When it comes to 100% isolating the quads… few exercises do it better than using a leg extension machine.
It’s not that quads are hard to train… we use them in tons of lifts and everyday life… but the leg extension is a unique movement pattern… making it hard to replicate.
In daily movements (and most quad-dominant exercises), you do not extend your knee by itself… other muscles are recruited. That isn’t the case with a leg extension. The extension motion does not support the surrounding leg muscles… it is pure quad isolation.
If you workout from home, are traveling and only have access to a lacking hotel gym, or your gym doesn’t have a leg extension machine… it may seem there aren’t any decent substitutes. But there are actually several ways you can perform a leg extension without a machine… as well as other exercises you can do that will yield very similar results.
4 LEG EXTENSION SUBSTITUTES
(+Other Quad Isolation Exercises)
EXERCISE ONE: Kneeling Squat
Kneel on a pad or thick mat. SLOWLY lean back in a completely controlled motion. It should take you at least 5 seconds to lower down. Keeping the body in a straight line, go as far back as can, and then use your quads to pull yourself back up.
EXERCISE TWO: Elevated Knee Drives
Elevate your feet on any stable surface (box, bench, stairs, etc.) Get into a pushup position with your shoulders over your wrists. Stay on your toes. Driving with the toes, you will lower down as low as you can.
EXERCISE THREE: Single-Leg Band Extension
Secure a band behind you. Put your foot in the band (twist it to wrap around the foot.) Curl your leg up just like you would with a leg extension machine. Go slow and make sure and do a BIG SQUEEZE at the top of the motion.
EXERCISE FOUR: Dumbbell Leg Curl
Sit on the front edge of a chair/bench. Grab the sides of the seat. Hold the dumbbell vertically between your feet, so the top end of the dumbbell rests against the top of your feet. Lean back slightly, but keep your back straight. Lift your feet, so the DB isn’t touching the floor. Your lower legs should be perpendicular. Extend your legs by straightening your knees until your legs are about parallel. Pause before slowly lowering back to the starting position.
These options can also be great for anyone with knee issues!!
Some people debate that the leg extension machine is bad for your joints and knees because it can put stress on the knee joints due to the placement of the load relative to your knee and the constant tension it places on the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL),
If you already have sore knees, you may want to skip the leg extension machine and try one of the variations above instead!
OTHER QUAD ISOLATING OPTIONS…
There are some other great exercises you can do with DB’s or bodyweight that may not mimic a leg extension .. but are still great adaptations that can kill your quads if you do them correctly.
- Sissy Squats
- Heel Elevated DB Squats
- Box Step Ups
- Reverse Lunges
- Wall Isometric Hold
- Seated Leg Extension Isometric Holds
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