Hack Squat: How to Perform, Benefits, & Expert Tips 

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The hack squat is a great exercise that comes with a ton of benefits, and knowing how to perform it correctly is going to be useful throughout your entire fitness journey. 

Let’s just jump straight into it and take a look at how to perform the hack squat, the benefits that come with doing hack squats, and some expert tips that will help you accelerate your progress with this incredible movement.  

Machine Hack Squat Overview 

The machine hack squat is designed to simulate a squatting motion while providing support and stability. 

It typically consists of a sled that moves along a fixed track. 

You position yourself on the machine with your back against a padded support and your feet on large footplates. 

The movement involves pushing the sled upward by extending your legs, mimicking a squatting motion. 

Machine hack squats primarily target the muscles of the lower body, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. A smith machine could also act as a valid substitute if there is no hack squat machine around.

The exercise also engages the calves and core muscles a little bit. 

By using the machine, you can focus on the movement itself without the need for balancing the weight, making it a suitable option for beginners or those who may have difficulty with free weight squats. It’s a great way to get a full lower body workout.

How to Do a Hack Squat the Right Way 

Performing the hack squat with proper form is essential to maximize its benefits and minimize the risk of injury. Follow these steps to ensure you’re doing the hack squat the right way: 

  1. Adjust the Machine: Start by adjusting the machine to your body size. Position your back against the padded support and place your feet on the footplates. Ensure your feet are shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointed slightly outward. Hack squat foot placement is very important so make sure you get this part right. 
  2. Brace Your Core: Engage your core muscles by pulling your navel in toward your spine. This will provide stability and support throughout the exercise. 
  3. Unrack the Weight: Depending on the machine design, there may be a lever or handle to release the weight. Unrack the weight by pushing with your legs, making sure it is secure and stable before proceeding. 
  4. Lower the Weight: Begin the movement by bending your knees and hips, allowing the sled to descend. Keep your chest up and maintain an upright posture throughout the motion. 
  5. Reach the Desired Depth: Descend until your thighs are parallel to the floor or slightly lower, ensuring proper depth for effective muscle engagement. 
  6. Drive through Your Heels: Push through your heels and extend your legs to raise the sled back up to the starting position. Focus on contracting your quadriceps and glutes as you lift. 
  7. Control the Movement: Avoid bouncing or using momentum to move the weight. Maintain control throughout the exercise, both during the descent and ascent. 
  8. Breathing: Inhale as you lower the weight and exhale as you push it back up. 
  9. Repeat: Perform the desired number of repetitions based on your fitness goals and program. 

Machine Hack Squat Video Exercise Guide 

Link: Hack Squat | Exercise Guide – YouTube 

What’s The Point? 

If you’re looking to develop strong and well-defined lower body muscles, the hack squat is an exercise worth considering. It specifically targets your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes while also engaging other supporting muscles. 

Let’s explore the hack squat benefits and what it can bring to your fitness routine. 

Benefits 

Quadriceps Development 

The hack squat is a fantastic exercise for targeting your quadriceps, the large muscles at the front of your thighs. 

By performing hack squats, you can specifically focus on strengthening and developing your quads, leading to improved leg definition and functional strength. 

Lower Body Strength 

Hack squats engage not only the quadriceps but also other lower body muscles such as the glutes, hamstrings, and calves. 

This compound movement helps to increase overall lower body strength and power, making it beneficial for various activities like sports, running, and everyday movements. 

Joint-Friendly 

Unlike some other lower body exercises, hack squats are relatively joint-friendly. The machine or hack squat platform provides stability and support, reducing the impact on your joints, particularly the knees. 

This makes hack squats a suitable option for individuals with joint concerns or those who may find traditional barbell squats uncomfortable. 

Balance and Stability 

The hack squat requires core engagement and stability to maintain proper form throughout the exercise. 

By regularly incorporating hack squats into your routine, you can improve your balance and stability, which can have positive effects on other exercises and activities. 

Variety and Muscle Stimulation 

Adding hack squats to your workout routine adds variety to your lower body training. 

It stimulates your muscles in a different way compared to traditional squats, allowing for a well-rounded leg workout. Variety is important for challenging your muscles in different ways and preventing plateaus in your progress. 

Hack Squat Muscles Worked 

When you perform hack squats, you activate several key muscle groups in your lower body. 

The primary muscle worked during this exercise is the quadriceps, which are the large muscles at the front of your thighs. 

These muscles are responsible for extending your knees and play a crucial role in movements like walking, running, and jumping. 

Quads 

The quadriceps consist of four main muscles—the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius. 

When you perform hack squats, these muscles contract to lift the weight and straighten your legs. 

This helps to develop strength, power, and definition in your quads, contributing to an aesthetically pleasing lower body and improved athletic performance. 

Glutes, Hamstrings & Core 

In addition to the quadriceps, another one of the main hack squat muscles worked Is the glutes. 

Your glutes (particularly the gluteus maximus) and hamstrings act as stabilizers, helping to maintain proper form and control throughout the exercise. 

Your core muscles also play a role in stabilizing your spine and pelvis. 

Is There Anyone Who Should Skip It? 

While the hack squat can be an effective exercise for most individuals, there are a few situations where it might be appropriate to skip or modify it: 

Injury or Pain 

 If you have a pre-existing injury or experience pain in your knees, hips, or lower back, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional or a qualified trainer before attempting the hack squat. 

They can assess your condition, provide appropriate modifications, or recommend alternative exercises that won’t exacerbate your injury or discomfort. 

Limited Mobility or Flexibility 

Some individuals may have limited mobility or flexibility in their lower body, making it challenging to perform the hack squat with proper form. 

In such cases, it’s crucial to work on improving your mobility and flexibility through targeted exercises and stretches before attempting the hack squat. 

A professional trainer can help you with exercises to enhance your range of motion. 

Alternative Exercises 

The hack squat is just one exercise among many that can target your lower body muscles. 

If the hack squat doesn’t align with your preferences or fitness goals, there are alternative exercises you can consider. 

Traditional barbell squats, lunges, leg presses, or other squat variations may provide similar benefits and effectively work your quads and other lower body muscles. 

How Is It Different From A Traditional Barbell Squat? 

When it comes to lower body exercises, the hack squat and the traditional barbell squat are two popular choices. 

While they both target similar muscle groups, there are some notable differences between the two. 

Equipment and Body Positioning 

One significant difference lies in the equipment and body positioning. In a traditional barbell squat, you hold a barbell across your upper back while standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. 

On the other hand, the hack squat typically involves using a machine with a sled and footplates, where you position yourself with your back against a padded support and your feet on the footplates. 

This difference in equipment and body positioning can impact the load distribution and muscle engagement during the exercise. 

Load Distribution 

In a traditional barbell squat, the load is distributed primarily on your upper back and shoulders. 

This requires your entire body, including your core, to work together to stabilize the weight. 

 In contrast, the hack squat machine provides stability and support, allowing you to focus more on targeting your lower body muscles without worrying as much about balance or stabilization. 

The weight is typically placed on your shoulders or held with handles in front of you, depending on the machine design. 

Muscle Engagement 

While both exercises engage the major muscles of the lower body, the distribution of muscle activation may differ slightly. 

The traditional barbell squat tends to place a greater emphasis on the posterior chain, including the glutes and hamstrings. 

It also requires more involvement from your core muscles for stabilization. On the other hand, the hack squat primarily targets the quadriceps, located at the front of your thighs. 

It still engages the glutes and hamstrings but to a lesser extent compared to the barbell squat. The hack squat can be an effective exercise for isolating and developing the quads. 

How Can You Add This To Your Routine? 

If you’re interested in incorporating the hack squat into your routine, here are a few tips to get started: 

Proper Form 

Before adding the hack squat to your routine, ensure you have a solid understanding of the correct form and technique. 

It’s a good idea to work with a qualified trainer or watch instructional videos to learn the proper body positioning, movement pattern, and range of motion. 

Performing the exercise with proper form is crucial for maximizing benefits and reducing the risk of injury. 

Start with Lighter Weights 

As with any new exercise, it’s important to start with lighter weights to allow your body to adapt and get familiar with the movement.

Focus on mastering the technique before gradually increasing the weight. This will help you maintain proper form and avoid unnecessary strain. 

Determine the Right Reps and Sets  

The number of repetitions and sets will depend on your fitness goals and overall training program. 

If you’re aiming for strength and muscle building, you might opt for lower repetitions (around 6-8) with higher weights. 

For muscular endurance, higher repetitions (around 12-15) with moderate weights may be more suitable. 

Consider consulting with a trainer or fitness professional to determine the ideal rep and set range based on your specific goals. 

Pair with Other Lower Body Exercises 

The hack squat can be a valuable addition to your lower body routine, but it’s also beneficial to incorporate a variety of exercises to target different muscles and movement patterns. 

Consider pairing the hack squat with exercises like lunges, deadlifts, or hamstring curls to provide a well-rounded lower body workout. 

Listen to Your Body 

As with any exercise, it’s essential to listen to your body and make adjustments as needed.

If you experience pain or discomfort during the hack squat, consider modifying the exercise or seeking guidance from a professional. 

Everyone’s body is unique, so it’s important to find the right balance and progression that works for you. 

Alternative Exercises for Hack Squat 

Barbell Full Squat 

The barbell full squat is a classic lower body exercise that engages the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and core. It involves holding a barbell on your upper back and performing squats with a full range of motion. 

Barbell Hack Squat 

The hack squat barbell is a variation that mimics the hack squat machine’s movement using a barbell. It targets the quadriceps while also engaging the glutes and hamstrings. 

Reverse hack Squat 

The reverse hack squat is performed by facing the machine and placing your shoulders against the back pad while stepping onto the foot platform. This variation emphasizes the glutes and hamstrings more than the quadriceps. 

Machine Hack Squat Tips 

The machine hack squat is a great exercise for targeting your lower body muscles and building strength. To make the most out of your hack squat sessions, consider the following tips: 

Adjust the Machine Properly 

Before you start your hack squat, take a moment to adjust the machine to fit your body. 

Ensure that the foot platform is positioned at a comfortable height, allowing you to maintain proper form throughout the movement. 

The back pad or shoulder pads should also be adjusted so that you can maintain stability and support during the exercise. 

Warm-Up and Stretch 

Like any exercise, it’s essential to warm up your muscles before jumping into heavy hack squats. 

Spend a few minutes doing dynamic movements like leg swings, hip rotations, and bodyweight squats to increase blood flow and loosen up your joints. 

Additionally, perform some stretches for your lower body, focusing on your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, to improve flexibility and reduce the risk of injury. 

If you’re new to hack squats or using the machine for the first time, it’s advisable to start with lighter weights. 

This allows you to focus on proper form and technique without compromising your safety. Gradually increase the weight as you become more comfortable and confident with the exercise. 

Engage Your Core 

Throughout the hack squat movement, remember to engage your core muscles. Keeping your core tight and stable helps maintain proper alignment and protects your lower back. 

Imagine pulling your belly button in towards your spine as you perform the exercise. 

Control the Movement 

 Avoid rushing through the hack squat and focus on controlling the weight during both the descent and ascent phases. 

Maintain a slow and controlled tempo, emphasizing the contraction of your quadriceps as you push through your heels and extend your knees. This controlled movement not only improves muscle engagement but also reduces the risk of injury. 

Use a Full Range of Motion 

Aim to achieve a full range of motion during your hack squats. 

Lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor or even slightly below, depending on your flexibility and comfort. 

This deep squat position helps engage your muscles more effectively and promotes greater muscle activation. 

Breathe Properly 

Breathing correctly during the hack squat is crucial for maintaining stability and providing adequate oxygen to your muscles. 

Inhale deeply before descending into the squat and exhale as you push back up. 

This breathing pattern helps brace your core and promotes better energy transfer throughout the exercise. 

Pay attention to how your body feels during hack squats. 

If you experience any pain or discomfort, it’s important to stop and reassess your form or decrease the weight. 

It’s normal to feel some muscle fatigue, but sharp or intense pain should be avoided. 

Remember, it’s always better to prioritize safety and proper form over lifting heavy weights. 

Will You Be Leaving Gains On The Table By Choosing The Hack Squat Over The Regular Squat?

The debate between the hack squat and the regular squat is a common one among fitness enthusiasts, with each exercise offering unique benefits and challenges.

While both exercises target the lower body muscles, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, there are differences in muscle activation, joint mechanics, and overall effectiveness.

Here’s a breakdown to help you decide if you’ll be leaving gains on the table by opting for the hack squat over the regular squat:

Muscle Activation: The regular squat is often considered a more comprehensive lower body exercise as it engages a larger number of stabilizing muscles, including the core, lower back, and upper body. It also allows for a greater range of motion, leading to increased muscle activation in the hips, glutes, and hamstrings. On the other hand, the hack squat primarily targets the quadriceps, with less emphasis on other muscle groups.

Joint Mechanics: The regular squat requires greater ankle, knee, and hip mobility compared to the hack squat. This increased range of motion can lead to greater muscle activation and strength gains, particularly in the posterior chain muscles. However, individuals with limited mobility or previous injuries may find the hack squat to be a more accessible and comfortable option.

Overall Effectiveness: Both the regular squat and the hack squat can be effective exercises for building lower body strength and muscle mass. The choice between the two depends on individual goals, preferences, and physical limitations. While the regular squat offers a more comprehensive workout and may lead to greater overall gains, the hack squat can still be an effective tool for targeting the quadriceps and building leg strength.

Hack Squat – FAQs 


What Is Hack Squat Good For? 

The hack squat is good for bringing all of the benefits of traditional squats without putting excessive stress on your joints and tendons.   

Is Hack Squat Like a Deadlift? 

The hack squat is similar to a deadlift when it comes to which muscles it targets. 

However, deadlifts tend to put more of an emphasis on the back and arms, while the hack squat tends to put more of a focus on the legs.  

Hack Squat vs Leg Press? 

Both the hack squat and leg press machine/leg extensions are incredibly similar mechanically and work the same target muscles.  

Although, the original hack squat may help you put on slightly more muscle mass since it involves hip extension, the lower back, the knee joint, and acts as a compound movement like the regular squat. Which one you prefer will just come down to personal preference.

What Does the Hack Squat Work?

The hack squat primarily targets the quad muscles, along with engaging the glutes, hamstrings, and calves to a lesser extent. It’s a compound exercise that works the entire lower body, making it an efficient choice for leg day workouts.

By performing hack squats with proper form and shoulder-width stance, you can effectively target the muscles of the lower body while also engaging upper body stability muscles, such as the core and shoulder blades.

Are Hack Squats Better than Squats?

Whether hack squats are better than traditional squats depends on individual preferences, goals, and physical capabilities.

Both exercises offer unique benefits and can be valuable additions to a workout routine. While back squats and front squats target similar muscle groups as hack squats, they require greater upper body and core stability.

Hack squats, on the other hand, provide more support and stability, making them a great option for those with knee issues or limited ankle mobility.

Ultimately, incorporating a variety of squat variations can lead to well-rounded leg development and overall strength.

Why is Hack Squat so Difficult?

Hack squats can be challenging for several reasons. One factor is the positioning of the body during the exercise, which places a significant load on the quad muscles while also engaging the glutes, hamstrings, and calves.

Additionally, maintaining proper form throughout the movement, including keeping the knees aligned with the toes and avoiding excessive forward lean, requires focus and control.

Some individuals may also have a hard time with hack squats due to limited ankle mobility or grip strength. However, with practice and consistent training, many people can overcome these challenges and perform hack squats with proficiency.

What is a Respectable Hack Squat?

A respectable hack squat weight can vary depending on factors such as individual strength levels, training experience, and body weight.

Generally, lifting a percentage of your body weight on the hack squat machine is considered a good starting point. As you progress, aim to increase the weight gradually while maintaining perfect form.

Setting personal goals and tracking progress over time can help gauge what constitutes a respectable hack squat weight for you. Remember, it’s essential to prioritize safety and proper form over lifting heavy weights, as this reduces the risk of injury and ensures long-term progress.

We hope we have been able to help you! 

The hack squat is a fantastic exercise that brings all the benefits of regular squatting without putting enormous strain on your joints and tendons, and this makes it an invaluable tool that you can use whenever you may need it.  

If you would like more fitness advice, head over to MovingForwards to check out our other articles. 

Good luck!