Strong legs: benefits of leg extensions

If you are looking to increase your overall leg strength, run faster or jump higher, leg extension exercises can help you achieve your goal. 

Leg extension exercises during your workout routine will target your quad muscles and reap many benefits for strong quads.

woman seated doing leg extensions

Leg extensions aren’t just for strong quadriceps. Leg extensions also help our knees become super stable. That means our knees can be strong and less likely to get hurt when we play and have fun.

Various leg exercises work on the quads like lunges, squats and deadlifts. But these do not isolate the quadricep muscle as effectively as a leg extension.

What is a leg extension?

The leg extension is almost exclusively an exercise for developing the four muscles that make up the quadriceps muscles on the front of the thigh, typically using the leg extension machine.

There are four muscles in this group, including the:

  1. Rectus femoris (the main bulk of the muscle)
  2. Vastus medialis (the inner part of the thigh)
  3. Vastus lateralis (the outer part of the thigh)
  4. Vastus intermedius (in the middle behind the rectus femoris). 

Benefits of leg extensions for stronger legs

Strengthen quads

Leg extensions will help you strengthen your quads more than almost any other exercise. The leg extension is primarily a quad-dominant movement that can work the quads with greater intensity than even the squat.

Improves knee stability

Leg extensions are not just about making your thighs strong. It is a great exercise that work on the muscles around the knees. 

Imagine your knee joint as door hinges that help your legs bend and move smoothly. Now, if those hinges are weak or wobbly, it’s like a wobbly door that can’t open or close properly. That can lead to injuries, like sprains or strains, which nobody wants.

With consistency, lifters will find that leg extensions create a more stable and powerful knee extension, reducing future risk of injury and improving general locomotion of the lower body.

Provides unilateral training

The leg extension provides a great opportunity to train unilaterally, which means working out on one side of your body or only one limb at a time. Training unilaterally is an excellent way to help improve muscle imbalances, build more muscle and get a better sense of just how much you may be leaning on your dominant side

Lifters often lose a sense of how much they use their dominant side to compensate when lifting.

Great isolation exercise

Leg extensions are an isolation exercise, meaning that they only train one muscle group; the quadriceps femoris.

Training your quads on leg day will create a more stable and powerful knee extension, reducing the risk of injury and increasing lower body strength.

Boosts athletic performance

When we run, jump or kick a ball, our quadriceps are the secret weapon behind those moves. They give us the strength to run faster, jump higher and kick with more power. It’s like having a turbo boost for our athletic performance.

Even if you’re into other fitness activities like dancing, biking, or just having fun at the playground, leg extensions are the perfect exercise. They give you the power to move with ease and be a fearless adventurer.

How to perform

a woman seated doing leg extensions with a leg extension machine

The leg extension machine uses a padded bar at the top of your lower legs at the ankles to add weight resistance to the movement.

  1. Begin in the seated position on the leg extension machine with your knees at a 90-degree angle and your feet anchored beneath the leg rollers. 
  2. Grip the handles, tighten your midsection and press your lower back into the seat. 
  3. Lift your legs until they reach near extension. Ensure you’re moving through a safe range of motion by not locking your knees.
  4. Keep your back against the backrest and do not arch your back.
  5. Pause briefly, then slowly lower your legs to the starting position. 

For a home workout, use a chair with resistance bands or ankle weights for the leg extension exercise.

Leg extension variations

  • Single leg extensions: Similar to standard leg extensions, but you are moving the weight with one leg at a time.
  • Inward toes pointing leg extensions: Turn your toes inward while performing regular leg extensions, which places more emphasis on the outer-facing “teardrop” head.
  • Outward toes pointing leg extensions: Turn your toes outward while performing regular leg extensions, which places a greater emphasis on the inner thigh.

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