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 isolate your quadriceps? Here are the best options.
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 all the options for different equipment and how to exactly do them below.
- 1 How To Replace The Leg Extension Exercise At Home
- 2 Leg Extension Alternatives Without Equipment
- 3 Leg Extension Alternative Exercises With Home Gym Equipment
- 4 What Does The Leg Extension Train?
How To Replace The Leg Extension Exercise At Home
So how can we train our quadriceps at home or elsewhere where there is usually no dedicated leg extension machine? We will look at a few options. Some can be done without any equipment while other alternatives use equipment commonly found in home gyms.
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.
First, we’ll look at some exercises you can do without any equipment. Below that you can find some common home gym equipment that can be used to train the quadriceps.
Leg Extension Alternatives Without Equipment
Without equipment, it’s a bit difficult to only target the quadriceps without hitting any other muscle. Using a muscle in isolation is just not how your body naturally 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;
1. Chair Leg Extensions
Everyone has a chair. And a chair is actually a great way to do something very close to a leg extension. Simply sit on a chair, ideally, your feet aren’t touching the floor when letting them hang straight down. Then simply extend your knees until they’re straight. This is exactly the same movement as a leg extension machine.
The big difference is of course the resistance. Without any resistance, the movement is likely too easy for most people. This can be solved by using ankle weights or resistance bands. Or simply wear heavy boots. Without any extra resistance, you’ll have to do a lot of repetitions to start feeling something. Ankle weights and resistance bands are cheap and easy to get.
Alternatively, you can DIY some ankle weights by taping something heavy to your shoes or filling a long tube sock with beans. You don’t actually need a lot of weight to make the leg extension challenging.
2. Bodyweight squats
Bodyweight squats are the mainstay of a lower-body workout without equipment. Squats target the whole lower body and the quads are no exception. They are super easy to do anywhere and they’re just great all round.
Try to do 3-4 high repetition sets in a workout and see if you don’t feel your quads burning.
3. Bulgarian Split Squat
This squat has the rear leg resting on a bench or chair while the front leg takes all the load. I’ve found that this really loads up my quads more than the hamstrings and glutes which is exactly what we’re looking for.
This is not a great exercise for beginners since you already need quite a bit of balance and strength to do this properly. If you’re looking for a challenge, this is a good option. Otherwise, start with normal lunges to get used to the position.
4. Wall sit
If you’ve ever done a wall sit, you know how fun these are…… The burn you get is actually quite similar to the leg extension. You simply sit with your knees at a 90-degree angle with your back against a wall. Hold that position for a good amount of time and you’ll feel a very strong burn in your quads. 20-30 seconds is likely enough for beginners while later you might be able to do 30-60 seconds at a time.
The wall sit is a static exercise which means you train isometric strength and endurance more than overall size although they still help for growing muscle, especially for beginners.
For extra quadriceps activation on the wall sit, try to push down through your toes instead of the heels. If you need even more, holding a heavy bag in front of your chest will give you some good resistance.
Leg Extension Alternative Exercises With Home Gym Equipment
If you’ve got some equipment or might be willing to get some, here is how you can use it to replace the leg extension.
1. Home Gym Leg Extension Bench
Some benches have an add-on that allows you to do a leg extension (and often a leg curl). This is the closest you 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 are 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 have 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.
3. Cable machine
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 lightweight 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.
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 of 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.