The leg extension, or knee extension, is a type of strength training exercise. It’s an excellent move for strengthening your quadriceps, which are in the front of your upper legs.

Leg extensions are done on a leg extension machine. You sit on the machine with a weighted pad on top of your lower legs. Then you use your quads to repeatedly extend your knees and lift your lower legs.

While the leg extension is a great quad workout, it might not be the most practical move.

Aside from the quads, the exercise doesn’t work any other muscles. It’s not effective for improving overall leg strength.

It also places a lot of pressure on the knees, which increases the risk of injury. Plus, it’s not very convenient because you need a special machine.

You can do other exercises in place of leg extensions. These alternatives not only work the quads, but other leg muscles as well. They’re also less stressful on the knees.

Before trying a new exercise routine, consult your doctor first. Your doctor can explain how to stay safe while working out.

Leg extension exercises target the quadriceps femoris.

The quadriceps are a group of muscles in the front and side of your thigh.

This includes the:

As a group, the quads are the biggest muscle in the human body. The purpose of this muscle group is to extend your knees.

Strong quads are important for walking, squatting, and good posture.

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1. Bodyweight leg extensions

You can do leg extensions while sitting in a normal chair. This will strengthen the quads without using added weight.

It’s also less stressful on the knees. If you have knee problems, bodyweight leg extensions without a machine may be an ideal alternative.

To do it:

  1. Sit in a chair. Plant your feet on the floor, hip-width apart.
  2. Straighten your back.
  3. Extend your right knee to lift your right leg.
  4. Return to starting position.
  5. Start with two sets of 10 to 12 reps. Repeat with the left leg.
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2. Standing leg extensions

The standing leg extension strengthens your core and quads, offering similar benefits to leg extensions on a machine. It also challenges your balance and coordination.

To do it:

  1. Place your feet hip-width apart. Keep your shoulders away from your ears.
  2. Engage your core. Raise your right foot 1 or 2 inches off the floor.
  3. Bend your right knee to send your right foot back.
  4. Straighten your right knee to extend your leg in front of you.
  5. Start with two sets of 10 to 12 reps. Repeat with the left leg.

To make it harder, add an ankle weight to the foot you are lifting. You can also rest your hand on a wall for extra support.

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3. Squats

The squat is a bodyweight exercise that targets your quads. It also engages the muscles in your:

  • core
  • butt
  • hips
  • lower legs

To do it:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Turn your toes slightly outward. Clasp your hands together or place them by your sides. Pull your shoulders down.
  2. Engage your core and straighten your back. Push your hips back and bend your knees.
  3. Lower your hips until your front thighs are parallel to the floor. Keep your knees above your ankles.
  4. Push into your heels and stand up.
  5. Start with two sets of 10 to 12 reps.

To challenge yourself, hold a kettlebell or dumbbell while doing squats.

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4. Reverse lunges

Reverse lunges, like leg extensions, strengthen and tone your quads.

They also activate the glutes, hamstrings, and core, so you’ll get a more dynamic workout.

To do it:

  1. Stand with your feet side by side.
  2. Step your right foot back. Lower your right knee to 90 degrees.
  3. Push into your right foot to return to starting position.
  4. Repeat with the left leg to complete one rep.
  5. Start with two sets of 10 to 12 reps.
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5. Bulgarian split squats with dumbbells

The Bulgarian split squat targets your glutes and hips. It also works your hamstrings and quads, making it a great leg extension alternative.

To do this move, you’ll need a dumbbell and a bench. The bench should be knee-height or slightly lower.

To do it:

  1. Stand with your back to the bench. Hold the dumbbell with both hands and place your elbows against your body.
  2. Split your legs into lunge stance, resting the top of your right foot on the bench. Plant your left foot on the floor.
  3. Bend your left leg to lower your right knee. Lower yourself until your left thigh is parallel with the floor and your right knee almost touches the floor.
  4. Push into your left foot and return to starting position.
  5. Start with two sets of 10 to 12 reps. Switch legs and repeat.

The Bulgarian split squat requires good balance. If you’re new to this move, try it without a dumbbell first. You can add a dumbbell once you get used to the movement.

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6. Step ups

Step ups are effective for strengthening your quads, glutes, and hip flexors. They also improve balance and hip mobility.

You’ll need a bench or box that’s at knee-height or slightly lower.

To do it:

  1. Stand facing the bench with your feet hip-width apart. Keep your hands on your hips and straighten your torso.
  2. Place your right foot on top of the bench. Keep your right knee over your right ankle.
  3. Push off your left foot to step on to the box. Place your left foot next to your right foot and stand up straight.
  4. Step your right foot back and on to the floor. Repeat with your left foot to return to starting position.
  5. Start with two sets of 10 to 12 reps.
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7. Cyclist squats

The cyclist squat, or quad squat, is another leg extension alternative.

Your feet are placed close together and your heels are raised. This lets your hips move straight down, which forces your quads to work harder.

You’ll need a weight plate or curb that’s about three inches high.

To do it:

  1. Stand with your feet side by side.
  2. Rest your heels on the plate or curb. Keep your hands together or straight ahead.
  3. Brace your core.
  4. Bend your knees and slowly sink your hips into a deep squat until your hamstrings touch your calves.
  5. Stand up to return to starting position.
  6. Start with two sets of 10 to 12 reps.

As you get stronger, you can hold a dumbbell in each hand.

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8. Side lunges

Side lunges, or lateral lunges, activate your butt, hips, and quads.

To do it:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Face your toes forward. Keep your hands together or straight ahead.
  2. Engage your core. Step your right foot to the side, sending your hips back and moving your weight over your right leg.
  3. Continue until your right shinbone lines up with your right foot.
  4. Push into your right foot to return to starting position.
  5. Repeat with the left leg to complete one rep.
  6. Start with two sets of 10 to 12 reps.

Leg extensions are ideal if you want to focus on your quads. But if you’d like to improve overall leg strength, it’s best to do alternatives.

Leg extension alternatives engage more leg muscles, like the glutes and hamstrings. Some exercises even work your core, which is important for good posture and balance.

These options offer a more functional workout than leg extensions on a machine. Additionally, alternative exercises reduce the risk of injury because they’re less stressful on the knees. This may be ideal if you have a knee condition like knee arthritis.

If you’re new to strength training, talk to a physical therapist or personal trainer. They can create a workout plan that’s appropriate for your overall health and fitness level.

Visit an expert if you have knee, leg, or hip issues. You might require supervision to safely do leg workouts.

You should also talk to a physical therapist or trainer if you’re recovering from an injury, like a broken leg. They can provide modifications based on your personal needs.

Doing leg extensions on a machine will work the quads, but it won’t strengthen any other muscles.

There are many exercises you can do instead of leg extensions. These alternatives involve more muscles, so you’ll get a more functional workout.

These moves are also less stressful on the knees, so they minimize the risk of injury.

If you’re not sure how to do these exercises, consult a personal trainer or other exercise professional. They’ll be able to show you how to do these moves safely and properly.