How to Hack Squat – Benefits, Muscles Worked, Technique Tips and Variations

This definitive guide to the Hack Squat will help you learn how to perform the exercise correctly, why you should and how you and your training will benefit as a result.

What is a Hack Squat?

The Hack Squat is a highly effective type of squat that can be performed both with a machine or a Barbell.

This article will teach you how to do both versions.

Why is it Called a Hack Squat?

European strength sports expert Emmanuel Legeard is credited with inventing the Hack Squat.

Originally it was performed with the heels together or in very close proximity. He named it after the order that Prussian Soldiers would receive “Hacken Zusammen”, which means “heels together.

Benefits of the Hack Squat

The H Squat has a multitude of benefits for all different kinds of athletes and ability levels.

Perfect for Beginners

The Hack Squat is great for beginners because it allows athletes to experience the entire squat range of motion without risk from balancing and stabilising the load of the barbell.

Woman warming up for Hack Squat
Stay strong ©Anastase Maragos

It incorporates the entire knee-hinge angle including the toes, shoulders and hips. This builds strength and flexibility that will transfer perfectly over to the regular barbell Back Squat.

Builds Confidence and Helps to Overcome Fear

Squatting heavy can take time to achieve because it also requires confidence and the ability to trust in your own abilities. This, like physical strength, takes time to build.

Man with weightlifting belt about to Hack Squat
Enhance all round power ©Alora Griffiths

The H Squat, as it is (generally) performed in a machine, allows for full focus to be placed on shifting the weight and not on worrying about the load falling or tipping. This pure focus will build solid confidence that will help athletes when squatting in other situations.

Allows you to Squat Low

There are no excuses to not squat below parallel. When it comes to the H Squat the machine destroys any excuses even further. Build the important habit of squatting low.

Improves Many Areas of Physical Performance

Power and speed can also be worked specifically with the Hack Squat.

Any athlete can explode through the movement and build both these aspects of fitness. Because the bar path is controlled by the machine more time can be focused on tempo and speed.

Builds Muscle

The Hack Squat is a big lift with a barbell. Programmed in the correct way (working within rep ranges of 8 – 12) it can be an invaluable addition to any hypertrophy program.

Enables you to Lift Heavier Weights

This lift allows you to load up the heavy weights and push your limits. This makes it an excellent way to build strength.

Muscles Worked by the Hack Squat

The H Squat is a compound exercise that works most of the body. It tests, challenges and improves all of the following muscles and muscle groups.

Quads

These are the large muscles on the front of your legs and the Hack Squat is an effective way to add mass.

Hamstrings

These long muscles stretch across the back of your legs and form an important part of your posterior chain and any hinging movement you perform. The Hack Squat will significantly test and improve your hamstrings.

Glutes

The glutes area collective term for the three large muscles that make up the buttocks. They help to support your body and core when you move, sit and stabilise yourself.

The H Squat requires the teardrop shaped vastus medialis to work hard and grow. This muscle is found on the inside of the upper leg.

Core and Abs

Fitness woman resting
Build a powerful core ©Dusan Jovic

Heavy Squats in their many variations can be one of the most effective way to build a strong core and great abs. The Hack Squat is no exception.

How to do the Hack Squat with Proper Technique

Use the following sequence to get your technique right.

  • Step into the Hack Squat machine
  • Brace your shoulders against the pads and retract your scapular
  • Grip tightly onto the handles
  • Place your feet shoulder width apart with your toes facing outwards at an angle that feels comfortable to you
  • Inhale and tense your core, grip and glutes
  • Break at the hips and descend until you are lower than parallel
  • Explode back upwards with as much power as you can manage. Make sure to feel in control of the movement at all times.
  • Exhale at the top of the movement
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps

Hack Squat Training Tips

Keep your core braced and you body tight at all times.

Breath correctly throughout every rep.

Drive through the ball of your heels when you squat the weight back to the top.

Hack Squat Variations

There are multiple variations so try mixing things up to keep your body guessing and your training fun.

Reverse hack squat

In this version you face the opposite way in the H Squat Machine. This is a great way to target and strengthen the glutes.

Your chest rests against the back bad and your shoulders are positioned slightly differently against the shoulder pads.

Use a similar foot placement and drive through your heels to maximise force and power.

Narrow hack squat

The Narrow H Squat uses the same set up as the original, however you bring your feet much closer together.

This will place more emphasis on the quads and build impressive mass and strength.

Barbell Hack Squat

The barbell Hack Squat is a great variation if you don’t have access to a machine. It is performed with the barbell behind the legs as instructed in the video below.

The barbell H Squat works the most prominent muscle groups of your lower body, the hamstrings, glutes, adductors, and quads.

This variation is harder and requires more stabilisation and balance. The movement is also similar to a reverse Deadlift in form so it also engages and works the back as well.

How to do the Barbell Hack Squat

  • Stand with the barbell behind your legs
  • Feet slightly narrower than shoulder width apart
  • Grip the barbell behind you wider than shoulder width apart and maintain a straight spine
  • Inhale and brace your core, glutes and grip
  • Drive through your heels, move your hips forwards to allow room for the bar path
  • Reach full extension
  • Slowly lower the weight to the starting position and exhale
  • Perform the desired number of reps

Hack Squat Alternatives

The 9 best hack squat alternatives are:

  • Landmine Squat
  • V-Squat
  • Goblet Squat
  • Front Squat
  • Belt Squat
  • Safety Bar Squat
  • Hatfield Squat
  • Leg Press

Who Should Not Do the Hack Squat?

So, is the H Squat safe and effective for everyone?

If you don’t have any major mobility issues or injuries and can correctly perform a full Air Squat to full depth then the H Squat is fine for you.

The problem is that the H Squat is done on a machine that locks the body into a fixed position throughout the full range of motion. If there are any underlying problems then these will be brought to light.

It is better to work first to ensure that any lifter can Squat properly without the assistance of a machine.

How to Program the Exercise into Your Training

As we have already established, the H Squat is a great way to build strength and muscle. But to reach these goals it must also be programmed intelligently into your training.

A simple way to start is to start including the H Squat into your standard “leg day” workout once or twice a week.

For example, the following weekly split shows how the H Squat can be included twice, on Tuesday and Friday, during a cycle designed to strengthen and improve the lower body.

  • Sunday – (Optional or Off) Sprints or Bodyweight Conditioning
  • Monday – Off
  • Tuesday – Quad Builder Heavy
  • Wednesday – Push
  • Thursday – Off
  • Friday – Quad Builder Volume
  • Saturday – Pull

Weight Placement

A major part of Squatting is where the barbell is placed and held on the body.

Each different position results in slightly varying techniques and results.

For example, the Back Squat rests supports the load over behind the shoulder. This changes the torso angle (it moves forwards) as the body must balance and control the load throughout the range of motion.

The Front Squat demands the weight be placed in front of the shoulders and this requires a much more upright torso position.

Because of the varying positions of the weight, the core, hips, glutes and legs must work slightly differently in each case.

The H Squat places the load directly on top of the shoulders. This means that your body has less balancing to do to control the weight. Your upper body has less responsibility to move in a certain way to make sure the load stays in the centre of gravity.

You cannot lean forwards or backwards too much on a Hack Squat machine for example.

This allows you to focus more on leg drive and power.

Operating in a “fixed” position can help you build confidence that will also transfer over to Front and Back Squats.  

Learn what a Seal Row is and how to do it

Hack Squat Workout

Try this functional fitness workout.

AMRAP in 25 minutes

  • 7 Deadlifts (185/135 lb)
  • 6 Kettlebell Swings (53/35 lb)
  • 7 Barbell H Squats (185/155 lb)
  • 6 Plate Sit-Ups (45/25 lb)
  • 1 Burpee at the top of every minute

Start the workout with 1 burpee and perform another at the top of each minute.

FAQs

If you have more questions, scroll through our FAQs.

Are Hack Squats as Good as Squats?

The Hack Squat is (in most cases) performed on a machine, this removes some of stabilisation and balancing elements that you need for a Front or Back Squat.

It does require full body involvement like a Back Squat, however if you have to choose one over the other, always go for the correctly performed Barbell Back Squat. This does not mean that the Hack Squat is ineffective, far from it, so make sure to include it in your training as well.

Which is Better Leg Press or Hack Squat?

Hack Squats will build better jump performance. Leg Presses are better for days when you want to hit the legs from as many different angles as possible in a lighter way.

Why is the Hack Squat So Hard?

This movement is hard because it is a proper Squat and places a great deal of stress on the core and lower body with the torso in a fixed upright position.

This is good because it equals better gains. You must push yourself to achieve muscle and strength.

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Are Hack Squats Bad for Knees?

The H Squat is not bad for your knees. The entire range of motion locks the body into position so there is not much room for error when it comes to the technique. Stay tight, slow and in control at all times and your knees will do nothing but get stronger.

Final Thoughts

The H Squat should not become a replacement for the Barbell Back Squat.

It is a hugely effective additional leg exercise to add into your training to optimise your strength and muscle mass gains.

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Further Reading

If you enjoyed learning about this exercise then expand your training knowledge with the Landmine Press or the Renegade Row.