What are Hack Squats? (A guide to bigger legs)

What are hack squats?

What are hack squats?

If you are new to bodybuilding or the gym scene, you may have heard the term, but what are hack squats? 

The hack squat is a resistance exercise that targets the quad and hamstrings in the upper legs. It is typically performed on a dedicated hack squat machine although there is a variation that can be performed with a loaded barbell. 

There are a few squat variations that are more commonplace in the gym such as the front squat, traditional squat and the split-leg squat but hack squats are a great way to mix things up and keep your quads guessing.

Which muscles are targeted with hack squats?

The main target muscle with a hack squat is the quadriceps at the front of the upper leg. These muscles are responsible for flexing the knee joint and straightening the leg. 

The quadriceps are made up of four separate muscles and the hack squat manages to activate all of them so is great for packing on mass.

Hack squats uscles worked

The hack squat s classified as a compound exercise as it brings a lot of secondary muscles in to play as movers and stabilisers. As with any leg pressing movement, there is a lot of tension placed on the hamstrings and gluteal muscles. 

The calves are also activated as stabiliser muscles to give you a sturdy stance and strong footing. If you are performing a barbell hack squat, your abs, obliques and lower back muscles will be acting as stabilisers. 

What is the point of hack squats?


If you are a bodybuilder or fitness competitor, wide and defined quads are one of the first things that a judge will notice. Even if you just train for fun, big quads will give your legs a great shape and define the glutes. 


Strength athletes also benefit from well-developed quads. Strong quads will help with your squat and deadlift numbers. Athletes such as footballers and rugby players need strong quads as they contribute to explosive acceleration, speed and jumping movements.

Injury prevention. 

Strong quads and glutes help with injury prevention in the gym and with day to day life. There is a lower risk of developing back pain and the knee joint will have extra stability from regular activation. 

How do I do hack squats?

There are two basic hack squat movements. One is with a hack squat machine and the other is a free-standing movement with a loaded barbell bar. Both are effective exercises. 

Arguably, the machine allows you to train with a heavier load as there is no stress on the core stabilising muscles and you do not have to worry about your grip strength. 

Machine hack squats.

Hack squat demo

There are a few different variations of hack squat machines. Some require you to face towards the machine and use shoulder pads, some face away from the machine and some in a seated position. They all do exactly the same thing just with a slightly different motion. 

The advantage of using a hack squat machine is that the weight is distributed at an angle to your centre mass taking the strain away from the spine. This allows you to train heavier with a lower risk of injury, It is also an ideal way for beginners to start squatting if they are not confident with a barbell. 

  1. Set the hack squat machine up. Add your weight plates and adjust the seat or shoulder pads to your height.
  2. Stand on the machine so that your legs are at an angle of about 45 degrees and slip your shoulders under the pads. 
  3. Take the strain of the weight and release the safety handles.
  4. Slowly lower the weight until your legs are bent at a right angle. This is your starting position.
  5. Take a deep breath, upon exhale, push up through your heels until your legs are almost fully extended. 
  6. Do not fully straighten the leg, keep it slightly bent to keep tension on the quads. 
  7. Repeat the movement for the required number of reps and sets. Start with a light weight and work your way up to your working sets 
  8. At the end of your set, flip over the safety handles for your rest periods. 

Barbell hack squats.

How to do a barbell hack squat

The barbell hack squat is rarely seen in the gym. Most trainers tend to opt for a traditional squat, front squat or a hack squat machine. If you do not have access to a hack squat machine, this exercise is certainly worth throwing into the mix. 

The barbell hack squat movement is similar to that of a normal squat but the weight is held behind you with an overhand grip. The resistance is at a different angle to that of traditional squats so the quads are hit in a slightly different way. This keeps them guessing and adapting which is a key to adding mass.

Alternatives to hack squats.

Split squats
Front squats

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