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Leg extensions – How to perform, Benefits, Alternatives and muscles worked

Leg extension

The leg extension exercise is an isolated, single-joint exercise that trains the quadriceps. It is performed on special isolated machines – leg extension machines and the brand is pretty much irrelevant – the most important is the position of the legs described in details below. The leg extension does not require any preliminary experience, but only brief training instructions for the specifics of the training machine. In this article, you will learn all about the leg extension and how to perform this leg exercise to maximize your muscle growth without risking being injured.

Quick Facts:

Type: Strength exercise
Main Muscle Worked: Quadriceps
Equipment: Machine
Level: Beginner

Leg extensions muscles worked

The muscles that make up the quadriceps are the rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius and the vastus lateralis. When performing the leg extension exercise, the most-worked muscle is the rectus femoris. When your knee has been lifted and is almost straight, the vastus medialis contracts.

Advantages and Benefits of the Leg Extension

There are many who argue that leg extension exercises are bad as they damage the knees. But doing the exercise right has very little bad effects over its benefits.

First, the exercise is simple to perform. All you need to do is sit on the leg machine, put your feet beneath the leg bar and raise. Every novice who wishes to work his/her quadriceps can perform the leg extension exercise with ease in as much as he/she follows the instructions and does it right.

Also, they are excellent when it comes to the strengthening of the quadriceps and the patellar ligament. It’s focus on strengthening the quads make it ideal for strengthening other knee joint attachments. Leg exercises such as step-ups, leg presses, and squats which can also be used to work the quadriceps use the calves, hamstrings and glute muscles to assist during movement but the leg extension machine focuses solely on the quadriceps which makes it the best exercise for strengthening weak quads.

Also, it is a good finishing exercise. It can be performed after squats or dead lifts because it is an isolation exercise.

As has been mentioned above, there are some who believe that this exercise may be harmful to the knees. Personally, we think it is good for people with knee problems since because the fact that they are performed while sitting means that impact on the knee is reduced. Also, it is advisable to focus more on the squeeze rather than the weights if you have a problem with your knees. Also, consult a doctor before performing this exercise.

How to Use the Leg Extension Machine

Every person who works out understands that different machines are used to work out different muscles and parts of the body. An example of such a machine is the Leg Extension machine. This machine is used to do the leg extension which is a type of resistance weight training routine that can be used to target a particular muscle in the leg known as the quadriceps – sometimes referred to as “Quads”.

The quadriceps are the large group of muscles at the front of the thighs and include four main muscles. The leg extension machine can be found in most gyms and weight rooms and they vary slightly depending on the manufacturer. This leg exercise cannot be used as the only one leg exercise in your workout routine because it targets only a particular muscle in the leg – the quadriceps.

So, if you are looking to exercise your entire legs, then you should consider doing squats or deadlifts which target the whole leg.

This exercise is a very simple exercise and can be performed by everyone. If you are just beginning the leg extension exercise, it is important to start with a few weights and then, work your way up. Because this exercise targets primary the quads, the leg extension machine provides just a limited number of isolated exercises.

To perform this exercise, the first step is to choose your weight before sitting on the machine. In choosing your weight, it is important to know that starting with a huge amount of weight can cause injury. So, choose a weight you are comfortable with.

After your weight has been chosen, you sit on the machine and put your legs under the pad with your feet pointed forward and then, you hold the side bars. This is the starting position for this exercise.

It is important that you adjust the leg pad to fall just above your feet. Also, you should make sure that the angle between your lower and upper leg is 90 degrees because any angle less than 90 degrees will put your knee over your toes which will create stress at the knee joint causing injury.

If it happens that the machine is built that way, find another machine or make sure you stop taking your legs down once they reach 90 degrees.

When you are perfectly positioned on the machine, use your quadriceps to extend your legs as much as you can while making sure you exhale and the rest of your body stays at the same position.

When you are at the contracted position, pause for a second.

Then gradually lower your legs to their original position making sure they do not pass the 90-degree limit.

Repeat the routine for as many times as recommended by your personal fitness trainer. It is important to inhale when lowering your legs to the 90-degree limit and exhale when lifting the weight bar with your legs.


Some Alternatives/Variations of the Leg Extension

The Bulgarian split-squat

Also known as the One-legged squat or the Barbell split-squad, this exercise offers an alternative to the leg extension exercise. The main muscles which are worked out here include the quadriceps, the lower back, the hamstrings and the Gluteus Max. It is done using barbells, weights, and a bench or box.  You simply stand with your back facing a box or bench. Place a barbell on your shoulders, extend one leg backward and place the top of the foot on the box or bench.

Then, squat down flexing your knee as well as the hip of your front leg till the knee of the back leg is almost on the floor. Return to the original position and repeat as instructed by your instructor and switch legs.

Front Squat

Another alternative to the leg extension exercise is the front squat. This exercise also works on the quadriceps and involves the use of barbells.

Set the bar in a rack somewhere slightly below your shoulders so that your knees will be slightly bent when you are under it. After resting the bar on top of your deltoids make sure that it touches the throat slightly by using just your fingers to keep it in position.

Remove the bar from the rack, step away from the rack and position yourself making sure your triceps are parallel to the ground and your back is flat. Make sure your neck and elbow are up at all times.

Then, pushing your hips and butt backward, get into a squat position by pushing your butt and hips backward. Then, continue down until your upper legs are parallel to the floor while. Make sure you inhale while performing this movement.  Drive upwards until you get to your starting position by pushing your knees and feet out making sure you are right on the head.

Then repeat as recommended by your personal fitness instructor.


There are other variations and alternatives to the leg extension exercise. But most of the other variations and alternatives do not specifically focus on the quadriceps as the leg extension exercise does which makes the leg extension exercise the best exercise for strengthening the quadriceps.

All that you need to do is do the exercise right and you will get the desired result.

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