5 Best Leg Extension Alternative Exercises For Bigger And Better Gains

IYou’re just getting started in the gym. You’re hammering your quads a couple days a week on the leg extension machine, but things are starting to get monotonous and boring. So what leg extension alternatives are there to continue building those tear drop quads and stack on more strength. We’re going to lay out the best leg extension alternative exercises, that don’t use machines, to help you grow grow grow. 

What Muscles Do Leg Extensions Work 

Leg extensions are an isolated movement that stimulates and contracts the quadriceps. Leg extensions are done using a leg extension machine, however there are a ton of leg extension alternative exercises, you can utilize to get the same muscle contraction, and strength in your quadriceps. 

Your quad muscles, or quadriceps femoris, are a group of four muscles at the front of your thigh. Together, they contain more mass than any other muscle group in your body, helping with a variety of movements, including kicking, running, jumping and walking. The quad muscles are composed of the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius. 

Leg Extension Alternative Exercise Benefits

Greater Range Of Motion

Perhaps the greatest benefit to utilizing other exercises, other than the leg extension, is a greater range of motion. Leg extension, is rather limited in range of motion, which is a critical key factor in facilitating muscle hypertrophy, growth, and improved strength parameters. Movements, such as the Bulgarian split squat, hack squat, walking lunge, and landmine squat, all emphasize more muscle coverage, increasing time under tension and lower body strength.

Increased Strength

Although leg extensions will increase quad and leg strength, more time under tension and greater range of motion, will enable more strength. You can of course increase total workout volume, to compensate for the limited range of motion and to increase time under tension, with the leg extension, however, that will require more sets and reps. 

Better Functionality

Leg extension is what I call a vanity exercise. The leg extension movement, is not seen in everyday human movement patterns, therefore, it is not considered a functional movement. Function translates to purpose, and purposeful movement, is seen in activities such as walking, running, jumping, bending over to grab an object, climbing stairs, etc. Leg extension, is an isolated movement, used for and traditionally for bodybuilders and aesthetics. The leg extension alternative exercises in this article, will help you build better functional movement, mobility, strength, and core stability. 

Best Leg Extension Alternative Exercises

1. Landmine Goblet Squats 

Easily one of the best leg extension alternative exercises, the landmine goblet is a strength training squat variation that affixes one end of a barbell to the floor, while the other end attached to a landmine grip, or no grip at all. The landmine squat places less stress and impact on your joints, putting more emphasis on form to build strength in your quads, glutes, and hamstrings.

Landmine squats are an anteriorly (front) loaded movement. This puts more emphasis on your quads, upper back, glutes, and core. What’s great about the landmine squat is that it improves glute activation, which is crucial for performing heavy loaded back or front squats to build more strength and mass.

How To Landmine Goblet Squat 

  • Place one end of the barbell into the landmine device and stand facing the other end of the barbell.
  • Stand with your feet hip or shoulder width apart, with a tall stance and slight bend in your knees with a neutral spine and neck.
  • Evenly distribute your weight and grip the floor with your feet to create a stable foot position.
  • Using a full grip, clasp the end of the bar with both hands. Your elbows should be close to your ribcage.
  • Engage your core and slightly tuck your pelvis. All repetitions should begin from this starting position.
  • Begin the downward or shortening motion by bending your hips, knees, and ankles. Lower until your legs are parallel or slightly below parallel to the ground. The weight on your feet should be evenly distributed. Pause at the bottom position, activating your glutes.
  • To begin the eccentric or upward movement, push your feet into the ground to initiate standing. Place emphasis on pushing through your mid-foot and heel while keeping your toes and glutes engaged.
  • Keep your chest high, squeeze your glutes, and allow your knees to straighten and your hips to travel forward. As you finish the movement, squeeze your glutes and quadriceps while maintaining a neutral spine.
  • Repeat the landmine squat for your desired number of repetitions.

2. Walking Lunges 

The walking lunge is a basic fundamental quad exercise, which can add more size and strength to your legs. What’s great about lunges, as opposed to leg extensions, is much more range of motion you have and can achieve, which is a critical variable in muscle growth and hypertrophy. Lunges effectively stimulate your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, to help build more lean muscle mass. If you want to build bigger quads and find a great leg extension alternative exercise, lunges are one of the best.

RELATED ARTICLE The 6 Best Overhead Lunge Variations

How To Lunge 

  • Grab two dumbbells, or single dumbbell – stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart
  • Keeping the dumbbells directly by your sides or in front rack position, with engage your glutes, quads, and hamstrings muscles, bracing with the core
  • Exhale as you take a step forward with one leg, slowly lowering your body until your front knee is bent at least 90 degrees
  • Don’t allow the weight to carry you forward. Instead, think about dropping your hips straight down as you step forward. Keep your abs tight and chest up.
  • Pause, then push through the front foot to the starting position as quickly as you can
  • Complete the prescribed number of repetitions by either alternating each leg or performing the full set with one leg before switching to the other 

3. Curtsy Lunges

Curtsy lunge is a compound functional strength movement, that targets your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. As opposed to the traditional lunge, the curtsy lunge targets the inner quads along with your glute medius, and minimus.

If the goal is to build better quad definition, the curtsy lunge can be an effective leg extension alternative, to effectively isolate the inner quad muscles the vastus medials, which translates to the tear drop muscle above the knee.

How To Curtsy Lunge

  • Stand with you feet shoulder width apart, and arms in a neutral position at your sides
  • Shift your weight to your right foot and take a step back with your left foot as if you are curtsying, bracing you core, chest high, and bringing your arms up parallel
  • Cross your right foot behind your left, bend you knees, and lower your hips until your left thigh is nearly parallel to the ground.
  • Keep your torso upright and square as possible, keeping your shins in place and directly in front of you.
  • Return to start and repeat on the other side 

4. Hack Squats

The hack squat is a compound strength movement and leg extension alternative. Instead of using free weights like the traditional barbell back squat, the hack squat is a machine-based exercise. The hack squat is an excellent auxiliary movement that can assist in developing better squat form and improve strength gains. A hack squat machine works just like a traditional barbell back squat, yet with a few variations. The hack squat is positioned at a 45-degree angle, which provides for a more controlled movement, placing less physical demand on your joints, and providing a deeper range of motion. Range of motion is a key contributor to muscle growth; therefore, the hack squat can benefit you by achieving more strength and gaining more lean muscle mass in a controlled and fixed motion.

How To Hack Squat 

  • Load the machine with your desired weight
  • Step onto the platform and place your feet shoulder-width apart with toes slightly pointed out
  • Place your shoulders firmly under the pads, retract your scapulae and grip the bars.
  • Keep your back on the pad and head up at all times
  • Inhale, brace your core, and disengage the safety bars on the machine
  • Keep your legs straight without locking your knees
  • Descend keeping your form and movement smooth just below parallel, slightly less than a 90 degree angle.
  • Begin to raise and push the machine back up through your heels and exhale.
  • Fully extend your knees and hips
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps 

5. Bulgarian Split Squat

The Bulgarian split squat puts more emphasis on a deeper and extended range of motion, stimulating the glutes, hamstrings, and quads. As a single-leg unilateral movement, the Bulgarian split squat forces your core to engage more heavily, to stabilize and balance your body when driving the load back up on the positive phase of the lift into your heel. It also activates your glutes, which can help build a bigger, more solid foundation in your legs, and quads. 

How To Bulgarian Split Squat 

  • Start with your feet hip-width apart. with the right foot forward and the left foot placed back behind the body on a bench or box that is about knee-height, or just below knee height.
  • Keeping your shoulders stacked directly above your forward-facing hips, begin to descend into a lunging position. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in both hands in a vertical position hanging on each side of your body.
  • Keep your back straight while lowering your left knee towards the floor
  • Go as low as you can while still ensuring your chest is staying open and the front knee is not protruding out in front of your toes.
  • When your left knee lowers, press your right foot into the ground, pull back on the right knee, and push the top of the left foot into the box to return to standing.

Leg Extension Alternative Exercises: Takeaway

Leg extensions are an effective leg day training exercise, that emphasize and stimulate the quads. You can gain strength and definition with this isolated movement no doubt. However, some leg extension alternatives, will help increase mobility, time under tension, range motion, and improve all around athletic performance, not to mention, stack on more gains. When you find yourself looking for some different or alternative exercises on leg day, try a few of these lifts out. 

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