Hack Squat – How To Do, Variations, And Benefits

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A young woman performing hack squats on a smith machine

How to do | Muscles worked | Who Should/Should Not | Add to routine | Safety Tips | Benefits | Variations | Hack squat vs leg press | Common Mistakes

A hack squat is an excellent exercise for building strong and massive legs. Strength gain and hypertrophy can be achieved by performing hack squats with proper form. Although all squat variations contribute to your leg training, hack squats stand out as an isometric exercise targeting specific muscle groups. 

How to do a hack squat?

Equipment required: Hack squat machine

  1. Load the hack squat machine and position yourself in it. Make sure the shoulder pads are in the proper position.
  2. Use an overhand grip to hold the machine during the squat. 
  3. Keep your back flat against the pads. 
  4. Place your feet shoulder-width apart on the footplate.
  5. Bend your knees and lower your hips until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  6. Drive through your heels and extend your legs to return to the starting position.

Muscles worked

Here are the muscles worked during hack squats. 

Primary muscles worked

  • Quadriceps: Rectus femoris, vastus intermedius, vastus medialis, and vastus lateralis
  • Hamstrings: Biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus 
  • Gluteal muscles: Gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus 

Secondary muscles activated

Who should and should not do hack squats?

Although deep squat has many benefits, it is not suitable for everyone. Here is a list of people who should and should not try to hack squats. 

Try hack squats if

  • You are new to squats
  • You want to build muscle mass
  • You are looking for a low-impact, weight exercise
  • You want to improve lower-body strength and tone

Don’t try hack squats if

  • You have knee pain and lower back pain
  • You are pregnant

Adding it to your routine

Although hack squat is a great lower-body workout, you need to first master the basic bodyweight squat and front squat before incorporating hack squats into your routine. This will improve your movement pattern. 

According to fitness volt [2]Fitness Volt: The Hack Squat: Target Muscles, Benefits, Exercise Instructions, And Variations, you can add different rep ranges of hack squats to your workout routine based on your fitness goals. 

Training goalRepsRest between sets
Strength3-6 reps with heavy weights1-2 mins
Muscle building(Hypertrophy)8-15 with moderate-heavy weights1-2 mins

Here is a sample to add a hack squat into your workout routine. 

Lateral lunges (Warm-up) 1-2 sets of 10 reps
Air squat2-3 sets of 5-6 reps
Dumbbell swing2-3 sets of 10-15 reps
Hack squat2-3 sets of 3-6 reps 
Reclining butterfly pose (cooldown)1-2 minutes 

Safety Tips

When you do a hack squat, there are a few things you need to keep in mind to stay safe and get the most out of your workout.

Here are some safety tips you can follow:

  1. Warm up before you start doing hack squats. It helps to prepare your body for the exercise.
  2. To maintain form and prevent injury, always keep your weight in your heels and never on your toes or the ball of your feet.
  3. Start with a lighter weight and gradually increase the weight you lift.
  4. Don’t allow your head to bend forward excessively.
  5. Wear shoes that have a flat sole to maintain balance and stability.

A brief history of hack squat

The hack squat got its name from its originator Hackenschmidt. George Karl Julius Hackenschmidt was one of the famous wrestlers and weightlifters who greatly influenced the way we lift.

He is credited as the originator of the hack squat and bench press. While bench press has become an integral part of most upper-body workouts, hack squat has gained importance in building lower-body strength. His love for writing books has helped him popularize hack squats as a great strength training exercise.


The hack squat is a compound exercise that works several muscles at once. This hack machine is easy to use and allows you to target your leg muscles effectively. Here are the benefits of doing the hack squat exercise:

Builds muscle mass

The hack squat activates more muscle fibers than a traditional back squat. This exercise also allows you to use heavier weights, which further helps to stimulate muscle growth

Improves lower body strength

As the hack squat is a compound exercise, it is an excellent lower-body workout. It works for multiple muscle groups at once. This helps to improve your overall lower body strength and tone your legs.

Easy on the joints and back

The hack squat is a low-impact exercise that is easy on the joints and back. This exercise is ideal for people who are new to squatting or have joint issues.

Little room for errors and injury

This exercise is performed on a hack squat machine, which takes away the risk of injury. It is one of the safest variations of squats that you can try.

Good for people recovering from injury

If you are recovering from an injury, the hack squat can help you regain strength in your legs.

As hack squat is a low-impact exercise, it is ideal for people coming back to squatting after a knee or hip injury. This is because the machine is easy on the joints and back and takes away the risk of injury.

Improves athletic performance

A study [3]National Library of Medicine: 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 … Continue reading claims that machine squat training, like hack squats, results in greater jumping power when compared to free-weight squats. Thus, as a hack squat develops strength and power in the legs, it can help to improve your athletic performance.

Variations of the hack squat

There are many variations of hack squats that you can do to target different muscle groups. Here are some top variations of hack squats you can try. 

Narrow hack squat

To do a narrow hack squat, you need to set up the machine the same way you would for a standard hack squat. However, the difference comes in the feet position. Instead of shoulder-width foot placement, bring them closer together to complete the movement. This hack squat variation focuses more on quads.

Reverse hack squat 

The reverse hack squat is a popular variation of the standard squat performed with your body facing toward the hack machine. If you want to focus on developing your lower body while giving your upper body some well-deserved rest, then reverse hack squats are ideal.

Barbell hack squat

The barbell hack squat is an alternative to the machine hack squat. It is similar to a standard barbell deadlift. The difference is that here you perform squats with the barbell held behind your legs.

However, unlike deadlifts, these barbell hack squats force you to maintain an upright position and target your quadriceps.

Hack squat vs leg press

Although the hack squat and leg press appear similar at first glance, there are some significant differences. 

The hack squat is performed using a hack squat machine where the weight is already loaded and suspended from a bar. On the other hand, the leg press can be done using either a leg press machine or a resistance band. 

The most significant difference comes with the complexity of the movements. Hack squat emphasizes your balance and stability more than the leg press, making it the best leg day workout.

Here are some key differences between hack squat and leg press. 

DifferenceHack squatLeg press
EquipmentHack squat machineLeg press machine
Weight placedAlthough weight is placed on the lifter’s shoulders,  due to the squat movement, it is still loaded axially on the back. Load is entirely supported by the legs
Muscles workedGlutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, abdominals and spinal erectorsGlutes, quads, hamstrings, calves

Common mistakes to avoid

Here are some common mistakes you need to avoid while performing a hack squat. 

Bouncing or moving too fast

Bouncing or moving too quickly can lead to injury. Make sure to move slowly and with control. This will help you maintain good form and prevent injury.

Not going low enough

If there is one squat where you can go low enough without compromising your form, it is the hack squat. Make sure to lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the floor. This will help you target your muscles effectively.

Resting too long at the top of the move

Resting at the top of the squat takes away the time your muscles are under tension.

This can decrease the effectiveness of the exercise. Make sure not to rest at the top and keep the movement going.


The hack squat is an excellent machine-based exercise for stimulating leg muscles, especially the quadriceps. This variation of squats can assist in improving your standard back squat form. If any hack squat variations aggravate your injuries, discontinue the exercise and consult a doctor immediately.

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