Importance of the Hack Squat
Hack squats are an effective accessory exercise that strengthens and develops your lower body. The hack squat is fantastic because you can do the activity with a barbell, a Smith machine, or a hack squat machine. Barbell hack squats are the most challenging variation, and beginners should start with a machine to learn the exercise without worrying about balance.
The exercise is beneficial because it allows you to emphasize your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes with significant loads, leading to growth and strength gains. Doing hack squats with a barbell offers the extra benefits of improving your balance and grip strength. As a result, you become stronger, more athletic, and more independent in your daily life.
We recommend including barbell hack squats early in your leg training. Machine hack squats are less demanding, and you can do those around the middle of your workouts.
How to do a Hack Squat
- Place a barbell on the floor and stand in front of it. Your calves should almost be in contact with it.
- Bring your chest out and descend into a squat as if you were to sit back in an invisible chair. As you grab the barbell, make sure that your back is neutral with your shoulders back. Your hips should be low – around the level of your knees.
- Take a deep breath and, with the barbell in your hands and behind your body, push through your heels to initiate the squat.
- Squat up by having the bar drag against your legs and buttock. Exhale at the top.
- With your shoulders back and gaze directed forward, bend at the knees and hips to descend back down.
- Keep repeating.
What muscles does a hack squat activate?
The primary muscles that work during hack squats are the quadriceps, which cover the front side of our upper thighs, producing knee extension (1, 2). Our quadriceps work hard to control us on the way down and contract to extend our knees and bring us back to the top position.
Hack squats are also beneficial for the glutes (buttocks muscles), especially when squatting to a greater depth (3). The muscle group assists our quadriceps and produces hip extension, allowing us to stand tall during every repetition.
Our hamstrings also contribute during hack squats, but not significantly. The muscle group covers the rear of our thighs and assists the glutes with hip extension. Barbell hack squats are more demanding and emphasize the entire back, midsection, and arms. In contrast, machine hack squats keep the focus on the lower body.
Hack Squat vs. Traditional Barbell Squat
Hack and traditional barbell squats are fantastic for leg growth and lower body strength. Both squat variations offer unique benefits, and trainees can include them in the same workout. For example, your workouts can start with a traditional barbell squat, and you can do a few sets of hack squats near the middle.
Barbell squats are a full-body compound exercise that strengthens a range of major muscle groups, including the quadriceps, glutes, entire back, abs, obliques, chest, and shoulders (4). The activity allows you to overload your body with more weight, leading to growth, athleticism, and strength.
Hack squats are more of an assistance exercise for accumulating extra training volume and changing up the stress on your joints and connective tissues. The stability requirements are much smaller, and your upper body barely plays a role in the exercise.
Barbell hack squats are the exception because you’re lifting a free weight, and you have to hold the barbell in your hands. The movement is more challenging to master, involves more muscles, and is less suited for beginners.
Variations and Modifications of the Hack Squat
1. Machine Hack Squat
Machine hack squats are the most popular and beginner-friendly variation. Step inside the machine, have your feet shoulder-width apart, and place your shoulders against the pad. Once in position, take a breath, release the safety handles, and squat. Descend until your knees are at a 90-degree angle, hold for a moment, and squat up.
2. Smith Machine Hack Squat
Set up the bar at collarbone height, face away from it, and place your trapezius on it. Step forward a bit, brace your core, take a breath, and unrack the bar. Descend until your thighs are parallel to the floor, hold for a moment, and squat up as you exhale.
3. Single-Leg Hack Squat
The single-leg hack squat is a simple variation you can perform to focus on one side at a time, challenge yourself, and prevent side-to-side muscle imbalances. It’s best to perform the variation on a hack squat machine and with a light load.
Mistakes to Avoid
Hack squats are among the safest leg exercises, and most people can do them safely. But, if any hack squat variation causes pain, stop doing it and try something else. For example, if barbell hack squats lead to low back issues, try a different variation or examine your technique.
One of the most common mistakes with hack squats is training with too much weight and shortening the range of motion. Aside from giving a temporary ego boost, doing so isn’t beneficial in any way. Training with a full range of motion allows you to emphasize the correct muscles, making them grow effectively.
A significant mistake with barbell hack squats is allowing your lower back to round, which places stress on the spine and increases the risk of an injury. Prevent the error by keeping your shoulders back and abs engaged.
The third mistake with any hack squat variation is allowing your heels to lift off the ground or footplate. Doing so prevents you from producing force, places more stress on your knees, and makes you unstable. An excellent way to avoid the mistake is to push off the heels on every repetition.
Similar Exercises to the Hack Squat
Goblet squats are a simple accessory exercise that grows your quadricep. The objective is to hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of your chest as you squat. Doing so forces a more upright torso, reducing hip extension and allowing your quadriceps to do more of the work.
Front squats are a compound exercise that allows you to overload your quadriceps, forcing them to grow (4). The goal is to place the barbell in a front rack position, which, similar to goblet squats, forces you to maintain a more upright torso. Doing so leads to greater quadriceps activation.
Jump squats are an effective plyometric exercise that builds lower-body strength and power. The objective is to descend and explode vertically, forcing your legs to quickly produce a lot of force. Performing the exercise makes you more athletic and, like hack squats, develops your quadriceps.