The Intelligent & Relentless Pursuit of Muscle™

Dumbbells For Massive Legs

10/12/12
Massive-legs

Exercise, including resistance training, acts as a stress on the body. We're accustomed to thinking of stress as a negative, but when it comes to training, stress applied in the correct doses is a good thing – because stress is the trigger that causes physiological adaptation to occur.

For example, apply the correct amount of aerobic stress to the body and it will adapt by becoming more aerobically fit. Similarly, apply the correct level of stress using resistance training, and the body reacts by increasing muscle size and strength. Thus, when it comes to training, stress applied in the correct doses produces positive results.

However, one of the challenges for lifters is that the body adapts quickly. The trick, then, is to manipulate the stress of exercise often enough to keep the adaptation rate at an optimal level while avoiding becoming over trained.

While there are a number of variables (e.g., rest times, sets and reps, training speed, training intensity) you can manipulate to keep the stress of resistance training elevated, one of the most significant variables to manipulate is exercise selection.

By providing exercise variation each workout, and then adjusting the specific exercises performed every 4-6 weeks, the body will continually be faced with an elevated level of training stress.

For the lower body there are the typical barbell lower body exercises (squats, deadlifts, and straight leg deadlifts) that can be performed along with various exercise machines (leg press, hack squat, leg extensions, etc.).

However, one variation that isn't often considered is performing lower body training with dumbbells. I've been using dumbbell lower body exercises to supplement the barbell lower body exercises we perform with my collegiate athletes with great success for a number of years now.

Some of you might be thinking that it will be impossible to overload the musculature of the lower body using dumbbells, but I guarantee that if you perform these exercises with strict technique and high intensity, you'll be fully aware of your training the next day.

Training with dumbbells also provides some specific advantages:

Variety. Dumbbells obviously add variety to the training program, and we just discussed the benefit that provides.

Safety. Dumbbells provide a safer way to train when performing certain exercises. For example, one-legged squats are a great muscle-building exercise that also challenges your balance. When done with a barbell on your back, though, it can create a potential injury opportunity. However, when performing one-legged squats with dumbbells, the lifter can simply drop the dumbbells and eliminate the injury concern.

Novelty. Dumbbells provide a unique training stimulus simply because the load placement differs compared to performing the same exercises with a barbell. When performing barbell squats or lunges, the bar is placed on the back. In contrast, when performing these exercises with dumbbells, the load is held in the hands.

Even when performing an exercise that requires the barbell to be held in the hands, such as a straight leg deadlift (SLDL), the load placement still differs because the barbell is held in front of the legs, in contrast to performing SLDL's with dumbbells where the dumbbells are held to the sides of the legs.

When the load placement differs the muscle recruitment pattern, by necessity, also changes. This variation in muscle recruitment helps keep both the stress of exercise and thus the rate of adaption elevated.

The following are some of my favorite dumbbell variations of the classic lower body barbell exercises. In terms of programming, use the same training protocol on dumbbell days as barbell days.

For example, if in a hypertrophy training cycle, do these dumbbell lower body exercises for 4 sets of 8-12 repetitions with 60 seconds of rest between sets. If in a strength cycle, perform 5 sets of 3-6 repetitions with 2 minutes rest between sets.

To assist you, exercise technique instructions are provided as well as common mistakes to avoid. Video demonstrations are also included, so that you can see the exercises performed correctly.


Dumbbell Squats

Instructions

• Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
• Hold the dumbbells along the sides of the body.
• Assume a shoulder-width stance.
• Arch the back, keep the head up.
• Maintaining an arched-back position, initiate the movement by sitting back at the hips.
• Continue to sit back until a parallel thigh position has been achieved. The center of the hip joint should be at the same height as the center of the knee joint.
• The heels should be down. The knees can drift slightly forward of the toes, be kept in line directly above the toes, or be lined up slightly behind the toes, depending upon what's most comfortable to the athlete.
• Leading with the head (as opposed to lifting the hips first) return to the starting position. The back should remain arched and the head should be up.

Common Errors

• Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
• Not achieving a parallel thigh position at the bottom of the movement.
• Initiating the movement with the knee joint moving forward rather than initiating the movement with the hip sitting back. Often this can result in the heel lifting off the ground because of incorrect position.
• Lowering the weight too quickly rather than controlling the movement during the descent.


Dumbbell One-Legged Squats

Instructions

• Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
• Hold the dumbbells along the sides of the body.
• Assume a shoulder-width stance.
• Arch the back, keep the head up.
• Reach back with the left leg and place the left foot on a bench or plyometric box that's approximately knee height.
• The right foot should be placed far enough forward of the bench that you are now in a lunge position.
• Maintaining an arched-back position, initiate the movement by sitting back at the hips.
• Continue to sit back until a parallel thigh position has been achieved. The center of the hip joint should be at the same height as the center of the knee joint.
• The heels should be down. The knees can drift slightly forward of the toes, be kept in line directly above the toes, or be lined up slightly behind the toes, depending upon what is most comfortable to the athlete.
• Leading with the head (as opposed to lifting the hips first) return to the starting position. The back should remain arched and the head should be up.

Common Errors

• Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
• Not achieving a parallel thigh position at the bottom of the movement. This is especially common when performing a one-leg squat so emphasize correct depth.
• Initiating the movement with the knee joint moving forward rather than initiating the movement with the hip sitting back. Often this results in the heel lifting off the ground because of incorrect position.
• Lowering the weight too quickly rather than controlling the movement during the descent.


Dumbbell Front Squats

Instructions

• Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
• Place the dumbbells front to back on the shoulders, with the back end of the dumbbells resting on the shoulders. The hands should continue to grasp the dumbbells, with the elbows held high so that the dumbbells are level rather than the front end being lower than the back end.
• Assume a shoulder-width stance.
• Arch the back, keep the head up.
• Maintaining an arched back position, initiate the movement by sitting back at the hips.
• Continue to sit back until a parallel thigh position has been achieved. The center of the hip joint should be at the same height as the center of the knee joint.
• The heels should be down. The knees can drift slightly forward of the toes, be kept in line directly above the toes, or be lined up slightly behind the toes, depending upon what is most comfortable to the athlete.
• Leading with the head (as opposed to lifting the hips first), return to the starting position. The back should remain arched and the head should be up.

Common Errors

• Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise. Focusing on keeping the elbows high will help eliminate this problem.
• Not achieving a parallel thigh position at the bottom of the movement.
• Initiating the movement with the knee joint moving forward rather than initiating the movement with the hip sitting back. Often this results in the heel lifting off the ground because of incorrect position.
• Lowering the weight too quickly rather than controlling the movement during the descent.


Dumbbell One-Legged Front Squats

Instructions

• Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
• Place the dumbbells front to back on the shoulders, with the back end of the dumbbells resting on the shoulders. The hands should continue to grasp the dumbbells, with the elbows held high so that the dumbbells are level rather than the front end being lower than the back end.
• Assume a shoulder-width stance.
• Arch the back, keep the head up.
• Reach back with the left leg and place the left foot on a bench or plyometric box that's approximately knee height.
• The right foot should be placed far enough forward of the bench that you're now in a lunge position.
• Maintaining an arched-back position, initiate the movement by sitting back at the hips.
• Continue to sit back until a parallel thigh position has been achieved. The center of the hip joint should be at the same height as the center of the knee joint.
• The heels should be down. The knees can drift slightly forward of the toes, be kept in line directly above the toes, or be lined up slightly behind the toes, depending upon what is most comfortable to the athlete.
• Leading with the head (as opposed to lifting the hips first) return to the starting position. The back should remain arched and the head should be up.

Common Errors

• Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
• Not achieving a parallel thigh position at the bottom of the movement. This is especially common when performing a one-leg squat so emphasize correct depth.
• Initiating the movement with the knee joint moving forward rather than initiating the movement with the hip sitting back. Often times this can result in the heel lifting off the ground because of incorrect position.
• Lowering the weight too quickly rather than controlling the movement during the descent.


Dumbbell Lateral Squats

Instructions

• Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
• Assume a stance that's substantially wider than shoulder-width.
• Hold the dumbbells at arm's length in a line directly under the shoulders.
• Keeping the left leg straight squat back and to the right.
• Lower the hips through a full comfortable range of motion.
• The right knee can drift slightly forward of the right foot, be kept in line directly above the right foot, or be lined up slightly behind the right foot, depending upon what's most comfortable to the athlete.
• The back should remain arched and the head should stay up through performance of the exercise.
• Return to the starting position and then repeat in the opposite direction until the desired number of repetitions has been completed.

Common Errors

• Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
• Not lowering the hips through the full comfortable range of motion.
• Allowing the knee of the leg that's supposed to remain straight to bend.Ê For example, when lowering to the right the right knee should bend but the left knee should remain fully extended.


Dumbbell Lunges

Instructions

• Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
• Assume a shoulder-width stance.
• Keeping the left leg stationary, step out directly forward through an exaggerated range of motion with the right leg.
• At the forward position the right knee should be over or slightly forward of the right foot, the left leg should be bent with the left knee just off the floor, and the back should be arched with the head up.
• Return to the starting position with the right leg and repeat the movement with the left leg.
• Make sure to return to the starting position in one aggressive step; don't take more than one step to return to the starting position.

Common Errors

• Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
• Not taking a full stride length step as you move to the forward position.
• .Allowing the knee of the rear leg to touch the ground
• Taking more than one step to return to the starting position.


Dumbbell Side Lunges

Instructions

• Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
• Assume a shoulder-width stance.
• Keeping the left leg fully extended take a long direct lateral step to the right.
• Once you plant your right foot, shift the hips back so you achieve a full comfortable depth and range of motion.
• Keep the back arched and the head up during performance of the exercise.
• Return to a shoulder-width stance with one aggressive step.

Common Errors

• Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
• Allowing the knee of the "post" leg to bend rather than keeping it fully extended.
• Taking an incomplete recovery step so that a shoulder-width stance isn't achieved before initiating the next lateral step.


Dumbbell Arch Lunges

Instructions

• Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
• Assume a shoulder-width stance.
• Imagine an arch in front of you, each point of the arch is a stride's length away from you.
• Divide the arch up into sections based on the number of repetitions you have to perform.
• The first repetition will be to the bottom right corner of the arch, the last repetition will be to the bottom left corner of the arch.
• Each step is a gradual progression across the arch, starting at the right corner and ending at the left corner.
• Keeping the left leg fully extended take a long, direct lateral step to the bottom right corner of the arch.
• Once you plant your right foot, shift the hips back so you achieve a full comfortable depth and range of motion.
• Keep the back arched and the head up during performance of the exercise.
• Return to a shoulder-width stance with one aggressive step.
• The next step will be a gradual progression towards the opposite side of the arch.
• Continue until all the repetitions have been completed and you've progressed from one corner of the arch to the opposite corner.

Common Errors

• Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
• Not returning to a shoulder-width stance before initiating the next step.
• Not progressing in sequence from one corner of the arch to the opposite corner with each step.
• No steps should be directly forward to the center of the arch. Every step should involve an angled step.
• Every lunge across the arch should involve a full range of motion.


Dumbbell Hockey Lunges

Instructions

• Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
• Assume a shoulder-width stance.
• Keeping the left leg stationary, step out at an angle that places the foot 18"-24" wider than shoulder width (depending upon leg length) through an exaggerated range of motion with the right leg.
• At the forward position the right knee should be over or slightly forward of the right foot, the left leg should be bent with the left knee just off the floor, and the back should be arched with the head up.
• Return to the starting position with the right leg and repeat the movement with the left leg, taking that same 18"-24" wider than shoulder-width step with the left leg.
• Make sure to return to the starting position in one aggressive step; don't take more than one step to return to the starting position.

Common Errors

• Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
• Not taking a full stride length step as you move to the forward position.
• Making the lateral step too narrow rather than achieving the desired width.
• Allowing the knee of the rear leg to touch the ground.
• Taking more than one step to return to the starting position.


Dumbbell Reverse Lunges

Instructions

• Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
• Assume a shoulder-width stance.
• Keeping the left leg stationary, step out directly backwards through an exaggerated range of motion with the right leg.
• At the back position the left knee should be over or slightly forward of the left foot, the right leg should be bent with the right knee just off the floor, and the back should be arched with the head up.
• Return to the starting position with the right leg and repeat the movement with the left leg.
• Make sure to return to the starting position in one aggressive step; don't take more than one step to return to the starting position.

Common Errors

• Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
• Not taking a full stride length step as you move to the backward position.
• Allowing the knee of the rear leg to touch the ground.
• Taking more than one step to return to the starting position.


Dumbbell Pivot Lunges

Instructions

• Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
• Assume a shoulder-width stance.
• Pivot on the right foot, twist the body to the right, and lunge in a direction toward the back and to the right of the starting position.
• At the end position the left knee should be over or slightly forward of the left foot, the right leg should be bent with the right knee just off the floor, and the back should be arched with the head up.
• Return to a shoulder-width stance with one aggressive step.
• Repeat in the opposite direction.
• Foot placement can vary during performance of the exercise – there isn't one correct foot placement so the angle during the pivot can be varied each repetition.

Common Errors

• Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
• Not taking a full stride length step as you move to the pivot position.
• Allowing the knee of the rear leg to touch the ground.
• Taking more than one step to return to the starting position.


Dumbbell Straight Leg Deadlifts

Instructions

• Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
• Assume a shoulder width stance.
• Lock and then slightly unlock the knees; maintain this slightly unlocked position during performance of the exercise.
• Arch the back, lift the head, and maintain this position during performance of the exercise.
• Keeping the knees slightly unlocked and the back arched, pivot at the hips and slide the dumbbells down the lateral portion of the legs through a full comfortable range of motion.
• Return to the starting position maintaining the position at the knees and back.

Common Errors

• Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
• Allowing the knees to flex beyond the slightly unlocked position during performance of the exercise.
• Allowing the dumbbells to drift forward during the lowering portion of the exercise rather than keeping them on the lateral portion of the legs.
• Performing the movement through an incomplete range of motion.


Wrap Up

Dumbbells For Massive Legs

Squats are still the "king of exercises" and you can't beat deadlifts for building brute strength, but even the most stripped down lifter needs a little variety from time to time.

For some lower body variations that are both challenging and build serious size and strength, take a look beyond the barbell. Take some (or all) of these dumbbell variations out for a test drive and stay ahead of your body's adaptation curve.

10/12/12