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March 12, 2022 9 min read

Few exercises target the quads as leg extensions do. This exercise might look deceptively simple, but it tests the strength of your quads, helping you strengthen, tone, and grow out the muscles.

The leg extension is performed at a commercial gym using a leg extension machine. What happens if you aren't near a gym or if you don’t have a leg extension machine at home?

You simply have to make do with other equally efficient leg extension alternative exercises. Below, we have compiled a list of the best exercises you can perform in place of leg extensions.

Muscles Worked In Leg Extensions

The primary muscle group targeted during leg extension is the quads of your thigh.

The quadriceps muscle, as we know them, are not one but four different muscles that help to make movement in the leg possible. The quad is one of the largest muscle groups of the skeletomuscular system.

It is a sizeable fleshy muscle that spans and covers the front and sides of your thigh bone. The quad extends from the hip to the knee joint and makes up the bulk of the upper leg muscles.

The quad consists of four parts or heads, namely the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius. All these heads have independent purposes but work in sync to achieve one aim: movement and postural function. 

Looking at all four muscle heads as independent entities proves that they are all critical in the legs' movements:

The Vastus lateralis is the largest of all four heads that runs down the length of the front of your thigh and connects your thigh bone to your kneecap.

The Vastus medialis is a more distinct muscle shaped like a tear-drop along the inner thigh that connects your thigh bone to your knee cap.

The Vastus inter medius is the deepest head and lies between the former two heads.

Finally, the Rectus femoris partially covers all three heads, originates at the hip, and connects to the knee.

All these muscles are the most used muscle parts in your body. They help you move around in actions like walking, running, jogging, and even standing. The quads help to keep your knees stable during these activities and also help you to maintain your stability while you stand still.

You rely on your quads a lot for actions both inside and outside the gym.

Why Is The Leg Extension Exercise Important?

Because you rely on your quads so much, they are prone to injuries.

Quad injuries have grown significantly common among athletes, which might affect their athletic performances and sideline them in the future. 

Leg extensions are widely popular because of the effect they have on the strength of your quads. Leg extension not only helps to tone the thighs and improve your physique but also keeps your legs strong and healthy. This exercise is especially vital for strengthening the ligaments and tendons that attach your thigh bone to your knees.

This helps to enhance not only your thigh muscle but also other complementary movers. Many people consider leg extensions to be harmful to the knees and cause pain and knee problems, but this is quite the opposite effect the exercise has.

Leg extensions are great rehabilitation exercises for people who suffer from knee pain.

As long as it is performed with the correct form and low intensity, leg extensions might be the cure you seek for your knee problems.

More impressively, leg extensions primarily isolate the quads and help you focus the contractions directly on those muscles. Other compound exercises like deadlifts might also target the quads and simultaneously activate other muscle groups, causing you to expend more energy than you will while performing leg extensions. 

While these are all great points to buttress why leg extensions belong in your workout routine, what happens when you find yourself without the facilities to perform them?

The leg extension is done in a unique movement that very limited exercises might rival it. This is why very few gym-goers have difficulties choosing alternative exercises to replace lag extensions when they find themselves without the means to perform the exercise.

Thankfully, there are many activities designed to help you train your quads to the best of your abilities, and, more impressively, without using any machine.

Leg Extension Alternatives

Below we have provided killer quad exercises for you to perform in the comfort of your home, on vacation, or any gym without a leg extension machine.

These exercises are equally great for your quads:

1. Bodyweight Kneeling Leg Extensions

 

What do you do when you find yourself stuck somewhere without a leg extension machine?

Fix the problem by using your body weight, of course. Don't be deceived; while this uncommon exercise might look like a piece of cake, it is easier said than done. 

The bodyweight kneeling leg extension is a variation of the leg extension exercise that is equally great for firing up your quads.

It is a superb complementary, warm-up, and finisher exercise to other leg exercises as it helps to target and fatigue the quads in an unbelievable short range of motion.

The bodyweight kneeling leg extension is a perfectly functional exercise as it not only isolates and strengthens your quad but also chips in on your knee joint, lower back, and hamstrings. This exercise doesn't require a machine and can be performed anywhere you like.

To perform the bodyweight kneeling leg extension:

  • Kneel on an exercise mat.
  • Keep your knees under your hips without spreading them too far apart.
  • Place the top of your feet flat on the floor and point your toes.
  • Cross your arms at your chest to keep the tension in your body.
  • Keep your back straight, neck neutral, and gaze forward.
  • Engage your core and tighten your glutes.
  • Moving your upper body as one part, slowly hinge backward using your quads.
  • Lean back as far as you can go to keep maximum contraction in your quads.
  • Pause at the end of your movement.
  • Slowly return to the starting position. This is one rep.

2. Squats

 

Like the leg extensions, squats are performed for the effect they have on the leg muscles, especially the quads. In addition to engaging your quads, squats activate your core, hips, butt, and calves in a monstrous full-body bodyweight workout. 

The squat is an excellent muscle-strengthening exercise that can turn dangerous when performed wrongly. 

To do squats:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes forward.
  • Keep your back straight and chest proud.
  • Place your hands straight in front of you for balance.
  • Bend at the knees and sit back on your hips as if sitting in a chair.
  • Lower yourself while keeping your back straight until your legs form a 90-degree angle with the floor.
  • Pause the bottom of the movement.
  • Return to the starting position by driving your feet into the floor.
  • Repeat.

3. Reverse Lunge

 

All lunge variations are great for your posterior chain, but the reverse lunge is an exceptionally superb exercise for training your quads. It also helps to know that the reverse lunge is an accessible exercise that can be performed anywhere regardless of your fitness level. 

The reverse lunge works your quads and a host of other lower body muscles by challenging your stability and mobility. It is even better than the forward lunge, even though its movements reverse its original forward lunge version. 

To do the reverse lunge:

  • Stand with your back straight, chest proud, and neck neutral.
  • Keep your feet hip-width apart.
  • Place your hands on your hips or clutch them in front of you.
  • Engage your core.
  • Exhale and take a giant step backward with your right foot.
  • Lower your hips until your leading left leg forms a 90-degree angle with the floor.
  • At the end of your movement, your left thigh should be parallel with the floor and your left ankle stacked under your knee.
  • Your right knee should be slightly above the floor with your right heel raised.
  • Return to a standing position by driving through your right foot.
  • Bring your right foot forward till you are once again standing erect.
  • Complete as many reps as you can fit in a set.

The reverse long is scalable to help you increase the intensity of your workout. Once you get comfortable performing this as a bodyweight exercise, include a dumbbell in your routine.

4. Step-Ups

 

The Step-up is a unilateral bodyweight exercise that challenges your stability. This exercise is excellent for toning your legs and making your quads pop. The step-up is essentially a tune-up of the movements you go through when climbing a step.

It combines the power of a lunge with an upward lift and targets your quads as the leg extension would.

The step-up loads the leg that does the climbing. Since you are working one leg after the other, you can train each leg equally. This is key to ensuring that you optimize your workout routine while getting rid of muscle imbalances that might be suffered in other bilateral exercises.

To do step-ups:

  • Find a sturdy elevated surface like a photometric box or bench. The surface should not be too high that you strain to climb it.
  • Stand facing the box with your legs shoulder-width apart.
  • Keep your back straight and chest proud.
  • Keep your neck neutral, and your chin tucked.
  • Pre-tension your shoulders and engage your core.
  • Cause your left leg and place your foot on the box.
  • Push your foot on the box and use your left leg to initiate the upward movement.
  • Simultaneously squeeze your glutes and include your hip in the movement as you raise your right leg.
  • Squeeze your quads at the end of your movement.
  • Without being your back, step off the box with your left leg.
  • Return to the starting position. This is one rep.

To make the exercise more challenging, hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand.

5. Wall Sit

 

The wall sit is one of those exercises that never goes out of fashion. It is a killer quad exercise that would have your legs shaking at the end of your sets. The wall sit works the front part of your thighs, providing a more muscular leg physique.

It builds leg muscle strength and endurance that helps with functional and sports performance.

The wall sit is disguised as an exercise with a short and straightforward range of motion, but it is anything but easy.The wall sit can be performed anywhere you want as long as you have a wall to use. 

To perform the wall sit:

  • Lean with your back flat against the wall.
  • Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and two feet away from the wall.
  • Keep your feet flat, and your toes pointed out.
  • Engage your core.
  • Slowly slide down the wall until your knees form a 90-degree angle.
  • Your thighs should be parallel to the floor and your ankles under your knees.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds.
  • Slide up to the starting position and rest for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat.

You can choose to scale up or scale down the seconds sending on your choice and fitness level. The wall sit is a demanding exercise and can fatigue your legs early.

For the best result, pair your routine withPUMPED-AF for an extra muscle pump, improved muscle endurance, better training capacity, and enhanced muscle fullness.

6. Bulgarian Split Squat

 

The Bulgarian split squat is a single-leg squat variation that targets the quads and other complementary muscles. In this exercise, you perform the squat with your rear leg elevated. 

The Bulgarian split squat involves effortless movements that can be performed wrongly because of poor form. Performing this exercise with perfect form might take longer than you imagine, but it pays off in the end. This leg extension alternative challenges your stamina, balance, and mobility while giving your legs a workout. 

To perform the Bulgarian split squat:

  • Stand erect two feet in front of a bench.
  • Face away from the bench.
  • Keep your feet hip-width apart and your back straight.
  • Push your shoulders back slightly and keep your chest proud.
  • Keep chin tucked and gaze forward.
  • Place your left foot on the bench behind you with the top of your foot flat. Ensure that your legs maintain the hip-width distance.
  • Engage your core.
  • Inhale and hinge at your knees, initiating the concentric phase.
  • Keep your weight evenly distributed and hinge forward at the hips.
  • At the bottom of the movement, your right thigh should be parallel to the floor.
  • Initiate the upward phase by pushing through your right quad and glutes.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Complete as many reps as you can on your right foot before switching to your left.

7. Cyclist Squat

 

The cyclist squat is a regular squat with your heels elevated. This killer exercise targets the quads, particularly the vastus medialis. The cyclist squat works all parts of the legs and is especially effective for strengthening your quads and your knee joints. 

The slight 45-degree lift of your heels during the cyclist changes the angle from which your leg muscles are attacked during a regular squat. The cyclist can be performed as a bodyweight exercise and a weighted exercise to increase the load on your muscles. 

To do the cyclist squat:

  • Set up the platform for elevating your heels. You can use slant boards, weighted plates, or other sturdy options.
  • Place your heel or foot on the platform until your feet are on a 45-degree incline.
  • Keep your feet closer than hip-width with your toes pointing forward.
  • Initiate the squat by bending at your knees before including your hips.
  • Squat as low as you can and bring your butt towards your heels. Maintain straight back throughout the descent.
  • Pause for a second before returning to the standing position by driving through your feet and glutes.
  • Complete as many reps as possible.

Master the cyclist squat as a bodyweight exercise before introducing dumbbells, kettlebells, or barbells into your routine. This exercise requires a high degree of focus and strength. Pair your training with FOCUSED-AF  to heighten your focus, increase your muscle tolerance, and ward off early muscle fatigue.

Choosing An Alternative

The leg extension is difficult to replace because of the uniqueness of its movements and its effects on your quads. Fortunately, there are equally great exercises that can help to strengthen your legs as leg extensions do.

As long as these alternatives are performed with great form, you will get the effect you are looking for. Practice these alternatives alongside any other quad exercises for strong and toned legs.