Leg extensions are bad, right? Dangerous and useless? Well, not so fast.
Not only are leg extensions not dangerous, they're beneficial for overall lower-body strength and performance. Research shows the leg extension creates much higher levels of activation in the rectus femoris compared to the squat. (1) Other research shows the rectus femoris seems to grow more from single-joint, machine-based training relative to the other three quadriceps. (2)
When it comes to strengthening the quads, there's a multitude of studies showing better quad strength gains (even in post-ACL reconstruction patients) when combining open-kinetic chain exercises like leg extensions along with closed-kinetic chain exercises like squats and lunges over using only closed-kinetic chain exercises. (3)
Okay, cool, but what if you don't have access to a leg extension machine? Just do the band inverted leg extension. In fact, here are eight ways to do it, going from the least to most difficult version.
Note: You can do these with a regular band, but I'm using my NT Loop because it's more comfortable and stable.
Level 1 – Single layer band.
Level 2 – Single layer band with feet elevated.
This increases the range of motion and places more demand on your abs and shoulders.
Level 3 – Double layer band (more band tension).
Level 4 – Double layer band with feet elevated.
Level 5 – Single leg with single layer band.
This is more difficult because you're now demanding one leg do the work of two. Although it's not exact math, you're essentially doubling the load on each leg.
Level 6 – Single leg with single layer band and feet elevated.
Level 7 – Single leg with double layer band.
Level 8 – Single leg with double layer band and feet elevated.
This progression assumes you're using the same band. So, if you only have one, you can find the appropriate level for your strength. However, if you've got multiple resistance bands of varying tensions, you can switch to a heavier band instead of doing a double layer of a lighter band.
For the single-layer versions, you can choke up or choke down on the band depending on how much tension you want to work against. Just make sure you keep tension on the band to start each rep. The extra slack in the band will remain between your hands.
Setup and Coaching Tips
- From the standing position, place the band (for the single and double layer version) directly behind your knees. Then kneel down on the floor, keeping your legs and feet hip-width apart.
- Place your hands flat on the floor roughly shoulder-width apart while keeping the band anchored securely underneath your hands.
- From the all-fours position, sit your hips backward so your knees are bent beyond 90-degrees. Slide your hands on the floor away from your knees to begin with tension on the band. The farther you place your hands away from your knees, the more tension you'll get at the top of each rep.
- If you're doing the feet elevated version, place your feet on top of a chair, couch, or bench with your feet shoulder-width apart. Your knees might not touch the floor to start depending on your height and how high you've got your feet elevated.
- At the top of each rep, press against the band until your knees are fully straight.
- At the bottom of each rep, keep your knees hovering just above the floor. Don't allow your knees to rest on the floor until you've completed the set.
Related: 4 Days of Minimalist Workouts
- Ebben, W. P., Feldmann, C. R., Dayne, A., Mitsche, D., Alexander, P., & Knetzger, K. J. (2009). Muscle activation during lower body resistance training. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 30(1), 1-8.
- Ema, R., Wakahara, T., Miyamoto, N., Kanehisa, H., & Kawakami, Y. (2013). Inhomogeneous architectural changes of the quadriceps femoris induced by resistance training. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 113(11), 2691-2703.
- Treubig, D. Why You Should Be Using Knee Extensions After ACL Reconstruction. Retrieved 2018 from themanualtherapist.com