The Best Leg Extension Alternatives to Build Huge Quads

The leg extension is a formidable exercise which I’m sure you’d agree is a great inclusion in any leg day workout.

If you’re in the market for a machine, then check out the best leg extension machines you can get your hands on!

However, what can you do when for whatever reason you don’t have access to the leg extension machine? What can you do if you’re at home or in a hotel room but still need that intense leg workout?

Well… read on to find out!

There are a range of leg extension alternatives that you can rely on if the leg extension itself isn’t an option.

This doesn’t mean you have to compromise though!

Many of these exercises are just as effective at working out the big muscle groups in the legs as the leg extension, so you can do the same challenging leg day workout as you would with the machine.

If you’re interested in some powerful alternatives to the glute-ham raise exercise, then we’ve got you covered with that too.

Strong bodybuilder training quads with leg extension machine

What’s So Good About the Leg Extension?

Why is it worth seeking alternatives to the leg extension in the first place? What would you miss out on if you skipped the exercise altogether and didn’t find a replacement?

Well, quite a lot as it happens!

The leg extension is a stellar exercise that primarily targets the quads and also encourages healthy knees through working both extension and flexion.

What makes this exercise stand out from other leg exercises is how it manages to isolate the quad muscle in a way not many do.

There are also a number of other reasons why the leg extension should be an exercise you look to substitute if you need to.

It Will Decrease the Likelihood of Hurting Your Knee

Due to the isolation of the leg extension, you will be working the patellar ligament of the knee, which is great for maintaining knee strength and keeping it healthy.

This is hugely important since many of us spend a lot of time in a sedentary position with our legs bent. The leg extension, through extending the leg, counteracts this position and keeps the ligament in good shape.

You Can Use it to Finish Off a Leg Day Workout

Another benefit of the leg extension exercise is how it can be used as a leg day finisher.

Since it isn’t a compound exercise and focuses on the quads, you don’t have to worry about burnout preventing you from doing this exercise. That makes it a great movement to do at the end of your workout.

You Can Develop Quads of Steel

Finally, and perhaps the best reason for doing leg extensions, or alternatives, is the effect it can have on your quad muscles.

The quads are underworked in a lot of exercises in favor of the glutes and hamstrings, so the leg extension is a fantastic way of strengthening your quads and making sure you develop your leg muscles evenly.

close up view gym seated leg extension machine

Leg Extension Alternative Exercises

  • Bodyweight Leg Extensions
  • Barbell Reverse Lunges
  • Weighted Bulgarian Split Squats
  • Cyclist Squats
  • Weighted Step-Ups
  • Front Weighted or Bodyweight Squats
  • Side Lunges

Bodyweight Leg Extensions

What

The closest exercise to the machine leg extension and the obvious replacement for it is the bodyweight leg extension.

All this leg extension alternative requires is a raised platform or a bench, and that’s it.

Why

The bodyweight leg extension is an excellent substitute for the machine leg extension and will yield similar results in terms of isolating and strengthening the quad muscles.

This alternative for the leg extension can be done at home, providing you have a chair, bench or other raised surface to rest your feet on. This makes it ideal for home workouts and even makes it possible to use on the road if you’re staying in a hotel room.

Even though you can perform bodyweight leg extensions while seated or standing, the most effective way to perform the exercise is by adopting a raised plank position.

This way, you can not only place more emphasis on the quads giving them more opportunity to grow through hypertrophy, but you can also give your core and arms a solid workout.

How

The setup for this exercise is relatively straightforward.

Place your chair, bench or other raised platform on the floor, and get into a pushup position so that your feet can rest atop the platform.

Once you are in this raised platform, arch your back upwards, then bend your knees towards the platform while keeping yourself steady with core muscle activation.

There is also another way to perform this exercise with zero equipment.

Kneeling down on the floor, slowly bend backwards with arms stretched out in front of you until you feel the tension in your quads. Then slowly raise yourself back up for one rep.

This exercise requires slightly more flexibility, so make sure you don’t injure yourself by going too quickly or taking on too much too soon.

Barbell Reverse Lunges

What

The reverse lunge is a bodyweight movement that targets the glutes.

This leg extension alternative is fantastic for strengthening the quad muscles, while also hitting the glutes and hamstrings at the same time.

The addition of the barbell allows for more core activation and will increase potential quad gains.

Why

This leg extension alternative without a machine is really ideal for a quick quad-centric workout.

If you feel like your workout is lacking some quad isolation (which without the leg extension it probably will be), then this should be your go-to exercise.

The exercise may appear easy, and they are indeed more beginner-friendly than the forward lunge.

However, the control it takes to hold the squat at the bottom then push back up will prove challenging. Throw the barbell into the mix, and you’ve got a real quad burner.

This is also a great exercise to do when you have a spare minute at home or in a hotel room – minus the barbell if you don’t have one lying around.

How

To perform the barbell or bodyweight reverse lunge, start with your feet shoulder-width apart.

Step one foot back and lower yourself into a one-legged squat, making sure to put it far enough away from your body to feel the tension in the quads.

Make sure you bend your knees at the bottom of the movement and push through your heels to get back to a standing position. The slower the better with this exercise, and the more controlled it is, the more you will feel the quads really working hard.

Weighted Bulgarian Split Squats

What

The weighted Bulgarian split squat is a tough leg extension alternative that will help you build quads of steel.

All that’s needed is a bench and a couple of dumbbells for this one.

Why

An exercise that is ideal for athletes, this one will target the big muscles in the legs, namely the quads, calves, and hamstrings.

This alternative for the leg extension also happens to be one of the best out there for building huge quads and doing most of what the leg extension does for those muscles.

However, unlike the leg extension, the Bulgarian split squat is a compound exercise. This means that it is a more well-rounded exercise which could – and maybe should – become a mainstay in your leg day workouts.

How

To do the weighted Bulgarian split squat, you’re going to stand in front of a bench or other raised platform, and place your back foot on it.

Then, slowly lower yourself down until your back knee almost touches the ground and your front leg is bent at 90 degrees, before returning to a standing position.

In order to maximize the benefits of this exercise, try and use a dumbbell weight as heavy as you can manage.

Cyclist Squats

What

The cyclist squat is named such since it is a killer quad exercise that will develop the muscles much like extended sessions of cycling would.

All that’s required is a dumbbell and a spare weight plate.

Why

This leg extension alternative without a machine is perfect for building strong quads muscles, and a highly effective replacement as a result.

The cyclist squat is a weighted squat, but with raised feet, so that you can better focus the brunt of the exercise on your quads.

A difficult isolation exercise, this one shouldn’t be overlooked if you’re looking for an alternative leg extension exercise. It can build incredibly defined quads and form a big part of your leg day routine.

I challenge you to try this exercise and tell me it isn’t as hard, if not harder than using the leg extension machine.

How

To do the cyclist squat, first, place a weight plate on the floor, and pick up your barbell, holding it over your shoulders.

Now, with your feet very close together, carefully step your heels up on to the plate, so that just your toes are on the floor.

Perform a squat as you normally would, and be prepared to feel some serious burn in your quads when you get to the bottom of the squat.

Of course, it goes without saying that this exercise isn’t entirely beginner-friendly. If you have doubts about this one, first try to complete a bodyweight squat with the plate following the same instructions, and honestly, this can be an effective exercise in itself too.

Weighted Step-Ups

What

The weighted step up is a solid, easy to perform movement which requires a pair of dumbbells and a bench.

You can also perform this leg extension alternative as a bodyweight movement too, should you not have access to weights.

Why

What’s great about this exercise is how straightforward they are to execute. They are available from everyone to the beginner, to the gym veteran, and have benefits whatever level you’re at.

While this particular exercise isn’t as quad-intensive as the leg extension, it can still give them a great workout, while also targeting the glutes and hamstrings.

Plus it can give you some explosive power in the legs as you will need to generate enough force to push yourself up onto the bench.

How

The bodyweight step-up can be done by placing a bench in front of you, stepping one leg up onto it, then pushing up into the air with your other leg.

However, if you are going to use weights, you can let your back leg hover in the air so that you don’t accidentally launch the dumbbells into a wall.

In order to get the most quad engagement from this exercise, make sure you use a lower bench or support platform. This way the exercise will take more quad strength as the weight is on the front of your foot.

Front Weighted or Bodyweight Squats

What

Both the bodyweight and the weighted squat can have numerous benefits which make them fantastic substitutes for the leg extension.

The bodyweight version can, of course, be done anywhere, whereas the weighted variation will require a barbell or a pair of dumbbells.

Why

The squat is universally recognized as one of the best leg exercises you can do and can help you build a solid foundation.

What makes the front squat a valid alternative to the leg extension though, is how by regular sets of the squat you will surely develop big quads over time.

The front squat is better as opposed to the back squat when it comes to building up the quads. This is due to the fact that you have to keep your torso upright, and at the bottom of the squat, you will feel the burn in your quad muscles.

What’s more, the front squat encourages a narrower stance, which naturally turns the quads on and activates them more than a wider stance. This is for the same reason you want a narrow stance with the cyclist squats we looked at earlier.

You can even combine the cyclist squat method with the front squat, and raise your feet onto a weight plate for some great results.

How

The front squat requires you to hold your barbell in front of you, as opposed to on the backs of your shoulders. To do this, you’ll want to bend your elbows forward until you can grab the bar with just your fingertips.

Holding it at the level of your collar bone, squat down, maintaining your narrow stance to get the most out of your quads.

Side Lunges

What

The side lunge is another simple exercise like the front and reverse lunge which will work several muscles in the legs.

Not to be confused with the lateral lunge, which is essentially like a front lunge but to the side, the side lunge is an exercise that will have you getting a real sweat on.

Being a bodyweight exercise, these are great to do at home or in a hotel. However, you have the option to add dumbbells should you need that extra difficulty.

Why

Side lunges are good for the quad muscles since you will use them almost exclusively as you move to one side, meaning they will be in constant use.

With this, exercise time under tension is key and will lead to quad gains in the long run. Much like the leg extension requires this constant tension in the quads, the side lunges will also keep the pressure on.

Walking to the side in a crouched position will have you feeling the strain on your quads like nothing else, so this one is great for developing willpower as well as huge quads.

As well as targeting the quads, you’ll also get a great workout for your hamstrings and glutes with the side lunge.

Unlike a lot of other exercises, this one will have you moving around, which at least for me keeps it entertaining. You might not agree after 30 seconds of this though, as it will tire you out quicker than you think.

How

To correctly do the side lunge exercise, you’ll want to crouch down, like you see the guy in the video, and slowly lunge to one side as if you were marking someone in slow motion during a game of soccer.

The slower you do this movement, the more you’ll feel the burn, and the more you’re likely to benefit from it.

I personally love this exercise, since it doesn’t require a series of static movements, but is rather a dynamic move that’ll help you develop quads that even Arnold Schwarzenegger would be proud of.

Final Words

If you incorporate just a couple of these leg extension alternatives into your future leg days, I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results!

If you’ve got an upper-body workout next up on the agenda though, make sure you check out these fantastic cable crossover machine alternatives.

Make sure you subscribe to our newsletter for all the latest home gym reviews. For example, you can check out what we believe to be the best all-in-one home gyms 2019.