What are Leg Extensions? (A guide to bigger quads)

What are leg extensions?

What are leg extensions?

If you are new to bodybuilding you have probably heard of leg extensions. But, what are leg extensions, how should you do them and what are the benefits?

Leg extensions are a resistance exercise that target the quadriceps muscles at the front of the upper leg. They are performed on a leg extension machine with either a cable stack or weight plates. 

There is no better isolation exercise for quadriceps than leg extensions making it essential for bodybuilders and a great accessory movement for strength trainers

Which muscles are targeted by leg extensions?

The quadriceps muscles at the front of the thighs are the muscles activated by leg extensions. The four major muscles that make up the quadriceps are the Rectus Femoris, Vastus Medialis, Vastus Lateralis, and the Vastus Intermedius. 

Muscles worked with leg extensions

It is possible to target different parts of the quadriceps by using different leg angles and pointing the toes in different directions. If you want to add width to your quads, some trainers recommend keeping the knees further apart on the seat and your toes pointing inwards. 

By drawing your knees closer together and pointing the toes slightly outwards, the Medialis comes under more strain adding thickness to the quadriceps. 

This is still a much-debated method of targeting different areas of the quadriceps. Another school of thought is that quad development is genetic and only neutral stance leg extensions are beneficial. Try the different methods for yourself and see if you can feel the difference. 

Leg extension information    
The only other muscles that are really activated are the ones in the lower leg for keeping the feet tucked under the lift pad. This is the benefit of using a seated machine. There is no need to use core stabilisers or any other supporting muscle. 

How do I perform leg extensions?

Leg extensions are a simple exercise to perform and when used correctly, can give great results for both muscle mass and strength. 

What are leg extensions?

  1. Adjust the seat so that the backs of your knees are just hanging over the seat and your back is straight against the backrest. 
  2. Adjust the footpad so that your feet tuck under it and it rests on the lower shin.
  3. Select your weight from the stack or add plates. Start low and pyramid up to your working sets. 
  4. Sit on the machine, tuck in your feet, hold the handles and lift the pads until your legs are straight. 
  5. Hold this position for a couple of seconds and squeeze the quadriceps.
  6. Slowly lower the weight back to the starting position with a controlled movement. 
  7. Before resting the weight at the bottom, start the movement again. 
  8. Use an explosive positive movement and a slow negative movement. 

Alternatives to leg extensions.

There are a few other exercises that will hit the quadriceps muscles. These are all compound movements and will not isolate the quadriceps muscles but are great for adding mass and definition. 


Front squats

Leg press


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