Hack Squat 101: Steps, Proper Form, And Common Mistakes

Hack squat - fitzabout
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Updated: February 2, 2023

The hack squat is a compound exercise that works on the muscles of the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings.

When you perform the hack squat, you are working these muscles to lift and lower the weight. As a result, the hack squat can help to build strength and muscle mass in these areas of the body.

The quadriceps are a group of four muscles located in the front of our thigh. These muscles are responsible for extending our knee and flexing our hip. The glutes are a group of three muscles that are responsible for hip extension and rotation. The hamstrings are a group of three muscles located on the back of our thigh. These muscles are responsible for extending our hip and flexing our knee.

By performing the hack squat, you can work all of these muscles to improve your lower body strength and improve your athletic performance. Additionally, the hack squat can help to increase muscle definition and improve your overall physique.

What is hack squat?

Hack squat exercise - fitzabout

The hack squat is a compound exercise that targets the muscles of the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings. It is similar to the traditional back squat, but instead of placing the barbell on the back of the shoulders, you hold it at arm’s length in front of your body. This exercise can be performed using a hack squat machine, which is a specialized piece of exercise equipment found in many gyms, or with a barbell and a squat rack. To do the hack squat, you will need to load weight onto the barbell or hack squat machine and then stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing slightly outward. From this position, you will bend your knees and lower your hips as if you were sitting back into a chair, keeping your chest up and your back straight. As you lower yourself, you will push the barbell or machine handles out in front of your body. Then, you will straighten your legs and push through your heels to return to the starting position. The hack squat is a great exercise for building strength and muscle in the lower body.

Benefits of hack squat

The hack squat targets the muscles of the lower body, particularly the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. Some potential benefits of including the hack squat in a weight training program include:

  • Improved leg strength: The hack squat can help to increase strength in the muscles of the legs, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. 1 2
  • Enhanced muscle definition: By increasing the strength of the muscles in the legs, the hack squat can also help to improve muscle definition and tone. 3 4
  • Improved athletic performance: Stronger leg muscles can improve performance in activities that involve running, jumping, and changing direction, such as many sports. 1
  • Better balance and stability: The hack squat can also help to improve balance and stability, which can be beneficial for activities such as skiing or skating. 2
  • Increased bone density: Weight-bearing exercises like the hack squat can help to increase bone density, which can reduce the risk of osteoporosis. 5
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How to do hack squat?

The hack machine resembles an inverted 45-degree leg press. Instead of pushing a weighted sled up and away from you with your feet, your feet remain stable on a solid platform while your body presses along the track with the sled.

The hack squat is a bit closer to the barbell squat, not only because your feet are on the ground, but because your hips reach full extension, whereas they don’t get past 90 degrees on the leg press.

Lean back on the back pad of the sled, placing your shoulders against the two shoulder pads. Place your feet on the middle of the platform, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointing slightly outward. You only need to lift the sled a few inches to clear the safety rack.

Most hack machine will have multiple heights on the safety rack, so if the height isn’t right, simply press down on the sleds, release the safety racks and reset them to your desired height. On most machine, the handles for the safety rack will be on the sides of the machine at waist height, although they may also be above the shoulder pads.

You can change the difficulty of the hack squat, as well as the muscles being targeted, by changing the position of your feet on the platform.

A wider, feet forward stance will be easier, and focus more on your hamstrings and glutes while taking the stress off the knee joint.

A narrower stance, with your feet under you, will put more stress on the quadriceps, but also more stress on the knees.

1. Instructions

To perform the hack squat, follow these steps:

  • Stand facing the hack squat machine with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed slightly outward. Position your feet on the platform, with your heels and balls of your feet on the pads.
  • Grasp the handles on the sides of the machine, keeping your back straight and your head up.
  • Unlatch the weight stacks and slowly lower your body by bending your knees and hips, keeping your back straight and your head up. Descend until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
  • Pause for a moment, then push through your heels to raise your body back up to the starting position.
  • Repeat the exercise for the desired number of repetitions.

2. Tips

Here are a few tips and techniques to consider when performing the hack squat:

Start with a light weight

If you are new to the hack squat, it’s important to start with a light weight to get a feel for the exercise and to ensure proper form. You can gradually increase the weight as you get stronger and more comfortable with the movement.

Keep your back straight

Proper form is essential for getting the most out of the hack squat and minimizing the risk of injury. Make sure to keep your back straight and your head up, and avoid rounding your shoulders or leaning too far forward.

Keep your feet shoulder-width apart

Positioning your feet shoulder-width apart can help to maintain balance and stability during the exercise.

Point your toes slightly outward

Pointing your toes slightly outward can help to engage the muscles of the inner thighs and glutes more effectively.

Avoid leaning too far forward

Leaning too far forward during this exercise can cause strain on the lower back. Make sure to keep your chest up and avoid rounding your shoulders.

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Use a full range of motion

To get the most out of the hack squat, make sure to use a full range of motion by lowering your body until your thighs are parallel to the ground. This will help to fully engage the muscles of the legs and glutes.

Vary your foot placement

Varying your foot placement on the platform during the exercise can help to target different muscle groups and add variety to your workouts. For example, placing your feet closer together can help to increase the challenge for the inner thighs, while placing your feet farther apart can help to target the outer thighs and glutes.

Don’t forget to warm up

It’s important to warm up before any weight training exercise, and the hack squat is no exception. A 5-10 minute dynamic warm-up, such as light cardio and stretching, can help to prepare your muscles for the workout and reduce the risk of injury.

Mix up your routine

To avoid plateauing and keep your workouts challenging, it’s essential to mix up your routine and try new exercises. In addition to the hack squat, consider incorporating other lower body exercises such as squats, lunges, and leg presses into your workouts.

Gradually increase the weight

To challenge your muscles and continue to make progress, it’s critical to gradually increase the weight you are using. Start with a light weight and increase the load as you get stronger.

Get enough rest and recovery

Proper rest and recovery are essential for allowing your muscles to repair and grow. Make sure to get enough sleep and allow for adequate rest between workouts.

3. Hack squat common mistakes

Here are a few common mistakes to avoid when performing the hack squat:

  1. Rounding the shoulders: Rounding the shoulders during the exercise can cause strain on the lower back. Make sure to keep your chest up and avoid hunching over.
  2. Leaning too far forward: Leaning too far forward during the exercise can also cause strain on the lower back. Keep your chest up and avoid rounding your shoulders.
  3. Using too much weight: Using too much weight can cause poor form and increase the risk of injury. Make sure to start with a light weight and gradually increase the load as you get stronger.
  4. Not using a full range of motion: To fully engage the muscles of the legs and glutes, make sure to use a full range of motion by lowering your body until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
  5. Placing your feet too far apart: Placing your feet too far apart can cause instability and increase the risk of injury. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart to maintain balance and stability.
  6. Forgetting to warm up: It’s important to warm up before any weight training exercise to prepare your muscles and reduce the risk of injury. Make sure to include a 5-10 minute dynamic warm-up, such as light cardio and stretching, before starting your hack squat workout.

4. Who can’t do hack squats?

While the hack squat can be a beneficial exercise for many people, it may not be suitable for everyone, particularly those with certain medical conditions or injuries.

It’s essential to consult with a medical professional before starting any new exercise program.

Some people who may not be able to perform the hack squat include:

  • One with lower back injuries: If you have a history of lower back injuries or chronic lower back pain, the hack squat may not be a suitable exercise for you.
  • Those with knee injuries: If you have a history of knee injuries or chronic knee pain, the hack squat may place additional strain on the knees.
  • Those with ankle injuries: If you have a history of ankle injuries or chronic ankle pain, the hack squat may place additional strain on the ankles.
  • One with balance issues: The hack squat requires good balance and stability. If you have balance issues, it may be more challenging to perform the exercise safely.
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If you are unsure whether the hack squat is a suitable exercise for you, it’s always a good idea to consult with a medical professional or a certified fitness trainer. They can help you determine whether the hack squat is appropriate for your fitness level and any medical conditions or injuries you may have.

Bottom line

The hack squat is a weight training exercise that targets the muscles of the lower body, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes; it improves your leg strength, enhanced muscle definition, improved athletic performance, better balance and stability, and increased bone density.

If you are not performing the hack squat properly, you may not be getting the full benefits of the exercise and may be at risk for injury. Make sure to keep your back straight and your head up, and avoid rounding your shoulders or leaning too far forward. Use a full range of motion by lowering your body until your thighs are parallel to the ground.

Use a mirror or have a spotter check your form, it can help you ensure that you are performing the hack squat correctly.

If you are unsure about your form or are having trouble with the exercise, don’t be afraid to ask for help. A certified fitness trainer or a more experienced workout partner can help you improve your form and get the most out of the exercise.

If you are feeling fatigued or are experiencing discomfort during the exercise, it’s okay to take a break and rest. It’s important to listen to your body and not push yourself too hard.

Sources

  1. Neil A. Schwarz, Sean P. Harper, Andy Waldhelm, Sarah K. McKinley-Barnard, Shelley L. Holden, and John E. Kovaleski. “A Comparison of Machine versus Free-Weight Squats for the Enhancement of Lower-Body Power, Speed, and Change-of-Direction Ability during an Initial Training Phase of Recreationally-Active Women.” Sports (Basel). 2019 Oct; 7(10): 215. doi: 10.3390/sports7100215. PMCID: PMC6835729. PMID: 31574918.[][]
  2. Clark DR, Lambert MI, Hunter AM. Trunk Muscle Activation in the Back and Hack Squat at the Same Relative Loads. J Strength Cond Res. 2019 Jul;33 Suppl 1:S60-S69. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002144. PMID: 28704312.[][]
  3. Tarjei Kaardal. “Comparing the effects of different variants of the free weight barbell squat to machine based squatting exercises. A systematic litterature review.” Master thesis in Department of Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, 2019.[]
  4. MICHAEL H. THOMAS and STEVE P. BURNS, PhD. “Increasing Lean Mass and Strength: A Comparison of High Frequency Strength Training to Lower Frequency Strength Training.” Int J Exerc Sci. 2016; 9(2): 159–167. PMCID: PMC4836564. PMID: 27182422.[]
  5. Maria Grazia Benedetti, Giulia Furlini, Alessandro Zati, and Giulia Letizia Mauro. “The Effectiveness of Physical Exercise on Bone Density in Osteoporotic Patients.” Biomed Res Int. 2018; 2018: 4840531. doi: 10.1155/2018/4840531. PMCID: PMC6323511. PMID: 30671455.[]

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