The basic leg extension exercise performed on a leg extension machine tends to spark heated debates. Performed with the proper technique, trainers and physicians do not agree whether the benefits for the quadriceps are worth the force placed on the knee joint. For this reason, if you have problems with your knees, give this machine a pass. However, other variations of this exercise still target the quadriceps while reducing the stress on the knee joint.
Leg Extension Machine
The traditional weighted leg extension uses the leg extension machine. You sit on a reclined seat with your knees bent and your feet underneath the platform attached to the weights. You lift your legs to a straight position. Because the weight load is focused at your ankles, high amounts of torque are focused on your knee joint.
Leg Extension With Ankle Weights
Leg extensions do not require the use of the machine. Ankle weights are an effective substitute and allow you to work one leg at a time. The smaller amount of weight reduces the pressure on the knee while still working the quadriceps. Sit in a chair with your back straight. Attach weights to your ankles. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends starting with 5 pounds and increasing to a maximum of 10 pounds. Tighten your thigh muscles and slowly straighten your left leg. Hold for five seconds before returning to the starting position. Repeat the steps with the other leg.
Standing Leg Extension
This exercise uses resistance bands instead of weights. Anchor one end of the resistance cable to an anchor and the other to your left ankle. Stand with feet hip-width apart so that the anchor location is behind you. You should be standing at a distance that does not create tension. Bend your left knee backward. As you exhale, slowly straighten your leg and extend it forward as far as is comfortable. Keep your hips from tilting backward. As you inhale, slowly return to the starting position. Complete 10 repetitions. Change to the right leg.
Before starting a new exercise program, consult a physician. If you have knee problems, use caution with any exercise that puts pressure or force on the joint. Talk with a physical trainer or therapist about exercises that will strengthen the leg muscles without further damaging your knee. Begin with light weights and gradually increase as your muscles get stronger.
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- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Knee Conditioning Program
- American Council on Exercise: Standing Leg Extension
Deborah Lundin is a professional writer with more than 20 years of experience in the medical field and as a small business owner. She studied medical science and sociology at Northern Illinois University. Her passions and interests include fitness, health, healthy eating, children and pets.