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Alternatives to Leg Extension Exercises

author image Nick Ng
Nick Ng has been writing fitness articles since 2003, focusing on injury prevention and exercise strategies. He has covered health for "MiaBella" magazine. Ng received his Bachelor of Arts in communications from San Diego State University in 2001 and has been a certified fitness coach with the National Academy of Sports Medicine since 2002.
Alternatives to Leg Extension Exercises
A woman is doing squats with a kettlebell.

Leg extensions may give you bigger thighs like a bodybuilder or a strong knee after your knee surgery. However, doing only this exercise won't help you get better in sprinting, jumping, squatting and dozens of other skills that require you to move your entire body in a standing position. Many lower-body exercises require nothing more than your body weight and little portable equipment. By training your entire body together, you will burn more calories in less time and build better strength and power than isolating your thighs.

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Firm Your Thighs With Squats

All variations of squats work your legs, buttocks and core in different degrees. The depth of your squat engages certain muscle groups more than others. In a study that was published in the October 2012 issue of "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research," researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada showed that the quadriceps had greater muscle activation with greater squat depth but not with increased barbell load. However, the buttocks had higher activation in both increased squat depth and load. Therefore, work on parallel or partial squats if you want to emphasize on your quadriceps. Otherwise, perform the deep squat to gain both hip and leg strength. You can do a barbell front or back squat or a dumbbell or kettlebell squat.

One Side at a Time

Unilateral leg exercises, which refer to training one leg instead of two legs at a time, can help you determine if one side of your body is stronger or more coordinated than the other side. These exercises, such as the lunge and stepup, can help perform better at specific sports skills. Researchers at the Stockholm Söder Hospital in Sweden found that various types of lunges can improve hamstrings strength and linear sprinting in soccer players. The basic lunge is stepping forward with one leg and bending both legs to lower your body toward the floor. The stepup is stepping on top of a platform with one leg, which is similar to climbing stairs two steps at a time. You may use just your body weight or carry a dumbbell or kettlebell in one or both hands.

Muscle Up With Leg Press

The leg press allows you to lift with more load than a squat or other standing exercises. This method is ideal for those who want to maximize their leg muscle growth. The 45-degree sled is a common apparatus in most gyms on which you load weight plates on the sides to set your desired resistance. Never lift a load that you cannot control properly. You can lose control of the sled and the heavy load could fall onto you.

Get More Power With Swings

Swinging one kettlebell can be a cinch for your buttocks to handle, but if you want to double the weight in a swing, your body will need to recruit your quadriceps to help. Because of the extra momentum generated in the double kettlebell swing, your body requires higher stability to keep your balance and control the momentum, says certified kettlebell instructor Prince Bell. Stand with your feet wider than your shoulders' width, and start with mini-swings by rocking your hips back and forth to generate momentum. Once you gain enough momentum, exhale and thrust your hips forward to help you swing the kettlebells up until they're as high as your eyes. Inhale as you swing downward between your legs while keeping your back flat and your abs tight. Bend your legs slightly into a partial squat before you repeat the swing.

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