Hack Squats are my all time favourite exercise for building quads. The first gym I ever went to had the most amazing squat machine. It was at the perfect angle and would allow for a full range of motion.
I remember going for my weekly leg workout and performing 8 sets of hack squats to start the workout. My legs would be so fatigued that I often collapsed while walking down the stairs after. A great feeling for any bodybuilder.
As much as I loved barbell squats, there has often been times at the gym where I didn’t have a training partner to spot me while training to failure. Most hack squats have built in catches which provide for a safe movement when training to maximum intensity.
What are the Different Types of Hack Squats?
Lately I have been seeing quite a few variations on hack squat machines. The one that I dislike immensely is the machine that is using a 45-degree angle. It prevents you from lowering so your calves touch your hamstrings as the catches engage before this occurs. Some of these machines don’t even allow your thighs to move below your knees and therefore only complete a half range of motion.
The only hack squat machine that I like to use is the one that sits at a slight angle from upright. It allows you to lower your thighs until your bum almost reaches the floor. This allows for a full range of motion. It is similar to what you should be doing with barbell squats.
Unfortunately, the gym that I train at doesn’t have this type of hack squat. I will often travel around 45 minutes to another gym just so I can train with the correct machine.
At what Stage of a Leg Workout should I use the Hack Squat Machine?
I would always recommend starting your leg workout with around three working sets of barbell squats.
Barbell squats are the king of leg building and are also the most intensive. For this reason they should be the first exercise during leg day. Hack squats should come second followed by leg press. Some people prefer to skip barbell squats and start with hack squats as they have back issues and prefer the safer hack squat machine.
How should I Perform a Hack Squat?
- Rest your back against the back pad while placing your shoulders underneath the shoulder pads.
- Your feet should be shoulder width apart with your toes pointing slightly outward. You can play around with feet positioning and alter this stance until you are most comfortable.
- Locate the handles for the machine and take note of where the safety arm is. Usually the safety arm is by your hip or next to one of the handles.
- To disengage the safety lock you now need to straighten your legs without locking your knees. Disengage the safety lock and hold both handles.
- Slowly lower your body until you are at your lowest point possible. I prefer to go all the way down and get the full range of motion. As long as the angle between your thigs and calves is less then 45 degrees then that would be good enough.
- Now begin to raise your body until your legs are almost straight – never lock your knees at the top of the movement. You have just completed one rep.
- Continue until all reps are complete. You can now engage the safety lock so you can safely step away from the hack squat machine.
What Muscles does the Hack Squat Machine Work?
The hack squat will work the following as primary muscles:
Secondary Muscles worked are:
How many sets and reps should I be doing?
I recommend the following for hack squats:
Set 1 – warm up set – 20% of 1 rep max – 3 reps
Set 2 – warm up set – 40% of 1 rep max – 3 reps
Set 3 – warm up set – 60% of 1 rep max – 3 reps
Set 4 – warm up set – 85% of 1 rep max – 6 reps
Set 5 – warm up set – 85% of 1 rep max – 6 reps
Set 6 – warm up set – 85% of 1 rep max – 6 reps
What are some Tips and Tricks for the Hack Squat
Like most exercises in the gym, most people start of doing the movement correctly. They get impatient with their progress, and progressively increase the weight each workout while sacrificing form. Some mistakes I have seen people make are:
- Letting your back move away from the back cushioning in an attempt to gain more power. Always make sure your back is in complete contact with the cushioning especially while raising the weight.
- Completing a half range of motion by going down until the most difficult part of the movement. The calves and thighs need to form an angle of less then 90 degrees. If you can’t get to this point with each rep then you are going to heavy and need to reduce the weight. If you continue to perform half range of motion exercises then you are simply waisting your time.
- For advanced bodybuilders, try and bring your feet slightly back so that your heels come off the platform at the bottom of the movement. This should enable your calves and hamstrings to touch and therefore get the very most from the movement. This is the way Tom Platz performed hack squats. He had some of the most impressive quads ever.
If you have never performed hack squats in the gym before then your are definitely missing out on a great quad builder. Try it out in your next leg workout and if done correctly, you will thank me the next day when you can hardly walk due to DOMS.