Leg Extensions at Home (Without a Machine) for Bodybuilding

Many believe they can’t train effectively without the equipment variety of a commercial gym.

Applying creativity though, the key bodybuilding muscles can all be overloaded with free weights. Therefore, you can gain the benefits of home training without anything truly valuable lost.

But lower body work presents a challenge because our hip & thigh muscles require plenty of weight to be worked best.

The leg extension is among the useful bodybuilding machines since it lets you easily overload knee extension.

Pure or countercurrent motion works the rectus femoris. This muscle etches upper thigh definition toward fully developed quads. Squats alone are incomplete.

Even for the single-joint vasti muscles of the quads, you may find squats emphasize the glutes depending on your performance. A high-bar style can stress the knees & back, so the leg extension could hit them better too (but perhaps not).

If you train at home though, it’s doubtful if you have the space or the desire to purchase a good leg extension unit.

While many of us would do what’s required, perhaps simply joining a gym, know there’s alternatives without a machine.

While imperfect, this DIY closed-chain leg extension does the job well, if not better, right in your home.

Closed-Chain Leg Extensions

For thighs, you need outer sweep, the riding pants look, lower thigh, teardrop, upper thigh cuts… I did front squats, hack squats on a machine or with a barbell using a special technique with my feet close together and leg curls for the hamstring area.

–Steve Reeves

The closed-chain leg extension at home is like the sissy squat. However, the sissy squat has bad connotations.

It often involves getting as deep & stretched as possible, hurting your knees.

It’s treated like a finisher after a real exercise, with a plate across the chest for high reps and the pump without much resistance.

Furthermore, despite safer form that my version offered, I found the upper body used too much. It feels like a closed-chain pull-over, irritating the elbows.

You can also pivot at the feet so the negative phase is done mostly by the upper body.

Finally, it facilitated severe hyperextension of the lumbar spine.


Closed-chain just means your body moves through space with your feet anchored. It’s a near-equal motion as open chain, though you’ll need to focus on additional body parts.

Here’s the equipment you’ll need:

  1. A dip belt.
  2. Several weight plates but none larger than 25 lb. to allow enough range of motion. You can use a weighted vest in addition if available.
  3. Either a rail, post, wall, doorway, etc. to hold onto for balance, on each side using each hand. This works best with the hands positioned lower than shoulder height and as wide as possible. Otherwise, the upper body assists too much.
  4. A low object in front of you to reach with your knees like a door, stair, rack, etc. The floor can work too.

My personal setup is the rails of a half rack, with my knees touching the floor. I then step away enough from the rack so that I reach the bottom just beyond 90° at the knees.

Make sure you standardize whatever setup you choose to measure & strive for real progress.


  1. Attach plates on the dip belt & vest. While standing upright at the top, using a shoulder-width or closer stance, start by placing your hands onto those objects for balance. Keep doing this during the whole exercise.
  2. Lean back enough to keep the hips forward as you descend at the knees. Squeezing your glutes can encourage too much hip flexion that harms the knees. A good balance here, not too forward or back, achieves a few goals:
    • The weight plates stay below your knees, so they don’t hit the object in front of you, otherwise restricting your range of motion.
    • It prevents hips extension, which otherwise destroys the unique value of single-joint exercise.
    • It stretches the rectus femoris at the hip for a bit more overall growth. Be careful though as this also stresses the tendon, just like with the elbows on skull crushers. It’s not worth any level of pain or discomfort.
  3. Lower slowly to stay in control & prevent sudden forces. You also need time for maintaining that right balance at the hips, again not too forward nor back. You’ll naturally rise up on your toes.
  4. Tap your knees against the object at roughly 90°, then quickly reverse the motion to begin ascending. The knees will be well beyond the toes. Since the leverage is toughest here, your knees may buckle as you don’t have a machine-based cam to smooth out the strength curve. Limit this by driving hard!
  5. All the while, prevent too much hyperextension of the back. This can occur as you keep your hips forward. Crunch slightly forward at the waist throughout the movement. With practice, you’ll be fine here.

When done right, you’ll feel an equal degree of great tension across the quadriceps, especially the rectus femoris absent on squats & leg presses, even compared to a leg extension machine since there is significant hip extension that reduces passive tension.

Other Tips

Use a single leg.

This drastically reduces the weight needed, feeling less cumbersome due to fewer plates, though it may not be needed if your upper body doesn’t help much.

Just put the non-active foot behind the other, perhaps removing a shoe if needed for comfort. The non-active leg may assist slightly but it won’t be excessive.

Consider higher reps.

Because of the greater stretch than on a machine, you may experience knee stress so consider double-digit reps to reduce absolute forces.

Squat or leg press first.

Compression is handled well by the knees, and this serves as a warm-up that pre-fatigues the quads, so less weight needed again.

Even a sit-up or leg raise, while not to the same extent, helps fatigue the rectus femoris for less weight needed.

As long as your single-joint vasti muscles don’t cramp, which can sometimes happen when squatting intensely, you’ll be fine. This is usually not a problem unless just getting back into training after a layoff.

Pure Knee Extension for Home Bodybuilding

I’ve tried countless ways to do home-based pure knee extension, and this seems the best of all methods, though it’s not perfect.

Regardless, never forget that bodybuilding is unnatural. Developing an impressive physique means exercises that muscles didn’t evolve to do, especially for multi-joint muscles like the rectus femoris.

Avoid the fallacy that what ought to be true (squats are natural) is true (so then squats hit all quadriceps muscles).

If you decide to use a leg extension machine, that’s fine, as the machine is undoubtedly more convenient & straightforward.

It’s possible at least that greater freedom of movement in the version here could help some trainees, and you definitely get more of a stretch.

Keep in mind that Roman Chair squats, conventional hack squats, Smith squats with the feet back, leg presses with the feet low on the platform, the original barbell hack squat… these allow hip extension and won’t accomplish what leg extensions do.

The key to successful bodybuilding is to overload (then eventually microload) a diversity of exercises. The equipment you use is flexible. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Try this leg extension at home. It’s a practical way to achieve what the machine would. Know that overloading pure knee extension, which this closed-chain version does, is all that’s required for bodybuilding purposes!

Never miss a useful bodybuilding insight.