I hate leg extensions.
Leg extensions can be helpful, but really only for people with major stability or mobility issues. If you are a fully capable human, you should think twice before sitting down on a machine and calling it a workout. Why are you at the gym? To better yourself. When you perform an exercise, think about what the body is doing. Do you ever pick something up with your ankles? I hope the answer is no. By loading weight onto the front of your shin or ankle, you are putting unnatural stress on your joints, especially your knees.
People love to say that squats are bad for the knees. That makes me laugh. Think about this, anytime you stand up you are performing a squat movement. Is that unnatural? Hell no, it’s your body doing what it is supposed to do. Sure squats can be bad for the knees, but so can a lot of things. If squats are performed correctly though, the good will ALWAYS outweigh the bad. If you are experiencing knee pain when you squat, your form is probably incorrect. So before you jump on the ‘squats=bad’ bandwagon… check your form.
Everyone should squat, one way or another. You don’t want to put a barbell on your back, fine, I get that. But that’s not the only way to squat. If you are new to squats and don’t fully understand them, try chair squats. You can do these in the middle of your living room, simply stand in front of a wooden box, low chair or stool and sit back. When you sit back make sure your feet are about shoulder width apart and focus on keeping your knees from moving in front of your toes (this is where people usually experience knee pain). You accomplish this by pushing your hips back first and keeping your weight on your heels. Your heels should never lift off the ground and your weight should never move to the ball of your foot. Sit back into the chair but keep yourself from fully relaxing, stop just before you are in a sitting position and stand back up. Keep your back arched the entire time and try to keep your chest as upright as possible.
Do this several times a week for three sets of ten and you will eventually be able to move the chair away. Now you are strong enough to perform a body weight squat, isn’t that something? Once you can perform a squat without the chair, make sure you go low enough that your thighs are parallel with the ground, go lower if you can without breaking form. You will notice a difference after a very short time of squatting on a regular basis. Standing up will not require grunting and pushing off of things, getting in and out of the car will be easier. Picking stuff up will be easier. Seriously, who doesn’t want to be stronger? Squat, and the strength will come. Once body weight squats are not enough, you must start loading your squats. You can use dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells, whatever your weapon of choice is fine. Just freaking squat.
Here is a simple video tutorial to put this into perspective for you.
Now go squat.