What Muscles Do Hack Squats Work?

If you’ve been trying to build up your quads but squats, lunges, and leg extensions don’t appear to be cutting it, you might want to introduce a new exercise to your workouts: the hack squat.

Named after their inventor, George Hackenschmidt, this variation of the squat focuses far more on the quads than other leg exercises, making it ideal for those eager to aesthetically enhance their legs.

The main difference between hack squats and regular squats, aside from in the technique, is that they’re a machine based exercise.

The following article will outline how to do hack squats, tips for making the most of the hack squat, all the main muscles they work, when to avoid them, common mistakes to look out for while executing this exercise, and the answers to the most frequently asked questions regarding the hack squat.

What Muscles Do Hack Squats Work

Muscles Worked By Hack Squats

A compound movement, hack squats work all of your lower body muscles, including your hamstrings, your quadriceps, your glutes, your hip flexors, and your calves. They also work your core muscles (your internal and external obliques, and your rectus abdominus).

The primary target of the hack squat are your quadriceps, just like with all variations of squats, followed closely by your upper posterior muscles.

Your hamstrings and your glutes will be worked from the weight squatted up through your heels, your core will be worked via stabilization, and your hip flexors will be worked in the same way they are worked in every other lower body exercise. It is one of the highly effective belt squat alternatives, along with other exercises that focus on lower body strengthening. 

How To Do Hack Squats

So, how do you actually pull off a hack squat? Simply follow each of these steps:

  • Step into the machine’s footprint, and press both of your shoulders against the machine’s shoulder pads.
  • Position your feet in the stance you’d position them in for any other variation of the squat.
  • Stand, and disengage the stoppers.
  • Place both of your hands on the hand grips near your shoulders, and begin lowering yourself by bending at the knees.
  • When you’re parallel or a little below parallel, push the platform away from your body to stand back up.
  • Once the set is completed, engage the stoppers once more.

Making The Most Of Your Hack Squats

There’s a few things you should keep in mind in order to make the most of your hack squats. These include:

  • Experimenting with various rep ranges. Tailor your rep range to your own personal goals. If you’re looking for strength gains you’ll be sticking to between three to eight reps, and if you’re more focused on your hypertrophy you should be doing more than eight reps. When focusing on strength you should also be taking longer rests (between two to four minutes), while focusing on hypertrophy will require shorter rest periods (closer to one to two minutes).
  • If you’re eager to focus more on your glutes, consider adding a glute band or glute loop to the mix. Place your feet in a wider stance on the platform than you’d adopt for a regular squat, so when you perform your hack squat, you’ll need to push your knees against the loops, which will work your glutes even harder.
  • If you want to focus on your hamstrings, you should position your feet higher on the platform of the machine and adopt a wide stance. Push your knees out as much as you can when performing your hack squat. Because your stance will allow for less knee movement, your hamstrings will be doing more work than your quads. 

Hack Squats: Common Mistakes To Avoid

The hack squat isn’t a difficult exercise, but it can be easy to slip into bad habits, which is the case for most exercises. So, now that you know how to perform the perfect hack squat, here’s what not to do:

  • Make sure your feet are a shoulder’s width apart, and unless you’re focusing on working your hamstrings, your feet shouldn’t be too high either. Even when you are trying to emphasize your hamstrings, there’s still the risk that your feet will be too high. If you’re particularly uncomfortable then lower your feet.
  • Avoid adding too much weight to the machine too early. Your first priority should be getting your form right- weight can come later.
  • Don’t be squatting through the balls of your feet. You should only be squatting through your heels. The alternative could result in knee injuries, even if you’re not using heavy weight.
  • Avoid rounding or arching your back. This could result in injury. 

Who Shouldn’t Do Hack Squats?

Hack squats aren’t suitable for everyone. You should skip hack squats if you consider yourself within the following categories:

  • If you have joint issues, you should avoid attempting hack squats. Because this variation of the squat is a fixed motion, it may worsen existing issues with your knees or your hips. If you have any problems with your lower back, your hips, or your knees, steer clear of hack squats.
  • If your main goal is to enhance performance on a field of play, hack squats should not be a priority. While increasing your lower body strength will naturally improve your performance, there are far better exercises in order to get more athletic.

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Hack Squats

Are Hack Squats More Effective Than Conventional Barbell Squats?

There is indeed an advantage to hack squats over conventional barbell squats. It’s an exercise that lets you focus more on the exercise itself, and less on stabilizing the weight. It’s also considered the safer way to lift maximum poundages, compared to conventional barbell squats.

How Can I Add Hack Squats To My Workout Routine?

It’s mostly down to personal preference. So long as you’re implementing hack squats alongside your conventional squats, your deadlifts, your lunges, and all your other leg exercises, you can slot hack squats quite smoothly into your routine.

How Does The Hack Squat Machine Compare To The Leg Press Machine?

A hack squat machine will consist of a backrest and shoulder pad assembly which slides up and down on a set of tracks found on both sides of the machine. The platform at the bottom of the machine is where you place your feet. The machine allows you to lean back at an angle of 45 degrees throughout the squat.

The leg press machine, on the other hand, comes in more than one variation. Occasionally this machine will have you seated with your feet directly in front of you, and you’ll be pushing the platform away from you at a horizontal angle.

But the most common kind of leg press machine will have you lying down against a back pad, and your legs will be pointed upwards at an angle of 45 degrees. Again, the purpose is to push the platform away from you.

Read this article to to know more about the differences between hack squat and leg press, their pros and cons, and how to properly each exercise into your routine. 

Conclusion: What Muscles Do Hack Squats Work?

The muscles worked by hack squats include all of your lower body muscles (including your hamstrings, your quadriceps, your glutes, your hip flexors, and your calves), as well as your core muscles (including your internal and external obliques, and your rectus abdominus).

Unless you suffer from joint pain, hack squats are a safe and effective method for building muscle and building strength. They’re also ideal for just about everyone, whether you’re a beginner or a professional.

If you're looking for other exercises that target the same muscles or have the same benefits as the hack squat, check out our article on the best hack squat alternatives here. 

Kevin Harris