Your legs need all the love they can get. Even if you spend all day standing and moving around, there are quite a few muscles that need more maintenance than what our day to day activity gives them. Here are a couple of great leg workouts with weights for you to do while you’re at the gym, at home and even on vacation.
Creating Leg Workouts with Weights
The key to creating a group of leg workouts with weights is designing the exercises in a way that keeps you motivated. You could have all the workouts in the world at your fingertips, but are you going to do them? Unless they’re exercises you can do on a consistent basis, it will be hard to keep up the momentum to continue doing them.
One of the most important things you can do when doing any workout is to move in all planes of motion. More often than not, our legs move in one linear motion. We walk in a straight line regardless of what we do. Very rarely do we move from side to side in a lateral motion, or backwards in a reverse motion.
There are dozens of muscles, especially throughout our legs, that help to support our body move in non-linear ways. Because we’re always moving in a straight line, those muscles can get neglected and become weak.
The workouts below use a simple set of dumbbells that are an easy find at the gym, can be easily stored at home, or even stowed away in a suitcase for when you go away on vacation. The focus of the workouts is not just to strengthen the big muscles of your legs, but also the smaller muscles that help support the bigger muscles when and if you need to move outside of a linear plane of motion.
Leg Workout #1
1 – 20 Squats
2 – 15 Deadlifts
3 – 30 Curtsy Squats, alternating sides
4 – 15 Side Leg Lifts, each side
Leg Workout #2
1 – 30 Weighted Alternating Lunges
2 – 20 Squats
3 – 20 Plie Squats
4 – 20 Calf Raises
Weighted Alternating Lunges
Keep your hands on your hips, pull your shoulders back and step out into your lunges – alternating legs. Extend your leg out far enough that your knee doesn’t go over your toes. Drop the knee of the leg that’s behind you a few inches from the ground.
Tip: Keep your back as straight as possible. If you find that your upper body hunches forward over your knee, you have a tight lower back or hamstrings. These muscles will open up, but don’t force it. Simply go as far as your body will allow, take some time to stretch and eventually you alternating lunges will be easy.
Stand with your legs hip-width apart. Holding one dumbbell in each hand, slowly come down into a squat, then come back to standing. If the dumbbells get in your way at your sides, you can hold them toward the inside of your body so they drop toward your inner thighs, or bend your elbows and hold the dumbbells in a bicep curl, keeping the additional weight above your hips.
Tip: Think of pressing your knees out as you come down into the squat. There is a tendency to allow the knees to cave in toward one another. This is due to a weak outer glute muscles. As you continue to do these exercises, those muscles will strengthen and your knees will naturally track over your toes.
Begin by standing tall either holding a barbell or two dumbbells in front of you. Draw your abs in. Keeping your back straight, put a slight bend in your knees and bend forward until you feel your hamstrings (the back of your thighs) engage. Return to standing.
Tip: It’s easy to injure your back doing a deadlift. The bend in your knees will take some strain out of your lower back. As you hinge forward, think of pulling your shoulder blades back and down your back. This will help keep your back straighter. When you bend your back, you don’t work your hamstrings, so it’s important to try to get this right.
Add weight slowly, starting with 20 pounds and working your way up.
Start with your feet shoulder-width apart. Step one leg back and across the opposite leg, like a curtsy, then squat down. Come back to a standing position and repeat on the opposite side. You can do this exercise with no additional weight, or you can hold a set of dumbbells at your side Because this exercise requires some balance, moving from side to side, start with a lighter weight until you have the confidence to complete the exercise successfully.
Tip: This exercise works the sides of the hips, helping to shape and tone your bottom. Your backside will thank you later!
Side Leg Lifts
Start by lying on your side, holding a dumbbell gently on the outer thigh. Flex your toes to your face and slowly raise your top leg toward the ceiling without bending your knee. Hold for a moment, then return your leg back down to meet your ankle and repeat. The additional weight of the dumbbell resting on your outer thigh will help to strengthen the small glute medius muscle that is often weak in most people. Repeat on both sides.
Tip: It’s easy to cheat on this exercise by bending your knee, or by allowing the weights to come up too high on your hips. Keep your leg straight and be sure to place the dumbbell mid-thigh to get maximum benefit.
Start by standing toward the end of a step with your heels hanging off. Holding onto a pair of dumbbells, drop your heels down, then lift back up onto the balls of your feet. Slowly lower your heels back down, then drive your heels back up again. You can do this exercise one foot at a time to make balancing easier, or with both feet if you’re on a stable surface.
Tip: If you don’t have a step to do this exercise from, simply stand off the edge of a sturdy book or a strong block. The goal is to work the small muscles of your calf, so anything that will allow your heel to drop low then come up high will get into that muscle group.
This exercise is great at strengthening not just the inner thighs, but the outer thighs, too.
The plié squat gets its name from a position often associated with ballet, but this deep strengthening exercises targets the inner thighs, helping to tone and strengthen. This is also a great exercise to do if you want to increase the amount of flexibility you have through your inner thighs as well. Naturally, the plié squat take the #1 position for exercises to do for a great inner leg workout.
Because the inner thighs are made up of a group of smaller muscles (as opposed to the bigger muscles of the glutes and quads), they’re fatigued easier. This translates to a quick accumulation of lactic acid in those muscles, triggering that burning sensation you feel when you do an exercise for a long time.
Here is how to do the exercise:
- Begin standing in a modified plié position, with heels just outside of hip-width apart and toes pointed out at about 45-degree-angle.
- Holding one dumbbell in each hand, drop down deep into a squatting position while maintaining foot position.
- Hold for one second, then slowly make your way back to standing. Repeat until you complete the exercise.
Tip: Make sure your knees stay out over your toes (think of pushing your knees out). Concentrate on squeezing your bottom as you come to the starting position.