What Is The Best Alternative To Leg Extension?

What Is The Best Alternative To Leg Extension?

At the core of any gym’s circuit, it is common to find a leg extension machine. 

While these machines do serve a purpose, namely isolating quadriceps, there are a variety of exercises that can yield results for this core muscle group. 

Alternatives that can build muscle balance, reduce knee strain, and liven up a workout routine.

Extension machines are functional, but not as practical. There are effective ways to incorporate quad strengthening routines on leg day. 

What are our options? 

Here are some of the best alternatives to leg extensions:

  • Squats
  • Lunge Workouts
  • Leg Press

These are tried-and-true workouts which have become so commonly built into an effective routine. 

Isolation workouts are great, but let’s keep the strain off the knees and build balance with these alternatives. 

Let’s take a closer look at why they work.

Leg Extension Alternatives


The gold standard for lower body workouts, and for great reason. 

This compound workout targets additional muscles surrounding the quadriceps. The hamstrings, glutes, calves, and core all work together in this exercise. 

A simple bodyweight squat is a great start to develop the proper technique. With so many affected muscles it is crucial that form is maintained throughout.

How to do them:

  • Stand straight with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, facing forward with chest out. 
  • Extend your arms out to balance, or if comfortable clasp hands together. Pay close attention to your center of gravity throughout the lift. Take care to prevent your back from bending or rounding.
  • Perform a slow, sitting motion down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Keep your core tight. Be careful to not bend the knees inward, keep them directly above your feet.
  • Continuing to face forward, drive back upwards with your heels into the starting position. Repeat the lift 10-12 times in your set.  

Once you have perfected the routine try adding weighted variations to your squats for a power workout. 

Dumbbell squats and barbell squats add resistance and further boost muscle growth.

Lunge Workouts

Another alternative to leg extensions is a sister of the squat workout, lunges. 

You will find the similarities between the two body-weight workouts include reduced joint strain, compound muscle building, and flexibility to modify for additional results. 

How to do them:

  • Stand straight in position with feet about hip-width apart. Face forward throughout this exercise.
  • Starting with your right leg take a big step forward (You can start with either leg), and lower body until your right thigh is parallel to the floor. Your leg should form a 90-degree angle.
  • Drive back up using your right heel into starting position. 
  • Switch to the left leg, repeat as needed in your set.

For those looking to keep their routine fresh, there are many variations of the lunge. Try adding dumbells to increase weight resistance, just remember to maintain form. 

Other variations to explore are the reverse lunge, walking lunge, and elevated lunge.

Leg Press

The theme so far has been compound workouts as alternatives to leg extensions, many of which use bodyweight as the primary source of resistance. 

Let’s introduce some weight training, with the leg press.

The leg press machine is a staple at just about every gym you can enroll in, for good reason. The leg press effectively targets your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. 

A wide weight range can be added to these machines, so everyone can build a workout that suits their current level of training.

Since this is a machine-based exercise, form discipline is assisted by the machine setup. Let’s take a look at the basics. 

Note: As with all workouts mentioned the same rules apply. Your core should be engaged, knees carefully handled, and head facing forward throughout.

How to do them:

  • Sit into the machine resting your back, head, and glutes flatly into the padding. Each machine will have a slightly different arrangement. Place your feet heels-down onto the platform. Your feet should be about hip-width apart.
  • Push the platform up to engage the weights, release any weight lock if in place. 
  • Slowly bring the weights down, keeping knees bent and in control. Keep your knees close to 90 degrees.
  • Slowly extend your legs upward in a controlled motion, do not thrust. Top out with your knees slightly bent, do not lock them up.
  • Repeat 10-12 times to complete your set. 

The leg press is a weighted exercise so remember to stay in a comfortable weight range. Use appropriate spotting, and never overload weights.

Leg Extensions

What Muscle Does Leg Extension Work?

Quad Close Up

The leg extension exercise is an isolation exercise targeting the quadriceps. 

The quadriceps muscle group is comprised of four muscles:-

  • Rectus Femoris
  • Vastus Lateralis
  • Vastus Intermedius
  • Vastus Medialis 

Leg extensions use weight resistance to train this muscle group. It does not actively work the surrounding leg muscles.

The Leg Extension Movement

The leg extension movement is simple.

In a sitting position, your legs push outward from a resting 90-degree angle and return to the starting position. 

Leg extension machines use a padded bar against your feet to add weight resistance to the movement.

While effective for quadriceps it does have it’s drawbacks. The motion does not support surrounding leg muscles, which are necessary for most practical applications.

The movement can also stress the knee joints which can have negative long term effects.

Leg Extension Alternatives You Can Do At Home

For the at-home workout, there are a plethora of great alternatives to the leg extension exercise.

  • Body-Weight Squats
  • Lunge Exercises (Standard, Reverse, Side)
  • Step-Ups
  • Body-Weight Leg Extensions

Each of these options requires no special machines and most of which are compound workouts. 

Bodyweight exercises are effective and fun for those who want a great workout from the comfort of their own home.

Related Questions

Are Leg Extensions Bad For You?

Frankly, no. 

They still target quadriceps effectively. There are simply other exercises that strengthen the quadriceps while reinforcing other muscles easily. 

The benefits of compound exercises are plenty.

What Are Quadriceps Used For?

Quadriceps support bending and straightening of the knee. 

This close relationship to the knees makes it an important muscle to develop. It also means that over-exertion can directly result in damage to knee joints.

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