How to Do Horizontal Leg Press Properly

The horizontal leg press is a highly effective exercise to target your leg muscles. It is a great isolation exercise to build the muscles in your lower body.

This exercise requires a leg machine. It puts you in a seated position with your back against a backrest and you use your feet to push against a sledge.

The machine contains a cable-rigged weight stack. It enables you to pick the desired weight. You’ll be working by resisting the machine’s pulley system rather than gravity.

To do this exercise:

  • Sit with your back against the backrest and your head resting against the support. Place your feet against the footplate and keep them hip-width apart. Ensure your feet are flat against the plate.
  • Keep your knees at a 90-degree angle. Grasp the handles if you need the extra support or need assistance to keep your spine and head in position.
  • Brace your abs and push the platform away with your feet. Don’t use the balls of your feet or your toes. Your heels must remain in contact with the plate at all times.
  • Exhale as you extend your legs. Keep the motion controlled.
  • Pause at the top of the movement. Do not lock out your knees but ensure they aren’t bowing out.
  • Inhale as you return the footplate to the starting position by slowly bending the knees.
  • Do at least three sets of 10 reps.


The main muscles primarily targeted by the horizontal leg press are the quads, hamstrings and gluteus maximus.

The secondary muscles targeted are the calves.

1.      QUADS

The quads (quadriceps) are a group of four muscles found in the front part of the thigh.

They are the rectus femoris, the vastus lateralis, vastus medialis and vastus intermedius.

The rectus femoris is located along the middle of the thigh. It is the only quad muscle that crosses both the knee and hip joints. It is activated by the horizontal leg press when the thigh is flexed at the hip joint and when extending the leg at the knee.

The vastus lateralis is the largest and strongest quad. It connects the femur, swoops down and inserts into a knee tendon known as the patella. The main role of this muscle is knee stabilization and extension.

The vastus medialis runs the entire length of the inner thigh. It is known as the teardrop muscle because the part of the muscle just above the knee looks like a teardrop. It helps with knee extension and limits the twisting of the knee.

The vastus intermedius rests under the rectus femoris. It is the deepest of the quads. This means it is the hardest of the quads to stretch. It starts at the femur and connects to the patella.

Its main job is knee extension.

Additionally, these muscles help you flex your thighs at the hip and rotate your thighs.


Just like the quads, the hamstrings are a group of muscles.

Hamstrings are made of biceps femoris, semitendinosus and semimembranosus.

The biceps femoris originates from the lower femur and insert just below the knee. The other two hamstring muscles originate from the lower pelvis.

The hamstrings help with hip extension, hip hyperextension and knee flexion.

3.      GLUTES

The horizontal leg press primarily targets the gluteus maximus. This is the largest muscle of the glutes. And also, the largest muscle in the body.

It is your body’s main shock absorber and provides the main support for your body.

The gluteus maximus makes the shape of your butt. The other two glutes, the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus help support and stabilize your hips.

4.      CALVES

This exercise targets the calves to a small extent.

The calves are made up of the soleus and gastrocnemius. The soleus is the large muscle on the back of the lower leg. It lies beneath the other diamond-shaped muscle, the gastrocnemius.

The gastrocnemius originates from the back of the tibia and attaches to the heel bone via the Achilles tendon. The soleus crosses the ankle and enables pointing the toes down (plantar flexion).



The horizontal leg press is a great isolation exercise for your legs. By engaging the quads, hamstrings and glutes, the exercise helps grow the muscles.

The calves are also targeted because they are used for stabilizing the legs during the movement.

You can correct muscle imbalances in the lower body using this exercise.


This is a great exercise for your legs with a lower risk of injury compared to weighted squats or deadlifts.

This exercise removes the need for weights during training. The horizontal leg press can also be used as a warm-up exercise for weighted exercises.

It is easy to do this exercise, especially for beginners.

This exercise simulates squats in a seated position. You get the same benefits without running the risk of overloading the knees or spine.


This exercise helps enhance strength and endurance for better lower body stability.

It also helps increase balance, speed and explosiveness for running and jumping.


You can add variations to the horizontal leg press. You can try doing the one-leg leg press.

Try positioning one leg instead of both on the footplate. Ensure that the weight is safe enough for one leg.

You can also position your feet higher on the footplate to increase tension in your hamstrings and glutes. Placing your feet lower also increases the tension in the quads.

Another alternative is the incline leg press.

To do this exercise:

  • Sit on a reclined seat with your feet against a raised platform.
  • In this instance, you push against gravity.
  • Repeat the motions as the horizontal leg press and repeat for the desired reps.


Avoid using too much weight when doing the horizontal leg press. Putting too heavy a load limits the range of motion and this makes the exercise ineffective.

Avoid lifting your butt off the seat when pushing the weight. This increases the strain on the knees.

Ensure that you don’t use your hands to provide extra support for your thighs. This takes off the tension on the thighs and won’t help your muscles grow.

When at the top of the movement, avoid locking your knees. This moves the tension from your quads to your knee joints. This increases the likelihood of injury.

Make sure your back remains flat on the bench. Arching your back increases the risk of lower backache.