Looking for killer gams? Don’t overlook the hack squat, which can provide just what you need.
A hack squat works the entire lower body — including the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves — as well as the core. An emphasis on the quads means the front of your legs will be feeling it afterward.
A hack squat is great for building strength in the legs, especially if you’re a beginner to the squat.
The angled machine has you in a standing position, safely supporting the weight while you rely on your legs to drive the movement.
If building your legs — especially your quads — is what you’re looking to do, definitely incorporate the hack squat into your routine.
If you have lower back or knee pain, the hack squat usually isn’t a good choice.
Although the machine does provide assistance in terms of stabilization, there will still be strain on the joints, which could aggravate any existing problems.
Although both the hack squat and the traditional barbell squat focus on the quads, there are some differences.
A barbell squat is usually performed in a rack with a barbell loaded onto the shoulders behind the head. The movement is perpendicular to the ground.
There isn’t any assistance from a machine in terms of stabilization — like there would be with a hack squat — so the barbell squat requires the upper body, hips, and core to do more work.
This usually means you’ll be able to lift less than you would on the hack squat machine.
A hack squat may be a good introduction to the traditional barbell squat.
Once you feel strong and stable in the movement that a hack squat requires — pushing through the heel and pushing your butt back — try a barbell squat.
If you’re already comfortable with a barbell squat, use a hack squat to push your weight limits.
A hack squat requires a machine, so you’ll probably need to be at the gym.
To get moving:
- Load the machine with your desired amount of weight. As a beginner, it’s recommended to get familiar with the movement of the machine before adding a bunch of plates.
- Step into the machine, placing your feet shoulder-width apart and your shoulders and back against the pads.
- Release the safety handles, inhale, and lower down, bending your knees until they reach a 90-degree angle.
- Pause here, then push up through the back of your feet to extend your legs back to the starting position.
Start by completing 2 sets of 10–12 reps, then work your way up to 3 sets. Once you can complete this easily, add more weight.
Add the hack squat to any lower body workout as a great complement to squats and deadlifts. Pair it with three to five additional leg exercises and you’ll be sporting a stronger, leaner pair of legs in no time.
You want your legs and joints nice and mobile before you start adding weight.
While the hack squat is a beginner-friendly movement, there are a few things to watch out for.
Your foot placement
You’ll want to ensure that your feet are shoulder-width apart and not too high on the foot plate.
There may be a temptation to place your feet higher and wider to hit your quads harder, but stick with shoulder-width.
Going too heavy too fast
The key with a hack squat is to get your knees to a 90-degree angle. With too much weight on the machine, you’ll have a hard time reaching that depth.
Focus on correct form first, then add more weight.
There are two variations on a hack squat that you can try for a slightly different experience.
Reverse hack squat
In a reverse hack squat, you’ll get into the machine facing the pads.
You’ll want your chest against the back pad and your shoulders underneath the shoulder pads.
Using the same shoulder-width foot placement, lower down until your thighs are parallel, then push through your heels to return to start.
This move places more emphasis on the glutes.
Narrow hack squat
In a narrow hack squat, you’ll set up in the machine the same way you would for a regular hack squat.
But instead of your feet resting shoulder-width apart, bring them closer together to complete the movement. You should still push through your heels on the ascent.
This movement places even more emphasis on the quads.
While the hack squat machine is a beginner-friendly option for this exercise, there is a variation of the hack squat you can execute with a barbell.
This movement is a bit more advanced. You’ll need the upper body strength to support enough weight to challenge your lower body. This can be a tricky proposition for beginners.
Choose a light barbell to start.
To get moving:
- Hold onto the barbell at arm’s length behind your back. Your grip and your feet should be at shoulder-width.
- Keeping the chest up, begin to squat back and down, stopping when your thighs are parallel to the ground and allowing the barbell to lower down as you go.
- Push back up through your heels to the starting position.
If a hack squat machine isn’t available to you, or you’re looking for some alternative exercises, try a leg press machine or a traditional squat.
Both of these exercises focus on the quads, similarly to the hack squat.
Leg press machine
The leg press allows the upper body to disengage a bit, placing the focus on the lower body.
The traditional squat requires more activation from your upper body and core than both the hack squat and leg press, so you’ll be able to lift less, but have the benefit of other muscles being strengthened.
The hack squat is a beneficial exercise for gaining strength in your legs, specifically your quads. There are several variations you can try, too, to provide even more benefits. Add hack squats to your leg day and don’t look back.
Nicole Davis is a writer based in Madison, WI, a personal trainer, and a group fitness instructor whose goal is to help women live stronger, healthier, happier lives. When she’s not working out with her husband or chasing around her young daughter, she’s watching crime TV shows or making sourdough bread from scratch. Find her on Instagram for fitness tidbits, #momlife and more.