The leg extension is a classic exercise that's performed using a leg extension machine in the gym. Still, it's also an exercise that has a fantastic range of lesser-known alternatives. The alternative exercises can often be less stressful on your joints and produce more effective results when it comes to building specific muscles in your legs.
With our top 8 leg extension alternatives, you can put together a targeted leg-day routine that you can practice anywhere, with just a few booty bands and the motivation to build a healthier body!
Keep reading to learn the best leg extension alternative exercises that you can try from the comfort of your own home!
What are leg extensions, and are they bad for you?
The leg extension is an exercise that's performed on a weight machine. Otherwise known as knee extensions, you extend both lower legs by bending at the knees to lift the desired quantity of weight set on the machine.
This exercise very effectively targets your quadriceps, allowing you to build strong quads (the muscles in the front of your thighs). While the leg extension is incredibly useful for building power and strength in this specific muscle grouping, it's not quite as effective at targeting anywhere else.
Prolonged leg extensions aren't recommended for anyone with knee injuries or with weak knee joints, as the exercise can cause significant damage to the knee cap and the important anterior cruciate ligament.
But there are many more alternative exercises to allow you to practice the leg extension without machines that won't cause as much damage to the knees, and that can also target other leg and lower body muscles at the same time. Using a pull up assist band, you can add more resistance to the exercises, to intentionally work your leg muscles without the stress of the weight machine on your knees.
Introducing resistance bands to standard exercises such as squats and lunges, you can significantly increase the number of leg extension muscles worked during your workout routine. Successfully target a broader range of muscle groupings to build a more powerful trunk, with less risk of injury in the process.
The best leg extension alternatives
You can use the following leg extension alternatives to create a productive leg day routine, or you can take individual exercises and incorporate them into existing workout circuits. These exercises can also be used as warmups for leg extensions performed on a weight machine, and they could help you to avoid any severe knee injuries.
We recommend executing each exercise for a minimum of 3 sets of 8 reps. As your legs become stronger, increase the number of repetitions. If you are practicing any leg extension with band exercises, then you can increase the difficulty by selecting a stronger resistance band as your fitness improves, and your body allows.
Remember to warm up with some stretching and light cardio before commencing any intense workouts!
Here's a list of some of the best leg extension alternatives:
1. Bulgarian split squats with resistance band
Target your glutes and your quads with this single leg squat move. Ga resistance band and a low-level bench to rest one leg on.
- Feet shoulder-width apart, stand with your back facing a bench.
- Stand firmly on one end of a resistance band—Loop the other end of the resistance band over your shoulders.
- Raise your other leg and place your foot behind you, so it's resting on the bench.
- Bend your forward-facing knee until your thigh is parallel to the floor.
- At the same time, bend your back knee until it rests against the floor, with your back foot held firmly on the bench.
- Return to the start position and repeat.
- After the desired number of reps, change legs.
2. Cyclist squat
Build healthy knees and work your lower leg muscles with the cyclist squat. Add difficulty by placing a resistance band under your feet or by lifting a weighted barbell over your head.
- Standing with your feet together, loop the resistance band under both feet while holding the excess in both hands.
- Keeping your back straight, bend both legs simultaneously until your knees are over the top of your shoes.
- Hold the position then push back up through the floor to return to the start position.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
3. Standing leg extensions
Work your core and quads while building both balance and stability. After looping the resistance band around your ankle, tie the band to a strong support behind your leg to increase the intensity of this exercise.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Raise your left leg off the floor while bending your left knee slightly.
- Extend your left leg ahead of your body by bending your knee.
- Repeat for at least 8 reps, without lowering your foot to the floor.
- Change legs and repeat the single leg extension.
4. Seated leg extension
Take a seat and loop a hip circle band around both ankles to add resistance to this light leg extension exercise.
- Keep your back held firmly against a chair and your legs at a right angle to the floor.
- Raise your left foot from the floor and extend your leg ahead of you.
- Return your foot to the start position and repeat for at least 8 reps.
- Change legs and repeat.
5. Resistance band squats
Build powerful lower body muscles with resistance band squats.
- Feet shoulder-width apart, stand with your feet firmly planted on a resistance band.
- Hold the other ends of the resistance band up and against your shoulders.
- Lower your body into the squat position.
- Repeat for a total of 8 reps.
6. Reverse lunge with resistance band
Use the reverse lunge to target your quads, glutes, core, and hamstrings. A long pull up assist band will turn the movements into more difficult resistance band lunges.
- Place a resistance band beneath your right foot and loop the other end over your shoulders.
- Keep your right foot planted forward and take a step back with your left foot.
- Lower your right knee to the ground, raise, and return your right leg to the start position.
- Repeat for at least 8 repetitions, then switch to your other leg.
Use a knee height bench, stairs, or box to workout your leg muscles while also improving your cardio. This is an excellent exercise for improving mobility too.
- Stand in front of a bench with your legs shoulder-width apart.
- Keep your hands firmly held on your hips. Raise your left foot and place it firmly on the bench, with your knee at a right angle.
- Raise your right foot off the ground and stand with both feet firmly on the bench.
- Return your left foot to the ground, followed by your right foot.
- Now, repeat the exercise, but lead with your right foot first.
- Alternate the steps using your left and right feet for the desired number of reps.
8. Side lunges
Practice this lunge and leg extension alternative to build stronger glutes, hips, and quads. Hold weights in either hand or loop a resistance band under one foot and over your shoulders to make this more difficult.
- Stand with your feet loosely apart.
- Raise your right foot and take a large step to your right-hand side.
- As you step across, bend both knees and lower yourself into the squat position.
- Return to the start position and repeat it on your left-hand side.
- Repeat in either direction, alternating, for as many reps as you can.
The last word on leg extension alternative exercises!
You can learn all of these leg extension alternatives at home and without having to use a leg extension machine. Work different muscles, build a more muscular lower body, and improve your strength and fitness using these great exercises.
Practice your leg extension at home by creating a full leg day workout using these fantastic alternative exercises. All you need are a few resistance bands and the motivation to build stronger legs!