A decent weight bench is at the heart of most of our home gyms and in this guide, we’re diving taking a look at one of the popular options: leg extension benches. What are they? Are they actually useful for training legs, or are they a waste of money?
What exactly is a ‘leg extension bench’?
There are a huge number of different styles of weight benches up for home gym’ers in 2023; flat, folding, benches that have pec fly exercises and ones that have built-in rests for your barbell. One of the main add-ons for the humble bench is the leg extension.
There are endless varieties of exercises you can use a standard utility bench for, especially if you get a good incline/decline one. But they don’t offer much of a workout for your legs. Leg extension benches have an extra mechanism at the front where you can train your legs sitting or lying down.
Newbie Corner? How do ‘leg benches’ work?
At the front of the bench, there is a pivoting arm that rotates around 270 degrees. There’s a pole you load up with either Olympic or standard 1″ diameter plates. (You can use any existing weights you have, or shell out for some new plates as benches don’t normally come with any included).
You can then do a couple of exercises here:
- Seated leg extensions – Legs start off in a bent position and are straightened to perform the exercise. Thighs and quad muscles are targeted here and you’ll really feel this one on the top of your legs. It’s hard to replicate this with free weights so this extension can form an important part of your training.
- Face down leg curls – Lying face down, you tuck your heels under the curling bar and curl the weight towards your body. (Very similar to a bicep curl, just for the muscles on the backs of your legs). You’ll feel this in your calves and hamstrings.
Are they effective for leg work or just a gimmick?
Leg extensions and curls are actually a good way to target the muscles on the front and rear of your legs. While barbell work such as squats is still essential, you can really do a lot with one of these benches and it’s good having more options for training legs.
You don’t need a lot of weight and you can train one leg at a time, much like a single-arm dumbbell curl. The leg curl itself takes some getting used to if you’ve not done it before.
Going from my own experience, leg extensions especially seem to hit the
What are the plus points to getting a leg extension bench?
If you’re on the fence about whether to get one of these benches, or one that doesn’t have the leg extension add-on, here are some things I’ve learned from experience:
They’re a good alternative to a full-scale multi-gym
Most good multigyms will come with this kind of leg exercise. A lot of people love multigyms but there’s not getting around the fact they are a pain to set up and take up an excessive amount of space in your home gym. You’re also limited to the pre-defined exercises of the machine you bought.
Regular benches that incorporate some leg curl and extensions take minimal setup, take up less space and offer a superior (infinite?!) number of exercises for your whole body. You’ll normally find you can’t do the lying down leg curls on a multi gym either (unless you buy a huge one with room for that station).
You can load up weight gradually
If you’re like me, you’ve probably got plenty of 1″ plates cluttering your multi-gym. How do they get there? I don’t remember buying any. But anyway they tend to be in smaller increments which is good for gradually increasing your progressive load without taking huge jumps.
They’re relatively cheap
A good bench should last for 10 years or more. There’s not exactly that much that can go wrong. No cables, and minimal moving parts. You can normally pick up a good one for less than £400, depending on which kind you go for.
What are some good benches to buy?
Here are some recommendations for leg-training benches that you might like.
“A good brand name bench with solid construction”
Marcy gear tends to be well made and last a long time and this bench is no exception. It has a sturdy frame and you can do your legs and beceps with it. There’s a built-in rack too so you can do bench press safely too. Good quality, good price.
“This leg bench is one of the toughest out there”
This is an absolutely gorgeous weight bench (yes you can call gym gear gorgeous!) It has rock solid construction that would put a lot of gym studio benches to shame and the padding throughout is thick and comfy. It takes 1″ plates, has preacher curls, leg extension and curling and a fantastic rack for barbell work.
“Extremely strong bench that’s built to last”
This bench is slightly more expensive than some of the other ones we’ve seen but wow is this thing built to last. It’s more like something you’d get in a commercial gym and can be loaded with Olympic plates. It takes a whopping 272kg and even has plate storage at the rear. A really good quality bench.
“A good budget pick for under £100”
If you’re looking for a budget pick, this bench from Homcom is it. Although it’s got a slightly lower weight limit of 150kg / 100kg on the rack, it has a lot going for it for the price. Get into some leg extensions and curls on this bench and there’s an adjustable rack too.
Buying tips for leg extension benches
Here are some things to think about based on some of the problems I’ve seen reviewing weights benches from different companies, especially some of the hard-to-spot issues that aren’t instantly noticeable from the pics and descriptions.
Check the total weight limit
Weight benches are pretty tough beasts. It’s unlikely you’ll find one that won’t support your weight plus the weight you’ll be lifting. But it’s also a good giveaway as the strength of the bench. Look for at least a 250kg max weight limit and you should be set.
It’s also worth noting that the leg extension and curl attachment will have its own individual weight limit too. If this spec is available, check it’s in the range you’ll be lifting.
Go cheap often means go wobbly
I’ve seen a lot of weight benches offer this curling mechanism, even the sub-£100 benches. But they’re often not the best design so try to invest in a decent, study one. A giveaway is normally how thick the steelwork on the framework is.
Look for a wide bench and a thick seat
Another thing that’s easy to overlook when shopping for your bench is how wide it is. Generally speaking, the wider the bench is the better. It will feel more sturdy and comfortable when you’re lying down. The seat is especially important in these leg curling benches as it will be taking a lot of strain as you brace against it for the seated curls.
Try to get one with a preacher curl as well
One thing that is good with weights benches is that they have a dual bicep curl and leg extension component. It’s the same exact pivoting movement so it’s kind of a waste not getting a bench with a padded bicep curl. Sure, you can do biceps with bars and dumbbells, but a decent curl station is another way to hit this muscle group.
Wait: Why you might not want a bench with the leg extensions
What are the downsides to these leg style benches? Here’s some quick thoughts, especially comaring them to the full-scale commercial gym leg gear.
Having spent a fair bit of time with both kinds of products, here’s some of the downsides to benches that have your legs.
- They’re not exactly small – You’ll be adding an extra 2 feet minimum to the length of youy bench so if you’re adding this to a spare room that’s short on space, make sure you measure up and allow room for your legs to extend.
- The foam rollers aren’t as comfy as commercial gym gear – Foam rollers on some benches tend to be too thin, especially on the budget ones. If you’re going to be lifting more than 20kg on your leg station, make sure you get a good bench with as thick a roller as possible. *
* Don’t despair if you get a bench and it’s rollers are hurting your legs, or yours have worn down after a period of time. You’re not suck with them and they’re easy and fairly cheap to replace. Look into something like Body Solid’s replacement foam rollers which are way better than the ones that likely came with your leg bench.