Hack Squat Alternatives

15 Exercises You Can Do Without A Hack Squat Machine

Hack squats are a favorite exercise for bodybuilders working on increasing leg size and strength. However, traditional hack squats require a specific machine that many gyms don’t have.

If you don’t have access to a hack squat machine, you’re probably looking for a hack squat alternative you can do with the equipment you have available.

In this article, I show you how to replicate a hack squat using a barbell, dumbbells, other machines, and even without any equipment! So you can add hack squats to your routine no matter where you work out.

Hack Squat Alternatives

What Is a Hack Squat?

Hack squats are an exercise that works the leg muscles, particularly the quadriceps. Usually, you do this exercise on a machine with a weighted sled that travels on angled rails.

At first glance, a hack squat machine looks like a leg press. However, you push the weighted sled with your shoulders instead of your feet on the hack squat.

Hack Squat Machine Alternative

Hack Squat Body Mechanics

Another difference between the hack squat and leg press is your body position. Your back stays more upright relative to your legs on a hack squat compared to the leg press.

This upright body position means your knees bend more than your hips. As a result, the quadriceps muscles do more work than the hamstrings, hips, and glutes.

Hack Squat Alternatives Body Mechanics

How to Replicate a Hack Squat

The key to doing a hack squat without a machine is replicating the knee-dominant mechanics. That means positioning your body, so your knees bend more.

One way to do this is by keeping your back in a more upright position to minimize hip flexion. And I will show you how to do this on specific exercises below.

Another factor is how far your knee travels forward. For example, on a hack squat type exercise, we generally want knees over toes at the bottom of the movement.

15 Hack Squat Alternatives

Now you know what a hack squat is and how it works your body. So it’s time to jump into some hack squat alternative exercises.

To make this list easier to digest, I’ve broken it up into sections based on the type of equipment needed. This segmentation also allows you to jump to a particular section based on your gym equipment.

Hack Squat Alternatives with a Barbell

The barbell is probably the most versatile equipment for training your lower body. And there are several hack squat alternatives that you can do with it.

1. Barbell Hack Squat

This exercise looks more like a deadlift than a squat. Another distinguishing feature is that you start with the bar behind your legs.

Step back so your calves touch the bar and bend down to grab it with an overhand grip. Then, stand up by extending your knees while keeping your back straight.

While this does put a little more load on your quads, your back still tilts forward like a traditional squat. So I’m not fond of this variation as much as others on this list.

2. Landmine Hack Squat

If you’re not familiar, a landmine is a stable base that attaches to one end of a barbell allowing the other end to pivot like a lever. To do hack squats with a landmine apparatus, start by putting the end of the barbell on your shoulder.

With your back to the base, step your feet out about 12-18″ in front of you. Squat down to about 90 degrees and extend back up to the starting position.

3. High Bar Squat

The high bar squat is a version of the squat where you place the barbell up on top of your traps behind your neck. By comparison, low bar squats have the bar on top of your rear delts behind your traps.

While high bar vs low bar position is somewhat a matter of personal preference, it also changes the body mechanics of the squat. One reason for this is the position of your center of mass.

With the high bar squat, your center of mass is farther forward. As a result, you must keep your back upright and bend your knees more, like a hack squat.

Hack Squat Alternative High Bar Squat

4. Front Squat

Front squats are another exercise variation that forces your back to stay more upright. In this case, you put the bar across the front of your shoulders instead of your back.

This bar position forces you to stay even more upright than a high bar squat. And the resulting body mechanics are very similar to hack squats.

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5. Safety Bar Squats

Some gyms have a specialized barbell called a safety bar with neck pads and handles. However, the name is misleading because this is not a safer or more comfortable version of barbell squats.

Instead, the safety squat bar is only padded to prevent it from being extremely uncomfortable. And it’s actually designed to shift the weight forward and promote a more neutral back position.

For these reasons, the safety bar squat is somewhere between a high bar squat and a front squat in terms of your center of mass. And it can be used as a hack squat alternative.

6. Zercher Squat

The Zercher squat is a variation where you hold the barbell in the crook of your arms while you squat. Again, this bar position significantly shifts the weight forward, emphasizing the quads.

However, this is a more advanced exercise, and there are better squat variations to serve as a hack squat alternative.

Hack Squat Alternatives with Dumbbells or Kettlebells

Next up, we have hack squat alternatives using dumbbells or kettlebells. These exercises work great for beginners building up strength or anyone working out at home without a barbell.

7. Dumbbell Hack Squat

The dumbbell hack squat forces your back to stay flat and upright relative to your legs. To do this exercise, place a foam roller or exercise ball behind your back. Then, holding a dumbbell in each hand, place your feet 12-18″ out from the wall.

From this starting position, squat down until your upper legs are about parallel with the floor. Then extend your legs to stand back up. Placing plates or shims under your heels can help to activate more quads.

8. Goblet Squat

The goblet squat is another front-loaded squat variation similar to a hack squat. Again the intent is to shift the weight forward to emphasize the quads.

With the goblet squat, you hold one end of a dumbbell with both hands in front of your chest. Then squat down while keeping your back upright.

You can also do this exercise while holding a kettlebell in front of your chest. Some people like the kettlebell better because the built-in handle is easier to hold.

9. Heel Elevated Goblet Squat

You can perform the goblet squat with a weight plate under your heels for even more knee flexion and quad activation.

As demonstrated in the video below, you can put both feet on one plate. This close stance is excellent for targeting the outer thigh. Or you can use a wider stance with two plates to target the inner thigh.

10. Split Squat (Short Step)

The split squat is essentially a stationary lunge where you squat down with one leg at a time. Working each leg independently allows more flexibility with your foot placement and body mechanics.

One of the most common variations is the Bulgarian split squat, where your back foot is elevated during the exercises. Although you can also do this exercise with both feet on level ground.

As a hack squat alternative, you should use a shorter step where your knee passes in front of your toe at the bottom of the split squat.

Hack Squat Alternatives with Other Equipment

Last up are hack squat alternatives you can do with other machines you might have at your gym. In addition, I included one variation that you can do with just your body weight.

11. Smith Machine Hack Squats

The Smith machine is essentially a barbell on guide rails that reduces the need to balance the weight. Another benefit of the rails is that you can move your feet out from under your body.

For example, you can replicate a hack squat by taking a half step forward. Then when you squat down, your back stays upright, and your knees bend more.

12. Smith Machine Front Squat

Another Smith machine squat variation you can use is the front squat. As with the barbell version, this involves holding the bar across the front of your shoulders.

Again, the front-loading results in a body position closer to the hack squat. And you may find it easier to balance the Smith machine bar than a free weight bar.

13. Leg Press (Feet Low)

Changing your leg press foot placement allows you to target different parts of your legs. For example, placing your feet low on the platform targets your quads like a hack squat.

In addition, most leg presses have an adjustable backrest. When you place the backrest in the lowest position, your hips bend less, which helps replicate the hack squat.

In the video below, I demonstrate how to target your outer quads by placing your feet low and close on the leg press.

14. Pendulum Hack Squat

A pendulum squat machine is essentially a large lever. One end of the lever is attached to a pivot, and the other end has pads that rest on your shoulders.

There are several pendulum squat machine types, some with back pads and others without back pads. So the one at your gym might be called a leverage squat, V squat, or something else.

Regardless of the machine type, you can simulate a hack squat if you position your feet where your knees bend more and your back stays upright.

15. Sissy Squat

sissy squat is a bodyweight exercise that targets your thighs and your core. Generally, it’s performed by squatting down without bending your hips, emphasizing knee extension.

As a result, this knee dominant squat variation is a viable alternative to hack squats. Sissy squats are more like a leg extension once you master the form and eliminate hip flexion.

Leg Extension Alternatives

Now you have fifteen awesome hack squat alternatives you can do no matter what gym equipment you have. So you can blast your legs and build your quads.

While hack squats are great for targeting quadriceps, there is no better quad isolation exercise than the leg extension. However, this is another exercise that usually requires a specific machine.

For this reason, I put together a list of 11 leg extension alternatives you can do with no equipment or a simple home gym.

Leg Extension Alternative At Home
Leg Extension Alternatives

With this information, you’re well on your way to building more muscular legs and bigger quads. If you found this article helpful, check out my other great content below!

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