How to Do a Hack Squat Properly

by Evelyn Valdez

Keeping a muscle-building routine varied but effective should be a priority in your fitness journey, and luckily most popular strength-training exercises have a bunch of variations that you can try to mix up your training days while still building serious muscle.

A great example of an effective variation is hack squats, a weighted squat variation that will help you tone your legs and build strength in your lower body. But, since they’re performed with a barbell, you need to learn how to execute them properly to truly reap the benefits of this exercise safely.

In this article, we’ll show you step-by-step how to perform a hack squat with a barbell as well as some alternatives that you can try on your lower-body days. But first, let’s talk a little bit more about hack squats and how they work…

What is a hack squat?

The traditional hack squat, or barbell hack squat, is a squat variation that involves lifting a barbell off the ground from behind your body while you perform a series of squats. Because of this, the hack squat is often referred to as a reverse deadlift, except the weight that you use is a lot lighter.

What differentiates the hack squat from other weighted squat variations such as the front squat or sumo squat is the reverse position in which you hold the bar. Because of this, there are many benefits to the hack squat:

  • It greatly reduces the load on your spine while lifting
  • It improves your overall mobility, particularly in your hip and shoulder area
  • It gives your quads a killer workout by placing most of the load on them

Aside from your quads, this exercise also works other major muscle groups in your legs such as your glutes and hamstrings, plus your core and some lower back muscles. So, even though it can be slightly tricky to master because of the position you hold the barbell in, it’s definitely worth it to master it for your gains!

How to do a hack squat

If you’re ready to try this weighted squat variation, you must follow each step of the exercise carefully to avoid straining your muscles or accidentally getting into an uncomfortable position. It’s always a good idea to have a spotter when you’re still mastering the correct form!

Here’s how to properly perform a barbell hack squat:

 

  • Get in position
  •  First, you need to load the barbell with the appropriate weight for your current fitness level. Remember, it’s always better to underestimate your strength than to overestimate it and risk an injury.

    Position the barbell on the floor and stand in front of it so that it sits right behind your ankles, then place your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed slightly outward for added balance.

     

  • Grab the barbell
  •  With your arms down to your sides and slightly pointing back, squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor and you reach the bar. Then, grab the barbell with both hands in an overhand grip just outside of your legs, leaving enough space to stand up without brushing your legs with your arms.

    Make sure that your back is straight in this position, with your chest up and your shoulders down and back. Your head should be looking forward to keeping a neutral spine position.

     

  • Stand up with the barbell
  •  From the starting position, begin the movement by pushing yourself up through your heels, extending your knees and hips as you lift the barbell along the back side of your body until you’re standing straight.

    In this standing position, your shoulder blades should be squeezed together as you hold the barbell behind you. Make sure to keep your back straight throughout the full range of motion.

     

  • Squat down to finish a rep
  •  Lower yourself again as you drive the barbell back down, making sure it doesn’t hit your body as you move. The movement should be slow and controlled at all times.

    Touch the floor with the barbell to complete one rep, then repeat for the desired number of times. And you’re done!

    Hack squat alternatives

    If you’re still working your way up to the barbell hack squat or you simply want to try different alternatives to the hack squat, here are a few exercises that you can try:

    Landmine squat

    This alternative exercise is similar to the barbell hack squat in that it helps reduce the load on your spine while also making it easier on your joints. Plus, it allows you to deal with heavier weights so you can build muscle in no time.

    How to do it:

    1. Load one end of a bar and secure the opposite end against a rack or a corner, then stand in front of it with your feet shoulder-width apart and grab the top end with both hands in a neutral position close to your chest.
    2. Engage your core and begin the movement by lowering yourself into a squat position as you drive the weight down with you until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Make sure to keep your back straight throughout the movement.
    3. Pause for a moment while you squeeze the muscles worked, then stand back up and repeat.

    Leg press

    Looking for a different way to give your quads a good burn? Then the leg press is definitely for you. This exercise is particularly great for those who have mobility issues and can’t properly perform a regular squat!

    How to do it:

    1. Load the leg press machine, then sit on it with your back on the cushion and place your feet on the platform at a shoulder-width distance.
    2. Hold the handles at each side of the seat with your hands and begin the movement by pressing the platform with your feet, making sure your quads are doing most of the work until your legs are fully extended but not locked.
    3. Without taking your hips off the seat, hold the position as your squeeze your muscles, then contract your legs again and repeat.

    Machine hack squat

    While this isn’t technically an alternative but a variation, it can be a great way to get all the benefits of a barbell hack squat with the support of a machine, making it a safer alternative for your leg days.

    1. Load the hack squat machine, then sit on it with your shoulders and back against the cushioned pads and hold the handles at each side with your hands.
    2. Place your feet shoulder-width apart on the platform and extend your legs as you release the safety handles.
    3. Begin the movement by bending your knees and slowly lowering the weight until your thighs are around 90 degrees from your calves as if you were sitting.
    4. Pause for a moment while you squeeze your muscles, then reverse the movement to the extended position and repeat.

    Give your legs the dedicated workout that they need

    Hack squats are a great way to make your leg muscles pop and get stronger, particularly your quads, but don’t forget about the rest of your leg muscles! Trying out a variety of different exercises that target every muscle group in your lower body will ensure that you get the toned legs that you’re dreaming of.

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