If you don’t feel quite like making the trek to the gym, you absolutely can get in a great strength training routine at home. In fact, this dumbbell legs workout proves you don’t need tons of equipment or space to really work your lower body.
“People assume that if you’re in an environment where other people work out, like your gym, your workout will be more effective,” ACE-certified personal trainer Sivan Fagan, CPT, owner of Strong With Sivan, tells SELF. But that’s not necessarily true: You can create your own effective workout using just a set of dumbbells in your own living room—you just need to keep a few things in mind, like exercise selection and programming.
One way to make your legs workout feel challenging even without heavy weights or barbells? Stack your routine with unilateral, or single-leg exercises, Fagan says.
“Unilateral exercises are intense because they’re targeting one leg at a time,” she says. They require more core and leg stability, which makes the moves feel a little more difficult. Plus, since you’re working each side separately, you’re doubling the amount of time your body is working in each set compared to if you were doing a bilateral exercise.
Another way to add challenge to an at-home lower body workout is to tweak the programming of your routine. For instance, in this dumbbells legs workout Fagan created for SELF below, you’ll be supersetting (stacking two exercises back to back without rest) and trisetting (stacking three exercises back to back without rest) your exercises. This really amps up the intensity compared to a workout that uses traditional sets, where you’d rest after each set of an exercise, and only move on to the next exercise after all your sets were done. Plus, it’s a great way to raise your heart rate and get an intense workout if you are short on time.
A good at-home legs routine should also incorporate basic movement patterns such as the squat, lunge, hinge, or bridge, to hit all of the muscles of your lower body. By including these movement patterns, you’re making sure you’re creating a comprehensive workout routine with compound exercises that train your entire lower body, says Fagan. For instance, the single-leg deadlift, which uses the hinge pattern, really targets your glutes and hamstrings, while Bulgarian split squats, which use the squat pattern, hit your quads. Then you can supplement these bigger exercises with moves that hit smaller muscle groups, like the side-lying leg raise, which hones in on your hip abductors, and calf raises, which hit your calves in your lower legs.
From calves to quads, this dumbbell legs workout hits all basic movement patterns to strengthen the lower body. Ready to give this five-move routine a try? Grab a pair of dumbbells and get ready to work!
What you need: A bench, chair, or step, and a pair of dumbbells. Because you’ll be working the same muscles with little to no rest between exercises, you might want to opt out for a lighter weight than what you would normally use. While the weight will vary depending on your experience and fitness level, 5-12 pounds can be a good starting range.
- Bulgarian split squat
- Single-leg deadlift
- Feet-elevated glute bridge
- Side-lying abduction
- Single-leg calf raise
- Complete 10-15 reps of each exercise in the Superset, going from one move to the next without rest. Slow down if you feel your form beginning to falter. After both moves are completed, rest minimally (say, about 30 seconds) before starting the next round. Complete two rounds total.
- Complete 15-20 reps of each exercise in the Triset, going from one move to the next without rest. Slow down if you feel your form beginning to falter. Rest minimally after all your moves are completed, before starting the next round. Complete two rounds total.
Demoing the moves below are Rachel Denis (GIF 1), a powerlifter who competes with USA Powerlifting; Francine Delgado-Lugo (GIF 2), cofounder of FORM Fitness Brooklyn; Hejira Nitoto (GIF 3), a mom of six and a certified personal trainer and fitness apparel line owner based in Los Angeles; Krystal Salvent (GIF 4), NASM-certified personal trainer in New York City; and Nicole Figueroa GIF 5), a NASM-certified personal trainer and online fitness coach.