You have probably seen enough memes of the dreaded “Leg Day” scattered all over the Internet. I hate to tell you that it can be particularly gruesome, especially for beginners. Sad to say, it is an absolutely necessary evil unless you want to be the impressively built guy with noodles for legs.
No offense to noodles, though.
Squats are undoubtedly one of the best exercises out there for building up lower body strength. Come Leg Day, it will be expected of you to go through this particular grueling hell.
The hack squat gives you an opportunity to build your lower body with a lesser risk of blowing your knees compared to regular squats so you can easily achieve quads that are symmetrical to the rest of your body.
Nobody wants to look like Johnny Bravo, right?
Don’t worry, though. This article will take you through what hack squats are as well as the pros and cons (you really didn’t think it wouldn’t have drawbacks, right?), as well as hack squat alternatives you can do to build an impressive set of wheels if you don’t have the hack squat machine in your gym or home.
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The Hack Squat
Hack squats are leg exercises you do on a hack squat machine. They got this name from the machine’s shoulder pads, “hack” is a term used for the yoke placed on a draft animal’s shoulders.
To use the machine, you simply step up to it and position your back on the backrest, your shoulders under the padded shoulder rest, and your feet at shoulder-width apart on the footplate. Lower your hips slowly until your knees are at a 90-degree angle and then stand back up to the starting position.
This exercise primarily targets your quadriceps, the muscles at the front of your thighs, as well as the gluteus maximus muscles of your buttocks.
1. Quadriceps muscles
Well-developed quads that are symmetrical to the rest of your body are necessary to avoid looking like the dreaded cartoon, Johnny Bravo, who had an impressive chest and arms but puny legs. Luckily, hack squats can help you avoid this as the quads are one of two muscle groups that this exercise primarily targets.
Your quadriceps or your quads are the muscles in the front of your thighs that allow you to straighten out your knees. These four muscles are attached to your femur or thigh bone—which is one of the strongest bones in the body, by the way—and your pelvis or hip bones. Through a common tendon, they insert onto your patella or kneecap.
To activate the quadriceps muscles and further engage them in the performance of your hack squats on the machine, you can place your feet towards the back of the foot plate. This will make the quadriceps muscles contract more.
2. Gluteus maximus muscles
Big butts don’t lie and if you are performing your hack squats on the machine the right way, then your gluteus maximus muscles will certainly show all the loving you give it.
The gluteus maximus muscles are the biggest muscles in your butt, so to speak. The attachments of these muscles are located on your sacrum, which is the lower part of your spine, as well as the back of your pelvis or hip bone. They then insert into the back of the femur or thigh bone. These muscles are utilized to straighten the hips.
In contrast to the quadriceps muscles, placing your feet towards the front of the footplate will activate your gluteus maximus muscles and allow them to contract more.
Cons of Hack Squats
The downsides of doing hack squats include:
- It forces your body to move in a fixed angle. This is the downside of using machines in any sort of exercise—they give you stability and support just as long as you play according to their rules. For example, Smith machines can give you support whenever your strength fails you but you can only move along the route of the bar. The same thing holds true for squat machines—they give you support and a bit more control but your body still has to conform to the machine to make it work.
- Your stabilizer muscles are not in action. Although generally, machines are safer than lifting and squatting on your own with free weights, another drawback of using the hack squat machine is that for all the support it provides, some muscles that are important in maintaining stability are left out of the equation, too.
- Can cause knee problems. If you have knee problems then you should probably sit out on the hack squats as they force your knees out front, which could prove disastrous for your knees especially when you start piling on heavier weights.
- You’re gonna need a machine. For those who plan to work out at home, the hack squat has to be done with the hack squat machine. This can be a bummer, too, if you do not have this particular equipment in your local gym.
Hack Squat Alternatives and How to Do Them
Now that you more or less have an idea on what hack squats can and cannot do for you, you might find yourself looking for another way. What if your local gym doesn’t have a hack squat machine?
For that matter, ever notice how most of the drawbacks of doing hack squats actually revolve around the machine?
Fear not, for this article has you covered in that area as well with several hack squat alternatives as well as deets on how to get about doing them.
1. Barbell Hack Squat
No hack squat machine in your local gym? You can still work your quads and gluteus muscles with a barbell and a low rack!
Materials: Barbell with a low rack
How to do barbell hack squats
- Rack the barbell lower than you usually would, right about the level just below your butt.
- Grab the barbell from behind with your hands shoulder-width apart.
- Carefully lift the barbell out of the rack and keep the bar close to the back of your legs.
- Step forward a little and keep your feet firmly planted on the ground about hip-width apart.
- Squat down slowly until your knees are at a 90-degree angle or your thighs are nearly parallel to the floor. Remember to keep the bar close to the back of your lower leg as you squat down. Keep your back straight and your knees and feet pointed in the same direction.
- Slowly lift the bar back up by fully extending your hips and knees.
- Repeat the squat.
2. Dumbbell Hack Squat
Even without a squat rack, you can do these reps at home with just your dumbbells! Don’t forget to maintain the proper posture and position to make sure you get the most out of these squats!
You will need: A pair of dumbbells, one for each hand
How to do dumbbell hack squats
- With a dumbbell in each hand, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes slightly pointed outward. Keep your heels slightly elevated and your knees slightly bent.
- Stand with your dumbbells held at your shoulders or at your sides and maintain good body alignment with your back straight, chest up, and abs tight.
- Slowly lower your body by bending your knees and hips and pushing your gluteus muscles back. Keep the motion controlled and your knees pointing in the same direction as your toes.
- Continue to lower your body as much as you can without compromising the good alignment of your upper body or until your thighs are nearly parallel to the floor.
- Maintaining controlled movements, return to the starting position without locking your knees.
- Repeat the squat.
Hack squats are a great way to build your legs while letting your upper body take a good rest. Just like regular squats, they can be just as hard and grueling if they are done properly.
Although it certainly makes you look great when you start piling on the weights in the machine, the form is still very important in doing your hack squats. If you want to make the most of your hack squats then don’t cheat your way out of it! You’re only cheating yourself out of the gains you achieve.
Nevertheless, hack squats are not without their cons and although the hack squat machine certainly gives you a bit of control, it can force your body into a fixed angle and does not engage your stabilizer muscles much. Not to mention that to do hack squats, you have to have the machine.
Fortunately, there are other ways to build impressive quads and glutes with barbells or even dumbbells at home. If your local gym does not have the hack squat machine or you plan on doing your legwork at home, you can try the alternatives above to exercise your upper legs.
Are you a fan of the hack squat machine? Did you find this article helpful? What other alternatives for hack squats can you suggest? Let us know in the comments below and don’t forget to share this article with your family and friends.