How to Do a Proper Hack Squat

Hack Squat

Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

The hack squat is one of the best quad-building exercises you can possibly do. It is a popular exercise that many weightlifters and athletes do for lower-body development. It is typically done on a sled that allows you to squat on a 45-degree angle, and it focuses strength training on three main muscle groups — your glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps.

The hack squat machine is a staple in most gym and fitness centers. If you’ve seen a person doing it, then you must have noticed that they were lifting several plates — certainly more than they normally use when doing a barbell squat. Since most people use loads when performing a hack squat, it has become quite popular in gyms.

People who are not fitness freaks and who do not go to the gym regularly may not be familiar with the hack squat exercise. As such, if you are one of those people, you might be interested in knowing how to do it properly so you have a stronger, lower body. This article highlights what hack squares are, how to do the exercise properly, as well as how you use a machine or barbells to do them.

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What Is a Hack Squat Exercise?

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In strength training and general fitness training, squatting is a compound, full-body exercise used to strengthen the muscles of your hips, thighs, buttocks, quadriceps femoris muscle and hamstrings. Additionally, hack squats strengthen your ligaments, bones and the connectivity of the tendons in the entire lower body.

Squatting is considered a vital exercise for increasing the size and strength of one's legs besides developing one's core strength. There are many variations of squat exercises. Squatting is one of the three lifts used in powerlifting, along with bench presses and dead lifts. In this article, we will highlight what hack squats are and how you can do them like a pro.

Hack squats can be done using a barbell or on a machine. Typically, the barbell is held in your hands, just behind your legs. The exercise was first known as Hacke (heel) in Germany. It was a squat performed by Prussian soldiers and was popularized in the English-speaking countries by early 1900s by George Hackenschmidt, a wrestler. Other than a barbell, a hack squat can be done using a machine. The exercise is done by using the legs to lift while the weight rests on one's shoulders and the feet are kept stationary.

Since the lower back is locked during the exercise, it can only be used by athletes during strength training in their general preparation phases. However, the exercise is very valuable to bodybuilders who do not care about the functional transfer of hack squats. Both types of hack squats — machine and barbell — respond best to hypertrophy or functional hypertrophy protocols


woman working on leg press machine

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When done using the exercise using a machine, you will derive the following benefits:

  • Since the exercise takes the upper body out of the movement, it removes potential compensations or weaknesses that could otherwise affect your squat depth. You can focus on ensuring that your thighs are parallel
  • You can load up the weight, thanks to the additional control the machine affords you, and the fact that the upper body, including the core, is taken out of the movement
  • It is easy to train one leg at a time to reduce muscle imbalances
  • Since the machine provides a lot of stability, it can be a safer way to start building strength, particularly when you are coming back from an injury
  • The exercise allows you to change the focus on the muscles by adjusting your foot position. Note that a higher foot position will emphasize the glutes more, while a lower foot position gives emphasis to the quads
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Start lifting the barbel inside the gym

Photo by Victor Freitas from Pexels

There are downsides, however, when doing these types of squats. These includes:

  • Your knees typically sit far out in front, which results in knee problems, particularly when you use heavyweight loads
  • In traditional barbell squats, your core works overtime in helping you control and stabilize the weight, but with hack squats, you don't get the same benefit
  • It is easy to train one leg at a time to reduce muscle imbalances
  • When doing the exercise, you are locked into a machine, which means that the critical stabilizer muscles (useful to help keep the joints safe) are not engaged
  • When doing these type of squats, you will be forced to work in a fixed angle which is not how sports are played, and this means that the exercise doesn’t train your body specifically for how you move on the playing field
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Barbell Hack Squat Like a Pro

The barbell hack squat is an old-school strength exercise that has been in use for decades by fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders to build strength in the hamstrings, glutes and quads. It also is more low-back friendly since the weight is under the center of mass instead of in front of it. It places ample tension on the entire lower body, including the hamstrings, glutes and quads, and allows the lifter to train both the dead lift and quad pattern at the same time.

Here is how you do the barbell hack squat like a pro:

  1. 1
    Stand straight as you hold the barbell behind you at arm’s length and your feet at shoulder width. A shoulder width grip is best with the hand palms facing back but you can use the wrist wraps for a better grip.
  2. 2
    As you keep your head and eyes up and back straight, squat until your upper thighs are parallel to the floor. Breathe in as you advance to the floor slowly.
  3. 3
    Press the heel of the foot and squeeze the thighs and as you do so, going back up as you breathe out.
  4. 4
    Repeat the procedure for the recommended repetitions, as recommended by your trainer.

There are several variations. It can be performed with the heels slightly elevated on a small block, which is a good option for beginners and, especially, if you lack flexibility.

Machine Hack Squad Like a Pro

Machine hack squats require a strong development of the vastus medialis muscles and good stability of the knee joints to be effective.

Here is how to do them on a machine:

  1. 1
    Place your back against the back pad of the machine and hook your shoulders under the machine's shoulder pads
  2. 2
    Position your legs on the machine taking a shoulder-width, medium stance with the toes slightly pointed out. Ensure that you always keep your head up and maintain the back on the pad at all times
  3. 3
    Place your arms on the machine’s side handles and disengage the safety bars (done by moving the side handles from the facing front position to a diagonal position.)
  4. 4
    Straighten your legs without locking your knees. This is how you assume a starting position.
  5. 5
    Begin slowly by lowering the unit by bending the knees as you maintain a straight posture with your head up. Continue down until the angle between the calves and the upper legs becomes slightly less than 90 degrees. Inhale as you perform this movement. If you do it correctly, the front of the knees should make an imaginary straight line with the toes that are perpendicular to the front. If the knees are past that imaginary line, then you are placing undue stress on your knees.
  6. 6
    Begin raising the unit as you exhale by pushing the floor with the heel of your feet as you straighten your legs again and go back to the starting position.
  7. 7
    Repeat the process for the numbers of repetitions recommended by your certified personal trainer.

You should emphasize the glutes instead of the quads by moving the feet forward on the platform, or hit your leg adductors using a wide stance and then turning your toes forward.


barbell black and white

Photo by Victor Freitas from Pexels

Squatting is a compound and full-body exercise that is used in training the muscles of the hips, thighs, buttocks, quadriceps femoris muscle, hamstrings, strengthening the ligaments, bones and insertion of the tendons in the entire lower body. The hack squat focuses on the lower body. However, the lower back is typically locked in the exercise. This means that it can only be used by athletes during their strength training in general preparation phases. the hack squat is a highly valuable exercise for bodybuilders.

There are two versions of hack squats are the machine and the barbell. The barbell hack squat is an old-school strength exercise that trains the hamstrings, glutes and quads and allows the lifter to train both the dead lift and quad pattern at the same time. Machine hack squats require a strong development of the vastus medialis muscles and good stability of the knee joints to be effective. For the machine version of the squats, you can emphasize the glutes instead of the quads by moving the feet forward on the platform.

We hope this article has thoroughly addressed what the hack squat exercise is, what it is best used for and how to do the exercise properly and safely in both its variations by using a machine or barbell.

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