Leg Extension Alternatives

11 Substitutes You Can Do With No Equipment Or A Simple Home Gym

Leg extensions are the best exercise for isolating the quads. But the problem is they require a specific and expensive machine.

Other posts and videos show leg extension alternatives that don’t target your quads at all. I mean, a simple bodyweight squat is not a leg extension substitute!

So I’m here to show you 11 leg extension alternatives that actually challenge your quads. You can do them with no equipment or basic bands and free weights.

Leg Extension Alternative At Home

What Are Leg Extensions

Leg extensions are an isolation exercise that involves the knee joint. When the knee is extended, your lower leg goes from a bent position to a straight position.

Unlike compound exercises such as squats, single-joint exercises are better for targeting a specific muscle. This is why leg extensions are so good for developing the front of your thighs.

Leg Extensions Muscles Worked

The quadriceps is a group of 4 muscles on the front of your upper leg responsible for knee extension. Including the vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris.

Leg Extension Muscles Worked

Leg Extension Alternative At Home No Equipment

The following exercises are substitutes for leg extensions that you can do at home or at the gym with no equipment whatsoever. Even without machines or weights, you might be surprised how much they challenge your quads!

1. Prone Bodyweight Leg Extension

This bodyweight leg extension is performed in a prone position, sort of like a kneeling plank. And you push off from the floor while using your body as resistance.

To do a bodyweight leg extension, start by kneeling on the floor. Then bend forward and rest your upper body on your forearms. From this starting position, extend your knees until your legs are straight.

2. Kneeling Bodyweight Leg Extension

Another bodyweight leg extension is performed in a kneeling position and uses your upper body to provide resistance. This is a step up in difficulty from the prone bodyweight leg extension.

To do this exercise, start by kneeling on the floor. Now lean back until you feel your knees just start to come off the floor. Then flex your quads to pull your upper body back to the starting point.

3. Sissy Squat

A sissy squat is another bodyweight exercise that targets your thighs but also your core. Generally, it’s performed by squatting down without bending your hips, which emphasizes knee extension.

Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Next, bend your knees and let your upper body lean back slightly. Lower your body until your upper leg and lower leg form a 90-degree angle. Then flex your quads to raise your body back up.

Leg Extension Alternative At Home With Resistance Bands

Next up are some leg extension exercises that you can do with nothing more than a set of resistance bands.

4. Standing Banded Leg Extension

The easiest way to do banded leg extensions is by anchoring one end of the band near the floor. Then wrap the other end of the band around one ankle and step forward so the band is stretched tight behind you.

Now lift the banded leg off the floor so your thigh is nearly parallel with the floor. From here, extend your lower leg while keeping your knee as still as possible.

5. Seated Banded Leg Extension

Another way to do banded leg extensions is seated on a bench or chair. Again, you’ll anchor one end of the band and wrap the other on your ankle. This time, sit in a chair with enough support that your foot is off the floor. And now extend your lower leg straight.

6. Banded Sissy Squat

Earlier I showed you how to do a sissy squat. Well, there’s another way to do sissy squats that involves supporting the lower leg during the squat movement. Compared to a regular squat, this puts more load on the quads and less on the glutes.

To do a banded sissy squat, anchor one end of a resistance band to a sturdy object, then wrap the other end around the back of your knees. Keep in mind you’re really not locked in place so you will still need to balance.

From here, squat down until your legs are parallel to the floor while keeping your back upright. Then stand back up using as much quad as possible.

Leg Extension Alternative At Home With Weights

Last up are leg extension variations that you can do in a home gym as long as you have a basic free weight set up.

7. Heel Elevated Goblet Squat

A goblet squat is similar to a traditional squat except you hold the weight in front of you. Also, when you elevate your heels you increase the range of motion. All of this results in an exercise that really targets your quads.

To do a goblet squat, start by standing with your feet close together and your heels raised 1-2″ off the ground. Next, squat down until your thighs are about parallel with the ground. Then stand back up to the starting position.

You can do this exercise with your body weight. But it’s more effective if you hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of your chest.

8. Bulgarian Split Squat – Quad Focused

A Bulgarian split squat is similar to a lunge except that your back leg is elevated. This transfers more of the weight to the front leg forcing it to work harder while activating stabilizers.

Start by standing with both feet facing away from a bench or step. Extend one leg back so that your toes rest on the bench. Position your front foot roughly two feet away from the bench.

Next, bend your front leg so your hips drop straight down until your back knee just touches the floor. Then extend your front leg back to the standing position.

The key to activating your quad is to position your leg so that your knee passes over your toe.

9. Dumbbell Hack Squat

A hack squat machine is designed to keep your back straight during a squat and put more focus on the quads. And you can simulate this without a machine using a wall and some dumbbells.

To set up a dumbbell hack squat, start by standing with your back to a wall. Next, place a foam roller or other round object behind your back. Now grab a dumbbell in each hand and put your feet 12-18″ out from the wall.

From this starting position, squat down until your upper legs are about parallel with the floor. Then extend your legs to stand back up. Placing plates or shims under your heels can help to activate more quads.

10. Dumbbell Leg Extension

A dumbbell leg extension is exactly what it sounds like. You perform a seated leg extension with a dumbbell between your feet. It takes a little coordination, but it’s a great substitute for machine leg extensions.

To do a dumbbell leg extension, start by sitting on a bench with a dumbbell on the floor in front of you. Next, place one foot on either side of the dumbbell handle so the head of the dumbbell rests on top of your feet.

From here, lift the dumbbell off the floor by extending your legs. Then gently lower it back down to the starting position. You may find that you need to elevate the bench to get the full range of motion.

11. Weight Bench Leg Extension

This final leg extension variation uses a special attachment for your home gym bench. It’s the exact same exercise and range of motion as a leg extension machine, except its plate loaded.

I actually used an attachment like this during quarantine, and it’s excellent for building bigger quads. Another nice feature is that you can use this attachment to do leg curls. And you can use the bench for a multitude of other exercises.

At Home Resistance Band Leg Workout

Now that you know these leg extension alternatives, you can easily target your quads at home. But you’ll need more than this to get a complete at home leg workout.

For that, you’ll also need to work your hamstrings, glutes, hips, and even calves. So I put together a sample resistance band leg workout to get you started.

Leg Extension Alternative At Home Workout

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With these leg extension substitutes and the sample home leg workout, you’re well on your way to building better legs without equipment. Don’t be afraid to alternate exercises and challenge yourself with progressive overload.

For more exercises, workout tips, and fitness guides, check out my related articles below!

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