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Leg extensions can be a powerful exercise to isolate your quadriceps. However, most people don’t have a big leg extension machine at home.
Luckily, there are still a few equipment options and bodyweight angles that allow you to do the same exercise in the comfort of your own home.
One thing to note first is that you will sit on a flat surface in many of these options. Putting a foam roller, rolled-up towel, or similar object under your thigh is helpful for getting a bigger range of motion.
1. Resistance band leg extensions
For the average person, the best way to do leg extensions at home is with resistance bands. These are basically elastic bands that increase in tension as you pull harder.
As an example, you can anchor the resistance bands behind the back legs of a chair and the other side around your ankles. After that, you can simply do leg extensions by stretching your legs.
You could also anchor the resistance bands somewhere low to the ground, lie down on your stomach with your head towards the anchor, and do leg extensions this way too.
Some of the benefits of resistance bands include that they are relatively budget-friendly, are compact, and can be used in many other exercises for a variety of muscles besides your quadriceps.
One downside of this version is that looping the resistance bands around your ankles will be a bit less convenient and less comfortable than the gym machine if you don’t have any ankle straps.
Additionally, resistance bands will have to be replaced every once in a while due to wear and tear.
2. Weight bench with leg extension
While some people would describe this next way to do leg extensions as a machine, this option does deserve a mention so you know it exists.
There are weight benches with a built-in leg extension function which can often be used as leg curl too.
These devices may be less comfortable than the gym machine but can still give your quadricep muscles a great workout.
Additionally, the models from the right brands can be very durable and allow you to do leg extensions at home for many years to come.
Something you do want to keep in mind is that weight benches with leg extensions require you to add resistance yourself in the form of weight plates. This can be pricey if you don’t have a barbell setup yet.
3. Ankle weight leg extensions
Most people may think about cardio workouts when hearing the words ankle weights but they can be a great way to add resistance to ab and leg muscle isolation exercises like leg extensions.
You simply strap on one or multiple ankle weights, sit on a flat surface, put something under your thighs, and stretch and fold your legs in controlled motions.
The main downside to keep in mind is that this equipment option is mostly for resistance training beginners.
Even two heavy ankle weights on the same leg have a relatively low weight compared to many of the other resistance options on this list.
Without enough resistance, you will not really be able to grow and strengthen your quadriceps.
On the other hand, some of the benefits of ankle weights are that they are relatively budget-friendly, versatile, easy to store, and easy to move around.
4. At-home cable machine
Double pulley cable crossover machines may be the most popular option but there are also compacter and more budget-friendly cable machines that are suited for an at-home situation.
These are somewhat similar to resistance bands in that they offer resistance at many angles, including an angle suited for leg extensions.
However, these at-home cable machines offer consistent tension and tend to be more comfortable and convenient thanks to the existence of cable machine ankle attachments.
Additionally, you will likely find adjusting the resistance on a cable machine more convenient than swapping out a resistance band, anchoring a new one, and looping the new one around your ankle.
The downsides of these cable machines are that they require a bigger budget, more room, and a specific area since you will likely not move them between leg extension workouts.
5. Kettlebell leg extensions
At this point in the list, the ways to do leg extensions without a machine can still be effective but tend to be less convenient than the previous options.
In many kettlebell models, it is possible to anchor your foot in the handle. If you can elevate your thighs enough, this allows you to do a reasonably good leg extension.
The main downside is that it is relatively annoying to keep the kettlebell in the right place and your foot up. Your foot and ankle dorsiflexors (muscles opposite to calves) may fatigue too early.
Additionally, while kettlebells are versatile, they are typically not the first equipment choice for a home gym. Most people prefer other equipment options like a barbell or dumbbells.
If you don’t have kettlebells already, they are likely not worth the investment if you are only interested in doing leg extensions at home.
6. Bodyweight leg extensions
So far, the options on this list were mostly at-home-friendly equipment options to make the exact same leg extension movement weighted.
However, by changing the position of your body and doing certain movements, you can also isolate your quadricep muscles.
In this first example of a bodyweight leg extension, you can sit in a high plank position, fold your legs, and stretch your legs.
Even better, you can put your feet on an elevated surface so that your quadricep muscles can go through a larger range of motion. This is generally beneficial for muscle growth and strength progress.
The main benefits of bodyweight leg extensions are that they are free to do and can be done almost anywhere.
A big potential downside is that this movement may not be challenging enough for the strong quadricep muscles even if you do the one-legged version.
Especially experienced lifters will likely need a weighted vest or resistance bands anchored behind their knees.
7. Dumbbell leg extensions
Dumbbells are generally great pieces of fitness equipment but they are somewhat lower on the list because they are not that convenient for leg extensions.
First of all, you can do leg extensions with dumbbells by clamping one dumbbell between your feet in a seated position and then stretching your legs.
One reason why this is not that convenient is that dumbbells are relatively bulky. You may not be able to fold your legs entirely before the weight hits the ground.
This leads to a smaller range of motion for your quadriceps and slightly less muscle growth progress.
Additionally, the dumbbell weights you have available may not be challenging enough to do leg extensions in an effective way.
If you only have dumbbells available, you can definitely try using them this way. If not, some of the other ways to do leg extensions could be better.
8. Reverse Nordic curls
The next movement is a different bodyweight version of the leg extension exercise.
To do a reverse Nordic curl you sit on your knees (preferably on a soft surface), tilt your upper body back as far as comfortable, and return to starting position.
The main reason why reverse Nordic curls are somewhat lower on the list is that your quadriceps go through a relatively small range of motion. This is not ideal for muscle growth.
Additionally, you may find this exercise somewhat uncomfortable on your knees and feet. Besides these things, experienced lifters may need to hold extra weight to make the movement more challenging.
So while most people can definitely do reverse Nordic curls at home without a machine, it may not be your favorite choice.
9. Medicine ball leg extensions
Medicine balls are basically weighted balls that can be used in a variety of exercises due to their somewhat soft surface. One of these exercises includes leg extensions.
You want to put the medicine ball on top of your curled feet. Just clamping the medicine ball between your feet is likely not an option because your inner thigh muscles will fatigue before your quadriceps.
Besides the positioning of the medicine ball, the leg extension is similar to the other variations on this list.
On top of the awkward positioning of the medicine ball that could fatigue your ankle dorsiflexor muscles first, medicine balls are typically not that heavy.
Additionally, you likely don’t want to get a medicine ball for leg extensions specifically. There are not many people who have a medicine ball available but do not have one of the more convenient equipment options on this list.
10. Sissy squats
Sissy squats are an exercise you can describe as a standing leg extension.
Instead of implementing a hip hinge like in regular squats, you keep your thighs in one line with your upper body. In turn, the sissy squat becomes more of a leg extension that isolates your quadricep muscles.
Because of the standing position, the sissy squat will likely feel more challenging than the hands-feet bodyweight version and offer a bigger range of motion than the reverse Nordic curl.
One downside is that sissy squats can be somewhat challenging when it comes to balance. You may need something sturdy to hold to keep yourself from falling.
Additionally, sissy squats will definitely work your hip flexor and ab muscles more than a leg extension machine.
Lastly, more experienced lifters likely need some extra resistance to make sissy squats challenging enough for the strong quadricep muscles.
The main option for this is a good weighted vest since it still allows you to use your arms for balance.