What Are the Best Fitness Machines for Quads and Hamstrings?

What Are the Best Fitness Machines for Quads and Hamstrings?
What Are the Best Fitness Machines for Quads and Hamstrings? (Image: Ibrakovic/iStock/GettyImages)

Don't let the dizzying array of equipment at your gym keep you from getting a great thigh workout. While most gym machines are effective for their purpose, some are better than others. Check out these top picks for the best fitness machines for the quads and hamstrings. No more standing around the gym wondering what to do -- now you know.

Smith Machine

This is an assisted squat machine. It has a fixed plane of motion, which can work in your favor for targeting your quads. It's also a safer way to lift heavy without a spotter, because you can lock the bar in place with a twist of your wrists.

How to use it:

  • Place the desired amount of weight on the bar, equally balanced between the two sides. If you are unsure how much weight to use, start light and work your way up.
  • Position the bar at upper chest height. Step under the bar into the machine and turn around to face out.
  • Place the bar across your shoulders and grasp it on either side, a few inches outside of your shoulders.
  • Walk your feet out slightly in front of the bar -- this forward stance helps target the quads.
  • Rotate the bar backward to disengage it from the rails.
  • Lower down, sending your hips out behind you as your knees bend forward. Keep your chest open and your torso erect. Stop when your thighs are just past parallel with the floor.
  • Press through your heels to rise back up to standing.

Sled Hack Squat

The hack squat machine is a 45-degree squat that primarily targets the quadriceps and also the hamstrings and glutes. The key with hack squats is not to load on too much weight, but rather to focus on achieving full range-of-motion.

How to use it:

  • Place the desired amount of weight on the side bars, equally balanced between the two sides. If you are unsure how much weight to use, start light and work your way up.
  • Step into the machine. Place your back against the back pad, your shoulders under the shoulder pads and your feet on the platform.
  • Position your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes slightly pointed out. Keep your head on the pad throughout the exercise.
  • Grasp the side handles of the machine and release the levers to disengage the lock.
  • Bend at the knees and hips to lower the sled. Lower down until the angle of your knees is slightly less than 90 degrees. At the bottom of the movement, your knees should be aligned with your toes. Do not allow your knees to come in front of your toes, which places undue stress on the knees.
  • Press through your feet and extend at the hips and knees to come back up to the starting position.

Leg Press Machine

The leg press is almost like a reverse squat in which you push the weight above you. It targets the quadriceps and also works the hamstrings and glutes. The leg press is a great intro to squatting for beginners, because there's not as much technical body mechanics involved.

How to use it:

  • Place the desired amount of weight on the bar, equally balanced between the two sides. If you're unsure how much weight to use, start light and work your way up.
  • Sit down into the seat, placing your back against the pad and your feet on the platform. Position your feet shoulder-width apart. Make sure your knees are not forward of your toes. If they are, move your feet up on the platform.
  • Place your head against the pad and grasp the side handles. Turn the handles to release the safety locks. Press the platform away from you to straighten -- but not lock out -- your knees.
  • Lower down with control, bending your knees to an angle slightly smaller than 90 degrees. Press through your heels to return to the starting point.

Leg Extension

The leg extension machine is the best machine for isolating the quadriceps. No other muscles are involved in the movement, so the quads are fully activated.

How to use it:

  • Sit tall in the seat with your hips all the way back and your back pressing firmly into the back pad.
  • Select your weight on the weight stack by inserting the pin. If you're unsure of how much weight to use, start light and then adjust.
  • Place the fronts of your lower legs behind the lower pad. Adjust the height of the pad so it hits your lower shins.
  • Grasp the handles next to the seat. Contract your quadriceps muscle to slowly extend the legs out in front of you. Don't lock out the knees.
  • Pause, then slowly return to the starting position.
Strong bodybuilder training quads
Build strong quads with the leg extension machine. (Image: restyler/iStock/GettyImages)

Hamstring Curl

The hamstring curl machine isolates the hamstrings with a bit of activation in the glutes. You may find two different types of hamstring curl machines -- seated and lying -- in your gym.

How to use the seated hamstring curl machine:

  • Sit in the machine with your hips all the way back and your back pressed firmly against the back pad.
  • Place your calves in front of the lower pads of the machine. The pad should hit on your lower calf above your Achilles.
  • Secure the lap pad so it sits just above your knee.
  • Select the desired weight on the stack by inserting the pin. Grasp the handles on top of the lap bar.
  • Slowly bend your knees and pull the lever back as far as you can. Pause and then release the lever with control back to your starting position.

How to use the lying hamstring curl machine:

  • Lie face down on the machine with your calves under the lever pads.
  • Align your hips with the highest point of the torso pad. Your knees should come just past the lower edge of the pad.
  • Adjust the weight in the stack, and grasp the front handles.
  • Slowly curl your feet in toward your hamstrings. Keep your body flush with the pad -- do not allow your hips to rise.
  • Pause at the top, then lower the weight back down with control.
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