For beginners, one of the most stubborn body parts that you will train is your legs. If you’re just starting to train your legs, and you’re hoping that those chicken legs will buck, we all need to begin with the basics. In terms of a leg workout, a beginner shouldn’t proceed to those barbell squats that we often see in the gym.
I would also advise beginners to never skip leg day. Working your legs can bring lots of benefits to your overall body. It’s fine if you have zero lifting experience and little to no muscle, this list of workouts that I will share with you is programmed for beginners.
As long as you have the desire to work hard and be consistent, your legs will grow bigger and stronger. I would also provide on how to execute these workouts and how many sets and reps you’re going to perform. Now, let’s deep dive in on the 9 best leg workouts for beginners.
1. Dumbbell Squat
First, we have the dumbbell squat which is a foundational exercise to activate your quadriceps and glutes. Compared to the barbell squat, the dumbbell squat is much easier to perform and it’s safer. I would recommend that you master the dumbbell squat first before performing the barbell squat.
It would cause you technique problems and proper posture if you proceed on doing the barbell squat directly. Even if you pass the beginner stage, the dumbbell squat is still effective for advanced lifters. It is surprisingly effective if you want to crush your quads.
There are two best ways on how to perform dumbbell squats depending on where you place the dumbbells. You can place the dumbbells on your shoulders or hold the dumbbells down by your side.
How To Do:
1. Look for a pair of dumbbells and rest both dumbbells on each of your shoulders. The end of the dumbbells must be pointing forward.
2. Your feet must be hip-width apart and your heels must be flat on the grounds.
3. Start lowering your body by bending your knees, make sure that the weight will not pull you forward, and don’t arch your back.
4. Lower down until your thighs are aligned to the floor. Try to hold for 2 seconds.
5. To go back to starting position, press your heels and lift your body. Always avoid rounding your back.
If you’re a total beginner, you can start with a bench and make it a goal to touch your glutes on the bench. Dumbbell squat is a progression exercise so once you have mastered the depth of your squat, you can remove the bench. Perform 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps.
2. Goblet Squat
Goblet squat is one of the best leg workouts for beginners. It’s also an easy exercise to perform at the gym or home. If you want to develop your legs, glutes, and cardiovascular fitness, you might want to try goblet squat.
Goblet squat is almost the same as air squat where you use your bodyweight to perform sets of squats. You are only adding resistance to your squat until you perfect your form. When performing goblet squats, you don’t need much mobility as it only requires you a single dumbbell or kettlebell that will be placed in front of you.
What I love about the goblet squat is you can position your body more freely and it has a safer movement. They are simple to learn and give you a full range of motion while avoiding those beginner mistakes.
How To Do:
1. Grab a single dumbbell or kettlebell with two hands and position it at your chest.
2. Your fleet must be flat on the floor and wider than hip-distance. Toes must be positioned slightly outward.
3. Inhale as you lower your body and avoid looking down, you must look straight ahead. Make sure that your back is neutrally aligned and avoid slouching.
4. Once you bring your hips down parallel to your knees, try to pause for a second.
5. For the upward phase, exhale as you rise and use your feet to push the floor away.
6. Your knees and hips are locked when you return to the starting position.
The common mistakes that beginner makes are holding the dumbbell or kettlebell far away from their body and leaning too forward. You can warm up by using no weight to master the movement. Perform 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps.
3. Dumbbell Step-Up
Another challenging yet fun leg workout for beginners. Not just for beginners, but people of all fitness levels must perform this exercise. This leg workout is designed to boost the strength of your legs and activate your quadriceps.
When I added the dumbbell step-up into my leg workout program, it improved my balance and stabilization because you are required to control the weight in your hands as you move up and down on an elevated flat surface. When you want to run faster or jumper higher, step-ups help you increase the explosiveness and power of your legs.
This exercise can be done everywhere as long as you have a pair of dumbbells and a box or bench. Even though this exercise is simple, you need to do it right to gain all the benefits from this exercise. This exercise is probably something you perform already but you haven’t noticed it yet. For example, when you take the stairs to your room and carry a load of shopping bags.
The only difficult part of this exercise is controlling your movement as you step up to the box or bench. But don’t worry, we are here to teach you how to perform it correctly.
How To Do:
1. Place a box or bench in front of you. Look for a pair of dumbbells/kettlebells and hold it by your side.
2. Step up using your right foot and keep your torso tall. Learn how to focus on contracting your glutes.
3. Bring your left foot next to meet your right foot on the top.
4. Step back down using your left foot then bring your right foot down to meet your left foot on the ground.
5. Perform 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps.
4. Leg Press
Another popular leg workout that we always see at the gym helps build muscles in your legs. This is a beginner leg workout as you will be using a leg press machine. In one swoop, it works your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. It will be a simple exercise but you need to perform it properly.
It’s important to take note that we are not going to use too much weight since you’re still a beginner. I won’t recommend lifting heavy weights since it will be difficult for you to control your movements. The amount of weights you’re lifting is less important compared to proper form.
There are two types of leg press machines that we often see at the gym. The standard leg press machine and the one that lets you sit up straight while their feet are pushing forward on the platform. But here, we are going to use the traditional leg press machine.
How To Do:
1. Look for a leg press machine at your gym and position yourself properly. Place your heels and forefoot flat on the platform of the leg press machine. You can start by warming up without any weights on the machine.
2. As you take the weight, release the handles then slowly lower your legs towards your chest. Try to pause for a second to feel the contraction
3. Push the platform back up, but avoid locking out your knees to avoid injuries. Your knees must be gradually bending.
4. Always keep your head and back flat against the seat pad of the leg press machine.
5. Perform 3 sets with 15 repetitions.
5. Wall Sit
The wall sits leg workout or also known as the wall squat. This leg workout is pretty straightforward like the planking. A lot of people consider this workout very challenging as it hits their quads, calves, glutes, and abdominal muscles.
If you are performing the wall sit correctly, it can real quad burner. Some people consider this as a common exercise, but most of them are doing it improperly. To reap all the benefits of this workout, you need to watch your form by not stressing your knees.
The wall sit exercise can easily be modified but you need to master the basics first before doing some modification. One modification that you can do is place an exercise ball between the wall and your back. To make it more difficult, you can hold a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells by your side.
How To Do:
1. Look for a flat wall and place your back against the wall. Position your feet shoulder-width about 2 feet away from the wall.
2. Try to engage your abdominal muscles as you slowly slide your back against the wall. Your body must be positioned at a 90-degree angle.
3. Keep your back against the wall and hold your position for 30 to 60 seconds.
4. Slowly slide your back up against the wall to return to the starting position.
5. You can rest for 40 seconds. Perform the exercise three times.
6. Walking Lunges with Dumbbells
Walking lunges with dumbbells will always be on my top 5 list of leg exercises. To promote your hip stability, it’s important to work your inner and outer thigh muscles. This workout primarily activates your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.
Some lifters at the gym prefer to perform walking lunges with dumbbells rather than barbell walking lunges. They are more comfortable doing this exercise with dumbbells since it’s more safer and comfortable.
The reason why I love this leg workout is, it increases my lower body strength and enhances my buttocks which is my favorite muscle part. Some athletes who are involved in running need to strengthen their overall legs, the walking lunges with dumbbells can surely help them.
For total beginners, I recommend doing it without weights first. You need to perform it again and again until you master the proper form. When you have balance issues, it’s better to start with no weights first. Once you master it with proper form, start adding lightweights.
How To Do:
1. Get a pair of lightweight dumbbells and keep your arms at the side. Look for a flat floor to perform the exercise.
2. Inhale and take a step forward with your right leg. Always put the weight to your heel.
3. As your right foot touch the ground, bend your right knee until it’s parallel to the ground.
4. Move your left foot forward without moving your right leg. Then, repeat the same movement on your left leg.
5. Continue repeating this movement and walk forward. You can pause if you find yourself losing balance. You can finish the set by meeting your both foot.
6. Perform 3 sets with 15 to 20 reps.
7. Box Jumps
If you want some little fun and extra challenge for your leg workout, you can try doing box jumps. You can perform this exercise anywhere as long as you have an elevated flat surface such as a box or bench.
Doing box jumps will push your muscles to the max helping you increase your power, strength, and speed. This exercise activates your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. There are a lot of benefits when doing box jumps, the best benefit that you will gain is it will increase your vertical jump range.
By practicing box jumps daily, you will see improvements in your jumps. It can also increase the power and explosiveness of your legs like sprint or football athletes. Lastly, it burns a lot of your calories since you need a lot of energy when jumping.
How To Do:
1. First, you need to find yourself a box that is steady and durable. For beginners, you can start with a height of 50cm.
2. Second, you need to stand in front of the box and your feet must be shoulder-width apart.
3. Bend your hip slightly and swing your arms as you get ready to jump, swing them forward as you go off the floor.
4. Land on the box with fleet and knees slightly bent. Control your body as you land on the box.
5. Jump back down and return to starting position. Perform 3 sets with 15 to 20 reps.
8. Calf Raises with Dumbbells
Working out your calf is also important because it is a crucial part of your overall physique. A lot of beginners often ignored working their calves when they’re doing strength training. Doing calf raises is an easy exercise and we don’t need to make it complicated. You can even do it anywhere as long as you have heavy objects with equal weight.
Doing calf raises at the gym is also great if you have the calf raise machine. For beginners, I would like you to start with dumbbells. If you prefer to perform this exercise using the calf raise machine, it’s also fine. You must take note that working your calf is an instrumental part of doing different activities such as running, walking, and jumping.
Once you have mastered calf raises, there will be lots of benefits that you can gain. You will have a strong, flexible, and explosive calf. You also increase your stability and decrease the risk of ankle injuries. For runners, their agility will improve.
How To Do:
1. Look for a pair of dumbbells and place yourself on a flat floor. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes.
2. Slowly raise your toes and knees extended but not locked.
3. Pause for a second and feel the contraction in your calf.
4. Lower your foot back to the ground to return to the starting position.
5. Perform 3 sets with 15 to 20 reps.
9. Dumbbell Deadlift
The dumbbell deadlift is a great exercise to build strength on your lower body as well as your core and back. This exercise is also a great full-body workout. With the use of dumbbells, you will achieve a greater range of motion.
If you haven’t noticed, you work this motion almost every day. Such as picking up your laundry, getting the delivery box outside, or anything that you bow down to just get something. Deadlifts are always worth doing and you must always include them in your program.
As a lifter for how many years, I saw a lot of improvements on my legs when I added dumbbell deadlifts into my program. I had stronger legs, gained lots of muscles, and improved my posture. Besides being a great strength exercise, a dumbbell deadlift also burns huge amounts of calories in your body.
Deadlifts are very popular with lifters, they are associated with big and heavyweights. For beginners, we are going to start using dumbbells or kettlebells.
How To Do:
1. Hold a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells and place them in front of your sides. Keep your spine straight and your feet shoulders apart.
2. At your hips, hinge forward and slightly bend your knees lowering the dumbbells to the floor. Try to avoid arching your back and controlling your movement.
3. Brace your core and squeeze your glutes as you go back to the starting position. That’s one rep.
4. Perform 3 sets with 12 to 15 reps.