10 Best Leg Extension Alternative Exercises (No Machine Substitutes)

One of the most popular leg day exercises is the leg extension. The leg extension is an isolation exercise, which means that the movement requires only one joint instead of several joints. This is the opposite of a compound movement, like the squat, lunge, or using the leg press machine. 

Isolation movements like this are great for focusing on specific muscles. This helps lifters training muscles that are falling behind. If you have hit a plateau in terms of your compound lifts, this can help you break through and carry on progressing. 

Leg extensions are best done on a leg extension machine designed for movement. If you do not have access to a leg extension machine, don't worry. Here is a list of the top 10 best leg extension alternative exercises, or substitutes for leg extension machines. 

What Is So Good About The Leg Extension? 

So, what are the benefits of adding leg extensions or similar isolation exercises to your leg day workout? Is it crucial? 

Well, first, you will need to understand the advantages of including leg extension alternative exercises in your workout routine. 

The leg extension is an excellent exercise that focuses mainly on the quads while encouraging healthy knee joints through extension and flexion. It is different from other exercises because it isolates the quad muscles in a way that other leg exercises do not. 

  • It Will Decrease The Likelihood Of Hurting Your Knee 
    The isolation of the knee extension means that you will work the patellar ligament of the knee, which is excellent for building knee strength and maintaining your overall health.
  • You Can Use It To Finish Off A Leg Day Workout 
    The leg extension exercise can be used as a leg day finisher. It is not a compound exercise, and it mainly focuses on the quads, which means that you do not have to be concerned about the burnout that often prevents you from performing the exercise. It is a great movement that will help you to end a workout.
  • You Can Develop Quads Of Steel 
    Last but not least, the best reason to do leg extensions or a leg extension alternative exercise is their effect on your quad muscles. The quads tend to be overlooked compared to other exercises that focus on working the glutes and hamstrings, so the leg extension is a great method of building strength in your quads.
Leg Extension Alternative At Home

10 Leg Extension Alternative Exercises 

1. Bodyweight Leg Extensions

The bodyweight leg extension is a great leg extension alternative exercise, and it is the closest movement you will get to using a leg extension machine. It is a great alternative that can easily be performed at home using a raised platform, a bench, or a chair. The exercise is ideal for a home workout, and it is even possible to perform when you are traveling or staying in a hotel room. 

The bodyweight leg extension produces similar results when it comes to isolating and strengthening the quad muscles. You can do bodyweight leg extensions while standing or sitting down, but the most effective way is by performing the exercise in a raised plank position. 

How To Perform Bodyweight Leg Extensions: 
  • Place a chair, bench, or a raised platform on the floor. 
  • Get into the push-up position so that your feet can rest on top of the platform. 
  • Arch your back in an upward position, bend your knees towards the platform as you keep yourself steady with an engaged core. 

There is also an alternative way to perform bodyweight leg extensions with no equipment: 

How To Perform Alternative Bodyweight Leg Extensions 
  • Kneel down on the floor, slowly bend backward with arms stretched in front of you until you feel the tension in your quads. 
  • Slowly raise your body up for one repetition. 

The exercise will require more flexibility. Remember not to injure yourself by moving too quickly or doing too much at once. 

Leg Extension Substitute

2. Barbell Reverse Lunges

Another excellent leg extension alternative is the barbell reverse lunge which targets the glutes and strengthens the hamstrings simultaneously. The addition of a good Olympic-style barbell means that your core is engaged, and it will increase the potential quad gains.

It is an ideal leg extension alternative for a fast quad-centric workout that does not require a machine. 

The barbell reverse lunge is a fairly straightforward exercise which is a good start for beginners compared to the forward lunge. However, the barbell reverse lunge requires control in order to hold the squat and then push back up.

It might seem even more challenging when you throw a barbell into the mix, but it is a great quad burner. 

How To Perform Barbell Reverse Lunges: 
  • Start with your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  • Take one step back and lower yourself into a one-legged squat (try to put it far back so that you can feel the tension in the quad area). 
  • Bend your knees at the end of the movement, so that you can push through your heels to get back to the original standing position. 
  • The slower that you perform the exercise, the more control you will have. You will also be able to feel the quads working hard. 

3. Weighted Bulgarian Split Squats 

The weighted Bulgarian split squat is one of the most challenging leg extension alternatives, but it will help you to build quads of steel. All you will need is a bench and a couple of dumbbells for this exercise. 

The weighted Bulgarian split squat is an ideal exercise for athletes. It targets the big group of muscles in the legs — mainly the quads, calves, and hamstrings and will drastically increase your explosive power. 

However, the Bulgarian split squat is a compound exercise, which means that it is more well-rounded in nature, and it could become a mainstay in your leg day workout routine. 

How To Perform The Weighted Bulgarian Split Squat: 
  • Stand in front of a bench or another type of raised platform. Place your back foot on the platform. 
  • Slowly lower your body down until the back knee almost touches the ground, and your front leg is bent at a 90-degree angle. 
  • Return to the original standing position
  • If you want to maximize the benefits of the weighted Bulgarian split squat, then you should try to use a dumbbell at a weight that you can manage. 

4. Cyclist Squats 

The cyclist squat is a killer quad exercise that develops muscles similarly to a cycling session. It is another leg extension alternative that is perfect for developing strong quad muscles without the need for a machine. You will only need a dumbbell and a spare weight plate. 

The cyclist squat is known as a weighted squat, and you will have to raise your feet so that you can focus the brunt of the movement on your quads. It is classed as a difficult isolation exercise, but it should not be overlooked in your list of leg extension alternatives. It is a great exercise to build defined quads. 

How To Perform Cyclist Squats:
  • Place a weight plate on the floor and then hold the barbell over your shoulders. 
  • Stand with your feet close together and put your heels on the plate so that your toes are on the floor. 
  • Perform a squat and feel the serious burn in your quads like you normally would as you reach the bottom of the squat. 

The cyclist squat is not a beginner-friendly exercise. If you are uncertain about the movement, then you should try to complete a bodyweight squat with the plate by following the same method first.  

5. Weighted Step-Ups 

The weighted step up is another solid alternative to a leg extension, and it is an easy movement that only requires a pair of dumbbells and a bench. If you do not have access to weights, then you can perform the weighted step up as a bodyweight movement. 

The best part about the weighted step up is that it is a relatively straightforward exercise which everyone, from a beginner to a gym veteran, can perform and reap the benefits of the workout. 

The weighted step up is not an exercise that is as quad intensive as another type of leg extension alternative, but it can still give people a great workout that targets the glutes and hamstrings. 

How To Perform Weighted Step-Ups 
  • Place a bench in front of you, step one leg up, then push into the air with the other leg. 
  • If you are going to use weights, then you should let your back leg hover in mid-air so that you do not launch the dumbbells into a wall by accident. 
  • Try to use a lower bench or another type of support platform in order to achieve the most quad engagement from the exercise. 

6. Front Weighted Or Bodyweight Squats 

The bodyweight and the weighted squat offer a number of different benefits, which make them both excellent alternatives to leg extensions. The bodyweight squat can be performed in any place, while the weighted squat will require a pair of dumbbells or a barbell. 

The squat is one of the best leg exercises that you can do, and all variants will help you build a strong foundation. The front squat is a great alternative that will help you to develop big quads over time. 

Additionally, the front squat is a better movement compared to the back squat in terms of building quads because you will have to keep your torso upright, which means that you will feel a more substantial burn in the quad muscles. Furthermore, the front squat requires a narrow stance that naturally activates the quads as opposed to a wider stance. 

How To Perform Front Weighted Or Bodyweight Squats: 
  • Hold the barbell in front of you in order to perform a front squat. Bend your elbows forward until you can hold the bar with only your fingertips. 
  • Hold the barbell at the level of your collarbone, perform a squat and maintain a narrow stance in order to achieve the most out of your quads. 
Alternative Exercise For Leg Extension

7. Side Lunges 

Another one of the best leg extension alternatives you could integrate is the side lunge, a simple exercise that is similar to the front and reverse lunge. It is important to note that the side lunge should not be confused with the lateral lunge, which is like a front lunge but on the side. 

If you feel like making your side lunges more difficult, then you can also add dumbbells to the equation. 

The side lunge is good for the quad muscles since you will be exercising them equally on both sides. The amount of time that you focus on a side lunge and the tension that you feel will lead to quad gains. If you were to walk to the side in a crouched position, then you will feel the strain on your quads, which is great for developing strength, willpower, and huge quads.

While side lunges mainly target the quads, you will give your hamstrings and glutes a great workout too. 

How To Perform Side Lunges: 
  • To begin with, crouch down in a steady stance. 
  • Step one leg out and lunge slowly to one side. 
  • You will feel more burn if you perform the movement slowly, and you will also achieve more benefit from the exercise with more extended time under tension. 

8. Reverse Nordic Curl (also known as the natural leg extension) 

The reverse Nordic Curl, also referred to as the natural leg extension, is a great leg extension substitute. The benefits of a reverse Nordic curl include developing strength in all four of the quadriceps, increasing the mobility of the hip flexor, and reducing the risk of injury during rapid muscle movements (such as running). 

Remember that you might not be able to lean very far back when you first start to perform the reverse Nordic Curl, and you should not let your hips drop backward during the movement as this means that your hip flexors will disengage and the exercise will be rendered pointless.  

How To Perform The Reverse Nordic Curl: 
  • Kneel on the floor or a mat, and sit back on your feet. Keep your feet and knees hip-width apart. 
  • Sit tall with your hips pushed forward slightly to create a straight line with the front of your body. 
  • Lean back and lower your shoulders toward the floor by bending at your knee. Remember to keep your core engaged and extend your hips. 
  • Carry on leaning back as far as you can. 
  • Engage the quadriceps and return to your original starting position. 
  • Try to complete sets of 10 repetitions. 

9. Standing Leg Extension 

The standing leg extension targets your core, along with the quadriceps, which makes it an excellent leg extension alternative. It also challenges your balance and coordination, which helps to improve your overall muscle function.

Furthermore, you can modify the exercise by adding ankle weights or resistance cables to make a more intensive workout. 

How To Perform The Standing Leg Extension: 
  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and place your hands on your hips. 
  • Engage your core and raise your left foot slightly. 
  • Move your left foot back by bending your knee. 
  • Extend your left leg by straightening your left knee in front of you. 
  • Engage your quadriceps and abdominals. 
  • Try to complete 8 to 12 repetitions with both legs. 

10. Resistance Band Squats 

The last alternative to leg extensions is resistance band squats. The resistance band squat is a powerful exercise that uses the band's resistance to focus on strengthening the legs, glutes, quads, and hamstrings. 

The resistance band squat is a unique alternative to leg extensions, and it adds variety to your strength training. Most people will pick up weights when they want to build strength, but the resistance band also offers several ways to train. The band allows you to move in different positions while lifting weights must be done in a fixed position. 

Make sure that you use a high-quality exercise band for this to avoid injury. 

How To Perform Resistance Bands Squats: 
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and ensure that your feet are firmly planted on the resistance band. 
  • Hold the ends of the resistance band up towards your shoulders. 
  • Lower your body into a squat position. 
  • Try to complete 8 repetitions. 

Conclusion

If you include even one or two of these leg extension alternatives into your workout routine, then you will certainly notice results. 

Leg extension substitutes are a great way to improve your quadriceps, quads, and your overall leg strength. In conclusion, it is important that you maintain a consistent and balanced workout routine that targets every area of your body. 

We hope that you learned something from reading the 10 best leg extension alternative exercises.