The hack squat machine may not be the first piece of equipment that you gravitate towards when working your legs and glutes at the gym. But if you’re looking to rejuvenate a ho-hum lower-body plan, then you should definitely work this into your routine. We enlisted the expertise of Deb Plitt, CES, master trainer for Life Fitness, to give us the lowdown on how to use this muscle-challenging machine to its full potential.
- What’s In A Name?
- Strange But True
- How to Do Hack Squats—Plus, Whether They’re Worth Your Time
- What Are Hack Squats?
- Hack Squats: The Good
- Hack Squats: The Bad
- So, Should You Try Hack Squats?
- How to Perform the Hack Squat Machine
- How to Perform the Hack Squat
- Hack Squat Form Tips
- Hack Squat
- Hack Squat vs Leg Press and Weighted Squat
- Hack Squat Proper Form: How to do It Using the Machine
- Machine Hack Squat Tips
- Alternative Exercise
- Should Athletes Do the Hack Squat?
- The Hack Squat: Target Muscles, Benefits, Exercise Instructions, And Variations
- Leg Press
- Advantage: Leg Press
- How to Carry Out Reverse Hack Squat
- Why is It Important to Elevate the Heels?
- Safety Precautions When Carrying Out Reverse Hack Squat
- Which are the Muscles Targeted by Reverse Hack Squat?
- Are there Any Drawbacks of the Reverse Hack Squat?
- Common Reverse Squat Alternatives
- Do I Need the Reverse Bands?
- Bottom Line on Reverse Hack Squat
- How to Do A Hack Squat
- Tips for Your Hack Squat Form
- Hack Squat Variations
- Reverse Hack Squat Machine
- Dumbbell Hack Squat
- Single Leg Hack Squat
- Hack Squat Benefits
- Hack Squat VS Squat
- How to Do A Barbell Squat
- Before You Go!
What’s In A Name?
Type “hack squat” into a search engine and you’ll also find a barbell exercise of the same name: instead of holding the weight in front of the body or across the upper back, the bar is held behind the legs with extended arms. It’s claimed that the name of this exercise is derived from the German word “hacke,” meaning “heel” or “ankle” — the level that the bar is lowered to at the bottom of each rep. But according to Frédéric Delavier’s Strength Training Anatomy (Human Kinetics, 2006), the name for the machine seen here refers to a yoke, a device often used on oxen or other draft animals to pull a load, and to which this piece of equipment bears a striking resemblance.
Strange But True
According to Plitt, the actual load you are lifting is only a percentage of the weight loaded onto the machine. On a hack squat machine angled at 45 degrees, the resistance is only 70 percent of the weight of the plates — but you are also lifting some of the carriage weight and a portion of your body weight. Find your perfect resistance by loading a small amount of weight, trying a few reps, then increasing until you can only move it for the number of reps in your set — the last few should be difficult, but not impossible to get out.
>>Beginners, aim for three sets of 15 reps.
>>Intermediate and advanced exercisers can try three to four sets of eight to 12 reps.
Start: Position your back against the machine, shoulders underneath the pads. Hold the handles above your shoulders with a neutral grip (palms facing in). Space your feet shoulder-width apart or slightly wider on the platform. Disengage the side handles, then straighten your legs without locking your knees.
Action: Bend your legs to slowly lower the weight cart; stop when your knees form 90-degree angles. Keep your feet flat on the platform as you push through your heels to extend your legs and return to the starting position.
Tip: Emphasize your glutes instead of your quads by moving your feet forward on the platform, or hit your leg adductors by using a wide stance and turning your toes outward.
Are you trying to put on serious leg mass but hitting a wall? Are you struggling to really develop your quads, no matter how many squats, leg extensions, and lunges you do? Then it just may be time to familiarize yourself with the hack squat.
Here’s the thing about squats: Each version of the squat (front, back, hack, and many others) changes the mechanical demands on your legs. In doing so, it changes the muscles you’re stressing most. The hack squat adjusts the squat by stabilizing your back and placing the primary emphasis on the quads.
This is one of the go-to exercises I will add in for clients if they are looking to aesthetically upgrade their legs. Hypertrophy and strength gains are dependent on pushing the muscle groups you want to upgrade with regularity, and when it comes to leg training, that often means you need to do more than squats and deadlifts. Don’t get me wrong: The back squat and deadlift will be your bread-and-butter moves. But hack squats can carve details where you want them.
It’s a perfect lift (which is why we’re not using it to replace squats and lunges). But it is a useful one. Read on, and I’ll tell you the ups and downs of the hack squat.
First, a History Lesson
The hack squat, along with the bench press, are generally credited to George Hackenschmidt. Hackenschmidt was a highly decorated weightlifter and wrestler who ultimately earned a spot into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, and he wanted a different leg exercise. He wanted a squat that had a simple goal: Build strength. And no, that didn’t mean adding mobility or making you a monstrous leaper.
Hackenschmidt just wanted to build strength, and by taking his back out of the equation, he had chances to move large weights. The hack squat became a basic move in the late 1800s and early 1900s. These days, it’s largely relegated to gyms that embrace bodybuilding and weightlifting.
How Does It Work?
The hack squat varies from other similar, squat-style movements primarily for two reasons: Weight placement and back position. These may seem like small details, but they completely change the emphasis of the move. Depending on your goals, these little adjustments can be terrific, or not worth a second of your time.
Most of the big changes in squats come down to where the weight is rested. The front squat and back squat vary so much because of the few inches in different placement on the body; the back squat places the load behind the shoulders (changing the torso angle required to keep them directly above your hips). The front squat shifts the weight slightly in front of the shoulders, allowing for a fully upright torso to keep the weight above the hips, and a very tight core.
The hack squat, meanwhile, has the weight placed directly on the shoulders. With the weight directly on top of the shoulder, your upper body has less responsibility and challenge keeping it directly over your center of gravity. On the one hand, this means less unnecessary stress to the total body, so you focus on leg movement more. (On the other hand, it removes the upper body stability demands you face in a free-weight squat.)
Back squats require a lot of posterior muscle recruitment, so you’ll see a lot more activation at the glutes than you do in other squats. There’s also added hip flexion (bending at the hips) when you go into the bottom of a squat, so your glutes and hamstrings are called upon to drive the weight back upwards. Front squats, meanwhile, often hammer the quads, because their upright position can force your lower legs to stay perpendicular to the ground. That can help you attack your quads, but even then, there are ways to take stress off your quads.
The hack squat forces upright positioning because of the placement of weight. There is no realistic way to lean forward with the upper body while maintaining the attachment on your shoulder. This insures your quads are key drivers in the push up. The combination of placement on the shoulders and more upright posture also means you have less stress through the shoulder joint. Front squats and back squats require you to stay focused on upper body positioning to control the free bar. When hack squatting, a machine is handling the stabilization, so you can focus fully on what your lower body does.
The Fixed Back Position
For all the good about the hack squat, there are often issues with the fixed back position. If you haven’t heard of “buttwink,” it’s something you must constantly be aware of when hack squatting. It’s a common occurrence at the bottom of a squat, when your lower back rounds ever so slightly. It happens when there’s no more range of motion possible at either the knee or hip to get deeper into the squat, so the neighboring joints (in this case, your lumbar joints) assist in gaining space.
The hack squat can alleviate general back stress in a limited range of motion, but as you attempt to go lower, you can place yourself in a compromising spot. Placing the back against a board and going too deep when hack squatting leaves a lot of flexing stress for the lumbar spine if you have limited mobility.
This isn’t always an issue. I have had clients in the past with previous lumbar issues, including myself, who feel better with the hack squat. This could be because of the ability to lean back into the pad with standing back up from the move. The important thing to understand is because of the fixed back position, your natural chain of movement is altered. So don’t bounce quickly through the motion. Being in complete control during the concentric and eccentric phases of the hack squat are critical. When you lose focus on the form, your lower back has to do too much from a strength standpoint. You don’t want that, especially as you hack squat heavier loads.
When To Do The Hack Squat
When you hack squat depends heavily on your goals and how long you’ve been training. Here’s a rundown of how I’d use one of the gym’s more intricate lifts. And remember: the hack squat shouldn’t be your top leg exercise. You still want to do squats and deadlifts; check out the video at the bottom of this story for a primer on the squat.
Do It If
You Are New to Squats
Squatting motions aren’t as intuitive as you think. We get so used to standing, and we squat so infrequently in our day-to-day life that the motion can be foreign. When I descend down, the natural first instinct is to shift the knees forward and try to keep my torso over my ankles. That doesn’t work, but relearning the motion can be tricky.
Squatting motions actually require you to stand through the back half of your foot (midfoot to heel), weight in your heels, and essentially push your butt back. Then you push up through your heel. This neuromuscular connection can be developed on the hack squat. If you are looking to load on some weight and build confidence through lower body mechanics, the hack squat is a great move to have in your workouts. Slowly learn to drive through the back half of your foot and master your leg strength.
You Want to Put on Muscle Mass
There are two main machine lifts you’ll see guys doing to build their legs, the hack squat and the leg press. And let’s be very clear about this: they’re different lifts. The leg press moves the legs toward the body. The hack squat moves the body toward the legs. Most of our real-life movement involves the body moving toward the legs, so it makes sense to mimic that in our squat variations and training.
As I mentioned before, the hack squat is especially great if you’re trying to slam your quads. It will leave your legs fatigued, I guarantee you that; think 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
Skip It If
You Have Joint Issues
The hack squat is a fixed motion. That doesn’t always help those with knee or hip issues. While the hack squat removes some stabilization aspects of regular squats, it still asks for near-full-body involvement. Placing someone under load through a fixed range of motion with knee issues or lower spine issues can be a recipe for chronic pain. If you have lower back or knee issues, move on.
Your Goal is Performance
If you’re trying to get more athletic for basketball or football, or any sport, the hack squat may not be the best exercise for you. On the one hand, any kind of strength will help you perform better, and you definitely will build strength when you hack squat.
But it’s not the best use of your time. It’s not challenging you to stabilize through your upper body and not letting you use your lower body in an athletic, natural way. If you’ve done your free-weight squats, deadlifts, lunges, and frontal-plane leg moves, sure, throw the hack squat in. But if your goal is to perform on a field of play, make the hack squat a very low-priority leg exercise. In athletics, the environment won’t offer as many fixed variables as the hack squat does.
David Otey, C.S.C.S. David Otey, C.S.C.S.
When it comes to performing the hack squat correctly, there are a few areas to look at carefully before trying to perform this exercise. Sadly, just like with squats and deadlifts, many people view this exercise as a tool to show off strength which can lead to the ego being involved more in the lift vs the actual motion. The hack squat is an exercise that places a lot of emphasis on the vastus medialis and requires a great deal of strength in the knee.
When done correctly, proper execution of the hack squat can help lead to great leg development that has been seen in the past with some of the professional bodybuilders, such as the great Tom Platz himself. If one wishes to achieve a significant amount of results from the hack squat, it’s important to ensure that we focus on achieving the maximal amount of range of motion within the exercise to focus the tension on the entire muscular region in the legs.
When using the machine variant for the hack squat, you will want to set yourself up on the machine in which your feet are located in the middle of the platform and around 1 foot or so apart from one another. Slowly release the safety locks and lower the machine/weight downwards until you are at the bottom position or as far down as your glutes can reach. Once you have reached the lowest point possible, you will want to push off the ball of your feet while tightening or squeezing your glutes and hamstrings as tight as possible in order to properly activate these muscles, as this engages the vastus medialis muscles.
If you wish to avoid the machine or you simply do not have a hack squat machine at your gym, the barbell back squat is another option available to you. For this, you will use a standard barbell that is located behind you. Set a few plates or elevated block behind you for your heels to rest on, being elevated will help engage the hamstrings. Using a small diameter plate to keep the barbell as close to the ground as possible, load a weight load onto the barbell. Starting in a squat position with the barbell underneath your glutes, grab the bar and squeeze the legs while pushing your body upwards until you are at a standing position while still holding the barbell. Slowly lower yourself and the weight back down to the starting position, while properly squeezing the glutes and hamstrings the entire time to keep adequate tension on the muscles. Avoid leaning too far forward during this lift to make sure you do not fall over.
The benefits of performing the hack squats are tremendous, with the best ones being in the design of the machine itself. The hack squat machine is designed as a smith machine so the weight load is on a guided rail to avoid tipping over. This machine helps provide the athlete with proper balance, stability and also offers support on the body or the lower back when being compared to conventional squats with a bar in a rack that can place the strain on the lower back the entire time. The machine also offers the person to have a greater range of motion while still ensuring that the exercise is controlled to allow the glutes to reach the lowest point towards the ground for maximum contraction of the hamstrings and glutes. Since the body will be squatted down into a position with strain or tension the entire time, this means that it will also require the core muscles or abdominals to be engaged when squatting down and trying to push yourself back up.
However, since this exercise requires a motion that is unfamiliar to most, its necessary to start with a low weight load until you fully get comfortable with the machine or motion of the exercise. When performed correctly, regardless of the weight load during the exercise, you will properly engage the gluteus maximus or the largest muscle in your glutes, while also working the quadriceps or the front of your upper leg muscles.
By strengthening your quads, you will also help strengthen your knees and ligaments as well. The hack squat is an exercise that benefits the entire core muscles, lower back muscles, entire leg muscles, glutes, and even strengthening tendons to ensure the body remains healthy and strong in every way possible. If you aren’t performing hack squats already, I recommend learning how to perform them and including them into your weekly workouts as often as possible. Avoid going too heavy on this exercise which can lead to muscle injury and even the possibility of damaged tendons/ligaments. Focus on the movement with a comfortable weight before progressing and squeeze during the entire motion in order to achieve the greatest results possible from the hack squat.
How to Do Hack Squats—Plus, Whether They’re Worth Your Time
Vladimir Sukhachev/Getty Images
Love ’em or hate ’em, squats are one of the most famous leg exercises out there for a reason. But which variations of the foundational booty-building move are worth your time? Well, it depends. Here, the experts break down one popular variation—the hack squat—and whether it deserves a spot in your next leg day workout line-up.
What Are Hack Squats?
The simple answer: Hack squats are essentially just squats that you do on a certain machine.
The hack squat machine looks kind of like a reverse leg press machine, explains Pete McCall, M.S., C.S.C.S., host of the All About Fitness Podcast. To use a leg press machine, you sit on a fixed seat and push your feet against a weighted, moving platform that’s above you. To use the hack squat machine, you stand on a fixed platform (facing away from the machine) beneath shoulder pads that bear however much weight you select.
Typically, that platform is angled so that your toes are slightly below your heels, positioning your body as if you are doing traditional squats with weight plates under your heels. Why? “This reduces your need to have lots of ankle mobility in order to correctly perform the movement,” adds Jacob Wilson, Ph.D., C.S.C.S.*D., CEO of the Applied Science & Performance Institute and member of The Vitamin Shoppe’s Wellness Council.
Hack Squats vs. Traditional Squats
Though the hack squat may seem like it’s just a traditional barbell squat without a barbell, there are actually a few key differences between the regular squats and this machine variation.
First, unlike squats performed with free weights—which require lots of core stability on your part—hack squats keep your upper back and hips in a stable position, explains McCall. (Translation: You don’t have to worry about balancing a barbell or holding a kettlebell.)
However, this stable positioning means hack squats involve a different movement pattern than traditional squats. “In a standard squat, the hips move back while the knees bend,” he says. In hack squats, since your hips are in a fixed position, your knees do most of the work.
The result: Your quads bear much more of the burden in hack squats than in other squat variations, which distribute the work among your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.
What About Reverse Hack Squats?
If you’re curious about hack squats because you’ve seen them all over your Instagram, you’ve probably seen people doing reverse hack squats as well. To do reverse hack squats, you stand facing the machine instead of away from it. In this position, your hips aren’t locked into a specific motion path, since your shoulders and feet are the only points of contact with the machine.
“This switches the emphasis from your quads to your hamstrings and glutes,” says Wilson. Because most hack squat machines have angled platforms, this may be a bit trickier to pull off if you have tight ankles; you’ll need decent ankle mobility to squat with your feet already at an angle where your toes are above your heels.
Hack Squats: The Good
If you’re new to the weight room, “hack squats are likely safer than barbell squats since you don’t have to balance free weights and can’t fall backward or forward,” says Wilson.
Plus, hack squats are a great move if you want to work on your quads. “They isolate the quad muscles for optimal growth,” says McCall. In fact, hack squats are a go-to for bodybuilders and figure athletes who want to build strong, powerful-looking thighs. (Curious? Here’s a guide to bodybuilding for beginners.)
Hack Squats: The Bad
Hack squats aren’t all rainbows and glorious quads, though: “They’re not the best exercise for much beyond aesthetics,” says Wilson. “They don’t work the hamstrings, glutes, or lower back very well.”
Not to mention, all that extra emphasis on your knees isn’t necessarily a good thing. “If the hips and knees don’t move in-sync, you could risk knee injuries from overuse or over-flexing the joint,” explains McCall.
So, Should You Try Hack Squats?
If building solid quads is one of your fitness goals, go on ahead and incorporate hack squats into your regularly-scheduled programming.
Just know that they “don’t necessarily improve the function of your hips and knees working together,” says McCall. “Fixed-path machines aren’t necessarily bad, but sometimes they restrict normal or optimal joint function—and this is one of those cases.” (Experts generally agree that most workout machines can be risky or ineffective for the same reason.)
Translation: Your body reaps a more well-rounded benefit from other, unrestricted types of squats, like bodyweight squats, goblet squats, or barbell squats (whether with the barbell positioned across the front of your shoulders or your upper back). (P.S. Check your squat form with a little thing called ‘squat therapy.’)
Want to give your quads a little extra oomph? Try doing your usual squats (whether that’s with a barbell or dumbbells or just your bodyweight) with 10-pound weight plates beneath your heels to mimic the hack squat position.
If you do want to get the most bang for your buck on the hack squat machine, though, incorporate both typical hack squats and reverse hack squats into your routine so you give your hamstrings and glutes a little love too.
- By Lauren Del Turco
How to Perform the Hack Squat Machine
Powerlifters require exceptionally strong quads to lockout 400, 500, and 600+lb squats in a powerlifting meet. The bodybuilding community praises large sweeping quads that contribute to an aesthetically pleasing and balanced physique.
Regardless of your training style, most leg workouts begin with a heavy compound barbell movement like the back squat, deadlift, or clean. As the workout progresses volume increases and the complexity of movements decreases.
The hack squat machine is an exceptional compound push exercise to target the quadriceps and glutes. it’s an excellent auxiliary lift for those looking to improve the back squat, those with injuries, and those looking for a brutal final exercise on leg day. This plate-loaded machine can be found in even the most hardcore gyms, using a lever or sled apparatus to hold the weight.
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This exercise allows the lower body to move in a motion similar to the squat with the addition of a pad to support the upper body and glutes. Some lifters find they’re able to move their legs through an increased range of motion and use more weight compared to barbell back squats.
A barbell variation of the hack squat exists but form typically deteriorates quickly; many raise their hips too quickly, don’t start at a low enough depth, allow their shoulders roll-in and slump, and fail to maintain straight back and arms throughout the motion.
The hack squat machine targets the quadriceps, a muscle group comprised of four heads (Rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and vastus medialis (Internus)). This exercise engages the gluteus maximus, adductor magnus (inner thigh), and soleus (calf) to assist in completing the movement.
The hamstrings and gastrocnemius (calf) act as stabilizers during the exercise. If you’re looking to trigger serious quadriceps growth and willing to endure seriously delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) then you must include the hack squat machine in your routine.
How to Perform the Hack Squat
Approach the hack squat machine and select the appropriate working weight. Distribute the weight evenly on both sides of the lever or sled apparatus.
don’t place 55lbs on one side and 35lbs on the other side of the machine; doing so won’t improve your gains and will likely lead to an injury. If this is your first time performing the exercise then pick a conservative weight that you can safely lift for 8 to 12 repetitions.
After selecting the working weight place your back on the padded support and ensure your shoulders are touching the shoulder pads. Raise your legs and place your feet flat on the lever apparatus or sled platform.
Take a shoulder width or slightly wider stance with the toes pointed forward or slightly outwards. Your stance should be roughly in-line with the center of the platform. At this point your knees may still be slightly bent; this is okay as the weight is resting on the safety pins.
MTS Nutrition CEO Marc Lobliner discusses how to perform a proper hack squat for maximum leg growth.
After setting your stance, take a deep breath, brace your abdominals, and push through your heels to fully extend the hips and knees. Release the safety pin apparatus and then hold the handles on either side of the machine’s shoulder pads. Holding these handles will help ensure your back remains against the pad and that your shoulders and chest don’t roll inwards.
Begin lowering the lever apparatus or sled by flexing the hips and bending the knees. Allow sled to descend until you’ve hit the desired depth, which for most will be until the hips are parallel with or slightly lower than the knees. Those who are more flexible can descend until the thighs hit the calves. You should still be holding a big breath and bracing your abdominals.
To initiate the raising portion of the exercise begin pushing through your heels to fully extend your knees and hips. At the top of the movement, often referred to as the lockout, legs are straight but not hyper-extended. Some choose to breath between each rep while others prefer to breathe out during the ascent; experiment and see which feels most comfortable and natural to you.
The knees should be pointed in the same direction as your toes throughout the entire rep. At the end of the set ensure the safety pins are in-place before stepping off the machine.
This exercise can be performed using straight sets, pre-exhaust sets, drop sets, rest-pause sets, supersets, trisets, giant sets, paused reps, partial reps, forced reps, or slow negatives.
As with any exercise, the two most important components are high-quality form and progression. Progression can take a variety of forms (e.g. more weight, sets, or reps, decreased rest period, improved rep quality, etc…) but strive to improve every time you walk into the gym.
Hack Squat Form Tips
Switch Up Your Stance – To emphasize glute involvement take a wider stance and/or place your feet slightly higher on the sled or platform. To emphasize quadriceps involvement take a narrower stance and/or place your feet slightly lower on the sled or platform.
Regardless of what stance tweaks you make, aim to perform full range-of-motion reps with knees pointing in the same direction as your toes.
Avoid Half Reps – The hack squat machine provides maximum benefit if performed using full range-of-motion reps. Half or quarter reps place additional stress on the knees, reinforces poor movement patterns, and doesn’t provide as much stimulus to the target and supporting muscle groups.
Use One Leg – If you’re having trouble getting a good quad contraction or if one quad is lagging in size or strength compared to the other, perform the leg press with one leg at a time. This will help improve the mind-muscle connection during the exercise as well as even out any imbalance that may have developed between quadriceps.
Furthermore, single leg hack squats will recruit additional stabilizing muscles – gluteus minimus and medius, the quadratus lumborum (deep lower back), and the obliques (abdominals). To perform a one-legged variation simply cross one leg above the knee over the leg touching the platform; perform the desired number of reps and then switch legs.
Pause at the Bottom – Pausing at the bottom of the rep increases the intensity by extending the duration of the set and time under tension as well as stretches the adductors (inner thigh muscles) and hips.
Stay on the Padded Support – Throughout the entire movement doesn’t let your glutes and back come off the padded support. Coming off the padded support changes the movement pattern, shortens the range of motion of the rep, and doesn’t provide as much stimulus to the target and supporting muscle groups.
1) “Quadriceps.” ExRx (Exercise Prescription) on the Internet. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.
2) “Sled Hack Squat.” ExRx (Exercise Prescription) on the Internet. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.
3) “Sled Single Leg Hack Squat.” ExRx (Exercise Prescription) on the Internet. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.
The hack squat, usually done on a hack squat machine, helps you to train your hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes thereby developing your lower body strength.
Hack Squat Exercise Information
- Alternative Names: Machine hack squat, hack squats
- Type: Strength
- Experience Level: Beginner
- Equipment: Hack squat machine
- Muscles Targeted: Thighs, abs, hips, calves, lower back
- Mechanics: Compound
- Average Number of Sets: 3 with 8-10 reps each
- Variations: Barbell, reverse, Smith Machine, dumbbell, narrow stance, one-legged, kettlebell hack squats
- Alternative: Barbell full squat
You may include it in your leg workout routine if you want to target all the major muscle groups of your legs simultaneously.
It allows you to change your foot position and alter your fitness goals. Keeping your feet in a higher position would be beneficial for working your glutes whereas a lower position would help in targeting your quads.
Hack Squat vs Leg Press and Weighted Squat
An ideal workout for the beginners, the hack squat allows you to replicate the weighted squat movement and get the hang of it. The exercise is more effective if you have strong inner quads and stable knee joints.
- It is good for working your outer quads (vastus lateralis) whereas the leg press is an effective exercise for your inner quads (vastus medialis). The weighted squat, on the other hand, targets the group of quadriceps femoris muscles.
- The hack squat is safer because you can easily lock or unlock the weights using the safety handles at the sides of the machine. The leg press machine, on the other hand, does not have any such safety measures. For the weighted squat, you may use a spotter to help you lift the weights.
- Hack squats and weighted squats engage your upper hamstrings and glutes slightly more than the leg press. Therefore, your upper body is less relaxed than with the leg press.
Hack Squat Proper Form: How to do It Using the Machine
The hack squat machine is a piece of important gym equipment used for doing leg exercises. If you have this machine in your gym, try to do the hack squat loading 30-40 lbs weight plates on each side.
Hack Squat Technique
Machine Hack Squat Tips
- Keep your back rested against the pad and your head up, pressing through the ball of your feet to increase the tension in your quads.
- To reduce the stress on your joints, try to keep the front of your knees and the toes in line so that they are perpendicular to each other.
- Barbell Hack Squat: A standing hack squat variety mostly performed by trainees who do not have access to hack squat machines.
- Reverse Hack Squat: Similar to the basic hack squat, except that you need to turn around and face the machine.
- Hack Squat with Smith Machine: Another free-weight squat like the barbell hack squat that uses the Smith machine instead.
- Dumbbell Hack Squat: A simple version of the hack squat that can be performed at home.
- Narrow Stance Hack Squat: Done by bringing your feet closer.
- Single Leg Hack Squat: Performed by raising one leg and extending it out in front.
- Kettlebell Hack Squat: Another version of the hack squat performed by holding the kettlebell behind you.
Barbell Full Squat
Should Athletes Do the Hack Squat?
Read More >>
The Hack Squat is a popular exercise used by many weightlifters for lower-body development. It is performed on a sled that allows you to Squat on a 45-degree angle. The three main muscle groups it primarily trains are the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes.
This machine is a staple in most fitness facilities. And if you’ve seen someone using it, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that they were lifting a ton of plates—certainly a lot more than they use when doing a barbell Squat.
The fact that you can load this up makes it incredibly popular. Who wouldn’t want to do an exercise where they take up half the plates in the gym? It makes the person seem super strong!
RELATED: Everything You Need to Know About 5 Barbell Squat Variations
But just because it’s possible to lift heavy weight doesn’t necessarily make the Hack Squat a good exercise. Let’s investigate.
Benefits of the Hack Squat:
- Because the Hack Squat takes the upper body out of the movement, it removes potential weaknesses or compensations that could affect your squat depth. You can focus on getting your thighs to parallel.
- As mentioned above, you can load up the weight—thanks to additional control provided by the machine and the fact that your core is taken out of the movement.
- It’s easy to train one leg at a time to reduce muscle imbalances.
- You can change the focus of the exercise by adjusting your foot position. A higher foot position emphasizes the glutes, whereas a lower foot position emphasizes the quads.
- Due to the stability provided by the machine, it can be a safer way to start building strength when you’re coming back from an injury.
RELATED: The Squat Variation That Torches Your Core
Cons of the Hack Squat
- You’re forced to work in a fixed angle, which is not how sports are played, so it doesn’t train your body specifically for how you move on the playing field.
- Since you’re locked into a machine, critical stabilizer muscles (which help keep your joints safe) are not engaged.
- During a traditional barbell Squat, your core has to work overtime to help control and stabilize the weight. This important benefit is lost in the Hack Squat.
- Your knees sit far out in front, which can cause knee problems, especially when you use heavy weight loads.
What’s the Verdict?
Weighing the positives and negatives, I don’t recommend that athletes use the Hack Squat in their training programs. Despite the ability to lift extremely heavy loads, its failure to engage the stabilizer muscles and fixed range of motion make this machine more suited for bodybuilders than athletes. Athletes need to train in a free range of motion.
When it comes right down to it, nothing beats free weights. I’d much rather see someone do a 300-pound Back Squat than a 600-pound Hack Squat. Try both and you’ll notice how much harder the Back Squat is.
RELATED: Squat 101: A How-To Guide
Here are a few exercises I recommend instead of the Hack Squat:
- Barbell Back or Front Squats
- Bulgarian Split Squats (front or back barbell placement)
- Dumbbell Curtsy Lunges
- Barbell Hip Thrust
All of that said, there are instances where the Hack Squat is OK. Specifically, if you’re coming back from an injury, the added stability is extremely valuable. It’s typically used to get the muscles firing again and build a base of strength, and once that’s established, free weight exercises are preferred.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock
The Hack Squat: Target Muscles, Benefits, Exercise Instructions, And Variations
The hack squat is much different than the conventional free weight barbell squat. But both movements target the same primary muscles groups and the strength benefits are very similar as well. However, it’s beneficial to know where the two contrast and how to incorporate the hack squat in your training regime.
Now, the hack squat is generally safe to perform for most people and it’s unique in that you’re at an angle during the movement. And there are benefits to this which we’ll discuss but it’s hard to go wrong with the hack squat as it’s a viable alternative to the barbell squat. However, it’s definitely not a replacement, especially if you’re training for complete development.
Here’s some detailed information about this functional movement, with exercise instructions, and some neat variations…
The hack squat is a compound movement which works all lower-body muscles (quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and hip flexors) and the core muscles; which include the rectus abdominis and internal/external obliques.
The quadriceps are usually the main target muscle during any variation of a squat. But the posterior chain (Backside of the body) of muscles are involved as well since a lot of the weight load is placed on the spinal erectors.
So, the glutes and hamstrings are indirectly engaged, especially since you’re squatting the weight through the heels. Calves are stimulated as a result and the core group of muscles plays a big role in stabilization. But the hip flexor muscles also do a lot of work as they are used as a hinge to propel the weight upward. (1)
The squat is a beneficial exercise in general because it’s a lower-body strength and mass builder. You can build as much muscle with the hack squat as you can with the barbell back squat, although trunk activation is much less as we’ll explain shortly.
Hack Squat Benefits
But if you’re using a challenging weight while continuing to implement progressive overload, you’ll still activate the trunk muscles effectively.
Now, athletes can use the hack squat for lower body development as well. But it’s not the best option if training for functional performance since this variation does not require as many stabilizer muscles. Moderation is important and using a combination of free weight and machines is ideal.
The hack squat is also beneficial because the weight load is distributed through your center of mass. This alleviates stress on the spine and allows more weight to be lifted.
How To Do The Hack Squat? Exercise Instructions
The setup is unique because you’re actually using a machine rather than a barbell.
Ronnie Coleman Hack Squat
Feet should be in front of your knees with legs spread slightly wider than hip-width. Keep your feet high up on the platform so that you’re squatting through your heels and not the balls of your feet.
Always warm-up with a few sets of 40 to 50-60% of your one-rep max before training heavy, as it’s important for your safety.
- Adjust the machine so that you’re shoulders are comfortably under the padding while standing on the platform.
- Move the safety lever up and slowly squat down slightly past parallel.
- Squat back up through your heels but avoid standing completely straight.
- Complete as many reps as desired.
Hack Squat vs. Back Squat
The hack squat (HS) differs from the barbell back (BS) squat in many ways. And according to studies, the BS elicits greater trunk activation than the HS. That’s because the trunk is highly supported at an angle against a backrest. (2, 3)
So, the back squat is actually better for trunk development and core stability. This is ideal for athletes which means free weights are preferred overall.
But that doesn’t mean you should neglect the hack squat as it’s still a powerful exercise for building those wheels! And that’s because both variations will elicit similar results for pure strength and hypertrophy.
Some fitness centers do not have a hack squat machine. But no worries, there are some variations you can do to mimic the movement and they’re very effective.
Smith machine hack squat
Smith Machine Squat
The Smith machine is one of the most useful pieces of equipment available. You can work every muscle in multiple ways and you don’t need to worry about stabilizing weight.
- Set up the bar so that you’re comfortably beneath it similar to a barbell back squat.
- Angle yourself similar to the hack machine by stepping out and keeping your feet flat on the floor. You should be leaning back against the bar.
- Squat down slightly past parallel or slightly above depending on your ideal range of motion.
- Push up through your heels and repeat for repetitions.
Barbell hack squat
The barbell hack squat is a free weight alternative if you don’t have access to a hack squat machine or even if you just want to switch things up a bit.
Barbell Hack Squat
It actually more closely resembles a deadlift since you’re lifting from the floor but it’s very effective nonetheless.
Start with the loaded barbell on the floor and face away from it with your Achilles touching the bar.
- With your back straight, bend down and grip the barbell with arms slightly wider than shoulder-width distance apart.
- Squat the weight up through your heels and thrust your hips forward as you pull. This will allow the weight to move smoothly up your posterior chain.
- Return the weight back to the floor but keep your core tight and immediately repeat the movement.
- Never arch or round your back as this can cause pain and injury.
- Use a weight that will not compromise good form and always make sure to focus on a mind/muscle connection for optimal results.
- Squat through your heels and never the ball of your feet. This is likely to result in knee issues.
- Avoid using the hack squat as a primary lower body exercise. You don’t want to limit trunk activation so incorporate free weights as well.
The hack squat is a beneficial exercise you should consider adding to your leg day. It’s effective for building muscle and strength; plus, you don’t need to balance a barbell on your traps; which is appealing for many.
However, it’s no substitute for free weight training but it’s a viable option. And if your gym doesn’t have a hack squat machine you can always do one of the variations/alternatives above to get similar results.
So, try out the hack squat and experience for yourself just how functional it really is!
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Tags: Hack SquatLegs WorkoutSquat
Because the legs involve so many muscles, it’s important that multijoint moves — those exercises that use all of the major muscle groups of the legs simultaneously — make up the bulk of your routine. Fortunately, the hack squat is one such move, hitting all the major muscles. But you can involve certain muscles more than others based on foot placement. As you begin the move, secure your torso under the shoulder pads and press your lower back into the back pad so that you’re supported from head to glutes. As you descend, keep your knees in line tracking over your feet and don’t bounce out of the bottom position, but rather make a smooth transition as you explode upward. Keep your abs tight and make sure your feet remain flat on the platform at all times.
While the standard squat is considered the king of all leg moves, the leg press is another exercise that most of us love to load the weight on to destroy the lower-body muscle fibers. Similar to the hack squat, the leg press hits the quads and hamstrings, as well as the glutes to a certain extent. We stress the glutes a little less because on the leg press, you don’t have full-hip extension because your body is bent 90 degrees, which limits your ability to innervate the upper hamstrings and glutes compared to the squat as well as the hack squat to a degree. With the leg press, however, you’re able to relax the upper body slightly more than you can during the hack squat, which helps the mind-muscle connection for the lower-body muscles.
Advantage: Leg Press
We gave you a small clue above; did you catch it? If not, your overwhelming winner is the leg press. Research shows the leg press is the absolute best exercise to zero-in on the vastus medialis (inner quad) of the lower quads. When you sit in a leg press, your hips remain bent at about a 90-degree angle at the end of each repetition. This limits to some degree the involvement of the hams and glutes, making the leg press a quad-dominant exercise. Research shows that whether you keep your feet close together or wide apart on the footplate, the involvement of the medialis is much greater than the three other quad muscles. The hack squat on the other hand is great at targeting the outer sweep (vastus lateralis), which is also imperative to developing a great pair of legs. A standard shoulder-width stance suffices, but to further exaggerate the effect, slide your feet about 12 inches apart.
It is leg day in your workout routine and you are wondering how you are going to carry out the squats using the reverse hack squat machine. If you have gone out for a workout for some time now, you will realize legs are important when working out and they will contribute to a well-built body. Why is this? Legs form the base of your body and without strong legs, your body will not be in good form. So how do you build strong legs when working out?
Well, the commonest way of building your legs is by carrying out a reverse hack squat. Reverse hack squats are named after Russian bodybuilder and wrestler George Hackenschmidt. They are traditionally carried out using the barbell. However, you can also carry them out using the reverse hack squat machine or the Smith Machine. If you are thinking of carrying out the reverse hack squat and you do not know how this article is for you.
How to Carry Out Reverse Hack Squat
- The first step in using the reverse hack squat machine is by loading the hack machine with the desired amount of weight. It will depend on your level of training and make sure you select weights which you are comfortable with.
- Place your back on the backrest and position yourself in a way that the pads will be supporting your chest and the shoulders.
- The feet should be width apart on the footplate.
- Lower the weight on the squat hack machine with your things until it is parallel to the floor. Also, pause the weight for a moment at the bottom.
- Go ahead to push the weight to the starting position and you can perform the desired number of reps.
Why is It Important to Elevate the Heels?
When carrying out the reverse hack squat, placing your feet in an elevated position will help you to stay upright during the entire session. It will also make it easier for you to emphasize on your quads and limiting its contribution to the posterior chain.
By elevating your heels, you will be able to work out on your quads in two different ways.
- They will reduce the amount of the flexion required to sit deeply when carrying out the squats. Most of the lifters lack the mobility of the ankles and elevating your heels will help you to set up the ton.
- The heel lift can also lengthen your shin in a way. The ratio between the length of the thighs and the shin will be reduced making your hips to go a little back while you maintain the upright position.
Safety Precautions When Carrying Out Reverse Hack Squat
- Begin by carrying out a number of warm-ups before beginning the exercise. You can carry out other leg exercises.
- When beginning, avoid using the heavyweights and begin with the lightweights but increase the weight as you advance your exercises.
- Make sure the knees have been well locked to avoid causing injuries.
- Always make sure you resist or lower the weight in a slow way.
- The knees should not go past the toes to avoid causing knee pain.
- Always avoid bounce or the use of momentum when carrying out the exercise.
Which are the Muscles Targeted by Reverse Hack Squat?
The reverse hack squat targets the muscles found at the thigh muscles, quadriceps and the gluteus maximus muscles found on the butt.
If your goal is to have a big butt when working out, you need to carry out a number of reps on the reverse hack squat machine. If you carry out the exercises in the right way, the Gluteus Maximus muscles will have to show off it off.
One of the mistakes made by people working out to build their butt is not knowing the right way of working on the gluteus muscles. The gluteus maximum muscles are the biggest muscles in your butt and working the muscles in the right way should be a priority. The muscles are used to straighten your hips.
Having quadriceps which are well developed should be symmetrical to the rest of your body. It will help you to avoid looking like the popular hilarious cartoon John Bravo with a big chest and hands but no quads.
The reverse hack squats can be the best solution if you want to build stronger quadriceps which will help you achieve symmetry within your body.
The quadriceps are located at your thighs and they play a great role in strengthening your knees. There are four muscles which make up your quads and all of them are located at the front of the thighs.
- Vastus intermedius- Located below the other three quad muscles and it is the deepest of all the three quad muscles.
- Vastus Medialis- It is located on the inner portion of the thighs and near the knee cap. When you have a weaker vastus medialis, it would be associated with the knee pain and poor position of the knee cap.
- Vastus Lateralis- It is located on the outer portion of your thighs.
- Rectus femoris- Located on the top of the thighs between the medialis and the lateral muscles of the quads.
When you need to bring the quad muscles into action when working out, you will have to place the feet at the back of the footplate. It will cause contraction of the quad muscles.
Are there Any Drawbacks of the Reverse Hack Squat?
Of course, there are few drawbacks when using the machine.
- Cause Your Body to Move at a Fixed Angle
One of the common drawbacks of using the machines is that they do give you stability only when you follow all the rules. When using the reverse hack squat machine, you will have to move at a fixed position.
- Stability Muscles Can Fail to be in Action
Given the support of the reverse hack squat machine, some muscles can easily be left out when you are exercising. This is because the machine will provide you with the necessary support needed when carrying out the exercises.
- Can Cause Knee Challenges
If you fail to use the reverse hack squat machine in the right way, it can cause the knees to move upfront when lifting the weights causing trouble and problems to your knees.
- You Need a Machine
You cannot carry out the reverse hack squat machine at home and you will need a hack squat machine.
Common Reverse Squat Alternatives
In the above, you have learned the right way of carrying out the reverse hack squat using the reverse hack machine. What if you realize the reverse squat machine is not available in the gym? Of course, you cannot skip working out on your legs since there is no reverse squat machine. You need to find an alternative means of working out your legs.
Here are some of the reverse hack squat alternatives you can carry out in the gym.
By using the dumbbells, you can easily carry out a number of squats at your home. You do not even need the squat rack, you only need to maintain the appropriate posture when carrying out the exercise and positioning yourself so that you can get the best out of the squat exercises.
- Hold the dumbbell on each of the hands and stand with the feet shoulder apart with the toes pointed outwards. Elevate your heels and bend the knees.
- Stand with the dumbbells at your shoulders make sure you have aligned your body with the back.
- Begin lowering the body by bending the hips and knees. Remember to push your gluteus muscles back. Make sure you have maintained the motion and the knees should be in the same direction as the toes.
- Lower the body until it is parallel to the floor. Make sure you have maintained the alignment of your body when lowering it.
- Make sure you maintain the controlled movements and go back to the original position without necessarily locking your knees.
- Carry out as many reps as you can.
Using the Barbell Hack Squat
With the barbell, you can easily have your big butt size and the quads. The other thing you need when carrying out the exercise is a low rack.
- Place the barbell on the rack at a lower level that you usually do. It should be below your butt.
- Hold the barbell from behind using your hands and the hands should be shoulder apart when carrying out this.
- Lift the barbell out of the rack and make sure you keep it close to the back of the legs.
- Move forward and let your feet remain firmly on the ground.
- Carry out the squats until the knees are at a perpendicular angle or the thighs are parallel to the floor. The bar should always be close to the back of the lower leg when you are carrying out this exercise. The back should always be straight to avoid any injuries to your spine.
- By extending the hips and knees, lift the bar back and you can go ahead and carry out the desired number of reps.
Using the Smith Machine to Carry out Reverse Band Hack Squats
In most cases, working out with the barbell can pose the issue of balance. Under such circumstances, the best option would be the Smith machine. The Smith machine can allow you to have a perfect workout on your knees.
Do I Need the Reverse Bands?
The reverse bands serve different roles when you are using the Smith machine to work on your quad muscles. It can allow you to match the resistance of the exercise to your strength. Resistance is important when you are working out on your quads.
The reverse band is also used to emphasize on the lower portion of the lift. An appropriate band set up pool will help you work harder when you are lowering the weights during the exercise. Reverse bands will allow you to focus more on building the quadriceps since it plays a great role in regulating the speed at which you lower the weights.
Bottom Line on Reverse Hack Squat
Reverse hack squat is the best ways of building muscles in your lower body while at the same time giving a rest to the upper body muscles. During the first time, it can be difficult to carry out the exercise in the right way. However, as time goes you will become used to the routine and carry out the exercise without challenges.
If you have plans of increasing the weights, make sure you have maintained the form. A great mistake which many of the lifters make is destroying the form while lifting heavy weights. Make sure you maintain the right form when carrying out the reverse hack squat and there is no way you can cheat out of it. If you are looking out for ways of cheating when working out, you will only be cheating yourself and causing harm to your body.
There are also the cons of the hack squat machine which have been mentioned in the article. Find alternative ways of carrying out the exercise. With the alternative means mentioned in this article, you can have a perfect reverse squat workout without necessarily using the reverse hack smith machine.
What is the hack squat? The hack squat is the killer quad exercise missing from your leg day routine. It’s performed on an exercise machine that stabilises your upper body and core muscles, allowing the quads to take on the majority of the stress of the movement.
Even if you’re a familiar face in the gym, you still might struggle to build big quads with compound movements like squats and deadlifts alone. To see serious development in the size and strength of your quad muscles, find the hack squat machine in your gym and follow our video guide to executing this movement perfectly.
Why should you do hack squats? Check out the hack squat benefits below and you’ll be convinced. We’re not suggesting that hack squats are a replacement for regular back squats by any means, keep reading for our hack squats vs squats comparison to see how they both fit into your exercise routine.
If you’re looking for an easier or more advanced hack squat alternative, stick with us for all of the best alternatives and variations of this exercise.
Interested in turning your passion for fitness into a career? Check out our Level 2 Gym Instructor and Level 3 Personal Trainer courses first!
How to Do A Hack Squat
To get the most out of this exercise, its best performed on the hack squat machine. If you want to try this exercise in your home gym or just without having to queue for the machine in the gym, bear with us because we’ll explain how to do some hack squat alternatives and variations, like the barbell hack squat, further on in this post. But first, here’s how to do a hack squat on the machine.
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Set-Up and Equipment:
The hack squat machine is a pretty intense exercise for your quads, so make sure that you do some warm-up exercises first.
Load weight onto the machine – start reasonably light and increase weight as you become more comfortable with the movement.
- This is the front hack squat, so step onto the machine and stand on the foot platform with your back facing the back pad.
- Position your shoulders under the shoulder pads and make sure your back is flat against the support.
- Put your feet flat shoulder-width apart in the middle of the foot plate.
- Point your toes slightly outwards.
- Grab the side handles (also known as the safety bars) and disengage them. This usually involves moving the side handles from facing forwards to pointing out at a diagonal.
- Extend your legs to stand up so but don’t lock at your knees – this is your starting position.
- Keeping hold of the safety handles, inhale and slowly lower the weight by bending at the knees.
- Squat down until the angle between your upper and lower leg is just less than 90°.
- In this position, your knees should be pointing in the same direction as your toes, and there should be a straight line from your knees to your toes. Ensure that your knees do not pass your toes as this will put a lot of unnecessary stress on the knee.
- Hold the squat position at the bottom of the movement for a second.
- Exhale, contract your quads, and slowly raise the weight back up.
- Push through your heels to straighten your legs (without hyperextending your knees), until you reach the starting position.
- That’s one rep.
Once you’ve completed the recommended sets and reps, engage the safety bars and then step off the machine.
Sets, Reps, & Weights
For strength building, we recommend a 5×5 training system for this exercise so, 5 sets of 5 reps. Perform the 5x 5 training system with around 85% of your 1 rep max and you’ll see results.
You could also use the hack squat as a pump exercise to warm up the legs, mainly the quads, before a barbell squat. To do this, do 10-12 reps for 3-4 sets with a lighter weight – we recommend 65-70% of your 1 rep max.
If you’re new to weight training, pick a reasonable weight that you can lift safely, and with proper form for the full set. How much weight you use completely depends on your fitness and strength, so start off low and find a resistance that you’re comfortable with.
Remember that the hack squat machine itself will add to the resistance (exactly how much it weighs varies from machine to machine), and the movement is less of a compound movement compared to the standard squat, so there is more stress on the main muscles worked. But, the nature of the exercise does mean that there’s less pressure on the spinal column, so if you have good quad strength initially you’ll be able to load more weight, and gain more strength!
Main Muscles Worked: Quads.
Secondary Muscles Worked: Hamstrings, Calves, and Glutes.
Tips for Your Hack Squat Form
Pause in The Squat Position
The pause at the bottom of the movement (in the squat position) will increase the intensity of the hack squat as it increases the amount of time that the targeted muscles are under tension. The more time under tension, the more effective the hack squat will be for building muscle.
Don’t Lock Your Knees
In the starting position and at the end of each rep, your legs are extended. One of the most important tips for your hack squat form is that you should avoid hyperextending, or locking out, at your knees when your legs are ‘extended’. Avoiding knee hyperextension will keep the tension of the movement on your quads.
But more importantly, not locking out at your knees will be preventative of injury. Knee hyperextension puts a lot of stress on the knee, particularly the knee joints. Putting unnecessary stress on the knee by locking out at the top of a hack squat could lead to ligament damage, resulting in an ACL, PCL or cartilage injury.
Keep Your Head Up
It’s vital that you keep your back and your glutes against the padded support throughout the entire execution of this exercise. Keeping your head up throughout the entire movement will help you to keep this form. Avoid letting your head slip forwards away from the support. Keeping the correct form will minimise the risk of injury from the machine and ensure that you reap all of its rewards.
Do the Full Movement
Partial reps, or half reps, are effective for some exercises, however, they’re not appropriate for the hack squat. To get the most of the hack squat, exercise the full range of motion of the movement. For this exercise, partial reps will add more stress onto the knee and won’t put as much tension on the muscles. By doing the full range of motion, you’ll see more of the benefits and less of the injury risks.
Hack Squat Variations
For a hack squat alternative that doesn’t require a big piece of exercise machinery, try barbell hack squats. This is the traditional version of the hack squat, so it’s not an easier variation by any means. It’s a free-weight exercise so it doesn’t isolate the quads quite as well as the machine does, but you will still see its benefits in the form of sculpted leg muscles. The barbell hack squat benefits those who want to workout from a home gym or don’t want to wait around for the machine to be free. Here’s how to do it!
- Stand in front of a loaded barbell in a squat.
- Position your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Grab the barbell with an overhand grip (your palms should be facing backwards), positioning your hands shoulder-width apart.
- Contract your quads and lift the bar, pressing into your heels to drive the lift.
- Extend your knees and drive your hips forwards to lift the barbell.
- Pause at the top of the move for a second.
- To lower the barbell towards the ground, squat down by bending at the knees and pushing the hips backwards.
- Pause when your thighs are almost parallel to the ground and then repeat the lift movement.
Sets, Reps, & Weights
We recommend a 5×5 training system, exercise 5 sets for 5 reps using around 85% of your 1 rep max.
You can use the barbell hack squat as a pump exercise before barbell squats, too. To try this, do 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps using 65-70% of your 1 rep max.
The main muscle worked by this exercise are the quads. The secondary muscles recruited are the Glutes, Calves, and Adductor Magnus.
The barbell hack squat isn’t executed on an exercise machine, so it recruits the gastrocnemius (one of the calf muscles) and the hamstrings as stabiliser muscles. This is free-weight hack squat alternative, so it also recruits the core muscles and it works the traps to stabilise the lift.
Reverse Hack Squat Machine
For a more advanced variation, try the reverse hack squat machine. Opposed to the front hack squat, the main reverse hack squat muscles worked are the hamstrings and the glutes.
- Once you’ve loaded the hack machine, stand on the foot platform with your chest facing the support pad.
- Hook your shoulders underneath the shoulder pads.
- Place your feet should-width apart on the platform.
- Extend your legs to push the shoulder pads up and disengage the safety bars.
- Holding on to the shoulder pads, slowly lower the weight by lowering yourself into a squat.
- When your upper legs form a 90°angle with your lower legs, hold the position for a second.
- Drive the weight back up by pushing through your heels.
- Extend your legs until you return to the starting position, ensuring that you don’t lock at the knees.
Execute this exercise using a 5×5 training system. Do 5 reps per set for 5 sets with around 85% of your 1 rep max.
To use this exercise as a pump exercise to warm up the quads, we recommend 10-12 reps for 3-4 sets with around 65-70% of your 1 rep max.
Reverse Hack Squat Muscles Worked
The main muscles worked by the reverse hack squat are the Hamstrings and the Glutes, this movement also recruits the Calves and Quads as secondary muscles. Only the shoulder and the feet are in contact with the machine, which means that there isn’t as fixed a range of motion for this exercise. Because of this, the movement also engages the core muscles.
Dumbbell Hack Squat
If you’re looking for an easier hack squat alternative, it’s worth trying the dumbbell hack squat. This exercise is a great way to build lower body strength with nothing but a set of dumbbells. If you only have access to a pair of kettlebells, the kettlebell hack squat is a thing too, just follow the instructions below and be aware that a kettlebell variation will be a little more challenging.
- For an easy hack squat alternative, stand upright with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand at arm’s length.
- To put more emphasis on the quads, stand with each of your heels raised on a platform or weight plate and your toes on the ground.
- Lower your body by flexing your knees and your hips.
- To make sure that the movement emphasises the quads, keep your upper body straight and upright.
- Keep the dumbbells at arm’s length.
- When your thighs are close to parallel to the ground, pause for a second.
- Push yourself back up, extending your knees and hips until you are upright.
We recommend 10-12 reps for 3-4 sets using 65-70% of your 1 rep max.
Main Muscles Worked: Quads.
Secondary Muscles Worked: Hamstrings and Glutes.
Although this is an easier hack squat alternative, we’d say that the barbell variation is the safer option for your lower back. The barbell hack squat position forces you to keep your upper body straight, whereas it’s possible that you’ll round your back as you get tired whilst exercising a dumbbell hack squat. If you have a lower back injury, try a barbell hack squat, or if there’s a trap bar at your gym the trap bar deadlift is a killer quad exercise that protects your lower back. You can find our trap bar deadlift exercise tutorial here.
Single Leg Hack Squat
If you’re serious about having quads that look like they’ve been carved by the gods, try the single leg hack squat. This unilateral movement is an advanced exercise that’s executed on the hack squat machine.
Load the machine with as much weight as you can manage for your less dominant leg. Even if the dominant side can manage with a particular weight, there’s a risk of injury if you overload the weaker side of your body.
- Load the hack machine.
- Stand on the foot platform with your back against the support pad.
- Hook your shoulders under the shoulder pads.
- Position your feet hip-width apart in the middle of the platform and then lift your right foot off the platform.
- Holding on to the side handles, extend your left leg to push you the weight up off the stack and move the side handles to disengage the safety bars.
- Stand with your left leg extended without locking the knee.
- Lower the weight by bending at the knees into a squat position.
- When your left leg forms a 90°angle between your upper and lower leg, hold the squat for a second.
- Push the weight back up to the starting position, contracting the quad muscles as you extend your leg.
When you’ve completed the recommended sets and reps, engage the safety bars and step off the machine.
This exercise is a great pump exercise, you can use light weights for a great leg (mainly quad) warm up. We recommend 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps with 65-70% of your 1 rep max.
For the first set, complete all reps on the same leg. For unilateral exercises, start with your non-dominant side. After the first set, take a short break and swap legs, executing the same number of reps and using the same amount of weight as you did for the first set.
Main Muscles Worked: Quads.
Secondary Muscles Worked: Hamstrings, Calves, and Glutes
The leg press is another quad-targeting exercise that can be used either alongside or instead of a hack squat. The hack squat muscles worked are pretty similar to those of the leg press, both emphasise the quads but also recruit the Calves, Glutes, and Hamstrings.
- Sit on the leg press machine with your back and your head against the back of the seat.
- To really emphasise the quads, position your feet around shoulder-width apart towards the bottom of the foot plate.
- Position your toes so that they’re pointing outwards slightly and ensure that your knees are in line with your toes and facing the same direction. If your knees are further forward than your toes, your feet are too low on the footplate.
- Drive your feet into the foot platform to push the weight, slowly extending your legs at the knee.
- Pause when your legs are extended (never hyperextend the knee) and hold the weight for a second.
- Contract your quads and slowly flex your knee to lower the footplate back towards the starting position.
- Pause just before the weight is stationary to keep tension on the muscles, then repeat the movement.
For this exercise, we recommend 10-12 reps for 3-4 sets.
When it comes to the recommend weight for this exercise, it’s important to mention that the leg press is very easily overloaded. It’s easy to fake strength for this exercise, and whilst you might think that how much weight you’re using is impressive, it actually disadvantages the range of motion and most importantly – muscle gain! For that reason, do this exercise with 65-70% of your 1 rep max.
The Quads are the main muscles worked for the standard leg press, and the secondary muscles are the Calves, Glutes, and Hamstrings.
You can adjust your foot position to change the main muscles worked. Taking a wider stance will work the inner thigh muscles whilst a narrow stance will mainly target the outer thigh. The lower you place your feet on the platform, the more the exercise will work the quads. You can shift the emphasis onto the glutes and hamstrings by placing your feet higher up on the platform.
For a full and rounded leg workout, combine hack squats with a leg press that targets the glutes and hamstrings.
Hack Squat Benefits
If building the size of your quads is your goal, you can’t really go wrong doing hack squats. The hack squat machine isolates the quads, leading to serious benefits for aesthetics and strength.
When we talk about the quads, we’re referring to the quadriceps – the group of four muscles at the front of the thigh. The best of the hack squat benefits is its ability to carve these quad muscles specifically. For ultimate quad development, the hack squat should be a part of your leg day routine.
The design of the hack squat machine means that the core and upper body muscles aren’t recruited, removing the potential for these muscles to cause weaknesses in your squat form. Because of this, you can focus on getting your thighs parallel to the ground and get maximum squat depth. This means one thing – the hack squat benefits your quads more than a free-weight squat.
Hack Squat Foot Position
Obviously, the hack squat machine is great for isolating the quads. The hack squat benefits for Quad hypertrophy and strength are immense, another one of the benefits of this exercise is that you can change your hack squat foot position to emphasise different muscles. If you want to be more specific in the part of the quad that you’re training, you can emphasise either the inner or outer quad by adjusting the position of your foot on the platform.
A narrow stance hack squat will emphasise the outer quads. To see more of a benefit for the outer part of your front thigh, position your feet close together and towards the bottom of the foot plate.
Taking a wider stance will better recruit the inner quads and will involve the hamstrings and the glutes more. The higher the position of your feet on the platform, the more the hack squat will emphasise the glutes.
Can Train One Leg at A Time
One of the benefits of hack squat machine is that you can train one leg at a time. The single leg hack squat is a unilateral exercise, you can use it to train one leg at a time to avoid or correct muscle imbalances.
You may not even be aware, but a lot of the time the dominant side of your body takes on more of the load of a bilateral exercise (like the regular hack squat) compared to your non-dominant side. This means that the dominant side of your body works harder, causing the muscles on your non-dominant side to become weak. This is a muscle imbalance. Even if it isn’t visibly noticeable, it’s important to correct muscle imbalances because they can cause injury.
Unilateral exercises like this single-leg hack squat variation are a great way to correct muscle imbalances. Training one side of your body at a time forces both sides to work equally. An important thing to remember when executing the single leg hack squat is that you should load the machine with as much weight that you can manage with your non-dominant side, regardless of whether you can go heavier with your dominant side. Overloading weak muscles has huge potential for injury. Stick with us for our video guide to the single leg hack squat and give this exercise a try.
The hack squat machine provides the movement with stability and support, so if your quads are strong enough, you can load the machine with a lot of weight. Hack squats on the machine force a fixed range of motion and they don’t recruit stabiliser muscles, so one of our favourite hack squat benefits is that you can use a lot of weight and see a lot of increases in hypertrophy and strength. For that reason, this is a great exercise for bodybuilders, or anyone focused on the aesthetic benefits of exercising.
Strengthen Your Knee
The quads are responsible for knee extension, so by working your quads and training the knee extension, the hack squat can strengthen the ligaments in the knee. By strengthening your quads, you’ll strengthen your knees, seem simple enough? Unfortunately, that’s not entirely the case.
It’s important to take this benefit with a pinch of salt. If you’re recovering from a knee injury or you want to work around an existing injury, this isn’t an appropriate exercise. The hack squat can build strength in your knee, but in order to execute this movement properly, you’ll need a decent amount of knee strength initially.
At the bottom of the movement, your knees are positioned quite far forward, so using heavy weights on the hack squat machine would put a lot of strain on the knee and could cause damage or injury. For that reason, start off light and perfect your form and then slowly add more weight as you get more confident.
If you’re not confident that you have enough strength in your knees to safely execute this exercise, the leg press is a good hack squat alternative that won’t put as much strain on your knees.
Reduced Risk of Lower Back Injury
One of the benefits of the hack squat machine is that it stabilises your body meaning that your core and lower back muscles aren’t recruited. Another benefit of the machine specifically is that exercising on the machine makes it easy to get the right form. Both of these factors reduce the risk of lower back injury. Because the movement recruits the erector spinae muscles in your lower back a lot less than regular squats, the likelihood that you will injure your lower back is also reduced.
Hack Squat VS Squat
You’re probably wondering what’s wrong with regular barbell squats? We’re not denying that barbell squats are the ultimate leg exercise. We rate them as one of the very best compound exercises because, with enough weight, they can even work your core and upper body muscles as well as the muscles in your lower body.
But you shouldn’t ignore the hack squat just because the barbell squat has a ton of its own benefits. The hack squat is a really effective exercise, it’s definitely worth a try – unless you don’t want big quads? In which case, maybe you’re in the wrong place.
If you do want to improve the aesthetic of your quads, the hack squat is definitely worth considering. So that you can weigh up hack squats vs squats and figure out where each of them fit into your exercise routine, we’ve done the comparison for you.
First, we’ve explained how to do regular squats – we know you probably already know this, but we don’t like to cut corners! So, stick with us, because after that we’ll explain all of the key hack squat vs squat similarities and differences.
How to Do A Barbell Squat
- Stand up-right with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hold a loaded barbell on the top of your upper back.
- Find a fixed spot to look at to keep your head up.
- Bend at the knees to move your body down.
- As your squatting down, try to stop your hips from moving backwards and keep your torso out.
- Stop lowering your body when your thighs are parallel with the floor.
- In this position, make sure that your knees are in line with your toes.
- Hold this squat for a second and then push through your heels to rise back up.
- Extend your legs until you’re back in the starting position, ensuring that you don’t lock your knees.
Main Muscles Worked: Quads.
Secondary Muscles Worked: Glutes, Hamstrings, Calves, Lower Back and Core.
Now that we’ve cleared up how to do a hack squat and a barbell squat with proper form, check out the similarities and the differences between the two.
The movement is pretty similar for both the hack squat and regular squats. Speaking in basic terms, for both exercises, you squat down by bending at your knees, hold the squat position, and then push through your heels to rise back up. Using the hack squat machine forces your upper body to remain upright which changes the movement slightly, along with a few other things.
Relevant to the movement, the hack machine involves a fixed range of motion compared to the barbell squat which is a free-weight exercise. However, the fixed range of motion exercised on the machine forces an unnatural movement which can cause joint injuries if you use a lot of weight.
For athletes, free-weight squats are the better choice because they allow you to train in a free range of motion. If your goal is to bulk up your quads, then hack squats are a good addition to your leg day workout.
Which Is Best for Beginners?
One of the benefits of working out on an exercise machine is that it’s easier to get your form and execute the movement properly. For that reason, we’d say the hack squat is a good choice for beginners. Its arguable that the machine makes this exercise easier than barbell squats, but it’s important to remember that hack squats are still a killer workout for your quads. No matter how much the machine assists in stabilising the movement, initial knee and quad strength are absolutely necessary. Exercise machines are brilliant but don’t go into a set of hack squats thinking that they’re going to be easy. If you’re a newbie at the gym, start off adding a small amount of weight to the machine and slowly increase the resistance as you get stronger.
A few of the differences that come up in the hack squat vs squat comparison are the result of differences between free-weights and exercise machines. One of the main differences is that the exercise machines like the hack squat machine provide stability for the movement. On the other hand, the free-weight barbell squat recruits upper body muscles to stabilise the body. The need for stabilising muscles during this back squat contributes to the difference in the hack squat vs squat muscles worked.
Because the machine provides stability, you can better focus on the lower body – mainly the quads – for the hack squat. However, not needing to activate any of the stabilising muscles during the hack squat makes the movement somewhat unnatural. In order to progress your muscle hypertrophy and overall strength by adding more and more weight to your hack squat, you’ll still need to do free-weight exercises to strengthen the key stabilising muscles. For this reason, hack squats are a great exercise but definitely not a replacement for barbell squats.
For both exercises, the quads are the main muscles worked. For the secondary muscles, they both recruit the hamstrings, glutes, and calves, too. The hack squat and the barbell squat are both brilliant for building bigger lower leg muscles. But, squatting without the hack squat machine recruits a few more secondary muscles.
As we mentioned above, exercising with the hack machine adds balance and stability to the movement whilst barbell squats do not have the same support. Therefore, free-weight squats recruit the core muscles as stabiliser muscles, so they also work the abs and the lower back muscles.
Squats work the posterior muscles like the glutes and the hamstrings a lot more than a hack squat does. This is because the placement of weight and your position in the hack squat machine forces an upright position which keeps the main emphasis of the movement on the quads. Because the upper body remains upright and the lower legs are perpendicular to the ground at the bottom of the movement, the quads remain the main emphasis. Meanwhile, the glutes and the hamstrings are also recruited to drive your body upwards from the bottom of a barbell squat. So, although both emphasise the quads, the hack squat works them a lot more than the regular squat. If your goal is to bulk up your quads, go for the hack squat. For those with more general fitness goals, barbell squats are position.
So, Which Is Best?
Barbell squats are one of the best exercises you can do, they have tons of varied benefits and definitely deserve a spot in your workout. So why are we even suggesting that you consider a hack squat instead? Because we’re firm believers in having variation in your workout.
There isn’t any exercise worth replacing barbell squats, but that doesn’t mean that the hack squat isn’t worth doing! The main conclusion of this comparison is that the ‘best exercise’ is entirely dependent on individual fitness goals. If you want to target the quads specifically, the hack squat triumphs.
Before You Go!
If you enjoyed this exercise guide, check out some other quad-targeting exercises:
- Leg extensions
- Sissy squats
- Trap bar deadlift
For more leg day inspiration, you can find exercise videos for the best calf building exercises here.
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Reverse Hack Squat with Machine: How to Do, Benefits and Alternatives. By James Gold +, August 31st, 2016| Hamstring Exercises and Workouts. Reverse Hack Squat Tips. Hellraiser Training – Reverse Hack Squat Substitute Part I. Reverse Hack squat for more focus on glutes and legs. Alternative exercises to squats. Im doing hrt but my gym doesnt have the hacksquat like the video. Its the one that is like a squat so how can I do a reverse hack squat that is close to the video.
- Alternative To Reverse Hack Squats
- Reverse Hack Squat Machine
- Alternative For Hack Squat Machine
Q I know squats are important for building a great butt, but some injuries prevent me from doing them. Do you have any good squat alternatives or even a squat-free booty workout? In general, the rule in the gym is ‘if it hurts, don’t do it.’
If your back or hips are immobile or injured, loading heavy weight on your back and trying to squat it may be a bad idea. Although there’s no doubt about the efficacy of squats for booty-building, sometimes they’re just not in the cards. Have no fear, though! Even if you must avoid the squat rack due to injuries, you can still achieve the ultimate set of glutes. There are many other fun and challenging exercises that will build and shape buns of steel. Just 10-15 reps of the following exercises will stimulate your glutes from all angles.
Alternative To Reverse Hack Squats
Mix and match them on your leg or glute days, or include them in your full-body circuits. Do them correctly and frequently and you’ll build a round, full bum that looks great in a bikini or even a pair of jeans. Let’s go booty-building! Ode to the lunge A fantastic alternative to the squat is the lunge. Although there are about a million variations, most lunges have the same basic setup: one leg is forward with the knee bent and the other leg is behind. . You can do them without weight, or you can hold a barbell, dumbbells, or even kettlebells. Lunges build and shape your quads, hamstrings, and butt.
The farther forward you step your front foot, the more your butt and hamstrings will have to work. A shorter step will emphasize your quads. Lunges are also great for stretching out those hip flexors—if you sit all day, yours are probably short, tight, and weak.
Lunges will also work those oft-forgotten hip adductors and abductors that are so important to stability and athletic performance. Here are a few of my favorite types of lunges. You can add a few sets to your leg day and enjoy the benefits. Barbell Lunge Grab a barbell or set of dumbbells and go for it. Walking lunges differ from stationary lunges in that you have to use your already-taxed front leg to step forward instead of pushing backward into a standing position. The trailing leg is mostly just for stability.
Although stationary lunges are great for leg and butt development, I prefer walking lunges because they hit that forward leg a little harder. Remember to reach forward with your front leg to better activate your butt and hamstrings. Do enough reps to feel the burn! Don’t Forget Nutrition!
Once you’ve kicked serious butt in the gym, don’t let your hard work go to waste. Proper, balanced nutrition is crucial to fitness success. Make sure that your meals consist of lean protein, complex carbs, heart-healthy fat sources, and varieties of fruits and vegetables.
Alternative For Hack Squat Machine
Deficit lunges are great for building better glutes and hammies, because those muscles actually initiate the movement. Because you’re working from a deficit, your hips have to work harder to drive your body upward, which places more emphasis on your backside. There’s no need to lunge backward from a cliff, here. A 2-4 inch deficit will be plenty.