Hey you. Yeah, you.
Are you tired of having small quads? Have you ever been referred to as “chicken legs”? Do you hate wearing sweatpants year-round just to hide your small quads?
Don’t worry, you are not alone.
You suffer from a condition called baby quad syndrome (or BQS). It is a very common condition that many people deal with every day.
Unfortunately, these same people are often people who exercise, and you may be one of them. However, your quads aren’t going to grow from walking and running 5ks - although these are certainly good for your overall health.
No, the problem is in the prescription.
So how do we fight this global epidemic? Is there a cure for BQS?
I’m here to tell you there is hope.
You don’t have to keep living like this. There is a better way.
The answer lies in the weight section at your local gym or garage gym. BQS is best fought with two solutions. The first, lift weights.
These are exercises you’ve probably seen other people doing at the gym - maybe you’ve even tried them a few times yourself. Exercises like squats, lunges, Bulgarian split squats, leg press, and leg extensions.
In order to truly fight BQS we have to overload our quadriceps and give them a reason to grow. Our bodies are very adaptable and if you continue to progressively overload exercises like the ones above, your quads will be forced to adapt.
The second is your diet. It is basically impossible to grow your quads - or any muscle for that matter - without eating enough food.
Think about it, when you lift weights you are essentially creating small tears in your muscles. These muscles then ideally repair and as they repair get bigger and stronger over time. But, in order to repair in a way that is ideal for muscle growth you need to be 1) eating slightly more calories than you burn and 2) eating enough protein - typically the recommended number falls around 0.8 and 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
Okay, so that’s the prescription. It’s not easy, but it’s simple. But this article is about the leg extension machine right?
So, now we know part of the why behind lifting weights and more specifically using the leg extension machine, but let’s take a quick step back and look at what exactly is a leg extension machine.
What Is a Leg Extension Machine?
At the most basic level, it is a machine that allows you to extend at the knee, using your quadriceps to drive the weight up.
There are a few variations with leg extension machines that we will discuss later on, but let’s talk about the most common setup for a leg extension machine.
Leg extensions are performed seated. Once you are seated and the weight is either loaded or you move the pin into the right weight stack plate, you then slide your feet under the round pad near the floor. It should rest comfortably between your ankle and low to mid-shin. Some leg extension machines have a second pad that goes on top of your lower quadriceps and helps you stay in a good position throughout your sets.
Once you are all set into place, raise the pad on your shin from near the ground to in line with your knee when it is fully extended.
In order to do this, you will rely almost solely on squeezing your quads.
Depending on what type of stimulus you are trying to achieve you can hold the weight at the top at extension or immediately begin to lower it down and perform the next rep.
It’s a pretty simple movement especially compared to some of the other exercises listed above like squats, lunges, etc. Using machines, and this piece of equipment in particular, can be nice as it requires less technique and training to use.
So now that you know what it is, let’s talk about some potential benefits and why people use the leg extension machine.
Benefits of Leg Extension Machines
Rehab & physical therapy use
The leg extension machine is also a great tool when it comes to rehabbing knee and quad injuries.
If you have been lifting weights for a while, you may have been led to believe - like I was - that not only was the leg extension machine not good for rehab, but it actually caused knee pain.
We can just chalk that up as bro science.
The leg extension machine actually helps to increase the joint contact area of the knee.
What this means is that by performing a leg extension you are able to reduce the stress placed on the kneecap by spreading out the area where joint forces are applied. This in turn can help decrease knee cap pain.
The leg extension machine is also helpful for rehab with knee injuries, I’ve personally seen this used with many different types of knee pain stemming from patella tendinitis all the way to ACL tears.
Of course, consult with a doctor or medical expert before using a leg extension machine for knee pain, but it can be a great tool for more than simply giant quads - although who doesn’t want giant quads?
Targeting specific quad muscles
As I’ve already mentioned the leg extension targets the quadriceps. But which one exactly? And how can we better target the outer quad? Or how about that teardrop?
Buckle up, we are going back to high school anatomy class.
The quadriceps muscles are made up of four muscles:
the rectus femoris
the vastus lateralis
the vastus intermedius
the vastus medialis
When traditionally performing leg extensions, with toes pointed forward, the rectus femoris is targeted. This results in greater front quad use.
However, if you adjust the direction of your toes, you can actually change which part of the quad is most targeted.
For example, by pointing your toes outward, you will feel it more in your vastus medialis (VMO). This is the muscle on the right above and to the inside of your knee that is often referred to as the “teardrop muscle”.
Similarly, if you point your toes inward on your leg extensions, you can better activate the outer quad and the vastus lateralis.
Another way to manipulate the stimulus from performing leg extensions is by adjusting the ranges of motion.
As mentioned above, leg extensions begin with the pad near the floor and end when the knees are locked out. Since this is a science lesson, I guess we can be a little more precise. Typically, leg extensions begin with your knees at 90 degrees and end with your knees at 180 degrees.
During the middle portion of leg extensions (120-150 degrees) your vastus lateralis is most active, likewise during the last phase of leg extensions (150-180 degrees) you will especially feel your vastus medialis working.
So, depending on your goals, you may consider doing a couple of sets that specifically target one part of the quadriceps on your next leg day - whether that means a couple of sets of partial range of motion leg extensions followed by some full leg extensions or maybe altering your toe position.
Now that we’ve looked at the how and why when it comes to leg extension machines, let’s talk about some tips for choosing the best leg extension machine for you.
Whether you are looking to improve your home gym or fill a commercial gym, these tips will help you make the best decision for your specific needs.
1) Commercial or Residential?
Walk into any commercial gym - from O2 Fitness to Gold’s Gym - and you are almost guaranteed to find a leg extension machine.
Nestled in between the calf raise machines and seated leg curl machines, you are bound to find this quad killer.
When it comes to picking out the right leg extension machine for your gym, you need to consider this question of commercial vs residential. So, commercial is referring to a leg extension machine designed for commercial gyms.
These leg extension machines are typically a little bit bigger, heavier, and built to withstand more use.
This makes sense, right? What do commercial gyms typically have that home gyms don’t? Space and a constant flow of people, so commercial gyms have slightly different priorities than a garage gym. This is why what we’ll call a “residential” leg extension machine is likely better for your home gym.
These leg extension machines are typically smaller and if you own a garage gym, you know just how important making the most of every square inch is.
The residential models are also not meant to withstand quite the beating. They are still quite durable but unless you have a family of 20 who are competing for the title of the world’s biggest quads, I can’t imagine your machine will get as much use in a home gym as it would a commercial gym.
This question doesn’t take much pondering.
If you are filling a garage gym choose residential, and if you are supplying a commercial gym choose commercial.
The only instance I can think of here that may lead you to a different decision is if you just love the leg extension machine - like it is a staple in your weekly routine. If you also have the space and money - commercial tends to be a little more expensive - then go for it.
A commercial leg extension machine in your garage gym isn’t a bad idea if these things are true.
2) Stand-Alone Machine or Attachment?
Another question to consider is whether you should opt for the stand-alone machine or the leg extension machine attachment.
The stand-alone leg extension machine is pretty common, that’s what we’ve discussed up to this point.
However, there is a pretty interesting new product that can save you some space and potentially some money compared to the stand-alone option. The leg extension attachment is designed to attach to your power rack.
Now obviously, if you don’t have a power rack, it may not make the most sense to go buy a power rack and the attachment versus just buying a stand-alone machine.
However, if you are somewhat new to lifting, a power rack is a great investment for a home gym because it gives you the ability to perform pull-ups, barbell squats, bench press, and many other exercises.
How the attachment works is similar to that of a j-hook (the hook you move on the rack to adjust where the barbell rests when not using it). You insert the pin through two of the holes on the rig and your seat is attached. You then add weight plates to the loading side and you have a leg extension attachment ready to go.
It’s worth noting that there are leg extension attachments that can be added onto a bench. These are good if you aren’t planning on going very heavy or are trying to find a cheaper solution to try out before committing to buying a full-leg extension machine.
I know of at least one of these attachments that also have the capacity to be used not as a seated leg curl machine but actually a standing one.
What are seated leg curl machines? Well, funny you should ask.
3) Seated Leg Curl Ability?
This one is pretty important in my opinion.
We’ve talked a ton about quads up until this point.
After all, I’m trying to help you cure BQS.
And while the size of your legs is largely due to your quads, there is another piece of the pie to consider - your hamstrings.
It’s long been said that the front of our body is kind of like our “show muscles”. When you go to the beach, most guys want to have abs, pecs, and big ole’ biceps. These are the muscles everyone can see - especially you when you are practicing your CBum poses in the bathroom.
However, the muscles on the backside are incredibly important as well - especially for sports and performance in life.
Big muscles like your glutes, lats, and hamstrings are what provide much of the power for athletic movements.
So, all that to say - don’t neglect your hamstrings and make using seated leg curl machines a priority. Whether you just want to look good or are trying to perform at your best, the hammies are powerful.
While using the seated leg curl machines may not be quite as good as say a Romanian deadlift or glute-ham raise for athletic movements, using the seated leg curl machines can be quite effective - especially if your goal is to increase size.
Okay, so that was a little bit of a tangent, what does a seated leg curl have to do with leg extensions?
It’s actually pretty cool - many leg extension machines actually have the ability to perform a seated leg curl as well.
What's better than a leg extension machine? A leg extension and curl machine of course.
Not all leg extension machines can do both so before to check before buying, but I would highly recommend getting one that can do both and serve as a leg extension and curl machine. This will give you double the bang for your buck and make the most of the space you have - especially in a garage gym and but also in a commercial gym too.
How it works, is that instead of going from knees bent at 90 degrees to extended at 180 degrees, you flip it.
In the seated leg curl, your knees start extended and end bent, using your hamstrings to drive the pad down through your heels.
You should immediately feel your hamstring light up from doing these.
4) Plate Loaded or Selectorized?
Chances are if you’ve had any experience with a leg extension machine, it’s been a selectorized machine.
Plate loaded versus selectorized just refers to where the resistance comes from.
A plate loaded leg extension is like it sounds. Typically there is a rod sticking out the side of the leg extension machine where you can load weight plates just like you would with a barbell.
A selectorized weight leg extension refers to a weight stack, with each weight stack plate normally weighing about 10 pounds. Instead of loading the weight on the leg extension machine, you simply move the pin from its current spot to the plate that matches the desired load.
The plate loaded leg extension is nice for a couple of reasons.
First, it is much easier to move. As you can imagine, trying to move a leg extension machine is not a great experience to start with.
Now imagine you are adding somewhere around 200 to 300 additional pounds of iron in the form of a selectorized weight stack. The plate loaded leg extension is also nice because you often can reach higher weight totals than with selectorized loading.
If you already have weight plates, I would recommend the plate loaded option, especially for a home gym. Plate loaded will typically be smaller and lighter - two things that are very important for home gym owners.
So what about the selectorized plate leg extension? Well, it is a great option for commercial gyms for a couple of reasons.
First, commercial gyms typically have some weight plates but they are around the power racks and bench press stations. Oftentimes, this is not closeby to the leg extension machine sections.
Second, selectorized plate leg extension machines are easier to use. You don’t have to load up plates and it’s pretty self-explanatory to use, especially for gym members who may be brand new or not have a lot of experience.
There’s not necessarily a wrong answer here as home gyms can choose either and so can commercial gyms.
I would say that traditionally, it makes more sense for home gyms to opt for the plate loaded leg extension - assuming you already have weight plates - and for commercial gyms to go with the selectorized.
5) Where to Find a Leg Extension Machine?
Okay, now that you’ve decided between selectorized and plate loaded leg extension, seated leg curl or no seated leg curl, commercial or residential, and attachment or stand-alone machine, what now?
Let’s look at some tips for finding the perfect leg extension machine for you and your needs.
Obviously, a really simple way is by googling it and finding a leg extension machine online.
Shipping is definitely something to be sure to calculate into price here as leg extension machines are pretty heavy - especially if you opt for the selectorized option. There are quite a few brands that make leg extension machines, and I’ll touch on some of my recommendations later.
One of my favorite ways to find gym equipment is on Facebook Marketplace.
Because it is run by individual sellers who are often selling their garage gym equipment, you never really know what you will find - which is part of the fun and frustration. One of my biggest pieces of advice with Facebook Marketplace is to simply be patient.
Keep searching, maybe try expanding your region, and even set up search notifications. The search notifications allow you to get notifications when a new listing is posted that matches your search keywords - so in this case quad growing machine 5000 or leg extension machine. Whichever works best.
Another option is to check with local gyms nearby.
Whether this is a high school, college, or commercial gym, often gyms replace their current equipment and upgrade to newer machines. In this case, you want to especially be aware of wear and tear, which I’ll talk about in a second. However, there is a good chance you could find a quality leg extension machine this way.
Be sure to ask around as it will likely come down to your relationship with the current gym owner or school strength coach.
It may be easiest to try and connect with a local gym as opposed to a nationwide chain gym like Planet Fitness or LifeTime Fitness, just because the owners of a local gym are going to likely have a lot more say in what gets sold, when it gets sold, and to whom it gets sold.
Finally, check out our selection at Freedom Fitness Equipment.
You can find both new and used fitness equipment at Freedom Fitness Equipment. We are based in Charlotte, NC, and offer both nationwide shipping as well as local pickup. If you are looking for quality equipment at a reasonable price, check us out.
Now, when looking at used leg extension machines be sure to check for rust. You want to make sure all the bones of the machine are in good shape. Also, be sure to check the seat's upholstery; some wear and tear is expected, but holes and tears in the seat are not a great sign.
Another thing to do is to use the leg extension machine before buying. Now you don’t have to load up a ton of weight, but just enough to get the feel for it. Sometimes used selectorized leg extension machines don’t move well and get kind of stuck at points.
I’m sure it’s nothing some WD-40 and elbow grease can’t fix, but be sure to not pay top dollar. Be sure to also check how the seated leg curl moves, as you can't forget about the hammies.
As we round third and head for home, let’s take a quick look at some leg extension machine recommendations.
These two options could not be more different, but depending on what you are looking for either one can be great.
Titan Leg Curl and Leg Extension Attachment
This is the attachment I referenced above. Titan’s Leg Curl and Leg Extension Attachment is great for saving money and space and getting a sick pump.
Not to mention, the attachment is not only a leg extension but also a standing leg curl, which is a huge bonus, especially considering the size of the attachment.
So you get a leg extension and curl machine - got to love a two-for-one.
At 43”x18”x25”, this attachment is much smaller than its stand-alone competitors, but don’t worry it can handle all you throw at it. With a weight plate capacity of 275 pounds, you are plenty capable of getting a nice quad burn.
The attachment weighs just 85 pounds, making this standing leg curl/leg extension combo easily transportable around the garage.
Simply attach it to the power rack when using and move to a convenient storing location when you aren’t - but don’t let it sit in storage too long that’s a slippery slope back to BQS.
This attachment is also reasonably priced at around $650.
This is much cheaper than many options, especially the commercial gym stand-alone leg extension machines. Oftentimes they can get up to over $3000.
This is a perfect option for your home gym.
Hammer Strength Select Leg Extension
Hammer Strength is known for its durability and high-quality equipment. As a major supplier for college and professional sports, they know their products have to be able to take a beating from some of the world’s best athletes.
This leg extension machine is no different.
This thing is built to last and handle all the members at your commercial gym can throw at it.
On the complete other end of the spectrum as the Titan attachment, the Hammer Strength Leg Extension is big - we are talking almost double the size at 47”x41”x64”.
This leg extension machine also weighs considerably more at 570 pounds. So it’s pretty safe to say that wherever you put this machine it is staying for a while. Of course, this extra weight makes sense, there’s a back pad, it’s larger, and it has an entire selectorized stack of weights totaling 295 pounds.
Unfortunately, there is no price listed. Only the option to speak with a consultant, so likely on the pricier end. However, you are getting a quality leg extension machine.
I wouldn’t recommend this for a home gym unless you just have the space and the money. They also offer this leg extension machine in multiple colors which makes sense in order to cater to the needs of commercial and university gyms.
Apart from potentially price, the only downside to this leg extension machine is that it does not have seated leg curl capabilities. But, when you consider that commercial gyms likely have multiple machines - multiple leg extension and seated leg curl machines - it may not be a huge dealbreaker depending on the needs of your location.
And that’s a wrap. As you begin to search for the perfect leg extension machine - hopefully a leg extension AND curl machine - use these tips and you will be in good shape. Here’s to building massive quads!
“Leg Extensions for Bigger Better Quads.” Muscle & Fitness, 29 Jan. 2016, www.muscleandfitness.com/flexonline/training/leg-extensions-bigger-better-quads/#:~:text=The%20normal%20position%20for%20leg,builds%20more%20outer%2Dquad%20sweep.
Mandala, Tommy. “Is the Knee Extension Machine Safe to Use?” [P]Rehab, 7 Sept. 2022, theprehabguys.com/is-the-knee-extension-machine-safe-to-use/.
Morales-Brown, Louise. “Quadriceps Muscles: Definition, Anatomy, and Exercises.” Medical News Today, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/quadriceps-muscles#anatomy. Accessed 15 May 2023.