How to do Hack Squats and whether you should try them

Legs day is pretty much the biggest day (or days!) of the week, so it’s important that you know whether exercises like Hack Squat are going to be worth your time.

Although it might look like you’re just doing a back squat on a slightly angled machine, there are some key differences that you might want to consider when you’re asking yourself whether you should include them in your lower body routine. 

More on that later, first up, let’s find out how to do a hack squat, what a hack squat is and (potentially) isn’t good for. 

What is a hack squat?

To put it simply, a hack squat is basically very similar to a traditional weighted squat, but you do it on a hack squat machine. 

The Hack Squat machine is tilted backwards, so when you place your feet on the plate you’re leaning back against the backrest and your whole body is at an angle. 

You’ll also find two pads that rest on your shoulders, this allows you to push against the weights that you load onto the machine. 

It’s in this angle that you do your hack squat, and what differentiates it to a normal, traditional squat. 

This angle ensures that your heels are slightly higher up than your toes, as if you were standing on a weight, which many do when they first start out with weight squats. This is to offer additional support if you don’t have the ankle stability to perform squats to full depth. 

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How to do a hack squat 

  1. Place your feet on the plate at about shoulder width apart. This is likely to feel a little different to a normal squat, so bend your knees a couple of times to find the place where it feels comfortable. Remember, your knees shouldn’t track over your toes, so think about moving your feet forward to the front of the plate if needed. 
  2. Once you feel like you can do a comfortable squat, push up against the shoulder pads to release the weight from the stoppers
  3. You’ll usually have a safety lever somewhere on the hack squat, depending on the make to ensure that, as you go down, the machine doesn’t stop again. At the full standing position, disengage the lever. 
  4. From here, bend the knees and move down into a squat
  5. Once your hips are aligned with your knees, clench your glutes and quads and push up against the weights back into a standing position 
  6. When you finish your set, return to a full standing position, engage the safety level and slowly lower the weights until it stops 

Are hack squats as good as squats?

While they may look very similar to a traditional squat, with the addition of a machine, there are some really key differences that you might want to consider before you swap them out. 

In a hack squat, you’re essentially leaning on your back, which means the muscles in your lower back, core and glutes are supported and stabilized, and therefore essentially out of action. 

If we’re looking more deeply at body stabilization and overall strength, a hack squat instead of a traditional squat probably isn’t the best choice, as you’re not working those key muscles around your hips (lower back, glutes and hamstrings) you could end up with some inconsistencies in your lower body physique which could end up injuring your knees. 

So if you’re looking to develop these muscles, then the hack squat probably isn’t for you. 

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Why are hack squats so hard? 

There are reports that hack squats feel hard compared to a traditional squat, with many people confused at why they can’t lift the same weights with ease. 

Well, due to the reasons we mentioned above, a load of key muscles you’d usually recruit for a squat can’t be used. So instead, you’re just putting the focus pretty much purely on the quads. 

So, if you’re looking at quad development, then a hack squat might a great shout for you! 

Should you try Hack Squats? 

It’s worth remembering that, if you completely substitute your traditional squat with a hack squat, it’s likely you’ll be missing out some key muscles. Due to the fixed nature of the hack squat machine, you’re not getting that full functionality around the hips that we know a squat can deliver on. 

With that in mind, we wouldn’t recommend swapping out your traditional squats with the hack squat, it just doesn’t recruit the full range of muscles you can expect from a full squat.

However, if you’re thinking of adding the hack squat into your workouts in order to develop your quads, then go for it! As long as you’re using it as an accessory to a full squat workout, it’s likely you’ll get some amazing benefits from the hack squat. 

You can even buy Hack Squat machines for your own gym on Amazon, so they’re increasingly easier to get hold of these days.

What is a Reverse Hack Squat? 

If you’ve seen these machines about the gym, it’s likely you will’ve seen someone doing a hack squat the ‘wrong’ way. Aka, they’re facing the back support you’d normally be leaning on and your toes are pointing towards the machine. 

Because your back isn’t locked into place by that back support, you’ll find this is far more similar to a traditional squat in terms of the range of movement and the muscles we’re targeting. 

You’ll definitely feel the reverse hack squat focusses in on the hamstrings and glutes, and takes a lot of the emphasis away from the quads. 

It’s also worth mentioning that the angle of the platform will be reversed with a reverse hack squat, so many might not have the ankle flexibility to effectively do the full movement to depth. 

Hack Squats – Gymgirlfit final word

As with so many exercises, it entirely depends on what you want to get out of the hacks squat to determine whether or not you should include it in your routine. 

One thing to bear in mind is that the hack squat puts a whole load of strain on those quads, so you’ll be missing out on loads of other gains in the glutes and hamstrings if you decide to swap your normal squats out for this movement. 

Overall, we’d say we’d be more than happy to add hack squats to our routine, particularly if we’re focussing on quad gains. However, if you’re thinking of using it as a squat alternative, give it some more thought, as you’re likely to be missing out on some key areas. 


gymgirlfit was created by health and fitness enthusiasts, with backgrounds in powerlifting and writing. We've written for a number of well-known fitness publishing companies.

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