While the barbell version of the hack squat — picking up a barbell placed behind you — is perfectly acceptable, especially for those training at home, the typical machine-based hack squat you find at most gyms is our choice here. That’s the one that’s plate-loaded and angles your body slightly backward. Within the confines of the machine, you’ll find a bit more safety than you would with the free-weight squat, which becomes more crucial as you tire during a workout. That means hacks are a great mid-workout option, serving as a bridge between squatting and other moves such as the leg press and lunge.
Main Areas Targeted: Quads and glutes primarily, hamstrings secondarily
Strengths: This exercise is done in a weight-bearing functional position just like a standing squat. The hack squat machine also allows you to go a little heavier without sacrificing too much form as you would performing bar squats since your back is supported, which decreases the chance of injury. That’s important when the goal is to increase mass and strength.
How-To: Step inside a hack squat machine, placing your shoulders and back against the pads. Set your feet at mid-platform just inside shoulder width, keeping your feet flat throughout the exercise. With your chest up and core tight, unhook the safeties and slowly lower yourself, stopping when your thighs are just past parallel to the platform. From here, powerfully press upward to the start position, keeping your knees bent slightly at the top to protect them from hyperextension. When performing any squat movement, my cues are always to avoid any excessive internal or external rotation at the knees — think the ‘knock-knee’ position or knees and toes pointing out — along with keeping your knees about shoulder-width apart throughout the movement. The weight should be felt in your heels, not your toes.
I use this primarily for targeting the quads. I put my feet high on the platform and keep them together. I’ll also perform partial reps at the top to get a good pump.