Leg extensions are a great way to build up your quadriceps. Most home gyms don’t have a leg extension machine so what can you do to do the same exercise but without the machine?
To do a leg extension at home without the machine, it’s best to use resistance bands or ankle weights and a chair. Bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges and wall sits target the quadriceps like a leg extension but also the glutes and hamstrings. Weight benches and cable machines can also be used
Find out how to use that equipment and how to do a replacement leg extension exactly below.
What does the leg extension train?
The leg extension might just be the most painful gym machine to use. That burn in your quads for 10-15 seconds after finishing a set is for me some of the most unpleasant feelings in the gym. That should give you a good indication of the body part the leg extension trains; the quadriceps.
On the leg extension machine, you’re sitting on a bench with the knees bent. There is a foam roll a little above the ankles. That foam roll is connected to the weight stack. Once you’re set up and have set the resistance, you straighten out your legs by bringing up the ankles.
The leg extension is a single joint movement that just bends and straightens the knee. The rest of the body doesn’t do too much. The muscles responsible for straightening the knee are the quadriceps. There might be some other small muscles that doing the leg extension targets but that’s not why you do a leg extension, it’s the quadriceps we’re after.
How to replace the leg extension at home?
So how can we train our quadriceps at home where there is usually no dedicated leg extension machine? There are a few exercise options that target the quadriceps in a home gym.
Some exercises are closer to the ‘real thing’ than others. Without the machine it’s difficult to really isolate the quadriceps without using many other muscles. It’s actually easier to do exercises at home that use multiple joints and therefore use more muscles.
There are however some isolation options at home.
Without equipment it’s a bit difficult to only target the quadriceps. Using a muscle in isolation is just not how your body works. Natural movements will almost always use a combination of different muscles at the same time. So without equipment, just using a single muscle is not possible.
However, we can do plenty of exercises that use quadriceps as well as some other muscles;
- Bodyweight squats
- Step ups
- Wall sit
Those and many variations on those exercises will target the quadriceps but also the glutes, hamstrings and calves.
Resistance bands are cheap, small and easily available. It’s quite easy to do a leg extension with just a resistance bands. If you’ve got a chair with four legs and a resistance band, you can do leg extensions.
Simply wrap the band around the two rear legs and hook your ankles into both ends of the bands. Sit down and do a leg extensions, simple. If the band is too long, wrap one side of the resistance band around the rear legs of the chair another time.
There are a few things that make this setup better or worse though. The chair should preferably be high enough so your feet don’t touch the floor. If you don’t have any taller chairs, see if you can put a pillow on top of the chair to raise you up.
Also, you want your legs to move up and down straight. For that to happen the resistance bands have to move straight back from the ankles. If that’s the case depends on the chair and how far your hips are apart.
Some benches have an add-on that allows you to do a leg extension (and often leg curl). This is the closest you often can get in a home gym without the actual machine. The movement pattern is exactly the same although sometimes the bench can be declined a little so it feels like you’re sitting back more than on the normal machine.
Most of the time, this leg extension add-on is loaded with weight plates. So you can set the resistance to what you need. As long as you’ve got enough plates, you can load these add-ons pretty heavily as well. 3 or 4 45 lbs. plates is usually not a problem which is more than enough resistance on the leg extension.
It will feel a bit different than the leg extension machines with a weight stack because the resistance curve is a bit different. Try combining the weight plates with a resistance band and you’ll notice that it comes really close.
A multi-gym is an all-in-one home gym machine. It tries to combine all the popular strength machines in a large gym into one single piece of equipment so it easily fits in your home. That means multi-gyms has a ton of exercise options for the whole body and the leg extension is almost always included as well.
Of course it’s not necessary to buy a multi-gym if the leg extension is the only exercise you’re going to use it for, however, if you want to replace more of the common gym strength machines a multi gym is a great option.
These are big and expensive machines so just using them for a single exercise is a waste of money and space. Then you might as well just buy a separate leg extension machine because that’s going to be cheaper and smaller.
If you’ve got a cable machine (functional trainer) at home, leg extensions can be done quite easily although it’ll be one leg at a time. Instead of sitting down, it’s better to do this exercise standing up.
- Set the pulley to about shoulder height
- Attach an ankle strap
- Put something in front of the machine to lean against. (bench)
- Set the right weight on the machine and attach the ankle strap.
- Face away from the pulley and lean against the bench. (just a little bent over is fine)
- Let your lower leg be pulled upwards but keep your knee in the same position.
- Know extend your leg to the normal position.
That way you recreate the movement of the leg extension but without the seat.
A simple solution for light weight leg extensions is ankle weights. With ankle weights you can do leg extensions pretty much anywhere you can sit down. As long as your feet don’t touch the floor while sitting down, you can do it. If your feet touch the floor you can’t do the full range of motion of the exercise so you’re missing out on the full benefits.
Some pillows can help you out if you can’t find any place to sit that’s high enough. Getting some ankle weights that can be adjusted to be heavier over time. That way you can get some longer progression and more muscle/strength growth over time.