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Do you want to strengthen and sculpt the front of your legs? You can do so by working out the quadriceps femoris muscles, also called quadriceps or quads. The leg extension is a great exercise for the quads. However, you need the leg extension machine to do it. Learn leg extension alternatives so you can perform the exercise at home without machines.

There are many exercises that you can perform for your quads. However, many of these exercises also work other muscles. If you want to isolate the quads, you are better off performing leg extensions or knee extensions. Leg extensions are done on a leg extension machine.

What Muscles Do Leg Extensions Work?

  • Quadriceps or Quads: This large muscle group is located on the front of the thigh, the front & sides of the femur. It’s composed of four muscles (rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius). The origin of the name, quad, means four – hence quadricep (four-headed muscle). The quadriceps are knee extensors and hip flexors – essential for walking, running, jumping, and squatting. They, also, help to stabilize the patella and knee joints.

Leg Extensions Benefits

After knowing what muscles leg extensions target, let’s look into all the benefits associated with leg extensions:

  • Hypertrophy: Leg extensions help you grow your quads. This exercise lets you concentrate on the quads so you can grow them.
  • Isolation: Leg extensions allow you to isolate your quads so you can develop them and get a good pump. They allow you to control the movement and focus on the front of your legs.
  • Rehab: This is a great exercise when you have injuries and need to retrain the muscles in a controlled manner. It’s critical in rehab.
  • Aesthetics: Leg extensions help sculpt and develop beautiful quads.
  • Strength: The leg extension helps strengthen your quads.
  • Endurance & Performance: This isolation exercise increases quad endurance which translates into improved athletic performance and less muscle fatigue while performing other leg exercises. You can increase muscular endurance by using lighter loads for 12-20 reps and 2-4 sets. 

How to Do Leg Extensions

  • Set up the leg extension machine so the pad is at the top of your lower legs at the ankles.
  • Your knees should be at 90 degrees.
  • Select a moderate load to get started.
  • Sit down and place your hands on the hand bars.
  • As you exhale, lift the weight until your legs are almost straight. Do not lock your knees. Keep your back against the backrest and do not arch your back.
  • Hold at the top of the movement for a second or two.
  • As you inhale, lower the weight back to the starting position.
  • Do three sets of eight to 12 repetitions.

Leg Extensions Mistakes

  • Using too much weight: You don’t need to load the machine up to the max to get all the benefits associated with leg extensions. In this exercise, you hold the weight on top of the lower leg to target the quads. Generally, the further the weight is from the operating joint, the more the muscle and the joint need to deal with the torque. Putting too much weight can overstress your knee joint over time.
  • Only training two legs at a time: Using machines in which you use both legs simultaneously can create imbalances since the stronger leg can be moving most of the weight. It’s important to incorporate exercises in which you are doing bilateral work or one leg at a time.

Alternatives to Leg Extensions on a Machine

Even though the leg extension is a great quad isolation exercise, not everybody has access to a leg extension machine or a gym. The good news is that you can perform that same movement without a machine and isolate those quads effectively. You can do leg extensions at home without machines.

The following are some exercises that you can perform when you do not have access to a leg extension machine:


One alternative to the conventional leg extension is by doing standing leg extensions. Besides isolating the quads, standing leg extensions stimulate your core and allow you to work on your balance and coordination. This is how to do standing leg extensions ⤵️

  • Stand up with your feet hip-width apart, back straight, shoulders back, and core tight.
  • Raise your right foot off the floor.
  • Extend your right leg in front of you until it is straightened.
  • Lower the leg down to the starting position.
  • Perform 12 – 15 reps.
  • Repeat with the left leg.
  • In order to add some resistance, you can put an ankle weight on your feet or strap a resistance band. Feel free to grab onto a chair or wall if you feel you can’t balance on your own.


Another alternative to the conventional leg extension is by doing leg extensions but without any weight. You can perform leg extensions while sitting in a normal chair or bench. This is how to do bodyweight leg extensions ⤵️

  • Sit in a chair or bench with your back straight.
  • Extend your right knee to lift your right leg until it is straightened.
  • Lower the leg down to the starting position.
  • Perform 15-20 repetitions.
  • Repeat with the left leg.


You can also challenge yourself more by adding resistance to the body-weight leg extension. This is another alternative to the conventional leg extension. You perform the exercise in the same manner you perform bodyweight leg extensions but you incorporate an ankle weight, a resistance band, or even the head of a kettlebell. Check out my video below to see how to do all the exercises mentioned above, as well as how to introduce resistance into your leg extension exercise without a machine.

How to Do Leg Extensions Without a Machine

Leg Extensions at home without Machine

Leg Workout

You can complete your leg workout by performing exercises for the quads and hamstrings:

As you can see the leg extension is a wonderful quad exercise. It offers tremendous benefits associated with hypertrophy, strength, endurance, and aesthetics. As you can see, there are many leg extension alternatives so you can still sculpt and strengthen your quads by doing leg extensions without the need for a leg extension machine. Now that you know how to properly perform several leg extension alternatives, you can avoid the most common mistakes and enjoy their benefits. You can do leg extensions at home and get great legs. Remember, whether you want to lose weight, tone your body, or gain strength or size, all muscles must be trained.

To a Healthier Fitter You,

Adriana Albritton

The Fitness Wellness Mentor

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