If Your Feet Work, Use Them


“If your hand works, you should be using it during the exercise.” – Drew Baye (source)

I am no fan of the leg extension. Much like barbell squats, I’ve questioned whether they belong in a museum, rather than gyms.

While Drew Baye in no way endorses this post, his comment to me during that workout brings the leg extension into question; the leg extension being an exercise for the legs that entirely bypasses the feet.

That naysayers to my position will cite differences in machine design. “The leg extension machine that I am heavily invested in is super-duper-uber effective and safe.”

Yet, I wonder if even the best designs are pissing on the beach to keep the tide from coming in. Sort of like barbell back squat proponents that shout “form form form!”.

Doing something wrong, the best way possible, is still doing something wrong.

Seriously, does anyone reading this blog do bicep curls by balancing the resistance on or strapping the resistance to their wrists?

While I realize your wrist is not your ankle, your elbow is not your knee, curls are not leg extensions (or an extension at all, for that matter), and so on, this is an interesting point that doesn’t get any attention, probably because leg-extensions were *assumed* safe from the very beginning, with little or no thought given to the long term consequences of the exercise.

Assume something is safe for a long time, with little or no attention paid to invisible consequences, puts everyone into a sort of safe/lull state. Leg extensions are a “traditional” exercise at this point, just like barbell squats, and much like the entire notion of “cardio”.

Naysayers to my skeptical position will also cite their obsession with the VMO, and kindly add that only the leg extension can properly/adequately work the VMO, especially in rehabilitation circumstances.


Personal experience with a modified version of the above has proved that at least for me, that idea is nucking futs stupid. You don’t even need a resistance band to pull this stunt off. Lean forward a tad more and body-weight alone is adequate.

And what’s the end result? You get a very focused exercise while keeping your foot firmly planted on the ground, just like nature intended, with surrounding tissues not kicked out to the curb looking for employment.

Contrast this to sticking 50, 100+ lbs on the top of your shin and praying the machine doesn’t screw your knee up 20 years later in ways you have a limited capability of observing in the meantime, if at all.

Now, I mentioned nature a second ago. Allow me to elaborate : it is reasonable to imagine that for the past 500,000 years, the quadriceps were not used, except when feet were in some way planted on the ground.

These were the pre-Nautilus days, shellfish aside.

The naysayers here will say, who cares? Are you saying it is only proper to mimic what ancient man did?

Which is in no way what I’m saying, in part because that is an enormous argument to make, and in part because that point is very easily transformed into the stupidity of “paleo exercise” — so do your best not to derail or expand my argument into something it’s not.

What I’m saying is you should be skeptical of training walking-critical joints in ways that are not historically-normal operations of the muscles and joints in question. “Floating” leg extensions with your foot in mid air and generally out of commission are definitely not “normal”, and should be given a second look before performing in the first place, especially if one plans to do them over a life time in the pursuit of health.

The fact that that pursuit requires progression of resistance over time only makes this point more important. Because if it’s wrong to do fundamentally, doing it with ever greater weights and resistances just adds insult to injury.

Additional links:

Interestingly Doug brings up the ACL as a connective tissue that could be injured. IMO the MPFL is at a much higher risk of injury than the ACL, especially if a trainee is going for that “full range of motion”, or allows any degree of momentum to factor into a repetition.

Fact, most trainees are aiming for a full range of motion, and do not give two shits about repetition speed. Their fault, not the exercises, but still worth mentioning.

This was a post I wrote about rehabbing my own knee after surgery. It includes links to pictures of the surgery (even inside the knee), pre-op MRI scans, etc.

About Anthony Dream Johnson

CEO, founder, and architect of The 21 Convention, Anthony Dream Johnson is the leading force behind the world's first and only "panorama event for life on earth". He has been featured on WGN Chicago, and in the NY Times #1 best seller The Four Hour Work Week.    His stated purpose for the work he does is "the actualization of the ideal man", a purpose that has led him to found and host The 21 Convention across 3 continents and for 6 years in a row. Anthony blogs vigorously at TheDreamLounge.net and Declarationism.com.


7 Responses to If Your Feet Work, Use Them

  1. Donnie Hunt March 12, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    This is an interesting post Anthony. My thinking goes back and forth on alot of what you mention here.

    • Anthony Dream Johnson March 12, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

      Thanks Donnie.

      You know, something I didn’t mention, is that the leg extension is perhaps entirely unnecessary in all cases and circumstances relevant to exercise, just like a barbell squat (with the possible exception of a person without a foot, or a physically deformed foot, like my younger brother).

      You have lunges, heel raises, body weight squats, hip belt squats, leg presses … a million ways to work the legs, that are not called “leg extensions”.

      What is the point? Even in the best case scenario/conclusion, I don’t see a reason to do them.

      • Donnie Hunt March 13, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

        One of the most common thoughts that goes through my mind is that by doing an exercise such a leg extension, a leg curl, a bicep curl etc., simple or rotary form movements: Does having the more direct load on the muscles throughout the range of motion, more thoroughly stimulate the muscle? On the other hand I can see your point of view because how can the whole muscle not be involved whenever activated or called into play? How could movement or contraction happen otherwise? Lol.

  2. Donnie Hunt March 13, 2013 at 2:33 pm #

    I can see the argument for limiting work to certain ranges, but also see the argument for customizing the load to the full range.

  3. Free Woman March 22, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

    Are those Vibram Five Fingers?

    I go barefoot 75% of the time. This includes on pavement and in retail stores. Very rarely will staff or an employee notice and say something. Most of the time people are not looking down at other peoples feet.

    I wonder what Roosh, Roissy and the rest of the “Man-o-fear” would say about not only my completely lack of high heels, but my complete lack of wearing shoes altogether?

    Don’t care.

    • Anthony Dream Johnson March 26, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

      Yep, an older pair I donated to a friend a while back. Why do you go completely barefoot?

      Seems kinda grody =P

      I wear nothing but five fingers or cheapo chucks (minimalist on a budget : wide front for my toes, thin hard bottom, thin material on top).

      No idea what those guys would say. But as you say, who cares. What you think matters much, much more.

      As for high heels … well, my girlfriend only wears them in the bedroom. Dont see a problem there ;).

      • Free Woman March 27, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

        “Why do you go completely barefoot? ”

        For my health. Shoes hurt me me and I like the feel of the earth, sand, even cement under my feet.

        I wash my feet regularly so no, not grody.

        “As for high heels … well, my girlfriend only wears them in the bedroom.”

        That doesn’t make much sense. What’s the need of shoes inside a house, what to speak of a bedroom?

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