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There are many exercises that can be undertaken with the sole aim of working the muscles of the lower body. A number of these exercises can be performed on machines found in the gym. This article delves into the hack squat machine and why it should be fundamental to your leg day training.
The hack squat is a lower body exercise that is executed on a plate loaded machine. It closely mimics a barbell squat whilst providing support to the lower back and core muscles. The machine itself requires the user to squat on an angle by pushing the weight up and away from the floor.
Oftentimes, people compare the hack squat to a barbell squat. Even though the muscles worked are the same, more of the stabilisation muscles come into with a barbell squat when compared to the hack squat. However, that’s not to say that hack squat should be replaced with regular squatting.
Due to the support provided to your torso when undertaking the hack squat, you’ll likely be able to lift more weight. This could have benefits if you have reached a plateau with barbell squatting making it an ideal supplementary exercise.
What’s more, if you happen to have any upper body injuries but still wish to achieve a good leg workout, the hack squat will offer a good alternative when compared to compound movements.
What Muscles Does The Hack Squat Work?
The primary muscles worked during a hack squat exercise are the quadriceps. However, by altering your foot placement on the footplate, you can put more emphasis on other lower body muscles. For example, to place the feet high up on the plate at shoulder width apart will target both the hamstrings and adductors.
This makes the hack squat a very versatile exercise for isolating different muscle groups and achieving an effective lower body workout. By altering the position of your feet you can work the hamstrings, glutes, adductors, calves as well as the quads.
What Are The Benefits Of Using A Hack Squat?
- The weight load is kept away from the lower back making it a good choice for those with upper body injuries.
- The fixed position allows you to squat more so, this may help with breaking through barbell squat plateaus.
- Provides stability to the upper body making it a safer alternative to the barbell squat.
- Squatting a heavier load will allow for greater muscle hypertrophy.
Where Should Your Feet Be On The Hack Squat?
As mentioned above, different foot placements will mean you can focus on specific lower body muscles. Before setting up, determine which muscles will be the basis of your workout.
- Centre placement shoulder width – quads, glutes, hamstrings
- Centre placement wide stance – adductors
- Centre placement narrow stance – glutes and quads
- High placement shoulder width – hamstrings and adductors
- Low placement shoulder width – quads and calves
How To Use The Hack Squat Machine
Once you’ve decided on your preferred foot placement, load up with any weight plates and make any necessary adjustments to the machine, such as the shoulder pads and foot plate (if adjustable).
- Place your back flat against the back pad with your shoulders under the shoulder pads.
- Take hold of the handlebars (located either side of your head) and push through your feet to a standing position, without locking out at the knees.
- Unlock the carriage by moving away the safety bars.
- Slowly, bend at the knees until you are at a 90 degree angle.
- Hold for 2 seconds.
- Pushing through your feet, return to a standing position and repeat.
- Once you’ve completed your set, replace the safety bars before stepping away.
- Don’t be tempted to lock out at the knees as this may result in injury.
- Keep your feet flat on the footplate at all times.
Which Is Better Leg Press Or Hack Squat?
The fundamental difference between the hack squat and leg press is how the movement is undertaken. The hack squat has similar mechanics to that of a back squat as you bend at the knee and the hip simultaneously with limited ankle mobility. By comparison the leg press requires the user to be sat at a constant position of hip flexion.
If your aim is to train to failure, then the leg press would be the better machine due to the support offered to the lower back ensuring the weight load remains on the leg at all times. The 45 degree leg press also offers a smaller range of motion when compared to the hack squat meaning it’s easier to load the machine up with more weight helping you to effectively tax the leg muscles.
One thing to consider with the leg press is to avoid overloading with weight. This could cause rounding of the lower back and subsequently, lead to injury. One way to help stop this is to leg press each leg at a time. This will prevent the hips from rotating as much and stop the lower back from rounding.
However, if you wish to replicate a barbell squat, then the hack squat should be your machine of choice. You can achieve a deep squat using a heavy weight all whilst providing stability to your torso.
Can Hack Squats Replace Barbell Squats?
Both the hack squat and back squats are considered compound movements as they target multiple muscle groups. However, aside from the lower body muscles the back squat will work the core, back, shoulders and chest.
This makes the back squat much more of an all over body exercise. When loading up for a barbell squat, you need a tremendous amount of stability in order to be able to execute a squat exercise efficiently and safely.
As the back squat is a highly technical exercise that recruits such a high number of muscle groups, it also taxes a person’s central nervous system (CNS). Your CNS is made up of the brain and spinal cord and is responsible for the entire working of your body including its movements, speaking and the senses, such as smell and taste. Whilst taxing the CNS has it’s benefits, you don’t want to overtrain as this could result in CNS fatigue leading to detrimental effects such as poor sleep and low energy. This is often why powerlifters who will back squat to their maximum will require a certain period of time to rest and recover. This not only allows the muscle to repair and grow but also ensures the CNS recovers.
So, for all over muscle development the back squat is your best bet. If, however, you are suffering from any upper body injuries the hack squat machine should be your go to.
Hack Squat Machine Alternatives
When it comes to squatting machines, there are many available. Each have their differences with the overriding theme being that you can perform a variation of a squat. Let’s look at some alternatives to the hack squat machine.
Belt Squat Machine
The belt squat machine allows a user to squat with no spinal load whilst keeping the weight equally distributed either side at hip height, making it a true representation of a standard barbell back squat. Typically, the machine is available as either a plate loaded version or a cable version.
It’s an extremely good option for those who are new to back or front squats and wish to improve their squat technique. The belt squat forces the user to adopt an upright position thereby keeping the spine neutral making for a well-executed squat.
V Squat Machine
The V squat machine, sometimes referred to as a power squat, allows the user to squat with an arc plane of motion. This results in the user sitting back into the squat so that more of the posterior chain muscles, such as the glutes and hamstrings, are targeted.
The pendulum squat machine positions the user with a hip hinge at the start of the movement, this results in a shortening of the quadriceps. The pivot point, which is positioned in front of the user, means that the weight load is heavier at the top of the movement. This means that the squat becomes more difficult during the concentric phase, which is the opposite of a back squat.