Leg Workouts

The Hack Squat: Your Ultimate Guide

Squats are life. And with this ultimate guide to the hack squat you’ll be ass-to-grassing your way to leaner legs in no time.

If an ass-kicking butt and a sculpted pair of legs is part of your gym goals, you need to hit the bar for legs day. By getting your squats in, you’re guaranteed an athletic, lean and downright sexy figure.

We all love a good ‘life hack’. Something that helps you manage your time and daily activities in a more efficient way.

Well guess what? Now you’ve got a ‘life hack squat’! In this article we’ll show you how to use the hack squat machine to develop your best physique yet in the shortest time possible. Whether you’re just not feeling your squats or are looking to mix it up, the hack squat is your new bestie.

So get on your lifting shoes and get ready to squat…


  • What is a hack squat?
  • Machine and barbell hack squat – the difference
  • Muscle involved
  • How to change up your technique to hit different muscles

What Is a Hack Squat?: Everything You Need to Know

Hack squats can build beautiful, shapely legs and contribute to the toughest lower body workout you’ve ever experienced! Who else is excited and scared at the same time?

As a regular reader of our training plans and guides you’ll be pretty familiar with barbell squats, lunges and deadlifts. Chances are you already have them firmly rooted in your training plans.

But not everyone knows how to use hack squats effectively. Maybe you don’t know how the machine works or aren’t sure how to include barbell hacks into your workouts.

Master the form and fit it into your program and you’ll reap the reward of a number of benefits. Research shows that regular hack squat training offers:

  • Leg and glute development
  • Lower body power production
  • Better athleticism
  • Hightens testosterone levels (which are great for fat loss)
  • Faster running speeds and better jumping ability
  • Less chance of knee injuries (females are at a high risk of knee injuries when playing sport if they don’t have strong legs)

Muscles involved in the hack squat

Hack squat legs

As a lower body-dominant exercise, the hack squat is a great way to target all of your leg muscles. Hacks emphasize the following muscles:

  • Quadriceps – the muscles on the front of your thighs
  • Glutes – the junk in your trunk, your buns and your butt
  • Hamstrings – the muscle below yourglutes
  • Adductors – your inner thighs
  • Abductors – your hips and outer thighs

Whether it’s lean and toned or thick and muscular, the hack squat can help you develop the legs you’re after.

There Are Two Types of Hack Squat – Barbell and Machine

There are two ways you can introduce the hack squat into your strength training program:

  1. Hack squat machine
  2. Barbell hack squat

The hack squat machine

Hack squat machine

Machine hack squats isolate your legs by removing upper body and core work from the movement.

The dauntingly large hack squat machine is one of those contraptions that is pretty underused in commercial gyms. If anything it just kind of sits there collecting chalk dust.

But believe us when we tell you… hack squat machines are one of the best leg exercises you can do girl. You just need to know how to use it.

The machine hack squat variation was designed to simulate barbell squatting without as much strain on the lower back. It helps to unload your spinal muscles and takes the upper body out of the equation altogether, isolating the legs.

Because of the design, you can train both legs at the same time but also as as single leg workout. This is great for skill training or transfer to sports performance.

You can also change your foot position to target different muscles as well, making it one of the most versatile machines out there for leg day (more on that later).

Lastly, the hack squat is great for beginners.

If you aren’t confident enough to try barbell back squats yet or just lack the stability and flexibility to program them into your workouts, the hack squat is a great alternative.

Here’s how to perform a hack squat on a fixed machine:

  • Set your body so that your shoulders are under the supporting pads and both your shoulder blades and butt are in contact with the supporting back rest.
  • Place your feet at around shoulder-width apart and distribute the weight through your heels. This is a safe and effective starting position with good foot positioning.
  • Take hold of the hand rests firmly for support
  • Keep your head in good alignment and look forward rather than down. This helps you maintain good posture throughout.
  • The first thing you need to do is remove the safety catches. All machines are different but usually it involves pushing the hand rests inward to rotate the guide bars away from the catches.
  • Bend at your knees and hips and maintain contact with the supporting back rest as you lower yourself down into a squat. Aim to dip your butt just below the height of your knees if you can, but if you can’t, just go as low as feels comfortable.
  • At the bottom of the movement you should pause briefly before pushing through your heels until you’re back at the start position.
  • Don’t lock your knees at the top of the movement.

Tip: Try a single leg hack squat to work on your imbalances and build crazy leg strength.


Barbell hack squat

Barbell hack squat

Although awkward to begin with, barbell hack squats will really turn up the heat on those quad muscles.

The barbell variation of the hack squat looks like a deadlift with the bar behind the body.

It was made popular by famous wrestler George Hackenschmidt in the early 20th century and involves keeping a low center of gravity by balancing the position of the bar against the angle of the back (helps to keep you upright).

It’s an awkward lift for some, and many women prefer the machine hack squat. But work through the technique points and you’ve got a hell of a lower body blitz that’ll ignite your quads and engulf your glutes.

Here’s how to perform a barbell hack squat:

  • Take hold of a barbell with a shoulder-width grip and hold it behind your body. Rest the bar on your glutes. Your arms should be locked out and palms facing away from you.
  • Adjust your stance to between hip-width and shoulder-width dependent on what feels most comfortable.
  • Keep you head and chest up as you bend from your knees and hips. The bar will naturally force you to distribute the weight through your heels.Just don’t fall backwards!
  • Squat down as low as you can while maintaining good posture. Don’t round your back out at all.
  • At the bottom of the movement, drive through your heels and keep a firm grip of the bar until you are back at the start position.
  • Avoid locking your knees out.

Tip: You can also elevate your heels slightly during barbell hack squats in order to place more emphasis on your thigh muscles and make the range of motion a little easier.


Changing Leg Position to Target Different Muscles

The beauty of hack squats is in their versatility. The machine variation in particular allows you to target the different muscles of your legs just by changing your stance.

Higher foot position works the glutes more

If your goal is to craft out a peachy butt with shapely curves and athletic power you need to shuffle your feet up higher on the foot plate. The increased range of motion means a greater amount of work is needed by your glutes to extend the hips.

Studies in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning have shown that higher foot positions increase activation of the glutes, whereas lower foot positions decrease it.

Go wide to target your inner thighs

If you’re ‘hacking’ away at your legs and want to try and boost the tone and shape of you adductors you should take a wide stance.

‘Wide’ is classed any stance that’s outside of shoulder-width. And using this sumo stance is great for maximizing inner thigh involvement as the muscle works hard to maintain hip to knee alignment.

Oh, and those wide squats also increase glute activation too!

No difference in upper thigh activation with different stances

There’s only really one muscle that remains active throughout hack squats without change to peak activation patterns.. and that’s your quads.

As a hinge joint, your knee can only flex and extend. And it’s the upper thigh muscles that control this movement. It doesn’t matter whether you’re low, high, wide or narrow – the quad is always involved.

Summary – Hack Squat Ultimate Guide

The hack squat is a great exercise for your legs and butt.

Both the barbell and machine variations target a whole range of lower body muscles; and with room to vary your stance width, you can change the emphasis on which muscles you target most.

That way, you’re guaranteed a detailed leg workout that’ll leave you toned, strong and confident.

Get even more power for your hack squat workouts with a top pre-workout!

Best pre-workouts for women 2021

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