Gym Equipment

Is The Hack Squat Good For Muscle Building?

hack squat for muscle building

The hack squat is a variation of a squat exercise which is performed on a machine.  It works by allowing the user to squat with good form whilst offering stability to the upper body.  This makes it a good option for those who want to squat without engaging supporting muscles such as the core and lower back.

The hack squat is a compound exercise that will help to increase muscle mass to the quadriceps and the glutes.  To a lesser degree it also targets the hamstrings and calf muscles, but it is a very quad dominant exercise.  Your foot position will also impact which muscles are worked the most.

The movement is executed on a machine that will keep you leaning back at a 45 degree angle throughout the exercise. It comprises a carriage where you can add plates to increase the weight load.  Typically, the carriage itself can weigh anywhere from 20kg and upwards.

The foot plate of the hack squat means you can alter where you position your feet.  This means you can better target specific muscles over others.  For example; if you were to position your feet towards the bottom of the foot plate you’ll find that you will work more of the quad muscles.  In comparison, placing your feet at a high and wide position will work more of the glutes and hamstrings.


Below are a number of key benefits to incorporating hack squats into your leg training:

  • You can achieve a fairly deep squat without rounding of the lower back helping to prevent injury.
  • The foot plate allows for a variety of different stances so you can place more emphasis on different muscles.
  • As the hack squat closely mimics a barbell squat, it’s great if you’re a beginner as you can get a feel for squatting without having to worry too much about perfect form.
  • The hack squat will allow you to build leg strength which can improve more explosive athletics such as sprinting.
  • When compared to a back squat, you can place a much larger load on to your quads as you are removing any trunk activation. This makes it better for quad development.


Using the hack squat machine is a great alternative to regular back squats, especially if you want to squat deep with full support to your upper body.

Below is how to perform the hack squat:

  1. Step onto the footplate and lie back against the back rest.
  2. Hook your shoulders under the shoulder pads.
  3. Set your preferred stance with toes pointing slightly outwards.
  4. Grip the handles, these are usually positioned just above your shoulders.
  5. Disengage the safety bars.
  6. Straighten out your legs but don’t lock out your knees.
  7. Lower the carriage by slowing bending your knees.
  8. Keep your head up and back against the back rest throughout.
  9. Come to a stop when you are slightly below parallel, be sure your heels remain on the platform.
  10. Drive back up to a standing position by pushing through your heels.


When undertaking hack squats, you will be able to lift more weight when compared to a barbell squat.  Firstly, this is because you are removing any instability you would find when squatting with a barbell.

A hack squat machine essentially locks you into place to execute the squat helping to keep your back straight and core engaged.

Secondly, as the weight of any load is supported by the carriage this means you’ll likely be able to load more plates on a hack squat than you would if doing a barbell squat.

Even though the carriage itself is a weight, the vertical and horizontal movement of the exercise means that the machine is taking a portion of that weight hence why you can squat heavier doing hack squats.


A properly executed hack squat will not cause any damage to your knee joints nor should you encounter any pain. However, as with any squat movement, there will be some added stress to the knee joints so if you already suffer from any pain to the knees, any squat variation should be avoided.


The back squat has always been touted as the ultimate way to squat.  That being said, it’s not necessarily suitable for everyone.  If you want the next best thing, then the hack squat is a very close match.

As the weight load of both a hack squat and back squat is loaded axially and behind the user, this makes for a similar feel to the leg muscles during the exercise.

The key difference between a back squat and hack squat is that there is much less engagement of the whole body during hack squats but significantly more emphasis on quad development.

Gravity comes into play with a regular barbell squat and your stabilization muscles will be working very hard to keep you upright and retain your balance.

By comparison, the rails on a hack squat guides your plane of motion thereby removing the need to use your core and back muscles thus placing more stress on the leg muscles, specifically the quads.

Whilst, back squats can greatly improve core strength and stability, it is necessary to have developed stabiliser muscles before squatting with a barbell.  This is to ensure you can squat with good form, vital to help prevent any rounding of the lower back and reducing the likelihood for injury.


Hack squats don’t have to be the only squat variation you undertake during your leg training.  Indeed, by incorporating regular squatting on the hack machine you can increase emphasis to your quads adding strength and size.

Furthermore, different foot placements mean you can better target other lower body muscles whilst giving your upper body muscles a rest.

You can even add them as a warm up exercise pre squats or as a leg finisher after a heavy squat squat session.  In both instances you would keep the weight low and reps high.

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