Hack squats are a machine based squat accessory exercise that works out your quadriceps and your glutes. It eliminates the stabilization requirements that you see in exercises such as a barbell back squat.
However, the downside is that not all gyms will invest in a hack squat. This is because machines tend to carry higher price tags than free weight equipment does, and so it is possible that even if you have a stellar gym membership, you may not have access to a hack squat. So, can you actually reap all the benefits of a hack squat, even if you do not have a hack squat machine?
Of course, there are 9 epic hack squat alternatives that you can do. They are, as follows;
- The V-squat.
- The Leg Press.
- The Barbell Hack Squat.
- The Goblet Squat.
- The Front Squat.
- The Belt Squat.
- The Landmine Squat.
- The Safety Bar Squat.
- The Hatfield Squat.
Today, we will talk with you about each of these exercises in detail, and tell you all the facts so that you can choose the one that best suits you as an alternative.
Time to squat away.
What makes a good alternative?
An alternative to the hack squat is effective if it targets the same, or similar muscle groups as those that are worked out in the hack squat, and if it mimics the motor pattern of the hack squat.
What muscles do you use in the hack squat?
First of all, let’s look at the muscles that are used in the hack squat.
There are five main muscle groups that are targeted in the hack squat, these are;
- The quadriceps.
- The glutes (Maximus and medius glutes)
- The hamstrings.
- The calves.
- The abdominals.
Hack squats require a significant amount of knee and hip flexion, which makes the quads and the gluteus maximus the main drivers in helping you stand from the bottom position.
Studies have proven that those who use the hack squat are able to use significantly greater loads than those who perform the back squat. While the back squat recruits more core muscle activation, the hack squat seems to have an advantage when more weight needs to be lifted.
The other muscle groups also contribute as you move, however their input into the movement is much less than the quads and glutes, which mostly assist in knee and hip extension.
This means that for an alternative for the hack squat to be successful, it needs to target the quads and glutes more than any other muscle groups.
The motor pattern of a hack squat
The hack squat is a machine based exercise, it removes the stabilization that would normally be present in any free-weight movements, such as with a back squat. Despite how the skill required to perform a hack squat is lesser than with a back squat, a similar movement patterned is still needed. This should be the same in any exercise that replaces the hack squat.
This means that the most effective replacement for a hack squat, regardless if they are machine based or not, takes the lifter through a similar motor movement pattern.
The alternative options
Let’s have a look at the top 9 alternatives for the hack squat, how they can benefit you, how to do them and what tips there are to help you optimize these alternative work-outs.
Try out the leg press
First up, we have the leg press. This is a brilliant alternative to the hack squat, as there is absolutely no spinal compression. The quads and glutes are also the primary muscle groups that are targeted in this workout.
Much like the hack squat, the leg press is another machine based workout. So, not only does it work the same muscle groups as the hack squat, but it is similar in how it doesn’t put any axial load on the spine. Using the leg press is also much less tiring than the free-weighted alternatives you could choose, although some people may prefer free-weighted alternatives, the leg press is better for those who wish to get more from their work out before they start to feel fatigued.
How do I perform the leg press?
- Start by laying down on the machine, placing your feet on the platform.
- Your stance on this machine will usually mirror the stance you make when you do a back squat.
- When you are ready, fully extend your legs and disengage the safety catches
- Bend your knees until your thighs are at or are below parallel.
- Push the platform away from you with your feet and then return to the starting position, do not lock your knees.
Tips for the leg press
You will usually be able to load significantly more weight when you use a leg press than you would be able to with a hack squat.
This is why it is best that you make much larger jumps in the weight that you use. We recommend about 50lbs to 90lbs total per jump in weight, when you first start using this machine. Doing this will jump down on the number of unnecessary sets that you would otherwise end up doing.
Give V-squats a try
Next up is the V-squat. V-squats are another brilliant alternative to the hack squat as they isolate the quads and use a very similar motor pattern to the hack squat.
V-squats very closely resemble the mechanics of a hack squat. As they are a machine-based exercise, they also remove the stabilization requirements that you would often see in a free weight squat.
Despite how it does a stellar job of working out your quads and glutes, it also requires a fair amount of forward torso lean as you work through the full range of motion. Due to this, you may experience a bit more abdominal and back work with the V-squat than you would with the hack squat. However, if this is something that you might want to add into your workout, you could kill two birds with one stone with the V-squat.
How do I perform a V-squat?
- Take your position, stepping onto the V-squat platform and adopt a standard squat stance.
- Ensure that your shoulders come into contact with the shoulder pads on the machine.
- Hold onto the handles beside your shoulders to ensure stability.
- When you are ready, stand up and be certain that the stopper releases.
- Then, descend by bending at your knees.
- Once you have reached your desired depth, push the platform away to stand back up.
- Engage the stopper to get out of the machine once you have finished your set. Voilà!
Tips for the V-squat
In order to best target your quads more when you perform your V-squat, take on a narrower stance, with your feet closer to the base of the platform.
Barbell hack squats, maybe?
Barbell hack squats are a very close variation to machine-based hack squats. This makes it an ideal substitute for hack squats.
In this movement, you will generally apply the load by holding a barbell behind your legs. Having this barbell requires you to bend your knees in order to stay balanced, while also allowing you to be more upright. As this happens, your quads will do more work.
The barbell hack squat has pretty much the same benefits as a hack squat has. Although, it is more difficult to perform as it is a free-weight exercise. Being mindful of this, you will likely have to lighten the weight on the barbell, and then spend a few more workouts just getting used to the range of motion if you are used to only doing a typical machine-based hack squat.
How do I perform a barbell hack squat?
- Load your barbell much like you would for a deadlift.
- Step in front of the bar, so your back is facing the bar.
- Bend down and grab the bar comfortably.
- Push the floor away as you stand up.
- As you move to stand, the bar should slide along the backs of your legs.
- When you descend, do some by bending at the knees and the hips at the same time.
Tips for barbell hack squats
If you find that you have difficulty performing this exercise, then it is a good idea to use a power rack to help you get the correct bar path.
Place the spotter arms at a height that positions the bar around knee height, then perform a couple of sets. As you get more and more comfortable, you can progressively lower the height of the spotter’s arms until you are starting with the bar on the floor for each rep.
This is rather similar to a rack deadlift, however, instead you start with the barbell behind you.
What is a goblet squat?
Goblet squats are similar to hack squats however they use a dumbbell, or in some cases, a kettlebell, as the implement instead of using a machine. It is often used as a stepping stone toward more advanced variations of the squat, the goblet squat can allow the lifter to keep a daily upright torso throughout the whole movement.
The joint angles seen in the goblet squat place a higher demand on the quads and glutes, although it is not a machine based alternative to doing the hack squat.
How do I perform the goblet squat?
- First off, grab a single dumbbell and hold it vertically, so it takes the shape of a goblet.
- Keep your grip, so that your palms are supporting the underside of the upper part of the dumbbell.
- Keep the dumbbell close to your chest as you move through the movement.
- Simultaneously break at your hips and knees as you lower.
- Keep your balance focused in your mid-foot as you reach the bottom position.
- In order to stand up, push the floor away.
- Ensure that you stay upright throughout the movement, most important when you start to ascend.
Tips for the goblet squat
One of the most common complaints that come from performing the goblet squat is that it often comes with sore wrists. In order to avoid this complaint, try to keep your elbows tucked in and close to your torso while you move. This means that you will be supporting the dumbbell more efficiently, and it reduces the demand on your wrist joints as well.
Consider landmine squats
Landmine squats are a very good alternative for the hack squat, they allow you to remain fairly upright and load your quads more effectively.
These squats are often used when lifters start to find that the dumbbell that they use for performing a goblet squat has become a bit too cumbersome to hold. When you perform a landmine squat, a section of the weight on the barbell is carried by the bar itself, which makes it a much more manageable exercise to load and experience.
You can place the unloaded side of the barbell in a corner to perform this exercise, a landmine attachment will save the walls from getting wrecked as the bar moves. If you have barbells at home, buying one of these landmine attachments might be a good call.
How do I perform a landmine squat?
- Place your barbell in a landmine attachment if you have one, if not, wedge one end into the corner.
- Add weight to the opposite end of the barbell, use weights that you are comfortable with.
- You should avoid using plates any larger than 25 lbs, anything larger than this will generally limit your range of motion, although it does depend on you.
- In a singular shift motion, lift the bar from the floor to position it in front of your chest.
- Angle your feet back a bit, making sure your torso is leaning forward slightly, then start your descent when you are ready.
- Once you have reached your desired depth, stand back up.
Tips for landmine squats
It is advised that you set your stance to be slightly back, allowing your torso to learn forward, and into the bar.
The minor forward lean in this position should prevent you from shifting too much weight into your heels, and avoid the sensation of falling back as you squat down.
What about belt squats?
Another good substitute for hack squats is a belt squat. In this alternative, you can closely mimic the upright torso and the position of your knees being forward that you find in a normal hack squat.
When you do a belt squat, there are plenty of variations that you can perform and generally, which you can perform depends on the equipment that is available to you. For example, it could be that you use an actual belt squat machine, a landmine attachment, a cable machine, or even just a couple of boxes and a dip belt. The options are never ending, use your imagination.
Any of these variations can work, you should only be sure that you can still get a deep range of motion without the plates hitting the floor. If they do not, then this will work as a valid replacement for hack squats.
How do I perform a belt squat?
- If you are doing this with a dip belt, then fasten it to the belt squat machine using a carabiner. Doing this you may have to kneel.
- Without lifting the plates, place your feet into your ideal stance.
- Gently place your hand on the handrails and stand up fully.
- Now, push the stopper away, and you can descend uninterrupted.
- While you are using the handrails to stay balanced, bend slowly at your knees.
- Once you have reached your ideal depth, you can then stand up by pushing the platform away. Complete your set.
Tips for a belt squat
If you seek to target your quads even more, then you can use a pair of heeled squat shoes. The heel forces your knees forward even more, which allows you to achieve a greater depth and makes your quads work extra hard.
There’s always front squats
Front squats are a free-weight variation of the squat that place extra emphasis on your quads, which make for a stellar choice as a hack squat alternative.
When you perform a front squat, you place the barbell on the front of the shoulders. Having this position will require you to push your knees further forwards in order to stay upright, this motion and stance replicates the positioning of a hack squat.
Although, be aware that front squats do place a higher demand on your quads and glutes than you may be used to. You may also find that it would work out your abdominals and back muscles even more than you would experience in a hack squat as well.
How do I perform a front squat?
- With the aid of a rack, place your bar at shoulder height.
- Then, wedge the bar in the crook of your shoulder.
- Now, place your hands just beyond the shoulder width, and aim to get the base of your fingers around the bar.
- Drive your elbows upwards, so that your triceps are parallel to the floor.
- Stand to lift the bar from the rack.
- Take a few steps back, and set up your stance to squat.
- Bend at the knees and try to sit between your thighs. (So to speak.)
- Once you have found your ideal depth, push the floor away in order to stand up.
Tips for front squats
One of the most common complaints that people make when they perform a front squat is that it is a bit awkward on the wrists, this may lead to pain.
If your wrists hurt when you do a front squat, do not be afraid to place just the tips of your fingers on the bar, rather than attempting to make contact with the very top of your palms.
If this still does not work, then you can also cross your arms in front of you and grab the barbell with an overhead grip, instead of using an underhand one.
Think about safety bar squats
Safety bar squats make unique use of barbells, they use a specific one, they allow the lifter to target similar muscle groups to hack squats. In the hack squat and in the safety bar squat, you are able to maintain an upright torso angle as you perform the squat. With a more vertical torso, your knees have to travel further forward to keep you balanced, which works the quads.
How do I perform the safety bar squat?
- Using a rack, place a bar at shoulder height.
- Put the barbell on your back with the foam.
- Grab the handles and keep your elbows tucked in your sides.
- Stand up and take a few steps back to clear the hooks.
- Bend simultaneously at your hips and knees.
- Descend and when you reach your goal depth, return to the standing position.
Tips for safety bar squats
These squats are easier on your back than traditional back squats due to the upright trunk ankle. This makes it a good squat for those who have suffered back injuries.
Don’t forget Hatfield squats!
Hatfield squats target quads and glutes with an upright posture. They are similar to the safety bar squat. The main difference is that in the squat you use your hands to assist throughout the motion. This enables you to remain more upright as you work your quads hard and have your glutes assist you.
How do I squat?
- Place your bar at shoulder height with a rack.
- Put the barbell on your back with foam.
- Stand up and move backward.
- Place your hands on the uprights on the rack above hip height.
- Bend at your knees and hips to descend.
- Once at desired depths, return to stand, using your hand to assist on ascent.
Tips for Hatfield squats.
Equipment can be placing your hands on the uprights of the rack, or placing your hands on a bar in front of you.
A last thought
Any alternative to the hack squat will incorporate a similar movement to the hack squat. It will also activate similar muscle groups as well, especially the quads and the glutes.
When you do them correctly, any of the above motions can be done to replace or in addition to hack squats as part of your workout routine.