This post contains an affiliate code (MATTROSE5) for Valor Fitness. I am signed up as an affiliate because I truly love the product I am talking about here, but the machine was purchased with my own money and my thoughts are 100% unbiased.
I created a video for this post if you’d rather watch these demonstrations in my YouTube video:
Or, you can swipe through this Web Stories version.
Otherwise, let’s get into it!
When the pandemic forced me to start working out at home, I knew I needed to get creative with my limited amount of space. I bought myself the basics, like a squat rack, bench, etc, but one thing I really missed from my commercial gym was leg extensions.
I wasn’t sure if purchasing a leg extension machine would be a silly purchase, but I pulled the trigger on it, and I am SO glad that I did.
It turns out that if you’re a little bit creative, a leg extension machine can become an incredibly versatile piece of equipment.
There are a bunch of different leg extension / leg curl machines you can purchase for your home workouts, but the one that I have specifically is the Valor Fitness CC-4 Leg Extension/Leg Curl Machine.
I love this machine, and have since purchased quite a few different pieces of equipment from Valor Fitness. If you want to buy this leg extension machine for yourself, or any other home gym equipment, you can use my code MATTROSE5 to save 5% on any Valor Fitness purchase.
A few things to note about this machine, and home-gym equipment in general:
- This isn’t a commercial-quality piece of equipment. It’s lighter, smaller, and it’s not built to take a lifetime of daily hardcore abuse.
- The weight is plate-loaded, meaning the resistance is going to feel slightly different. More on that in the next section.
- You’re not meant to use crazy amounts of weight with this leg extension machine. With home gym equipment in general, they’re not really made for you to load 10 plates onto. If you’re competing in a Strongman competition, I’d advise you invest in some heavy-duty equipment.
Tip to get the most out of your leg extension/leg curl machine
The biggest adjustment I found when using a plate-loaded leg extension machine is that the resistance feels very different.
When you are using a leg extension machine at a commercial gym, there is resistance throughout the entire movement.
In other words, you are lifting X amount of weight from the very first inch of the movement.
When the machine is plate-loaded, the first couple of inches are virtually resistance-free. You’re working against gravity, so in the beginning of the movement, the weight is basically just moving side to side before it begins to move against gravity.
You can load up a ton of weight onto the machine and swing your legs with basically no resistance at all!
This really bummed me out, because only feeling the resistance at the top of the movement felt like a total waste.
Luckily, I found a solution:
This applies to all of the exercises I’m going to show you, but it’s especially useful for leg extensions.
If you just go to set up normal leg extensions, the first half of the rep will feel incredibly light.
Here’s how to remedy this:
- Sit forward in the seat
- Bring your feet back under the seat as far as possible
- Adjust the starting position as far as you can, so the shin pan meets your legs
- Sit back into a comfortable starting position
When you do this, the weight is going to start higher up, and you’ll feel resistance throughout the entire movement!
Watch the video at the top of this post for a demonstration- this little tip will make this machine SO much more effective.
15 Different Exercises You Can Do With a Leg Extension Machine
I’ve taken screenshots from the video demonstration to be able to visually breakdown the different exercises I am going to talk about here.
But if you want to see the exercises performed, make sure you check that video out!
Exercise #1: Leg Extensions
Let’s start with the obvious: leg extensions.
This is one of the main exercises that this leg extension / leg curl machine is made for, and it’s the reason I purchased this machine.
When done correctly, leg extensions are a fantastic exercise to build your quads.
My top tip for leg extensions:
Keep the weight light and focus on your form.
An exercise like leg extensions is meant to be an accessory/isolation exercise. In other words, it compliments your compound exercises like squats, lunges, etc.
Don’t feel like you need to load up the machine with a ton of weight. Keep it light, focus on proper form, and really feel it in your quads.
Exercise #2: Single Leg Extensions
Doing single leg exercises with this machine is fantastic, because it allows you to keep the weight really light. In most cases, you’re going to cut the weight in half or even more than that, allowing you to get a great workout with very little weight
Keep one leg back and lift the weight with your other leg. Rather than alternating legs, simply do your set (10 reps for example) with one leg, then switch to the other.
The other benefit to doing single leg is that each leg will get to rest while the other is working, so you can be very efficient with your time.
Exercise #3: Seated Leg Curls
Seated leg curls are the other main exercises this machine is designed for, but personally, they are my least favorite exercise to do with it.
Nothing against leg curls themselves- they are actually a great exercise for the hamstrings!
But with this machine specifically, setting it up is kind of a pain.
Remember the trick I showed you earlier about adjusting the starting position to help the resistance issue? With seated leg curls, you can’t quite do that, because the thigh pad kind of locks you into place like a seatbelt.
But once you do get set up properly, these can still be a very effective exercise!
What I like to do is sit down in the machine and lock the thigh pad in. Then, while the weight is loaded onto the peg, I actually grab the weight and pull it towards me.
This brings the leg pad down, and I am then able to comfortably straighten my legs into the starting position.
Again, that may not translate well to text, so I hope the video helps break that down for ya!
Exercise #4: Single Leg Curls
Much like the leg extensions, you can do leg curls with single leg as well!
If you are larger, you may not find this one super comfortable. With these, the only option for keeping your one leg out of the way is adjusting your body so your leg is off to the side.
This actually works out just fine for me, but since the machine can be narrow for some people, you may prefer sticking with the standard seated leg curls.
Exercise #5: Standing Leg Curls
After leg extensions, standing leg curls are my other favorite exercise to perform with this machine.
You’ll only be able to do one leg at a time, but this is a fantastic hamstring exercise that I prefer to seated leg curls.
Face the machine, keep your knee on the seat, and curl the weight up behind you.
You will need to keep the weight very light for standing leg curls (trust me, it’s a tough exercise) but I feel the contraction in my hamstrings so much more than seated.
Exercise #6: Ab Crunches
Now we’re going to get creative.
If you adjust the machine so the pad is up at the top, you can actually do ab crunches that rival any crunch machines at your gym.
You’ll need to move up to sit on the edge of the seat with your feet firmly on the ground, but once you’re into position, you can perform ab crunches.
Depending on your height, you’ll need to adjust the pad and seat so the pad sits against your chest.
Once you get it adjusted, you’re gonna love these!
Exercise #7: Back Extensions
Back extension machine are fantastic, but they’re definitely a luxury item. It’s certainly not a necessity that I’d invest in for my home gym.
But, now I basically have one of those machines!
If you adjust the leg extension machine very similar to the ab crunches we just broke down, all you have to do is sit backwards in the seat with your legs tucked beneath the back pad:
One problem I see far too often with people doing back extensions is that they hyperextend their backs waaayyyy too much.
If you ever performed back extensions on one of those roman chairs (where your upper body hangs off the machine and you lift your body against gravity) you may very well life your body up as much as possible.
This a big no-no.
You want to lift your body to the point where your back is straight- you don’t want to hyperextend your lower back or it’s going to get uncomfortable really quickly.
That’s why these back extensions are so great- when you push your weight back, you won’t be able to go past the point where your back is straight, making it a very effective exercise for the lower back.
Exercise #8: Hip Thrusts
Barbell hip thrusts are an amazing exercise to build the glutes & hamstrings, but they’re a real pain in the butt to set up.
Loading the bar, wiggling your way underneath the bar with a pad, then getting your back into a comfortable position on a bench… it’s pretty annoying.
Hip thrusts with the leg extension may not be quite as effective as barbell hip thrusts (I mean, we can only do so much weight here) but I absolutely love these.
The weight you use will be significantly lower than with barbell hip thrusts, but the movement itself is slightly different, so you cannot compare it directly to barbell hip thrusts.
With this machine specifically, I put a barbell pad behind me to make this comfortable. This machine has a slot for the thigh pad to slide into, and it’s made of hard plastic, so we want to keep that covered. Luckily, a barbell pad fits perfectly right over it!
I bought this pad from Amazon for under $10, and it has served me very well.
If you find you can’t use enough weight to make these hip thrusts effective, allow me to introduce you to…
Exercise #9: Single Leg Hip Thrusts
When it doubt, go with single leg!
Doing single leg hip thrusts will absolutely torch your glutes.
And you don’t need much weight at all to make that happen!
Plus, keeping your one leg straight out in front of you will add the little bonus of some core stability work, too.
When it comes to leg workouts, I do these single leg hip thrusts quite often, and I highly recommend giving them a try.
Exercise #10: Single Leg Vertical Leg Press
For these next few exercises, we’re actually going to be performing them while we are off the machine completely.
In other words, we will be making zero contact with the seat.
Because of this, there are two very important things I need to say up front:
- You do not want to do a lot of weight for these exercises, or you risk tipping it over. Remember, we’re not sitting on the machine, so there is nothing holding it down!
- Along those lines, put a plate (or something comparable) on the seat to weigh it down. We’re going to keep these exercises light, but we still want to make sure the machine has a little weight to it.
Put a pad or yoga mat on the ground in front of the machine, then adjust the pad so it’s above you.
With one leg at a time, press the weight up to do single leg presses.
For home workouts, I love doing vertical leg presses. Whenever you have the opportunity to work against gravity, it makes the movement more difficult, which means you’ll use less weight.
And when you’re at home with limited weights available, that’s a huge bonus!
A vertical pressing motion + single leg = an effective workout without super heavy weights.
Exercise #11: Narrow Stance Vertical Leg Press
If you want to work both legs together, narrow stance leg presses are the way to go:
You want to keep your feet and knees together, then go through the normal leg press motion.
When it comes to legs (whether it’s leg press or squats), keeping your stance narrow will shift the focus onto your quads.
Narrow stance = quad focused, Wide stance = hamstring/glute focused.
Since this leg extension machine is on the smaller side, you really can’t go wide with both feet, so narrow stance leg presses become our friend!
Exercise #12: Single Leg Seated Leg Press
If you find the vertical leg press to be uncomfortable, you also have the option to set a bench up in front of the leg extension machine to do normal seated leg presses instead:
For the seated leg press, I MUCH prefer single leg.
I know I sound like a broken record at this point, but I want to keep the weight light on this machine, and doing single leg allows for that.
With this exercise in particular, if you try to go very heavy, all that is going to happen is you’re going to push your bench backwards.
It’s just simple physics… not that I’m going to pretend that I know anything about physics, but I do know that if you try to push something super heavy with nothing holding you in place, you’re gonna go backwards.
Exercise #13: Narrow Stance Seated Leg Press
Just like the vertical leg press, we have the option to perform narrow stance seated leg presses as well.
Personally, I cannot do this exercise.
While I love keeping the weight light and the reps high, I simply cannot do enough weight for this exercise to make it effective for me.
If you’re too strong for these, stick with the vertical leg press to make it more challenging with lower weight.
Exercise #14: Seated Calf Raise
For seated calf raises, all you need to do is set up some kind of a block in front of the machine. I have a little block designed specifically for calf raises, but any kind of aerobic step, brick, or block, or rectangular-shaped object will work.
This exercise should be relatively self-explanatory, but I need to say one thing:
Do not bounce the weight.
I see far too many people performing seated calf raises as quickly as possible, just bouncing their feet up and down rapidly.
This is going to do absolutely nothing for your calves.
Lower your heels as far as possible, then lift them up as high as you can and squeeze your calves at the top. Then, slowly lower your heels back down.
Trust me, these will be way more effective you keep them slow and controlled.
Exercise #15: Glute Kickbacks
Last but not least, we have some glute kickbacks!
Note: I demonstrated these without shoes, but please wear shoes when you perform any of these exercises. Socks = zero traction.
For these glute kickbacks, I like to lay on a bench with my knees just off the edge.
This allows me to adjust my starting position so my knee is slightly below the bench, giving me a full range of motion that is very comfortable.
If you don’t have a bench, or don’t want to use one, you can perform these on the ground as well. Instead of laying flat, position yourself on your hands and knees and kick the weight back behind you.
Here is a great demonstration of that variation that I found!
Is a leg extension machine worth it?
I’d say so!
Once I learned how to adjust the weight properly so the resistance felt consistent through the entire movement, the value of this machine skyrocketed.
I absolutely love this machine for leg extensions, but as you can see, it is so much more than that!
When space is limited at home, you want equipment that you can use for more than just a single exercise, and this leg extension machine certainly allows for just that.
There are plenty of similar machines out there that I’m sure are great, so definitely shop around to find one that suits you. I know that Titan and Body Solid both sell comparable machines that have gotten great reviews.
But if you want to grab the same machine as I have, remember that you can use my code MATTROSE5 to save 5% on your Valor Fitness purchase.