The Best Leg Extension Exercise Alternatives

It is easier not to skip leg days if you can fill your leg day exercises with variations that will keep you engaged with the program. This is one of the reasons to learn alternative …

It is easier not to skip leg days if you can fill your leg day exercises with variations that will keep you engaged with the program. This is one of the reasons to learn alternative exercises for different exercises, together with being able to work the same muscle groups, despite being unable to perform an exercise. With this in mind, this article will help you curate and examine some of the best leg extension alternatives to ensure you do not miss leg day for any reason. 

The leg extension is one of the best ways to develop your quadriceps. It is an isolation exercise that directly targets the quads for immense muscular gains. As a result, any suitable alternative also has to work your quads considerably. You use the leg extension machine to perform the leg extension. Because of this, these alternatives will become essential when you can no longer use the leg extension machine for whatever reason.

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The best place to start is understanding the leg extension exercise. The leg extension machine’s design is such that your hips and knees stay in a flexed position. Extending your leg, alongside the weight on it, forces your quads to start knee flexion and extension repeatedly. As a result, it isolates your quadriceps. That said, here are some leg extension alternatives that you can build your quads with:

Bulgarian split squat

The Bulgarian split squat is a free-weight exercise that can suitably replace the leg extension if you prefer free weights to machines. You need a pair of dumbbells and a bench to perform the exercise. To perform it, you stand in front of the bench, facing away from the bench, then place one foot on the bench such that the top of your foot rests on the bench. The goal is to squat with the other leg that is on the ground, resting all your body and the dumbbell’s weight on it for maximum resistance. 

Finding your choice starting stance while performing the exercise may be challenging. However, you can do so by securing the bottom position, that is, with your front thigh parallel to the ground, with your other leg on the bench, and your back straight. From this stance, you can stabilize your form and push out of the bottom position without losing your balance. You can also use a spotter to help you balance the first few times until you get it right. 

Elevated heel squat

The elevated heel squat is another free-weight alternative to the leg extension exercise. You can perform this exercise by relying on your body weight alone, but you can increase the resistance by using a pair of dumbbells like the Hex Dumbbells or weighted vests like the 5.11 Tactec Plate Carrier. To perform the exercise, elevate your heels by placing them on a platform that is about two inches high. In a gym, you can simply use some weight plates to elevate your heel.

The goal is to squat in this position with your heels elevated to activate your cores more than a regular squat would do as you go down and back up. To further activate your quads, keep your legs narrow and close together. This ensures you keep a more upright stance, leading to direct resistance on the quads. You should also maintain consistent tension through the motion, particularly at the bottom of the squat.

💡 Quick Tip: Weight vests simply house weight plates but do not come with them, so you have to buy them separately/ Consider looking at the Rogue USA Cast Weight Vest Plates

Rogue USA Cast Weight Vest Plates.


Another free weight alternative, this climbing motion exercise recruits and activates your quads as you use them to push yourself up a bench or any sufficiently high and stable platform. In a gym, you can use a bench and up the challenge and resistance with a pair of dumbbells or a weight vest. The goal of the exercise is for you to push up onto the bench, focusing all the resistance on your quads until you are completely standing on the bench. After that, you reverse the motion and bring yourself down with your foot on the bench still on it. 

The best starting position should see the thighs of the leg on the bench parallel to the ground, as it would be at the lowest point of a squat. You will enjoy the best gains from the exercise if you eliminate extra momentum like bounces to ensure the quads are responsible for your motion. Furthermore, you can really up the challenge by descending from the top of the bench slower than regular. This will push your strength and balance, helping you develop them in the long run.

💡 Quick Tip: If you need a bench for bench presses and performing step-ups or the Bulgarian split squat, check out the Rogue Adjustable Bench 3.0

Rogue Adjustable Bench 3.0.

Seated banded leg extension

The seated banded leg extension closely mimics the leg extension exercise’s motion. However, you can get only so much resistance from resistance bands, so you can only use this alternative if you are uninterested in rapid muscle development. To perform this exercise, you need to attach a resistance band to a bench you are sitting on, then attach the other end to your foot, mimicking where your feet would contact the leg extension machine. After getting here, simply extend your lower leg until it aligns with your thighs, as you would with a leg extension machine. Depending on how you set up the machine, you can also perform this variation with a cable machine. If this looks like your alternative, you can try it out with the Rogue Echo Resistance Bands.

Reverse lunges

Reverse lunges are what they sound like, lunges that you perform backward. Essentially, you stand upright, with or without dumbbells or weighted vests, and put one leg backward, going down until your thigh on the other leg is parallel with the ground. Remain in that position for a few seconds, then slowly rise until erect.

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