How To Do Hack Squats

Including foot placement and proper form.

How To Do Hack Squats

The hack squat machine is an excellent addition to traditional squats for building thick and muscular legs. But, of course, you must know how to do hack squats properly!

In this article, I walk you through how to target different parts of your legs by changing your foot position on the hack squat. And teach you proper form and execution on the hack squat machine.

In addition, I will also show you how to do hack squat variations and give you some hack squat alternatives you can do without a machine.

What Are Hack Squats?

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.

As the name implies, hack squats are similar to free-weight squats. And at first glance, it may seem like an inverted leg press. However, there are critical distinctions between these exercises.

How to Do Hack Squat Machine

Hack Squat vs Leg Press

Both the leg press and hack squat involve sleds that move on rails. With the leg press, you sit in a padded seat and push the sled with your feet. In contrast, the hack squat has a padded sled on your back.

However, the angle of your back relative to your legs makes these exercises different. For example, your torso is forward on the leg press, so your knees come to your chest. And your back stays upright on the hack squat.

As a result, leg press works more glutes and hamstrings while hack squats emphasize the quads.

Related: Leg Press vs Squat Mechanics, Muscle Activation, & More

Hack Squat vs Squat

The main difference between the hack squat and barbell squat is your back. With regular squats, your torso tilts forward and puts some of the load on your lower back. In comparison, hack squats put almost no load on the lower back muscles1.

By reducing upper body involvement, you put more weight on your legs. Therefore, the hack squat provides better lower body isolation than squats.

However, barbell back squats are still a better exercise for overall lower body development, core stability, and athleticism.

Hack Squat Muscles Worked

As a squatting movement, the hack squat involves most of the muscles in your legs, including the quads, glutes, and hamstrings.

But hack squats place a greater emphasis on the front of your legs or the quadriceps. The quads are a group of 4 muscles called the vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris.

In addition, you can emphasize different leg muscles depending on where you place your feet on the platform. I’ll talk more about that in the next section.

How to Do Hack Squats Muscles Worked

Hack Squat Benefits & Limitations

Pros

  • Less stress on the back compared to barbell squats
  • More upright body position compared to leg press
  • Limited movement path better isolates lower body
  • Excellent for targeting quadriceps
  • Safety stops for working to failure without a spotter
  • Large platform for multiple foot position variations

Cons

  • Not as good for building overall strength compared to squats
  • Puts more stress on your knees compared to squats or leg press

How to Do Hack Squats

Next, I will walk you through how to do hack squats, from getting positioned on the machine to properly executing the exercise. I’ve included pictures, step-by-step guidance, and a video demonstration.

Hack Squat Foot Placement

Where you place your feet on the platform also affects which muscles are used most during a hack squat. For example, you could have your feet high or low, wide or narrow, and angled in or out.

Feet High vs Low

Placing your feet higher on the platform shifts more of the load to the glutes and hamstrings. Conversely, placing your feet low on the platform puts almost all the load on your quads.

Hack Squat Foot Position High vs Low

The reason is the position of your knees relative to your toes. When your feet are high on the platform, your knees stay behind your toes.

This angle results in more hip flexion at the bottom of the movement. And extending your hips as you push up activates more glutes and hamstrings.

Hack Squat Feet High Muscles Worked

You can do more weight when your feet are high on the platform since you use more muscle groups. But I should also point out that lifting heavier weight doesn’t always result in the gains you want. 

On the other hand, keeping your feet lower on the platform causes your knees to go over your toes. This leg position reduces hip flexion and increases knee flexion. So you’re using almost exclusively the quadriceps muscles.

You’ll find that you can’t do as much weight with your feet low. But you’re better off using less weight with your feet lower on the platform if your goal is to build bigger quads.

Of course, you can do a heavier weight and still target your quads by putting your feet about halfway up the platform.

Hack Squat Feet Low Muscles Worked

Feet Wide vs Narrow

Another factor in foot placement is width. You use more inner thigh when you place your feet wider than shoulder-width. While feet closer than shoulder-width work more outer thigh.

Generally, I recommend a narrow stance where your feet are shoulder-width apart or closer. This foot position keeps the load squarely on the quads.

Hack Squat Foot Position Wide vs Narrow

Toes Pointed In vs Out

Finally, you can also angle your feet in or out. This foot position is most relevant when your feet are low and close together on the platform, and you’re engaging your quads.

With your toes pointed in, you work more of the vastus lateralis or the outer sweep of your quad. While pointing your toes out works the vastus medialis or the teardrop above your knee.

How To Do Hack Squats Step by Step

Now that you know how to stand on the platform, I will take you through how to perform the exercise. First, I’ll give you the step-by-step instructions. Then you can watch a short video demonstration.

Here are the basic steps for how to do hack squats:

  1. Load the desired weight plates on the sled (it’s best to start with no weight if you’ve never done this exercise)
  2. Get into the machine by placing your feet on the platform and your back and shoulders on the pads
  3. Unrack the sled by pushing up on the shoulder pads while pulling in on the handles
  4. Squat down by bending your knees and lowering your hips toward the floor
  5. Extend your legs to push the sled back up to the starting position
  6. Perform the desired number of reps
  7. Rerack the sled by pulling out on the handles as you gently lower it onto the hooks

How to Do Hack Squats Video

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Hack Squat Form

The hack squat is a relatively safe machine with safety stops and rails. But it’s still important to use proper form to prevent injury and get the best results for your effort.

  1. Start with your feet halfway up the platform about shoulder-width apart – I’ll explain alternate foot positions in the next section.
  2. Keep your back flat on the pad at all times.
  3. Don’t let your hips roll forward off the pad at the bottom of the range of motion – if you can’t go low enough, work on hip mobility.
  4. Don’t lock your knees out entirely at the top of the movement.

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How To Do Hack Squat Variations

You may have seen some people using the hack squat machine facing the opposite way as what I just demonstrated. This variation is called a reverse hack squat, and it has specific benefits.

In addition, your gym might have different kinds of hack squat machines. For example, some hack squat machines have a plate-loaded pendulum, while others use a weight selector stack.

In this section, I walk you through how to do hack squat variations. So you’ll know how to use whatever equipment you have at your gym.

Reverse Hack Squat

This variation also requires a hack squat machine. But it’s worth mentioning because it can have some added benefits for building strength and improving lifts like the back squat.

To do a reverse hack squat, you stand in the machine backward with your face towards the pad. The movement is the same as a regular hack squat, except the leg mechanics are slightly different.

With a reverse hack squat, your hips can move back as they would in a barbell squat. But your back stays upright, and your knees are more forward over your toes.

This body position and range of motion combines the benefits of traditional squats and the regular hack squat. You have a more natural movement path but you also get better quad activation.

Check out the video below for more details.

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, the body mechanics are like a hack squat where your back stays more upright. And you can position your feet where your knees travel over your toes.

Weight Stack Hack Squat

This final hack squat variation looks like the pendulum squat machine above, except it has a weight selector stack instead of free weight plates. Other than that, the execution is the same as a regular pendulum squat.

Remember, for targeting your quads like the hack squat, keep your back upright and bend more at the knees!

How to Do Hack Squats Without a Machine

Now that you know all the benefits of hack squats, you’re probably itching to give them a try. But what if your gym doesn’t have any of the machines I mentioned above?

Not to worry, you can get the benefits of hack squats even if you don’t have a hack squat machine. Click here for the ultimate list of 15 hack squat alternatives that blast your quads just like the real thing.

Hack Squat Alternatives
Hack Squat Alternatives

Conclusion

With a basic understanding of foot position, you now know how to do hack squats to target specific parts of your legs. So you can develop the teardrop above your knee or the coveted outer sweep.

However, you shouldn’t use hack squats as an excuse to avoid barbell squats. Instead, use both hack squats and back squats to compliment each other as part of a complete leg day workout routine.

For more helpful tips on exercises, workouts, and all things fitness, check out some of my related articles below!

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