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Are you making the progress you want when it comes to your legs? Or are you just spinning your wheels? It may just take a change in direction to escape your rut and get on the right track. This 30-minute leg workout is just the ticket.

“If you want legs that are strong and toned, with sexy curves you can flaunt, all you need is a set of dumbbells and a bench to get started,” promises Denise Cervantes, personal trainer, group health instructor and certified Level 1 USA Weightlifting coach. 

Here, she outlines a routine that takes some essential movements — from squats to step-ups to deadlifts — and fine-tunes their effectiveness with a few fun tweaks, assembling a workout that will push you across the finish line in just 30 minutes.

The 30-Minute Leg Workout for More Muscle

Exercise Sets Reps
Dumbbell Tempo Squat 3 15
Reverse Lunge Bench Step-Up 3 15 (per side)
Bulgarian Split Squat 3 15 (per side)
Squat to Deadlift 3 15
Low-Squat Hold Alternating Curtsy Lunge 2 20 (10 curtsys per side)
Jump Squat 1 1 minute

Exercise How-Tos

Dumbbell Tempo Squat

For these squats, you’ll follow a specific tempo of 0-4-2-2 — that’s zero seconds for the start position, four seconds on the descent, two seconds holding the bottommost position and two seconds to return to standing. Start holding dumbbells at your shoulders in the front rack position or hanging at your sides, standing with your feet wider than shoulder width, knees slightly bent and your toes turned out slightly. Keeping your head neutral and abs tight, bend at the knees and hips to slowly lower your body over a four-count. Pause two seconds when your thighs reach a point parallel with the floor, then drive through your heels as you count to two, extending at your hips and knees until you arrive at the standing position.

Reverse Lunge to Bench Step-Up

Stand in front of a flat bench with your feet placed shoulder-width apart, holding dumbbells at your sides or in the front rack position. Step back with your left leg into a reverse lunge, keeping your torso upright as you descend. Then return to standing and step forward onto the bench with your right foot, driving through your heel to bring your body up until you’re standing on the bench. Slowly lower yourself down, stepping back with your right foot, and repeat this sequence. Complete 15 reps in this left leg back/right leg forward pattern, then switch for 15 more reps.

“If this is hard for you, start with only bodyweight and use your arms to help propel you up in those step-ups,” Cervantes suggests. “And if you’re ready to increase the difficulty, speed up your reps by skipping the point where you return to a standing position after the lunge, instead bringing that back leg all the way forward and onto the bench for the step-up.”

Bulgarian Split Squat

Holding a dumbbell in each hand, step forward with one foot and rest your rear foot on a bench, top side down. Bend your front leg to lower yourself, making sure that your knee doesn’t track out past your toes — if that happens, take a longer step out from the bench. When your knee reaches a 90-degree angle, reverse the motion, driving through the heel of your forward foot to return to the start.

Squat to Deadlift

From a standing position with dumbbells at your sides, feet shoulder-width apart, perform a full squat, lowering your hips straight down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Once you return to standing, keeping your back flat and core tight, hinge forward a few degrees at your hips and perform a deadlift, lowering the dumbbells down until they touch down to the floor next to your feet. From the bottom of the deadlift, squeeze your glutes and hamstrings to come back up to the start position. Adjust your torso so that it is again fully upright and perform a squat. One deadlift and one squat equals one full rep.

“If you prefer, you can hold the dumbbells at your sides for the deadlift and then switch to a front rack position for the squats,” Cervantes suggests.

Low-Squat Hold Alternating Curtsy Lunge

For this, you won’t hold weights but instead lower yourself into a bodyweight squat, getting low enough that your thighs are parallel with the floor. Remaining in that position, move your right leg back into a curtsy lunge, remaining as low as you can in the transition. Bring your right leg back to a low-squat hold for a one-count, then extend your left leg back into a curtsy lunge, alternating under control for 20 total reps (which will end up being 10 step-backs per leg per set).

“Stay low and try your best to not bounce, and keep your chest elevated,” Cervantes instructs. “As you tire, avoid the tendency to slouch or bow, which can put a strain on your lower back, and instead keep that core braced.”

Jump Squat

“For this finisher, challenge yourself to try to get as many squats as you can in one minute — 40 to 50 is a good goal,” Cervantes says. Stand with both hands directly in front of you, knees slightly bent with roughly a shoulder-width stance. Keeping your chest up and back flat, squat down until your thighs approach parallel with the floor. Explode upward to leap as high as possible, then land on soft feet with your knees bent and repeat immediately. “If you get to a point you can’t jump, try exploding up on your tippy-toes from your squat,” Cervantes adds.

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