12 Amazing Leg Extension Alternative Exercises That Can Help Build Your Quads
The leg extension focuses on your quads and is performed using a leg extension machine. And, there are some great leg extension alternative exercises to help you achieve your fitness goals if you don’t have the required equipment.
You should never miss out on leg day!
If you’re wondering why, the answer is simple: the muscles and joints in our legs do most of the heavy lifting in our day-to-day life. Hence, it’s essential to perform certain exercises, such as leg extensions, to keep your legs fit.
The leg extension is an isolated exercise that focuses on the quadriceps or quads. The quads are made up of four specific muscles on the front of your thigh. The exercise is performed using a leg extension machine.
Leg extension exercises can be great for your quads, but what should you do when you don’t have access to the required equipment or want to change your monotonous exercise regimen?
Fortunately, there are some excellent leg extension alternative exercises that you can use to achieve your fitness goals. We’ll be discussing all of them in this article, so keep reading.
What Makes Leg Extensions so Great?
Leg extension has been our go-to exercise to beef up those quadriceps. Not only is it fun and easy to do, but it also has many benefits, such as:
- It helps strengthen your legs
- They provide a suitable amount of movement at the knees
- It helps increase your lower body strength
- Regular leg extensions can also help out if you’re planning on kickboxing
- It aids hypertrophy, making your thighs look more defined and in-shape
The leg extension is a targeted workout with a focus on the quadriceps. The other muscle groups mentioned are also involved, but the quads are the muscles mainly targeted:
- The quads include the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius
- The exercise also isolates the hamstrings present at the back of your calves, and they work by bending the knees
- Additionally, the muscles of the calves also contract
- The deep muscles of the abdomen, like the rectus abdominis and obliques, are involved in stabilizing your extended legs
Are There Any Drawbacks of Leg Extension?
Unfortunately, this exercise might not be suitable for everyone. Here’s why:
- To do the leg extension workout especially when exercising away from the qym, you’ll need a leg extension machine which can be costly. So, getting a piece of equipment for one muscle group might not be feasible for many fitness enthusiasts.
- Leg extension has also been shown to add unnecessary strain on the knee joints. Performing this exercise puts maximum force on the knee caps, the thinnest portion of the cartilage. This can lead to cartilage damage, in the long run, making other exercises difficult.
Due to these reasons, many people opt for other leg extension alternative exercises that can offer them the same benefits.
Best Leg Extension Alternative Exercises that can help Strengthen Your Quad Muscles
Here are some alternatives to leg extensions, recommended by experienced trainers and fitness enthusiasts.
Split squat might look like lunges. However, lunges are an isolated exercise that only benefits the quads. On the other hand, the split squat is a compound exercise, meaning it simultaneously targets different muscle groups.
The split squat is an amazing leg extension alternative that can give you benefits like those from the extension exercise. If done correctly, the exercise can be very effective in strengthening your leg muscles.
Muscles: Quads, hamstrings, glutes
Steps to Follow
To do this leg extension alternative exercise,
- Stand firm with your torso upright and feet shoulder-width apart.
- Step one foot forward as wide as possible while keeping both heels planted on the ground and the toes pointed forward.
- Place your hands on your hips and bend both your knees while maintaining an upright torso.
- Let your back heel come off the ground as you shift your weight down into the heel of the front leg.
- Lower until your back shin and front thigh is parallel with the ground.
- Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds, pulsing then alternating with the other leg.
- Do ten reps on each side in every set, with a total of 4-5 sets.
For greater intensity, hold dumbells in each hand or have a kettlebell against your chest.
Leg Extension Alternative with Bands
The leg extension with a resistance band is a great substitute for using a leg extension machine. Resistance bands can generate a considerable amount of tension – and therefore resistance – for our muscles to work against. This can help build strength.
Equipment: 1 x resistance band, 1 x chair or stool
Steps to Follow
- Sit on a comfortable stool or chair, making sure both your legs are at an equal distance from the ground.
- Place one foot inside the resistance band. Twist it once around your shoes so that it doesn’t slip off.
- Place the other foot through the opposite end of the band.
- Slowly raise the leg with the looped end of the resistance band till it makes a complete 90-degree angle with your body. You can hold the back of your knee while extending.
- Once you fully extend your leg, hold it for a few seconds before lowering it.
- Complete two to three sets with 15 reps on each side.
- You can hold the back of your knee while extending. This could make it easier for you to do this leg extension alternative exercise with a band.
- The movements at your knees should be controlled and not sporadic.
NB: Always warm up before any resistance training; otherwise, you may run the risk of a painful leg cramp!
Seated Leg Extension or Bodyweight leg extension
This is another excellent leg extension alternative exercise.
This exercise isn’t very intense and stressful on the knees. That makes it beginner-friendly and convenient to perform for those with knee problems.
Muscle: Quadriceps or quads
Equipment: 1 x chair
Steps to Follow
- Sit on a chair with a backrest, keeping your back held firmly against the back.
- Make sure your legs and knees are at a right angle to the floor and not drooping to either side.
- Raise one of your legs till it’s fully extended. Hold it for a few seconds before returning it to the ground.
- When lifting your leg, your back should be straight. You can hold onto the chairs’ edge for stability.
- Do a total of 15 reps in sets of three for each leg while engaging your thighs and core.
Standing Leg Extension Alterntive Exercise
Standing leg extension offers similar benefits to leg extension on a machine. It can strengthen your core and quads. It can also challenge your balance and coordination.
You don’t need any equipment for this exercise, which is a plus.
Steps to Follow
- Stand with your back straight and your knees at equal distance from one another.
- You can stand with your back to a wall for support.
- Place your hands on your hips and raise one thigh at a time.
- Extend your calves at the knee joint, pulsing every 5 seconds.
- Complete 15 to 20 reps in two or three sets for each leg.
- Consider adding an ankle weight to the foot you are lifting to increase the intensity.
- For additional support, use the wall to rest your hands.
The wall squat is a great way to start quadriceps exercises, as it prepares the muscles for more intense workouts.
Wall squat is a beginner-level exercise and an easy alternative to leg extensions. You can do it at home and at any time.
Muscles: Quads, glutes, calves
Steps to Follow
- Stand firm with your back against a wall. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and about 2 feet away from the wall.
- Engage your abdominal muscles and slowly slide your back down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
- Adjust your feet, so your knees are directly above your ankles (rather than over your toes).
- Hold the position for 20 to 60 seconds.
- Slide slowly back up the wall to a standing position.
- Rest for 30 seconds and repeat the exercise three times.
- Increase your hold time by 5 seconds as you gain more strength.
Bulgarian Split Squats
Bulgarian split squat is a type of squat exercise that’s good for lower-body training. Like split squats, this one is also a compound exercise that works your legs and engages your core. It also targets different muscle groups simultaneously, making it an effective leg extension alternative exercise.
Muscles: Quads, glutes, hamstrings, abdominals, calves, spinal erectors
Equipment: 1 x knee-level bench
Steps to Follow
- Stand about 2 feet in front of a knee-level bench or step.
- Lift your right leg behind you and place the top of your foot on the bench. Your feet should still be about shoulder-width apart, and your right foot should be far enough to comfortably lunge.
- Roll your shoulders back and lean slightly forward at the waist while engaging your core.
- Slowly lower down on your left leg and bend the knee.
- If completing a quad-dominant Bulgarian split squat, stop before your knee falls over your toes. If ending a glute-dominant Bulgarian split squat, stop when your left thigh is parallel to the ground.
- Push up through your left foot, using the power from your quads and hamstrings to return to standing.
- Switch legs after five reps. Do a total of 15 reps for each leg.
- You may lose your balance at first, but eventually, you’ll find the correct position where your right ankle is at a hip distance from your right knee.
- To make the exercise harder, hold dumbbells in both your hands or a kettlebell near your chest.
Lunges is a super popular exercise that’s usually part of every lower body workout regimen. It’s a single-leg extension alternative at home bodyweight exercise that builds endurance while working on lower body strength.
Muscles: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves
Steps to Follow
- Stand tall with your torso upright.
- Take a step forward with your right leg and bend your knee till it’s directly above your ankle.
- Bend your back foot, making sure your back knee does not touch the ground.
- Engage your core and legs while performing the motion.
- Step back and repeat.
- Complete 10 reps on each side in sets of four.
Tip: For added weight, hold a pair of dumbbells while exercising.
Side or lateral lunges are a variation of standard lunges. There are some of the best leg extension alternative exercises to fall on when looking for ways to build your quads
Side lunges work the inner thigh muscles along with the lower body, helping you improve overall balance.
Muscles: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, inner thigh
Steps to Follow
- Stand straight with your legs hip-distance apart.
- Take a wide step to the left with your left leg and bend it at the knee while pushing back your hips and keeping your right knee straight.
- Engage your core while lunging sideways.
- Push yourself up with your left leg. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
- Complete four sets of 15 reps on each leg.
Reverse Lunges with Resistance Band
If you’ve done forward lunges previously, then this exercise will be a piece of cake.
Reverse lunges with resistance bands is a well-balanced exercise targeting every lower body muscle without putting pressure on your knees. This makes the exercise particularly useful for those with knee pain who are looking for some reliable leg extension bodyweight alternative.
Muscles: Quads, Hamstrings, Calves, Glutes
Equipment: 1 x resistance band
Steps to Follow
- Stand upright with your shoulders straight.
- Put your legs through a resistance band, pulling the band up to your midthigh.
- Take a step back with your left leg so that your left knee is aligned with your left foot.
- Your right thigh should be parallel with the ground and the right knee above the right ankle.
- The resistance band will create tension, which you will use to engage your core.
- Hold the position for a few seconds and return to standing and then repeat.
- Do 15 reps in four sets on each leg.
Squat jumps are a great way of incorporating cardio into your exercise routine while working on your quads. This exercise is a suitable way to start intense workouts as it gradually increases your heart rate, resulting in an effective cardio session.
Muscles: Butt, quads, hamstrings, calves, abdominals
Steps to Follow
- Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Go down into a full squat position with your knees behind your toes. Make sure your back is straight, and your chest is above your knees.
- Engage your quads, glutes, and hamstrings and propel yourself upwards into a jump.
- Hit the floor with your heels and balance your weight. Immediately jump again.
- Do as many reps as you can manage, depending on your skill level.
Step-Ups With Dumbbells
Step-ups are a go-to exercise for most people who work out without equipment. Coupled with dumbbells, this exercise becomes an excellent alternative to leg extensions that’ll work your quads along with your back.
- Muscles: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves
- Intensity: Beginner
- Equipment: 1 x step or ply box, 1x pair of dumbbells
- Steps to Follow
- Stand in front of a step with dumbbells in your hands.
- Place your left foot in the step. By engaging your quads and hamstrings, straighten your left knee and raise yourself over the step.
- Bring your right foot next to your left foot on top of the step.
- Bring yourself down the step while engaging your left foot.
- Repeat with your left leg for 15 to 20 reps, then switch with the right leg.
NB: The dumbbells will add intensity when you lift yourself.
Swiss Ball Curl
The swiss ball curl is a full-on-the-floor exercise that works the back of your legs as well as your abs. It wouldn’t be wrong to call this exercise a complete package for an effective lower body workout.
Muscles: Quads, Hamstrings, glutes, calves, abdominals, obliques
Equipment: 1x swiss ball
Steps to Follow
- Lie on an even surface, with your back and arms flat on the ground.
- Place your feet over the swiss ball with your toes pointing upwards.
- Now roll the ball back in a way that the soles of your feet flatten over the ball and your knees point upwards.
- Roll the ball forwards again to complete one rep.
- Complete 15 reps in two sets.
- Once you get the hang of the motions, do a unilateral swiss ball curl with one leg to challenge yourself.
Final Words from LiveLife
Weak thighs and knees can restrict your physical movement and deteriorate your overall quality of life. However, doing vigorous exercises like leg extensions can do more harm than good.
Fortunately, many of the leg extension alternative exercises we’ve listed can offer you a route to building strong and healthy quads
- Bodyweight squat. (n.d.).
- Bordoni B, et al. (2018). Anatomy, bony pelvis and lower limb, thigh quadriceps muscle.
- Bulgarian split squat. (n.d.).
- Gabriel-Landis N. [PriorityStrength]. (2015). Cyclist squat [Video file].
- JOSPT Editorial Board and Staff. (2014). Knee pain: Safely strengthening your thigh muscles. DOI:
- Matthews J. (2013). 4 exercises trainers say you can do without.
- McCall P. (2014). 6 lower-body exercises to do instead of squats.
- McCall P. (2016). 5 benefits of compound exercises.
- Seated leg extension. (n.d.).
- Side lunge. (n.d.).
- Standing leg extension. (n.d.).
- Step-up. (n.d.).
- Vargo K. (2015). 6 super-effective squat variations you need to try.
- Vargo K. (2018). 5 lunge variations for leaner legs.