase one or more of these things – giving a higher total work volume every time you train
Seriously, Dumbbells Only For Leg Day At Home?
“Arms, shoulders, back and ab workouts at home are a simple business. Legs – they need real resistance. Time to hit the squat rack and leg press, right?”
But have you got space for this stuff at home – and are you ready to make that investment in equipment?
Yes – machines, squat racks and barbells do add variety – and if you’re already 200lbs of polished granite you’ll find further gains challenging.
But with a bit of ingenuity, dumbbells are more than enough for most of us to get a Dorian-esque, vomit inducing leg session at any level of fitness.
“Go on, puke you dog!”
Advantages of this approach include:
Less space needed for equipment storage and use
A workout that can travel with you and be done in any hotel room or AirBnB
The ability to scale and expand your workout with an adjustable dumbbell set
A safer way to perform many exercises
For barbell workouts, you 100% need a competent spotter or a rack cage to train safely
With dumbbells, just drop the weights to avoid injury
The Right Tools For The Job
Most home gyms don’t have dumbbells that are heavy enough – especially for intermediate and advanced lifters.
“Best get down the gym and queue for that piece of equipment you need, right?”
We have literally smashed them with sledgehammers, ran over them in cars and even put them (legally) through the ol’ firearms test. They survive. Use them to stay lean and strong for the rest of your life then leave them to your kids to do the same
No more time-wasting injury through repetitive routines. With an adjustable weight bench, you can adjust for inclines, declines and other angles that add even more variety to your exercise routines.
That’s Some Big Talk. What Exercises, Exactly?
Not sure where to start? Consider the following 5 compound proven to increase strength and muscle mass in the legs. We’re talking about an hour total for a full leg day that leaves you half-afraid to sit on the toilet afterward.
3-4 Sets for 10 Reps
Lunges primarily work out the quads, but also work the calves, hamstrings and glutes. When performing a lunge, always make sure to keep your back straight and keep your knees from tracking over your toe during the movement. This will prevent stress on your knee joints:
5. Select an appropriate but challenging weight of dumbbells and stand up straight while slightly bending your knees. Hold the dumbbells at your sides
6. Step forward with one leg and keep the other leg in place. Maintaining your balance, squat at your hips while keeping your back and torso straight
7. Starting from your heel, push yourself back to your starting position.
8. Repeat these steps, alternating the leg you take your first step with
Looking for an extra challenge in your dumbbell lunges? Step backwards instead of forwards to increase the difficulty and get more glute activation..
3-4 Sets for 10 Reps
Squats with Dumbbells
There are a few options for performing squats with dumbbells. The most common is the goblet squat, or front squat. This compound exercise hits all the major leg muscles. It also strengthens your shoulders and core depending on how you hold the dumbbell:
Stand up straight with your legs shoulder-width apart
Hold a dumbbell vertically by it’s head. This is where you can add some variation – hold the dumbbell at your chest center, higher, or further out for a different engagement of your shoulders and core
Squat down with your back straight until in a seated position until your hamstrings are parallel to the floor
Return to your beginning position while keeping your back straight.
*Goblet squats can also be performed with kettlebells, making our adjustable kettlebells another great piece of equipment to have in your home gym
This variation is called the ‘sissy squat’ – but not to Tom Platz’s face…
3-4 Sets for 15 Reps
This compound movement does require a weight bench or an elevated platform. Step ups can be intensified by raising the platform. During all movements, keep your back straight and eyes looking forward:
Hold a pair of dumbbells at your side and stand up straight in front of your weight bench or platform
Lift your right knee, step up onto the platform and firmly plant your foot onto the platform.
Using your firmly planted foot, push with your heel and lift the rest of your body
Plant your left foot onto the platform and hold
Step back down with your left foot first then your left to return to your starting position.
Repeat movement, alternating the starting foot
3-4 Sets for 10 Reps
Deadlifts focus on the hamstrings and work all the major leg muscles. This one requires attention to form though – if you round your back you’re gonna have a bad time.
Another common mistake in form is bending at the waist without moving your hips back. This moves the strain from your hamstrings to your lower back – again setting you up for pain and injury:
Stand up straight with your knees slightly bent. Hold your dumbbells at your sides. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart
Keeping your back straight, bend over at your waist. While bending over, your hips should move back if you are using proper form. Your knees should not move at this point. Lower the dumbbells over your feet
You should feel engagement in your hamstrings. Continue to lower the dumbbells until you can’t comfortably go any lower
Without rounding your back, raise the dumbbells back up. Keep your eyes up and lift the dumbbells in a straight movement until you reach your starting position
Barbell or dumbbell – don’t be this guy
Hamstring Curl with Dumbbells
3-4 Sets for 10 Reps
You’re going to need an Ironmaster Super Bench for this one.
During this exercise, keep your upper body and legs as still as possible. Make sure your dumbbell weight isn’t so heavy that it causes your body to sway:
Select your dumbbell weight and stand the dumbbell on the ground by the end of the bench.
Lay on the bench face down and align your knees with the end of the bench. Fully extend your legs so they hang past the edge of the bench.
Using your feet and keeping your upper body and legs stiff, pick up the dumbbell between your arches.
Bending your knees and focusing on moving the weight with your hamstring, curl the dumbbell in a controlled movement.
Pause when you have raised the dumbbell to a comfortable position then lower it back to the starting position
Eventually, you’ll want this Super Bench Leg Accessory, but old-school with a dumbbell works great –
We’ve Gotchu (Leg-Wise) Fam
The takeaway here?
You don’t need a shedload of bulky, expensive equipment to get quads the size of ATVs, or calves that look more like cows…
This a profit driven myth. If paying out a monthly gym membership helps keep you motivated – good for you. But, I know there are others like me out there…
I’ve got plenty of fire for training – not so much for other people’s stinking feet, sitting bored in traffic on the way to the gym, or waiting on that spray-tanned narcissist to finish posing for selfies between sets of curling in the squat rack…
I put up with this rubbish for years, believing that I couldn’t get leg day done at home, but now I’ve found a better way – with just a set of Ironmaster Quick-Lock Adjustable Dumbbells, a Super Bench and a program built on blasting every muscle you can imagine.
All done in a fraction of the space with zero ongoing cost…