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Hack Squat Guide – Muscles Worked, Benefits, Technique and More

Keep your strength training varied, fun and effective with the Hack Squat. Includes benefits, muscles worked, technique, variations and alternatives.

If you want to keep your strength training varied, fun and effective, the Hack Squat is an excellent exercise to include.

Table of Contents

Benefits

Muscles Worked

Technique

Variations

Alternatives

FAQs

What is a Hack Squat?

The HS is a Squat variation that is performed on a machine and involves pushing the weight away from you, at an angle, as you stand back up.

You must stand on the plate with your body leaning back against the pads. The weight is moved during the concentric phase of the movement.

There is also a barbell version of the HS, however this article will concentrate on the machine variation.

Why is it Called a Hack Squat?

Emmanuel Legeard stated that the name “Hack Squat” derives from the German phrase “Hacken Zusammen”, meaning “heels together”.

This comes from the way that Prussian soldiers used to click their heels together as they stood to attention and used it during part of exercise.

Benefits of the Hack Squat

There are many benefits to the HS.

The Hack Squat helps to Improve General Squat Form

The HS incorporates the full Squat range of motion and knee hinge angle, including the shoulders, hips, knees and toes.

This helps to test and improve your ability to Squat as deep as possible and “grease the groove” for the regular barbell Back Squat.

squat secrets hack squatSource: Courtesy of CrossFit Inc.
Stay focused

The Hack Squat Helps Athletes Overcome Fear

Building up the confidence to Squat heavy takes time for both the physical and psychological elements of the exercise.

The HS is a great tool for helping to overcome this fear by getting used to heavier loads without any fear of being crushed by the barbell.

Applicable for Many Different Sports

The HS will help to improve performance across a wide range of different sports. It builds power, strength and muscle in the legs.

These benefits can then be carried across to sports such as running, football, rugby, athletics, CrossFit etc.

The Hack Squat is Great for Beginners

The HS is a great variation for beginners because it allows an athlete to load up the weight and squat without having to think about stability.

It also teaches the legs and core how to move through the full range of motion, and it can help unearth any early mobility problems than can be addressed before progressing to more serious weights with the Back Squat.

Muscles Worked by the Hack Squat

The HS works the quads, hamstrings, core, glutes and legs in general.

Quads

The quadriceps are extensive muscles attached to the front (anterior) of your legs that help you squat, move and run.

They are incredibly important muscles and are the primary muscle group that will be challenged and improved by the HS exercise.

Hamstrings

The HS taxes your hamstrings, and will help you build a powerful posterior chain when combined with other exercises such as the Deadlift and Glute Ham Raise.

The hamstrings are large muscles that are located on the rear of your legs.

Glutes

The glutes are the muscles that form the bum (ass for US readers). There are three muscles which make up the glutes region: gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and the gluteus minimus.

The HS is an excellent tool to use to strengthen your bum. Stronger glutes will help you generate more power, run faster, lift more explosively and improve general full body performance.

Core

The core refers to all the muscles that move, stabilise and constitute the trunk of your body.

These include your transverse abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, erector spinae, diaphragm, pelvic floor muscles, and (of course) your abs, the rectus abdominis.

Any loaded Squat will also work and enhance your core strength, and the HS is no different.

Vastus Medialis

Additionally, the HS is an exercise which puts more emphasis on the vastus medialis, otherwise known as the teardrop muscle.

This can be found on the inside of the upper leg and gets its nickname from the shape it forms.

How to do the Hack Squat with Proper Technique

The following training tips will help you perform the Hack Squat with correct technique.

  1. Load the machine with the desired weight
  2. Step into position and place your feet shoulder width apart*
  3. Place your shoulders into the cushioned pads
  4. Retract your scapular and grip the safety bars
  5. Inhale, brace your core and unlock the machine
  6. Straighten your legs without locking them
  7. Descend until well below parallel
  8. Push back up to the starting position with as much force and power as you can manage
  9. Drive through the ball of your heels
  10. Exhale and set yourself up for the next rep
  11. Repeat for the pre-determined number of reps

*Experiment with the placement of your feet to find what feels and works best for you. There are generally accepted practices here but no “one size fits all”. Your personal physiology will play a role.

Inhale before you perform the eccentric part of the movement (descent).

Exhale when exploding at the top of the concentric (ascent) part of the movement.

Don’t bounce the movement. You can even practice pause squats to make the exercise more difficult and affective.

Hack Squat Variations

Keep your training varied, fun and effective by adding in different variations.

Reverse Hack Squat

For this variation you simply face the other way on the machine.

Your chest needs to rest against the back pad and your shoulders will, once again, be placed in contact with the shoulder pads.

Using the same shoulder width foot placement, lower the Squat range of motion until your thighs are below parallel, then explode through your heels back to the starting position.

The Reverse Hack Squat emphasises and strengthens the glutes.

Narrow Hack Squat

Use the same set up as the regular HS, however you must bring your feet much closer together.

This will focus more on the quads but in a different way to the Reverse Hack Squat.

Barbell Hack Squat

Hack Squat Alternatives

The 8 best alternatives are:

  1. V-Squat
  2. Landmine Squat
  3. Leg Press
  4. Safety Bar Squat
  5. Barbell Hack Squat
  6. Goblet Squat
  7. Front Squat
  8. Hatfield Squat

Hack Squat FAQs

Still got questions?

Are Hack Squats as Good as Squats?

The Back Squat, along with the deadlift, is probably the best full body exercise that exists.

As a variation the Hack Squat will also stimulate many of the same benefits but it is not as effective as the correctly performed Back Squat.

back squatSource: Stevie D Photography
Strength

Which is Better Leg Press or Hack Squat?

The HS is better for preparing for the Back Squat and will (generally) build better power and jump performance.

Leg presses are without a doubt the better option for people who want to add many different exercises into their leg day routine.

Why is the Hack Squat So Hard?

Hack Squats are hard because the quads are worked exceptionally hard.

Although the HS does develop the glutes and hamstrings, the quads are taxed considerably by the form of the movement.

This is because your torso is fixed in a range of motion rather than being able to freely move to place yourself in a stronger overall position.

Are Hack Squats Bad for Knees?

If you have no pre-existing mobility or joint issues and the HS is performed correctly then no, it is not bad for your knees.

Hack Squat

Learn more about the Zercher Squat or the Bulgarian Split Squat.

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