Leg Extension Exercise: Tips, How-To, Common Mistakes + FAQ

The leg extension is one of the most performed exercises for the quadriceps. Almost every gym has a leg extension machine and the exercise is also easy to perform. Read below how you can get the most out of your leg extensions and learn how to avoid common mistakes.

Which muscles do you use during a leg extension?

The leg extension only trains the quadriceps. Because the exercise only uses one joint, namely the knee joint, we classify the leg extension among the isolation exercises. The leg extension is therefore an excellent exercise to add to your training schedule if you want to focus on your quadriceps.

We always recommend doing this in addition to larger compound exercises such as the squat or a leg press. Compound exercises should always form the basis of your training, with isolation exercises such as the leg extension providing additional stimulation of one specific muscle group.

Leg Extension Exercise

Leg extension execution: the right technique

By following the steps below you ensure that you perform the leg extension correctly. Try to follow the instructions as closely as possible to maximize quadriceps stimulation and avoid injury.

  1. Adjust seat

    Sit on the leg extension machine with your knees at the pivot point. With most machines, this means that you have to sit with the back of your knees against the edge of the seat. Make sure the back support is properly adjusted and your lower back is pressing firmly against the back support.

  2. Adjust leg cushion

    Adjust the leg cushion so that it is at the height of your ankles. Your feet should be pointing straight ahead without this cushion getting in the way. In addition, you should adjust the leg cushion so that there is already tension on the weight at an angle of 90 degrees in your knees.

  3. Lift the weight

    Grab the handles on the side, press yourself firmly into the chair, and move your lower leg up in a controlled manner until your legs are straight. Make sure to squeeze your quadriceps while doing this.

  4. Drop the weight

    Now slowly lower your legs while focusing on your quadriceps. Make sure you don't drop your legs too far and maintain tension.

  5. Repeat

    Repeat the above steps for the desired number of reps.

Common mistakes

Below we describe the most common mistakes when running the leg extension and how to correct them. Read them carefully and make sure you prevent injuries yourself.

  1. Incorrect posture
    Many people lift their butts when performing the leg extension to throw the weight up. As a result, the legs are stretched earlier, which shortens the range of motion. This limits the stimulation of the quadriceps. In addition, this also ensures that a lot of stress is placed on the knees, which can cause annoying injuries. So make sure you press yourself firmly into the chair and press your buttocks and back against the cushions at all times.
  2. Too much weight
    Lifting too much weight is another common mistake. This prevents people from fully extending their legs or lifting their butt as described above. Make sure you have control over the weight throughout the exercise. Can't hold the weight briefly when your legs are straight? Then there is a good chance that you are using heavyweights.
  3. Wrong range of motion
    In line with the errors mentioned earlier, it is the use of a wrong range of motion. Make sure there is tension on the weight at a 90-degree angle in your knees. If you don't, you will shorten the lower part of the range of motion and limit the stimulation of your quadriceps. It is also often claimed that you should not fully extend your legs during the upper part of the movement. However, there are no studies that indicate that this is bad for your knees, so as long as it does not cause pain, we definitely recommend stretching your legs completely. This is the part of the movement where you achieve the most contraction of your quadriceps. Just make sure you don't "overextend" your knees, as this puts undue pressure on your knee joint.
  4. Moving too fast
    The last mistake that is often made in executing the move too quickly. Performing the exercise too quickly will make you lose weight control. You then use momentum instead of muscle activation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here you will find a selection of the most frequently asked questions about the leg extension. Do you still not have an answer to your question after reading the questions below? Please contact us for a personal answer and maybe your question will be placed on this page!

Is the leg extension bad for my knees?

Not in principle, but as with many exercises, this depends on the execution. The movement you make during a leg extension is a movement that you will not easily make in daily life. The leg extensions use a kind of natural leverage, where your knees act as a pivot point. By placing the weight on your ankles, most of this force is transferred to your knees. When this force becomes too great, it can cause complaints to the knee joint and your cruciate ligaments. We therefore always recommend using the correct weight so that you can hold the weight at the top of the movement. We also advise avoiding sets with a lot of weight and few repetitions. Try to use sets of at least 8 reps as a guideline.

Can I do the leg extension without a machine or at home?

Of course. Although we strongly prefer to use a leg extension machine, it is absolutely possible to perform a leg extension at home or without a machine. You do need elastics for this. Make sure you have a sturdy chair and put the elastic around the back leg. Wrap the other end of the elastic around your ankle. Sit on the chair and make the same movement as described above in the step-by-step explanation.

Leg extension vs squat?

Leg extensions are actually not comparable to the squat because of the big difference between the two. The squat is the absolute winner of the two due to the type of movement and the use of multiple muscle groups. The squat should always form the basis of your leg workout. However, the leg extension is an excellent addition to your schedule to put extra focus on stimulating the quadriceps. The leg extension is also an exercise that is often used by physiotherapists for rehabilitation of, for example, knee surgery.

Looking for even more exercises or alternatives? Then view the overview of all exercises for quadriceps.

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