What You Can Learn From How This Coach Trains His Legs

Feet standing in front of dumbbell rack
(Image credit: Heather Walker / Getty Images)

Your legs have some big muscles in them, which is why most gym leg workouts are designed around moves that let you train with heavy loads: exercises using barbells like the back squat or deadlift, or weights machines such as the leg press, hamstring curl and leg extension machines.

You might think that dumbbells have no place in challenging leg workouts, then, but you’d be wrong. Coach Anthony Carlo posted one of his dumbbell leg sessions on Instagram and explained that “every session isn’t about maxing out”. To complement heavy leg days, Carlo includes a session on single-leg stability in his week, then another on plyometrics and movement. 

We asked Carlo to tell us more about the workout. “The single-leg exercises help with muscle imbalances,” says Carlo. “Using a dumbbell helps with muscle recruitment and body awareness.”

Carlo uses a weight plate when doing the goblet squat to raise his heels and increase the involvement of his quads in the move, and he keeps the weight plate in play for the reverse lunges, adding a deficit to increase the range of motion. Carlo uses a staggered stance for the single-leg Romanian deadlift, rather than leaning forward and letting his rear leg lift, which allows him to use a heavier dumbbell. The workout is rounded out with a single-leg hip thrust.

Complete three sets of 12 reps of each exercise (12 reps each side for the single-leg moves), choosing a weight that is challenging but manageable for that number of reps. If you make it to the final rep and feel like you could easily carry on, your dumbbell is probably too light. However, always prioritize good form over lifting heavy, and ensure your core is engaged and that there’s no pressure on your lower back during this workout.

It’s important not to rush through the exercises. That's partly because it will ensure you move with correct form, but slowing the speed of the movements also increases the difficulty. “Hold the midway position for a second or two, and keep movements slow and controlled,” says Carlo.

As well as being a good choice of free weight to train your legs unilaterally, dumbbells are useful if you’re looking to develop power and muscular endurance. For instance, this dumbbell legs workout is a 500-rep lower-body blaze.

Alice Porter

Alice Porter is a journalist who covers health, fitness and wellbeing, among other topics, for titles including Stylist, Fit & Well, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Grazia, VICE and Refinery29. When she’s not writing about these topics, you can probably find her at her local CrossFit box.