Overcoming a plateau of optimal physical fitness or a squat plateau requires exercises that precisely targets the desired muscle groups. The Hack Squat is a prime example of an exercise that achieves this – proving popular with bodybuilders for lower-body development, as well as with athletes and runners who need to re-establish leg strength. Here, I will explain the pros and cons of this exercise, and describe how to undertake the Hack Squat on a sled machine, as well as how to perform the Barbell Hack Squat.
The Hack Squat – A brief overview
A little bit of history
The Hack Squat was invented by early 20th century wrestler George Hackenschmidt. Also known as the Rear Deadlift, this exercise is thought to have gained its name from the original way of performing the squat (with the heels joined) because of its resemblance to the way in which Prussian soldiers would click their heels (known as ‘Hacken zusammen’).
Hackenschmidt’s promotion of the Squat, in his influential weightlifting book “The Way to Live”, helped bring the exercise to European attention.
What muscles does it work?
The Hack Squat primarily works the quadriceps, in addition to secondary muscles that span the calves, glutes and hamstrings.
What does the Hack Squat accomplish?
The Hack Squat is considered an exercise suited for both beginners and more advanced athletes. As with all resistance workouts, it can be as challenging as you set your weight to, whether it’s performed on a machine or with a ‘T’ bar.
If given enough time and energy, Hack Squats can produce serious results in terms of increased muscle mass. However, given the fact that the leg muscles are some of the largest in the body, both time and energy will be needed in considerable measures.
As I’ll explain in the next section, this form of exercise can be particularly helpful for bodybuilders, as well as for athletes who may have returned to training from a back injury (as it serves as a fast way of re-establishing a good base of strength).
It’s important to note, however, that many athletic experts criticize the Hack Squat for being unable to engage stabilizer muscles, as well as its fixed range of motion. This latter point is also the reason it is best suited to bodybuilders, where such a range of motion isn’t a priority.
On a Sled Machine
1. Ensure that your torso is flat against the machine’s back pad, placing your shoulders under the pads.
2. Place your legs on the platform, a shoulder’s width apart, with your toes pointed slightly outward. Your head should be kept upward at all times.
3. Position your arms on the side handles and unlock the safety pin.
4. Begin the exercise by straightening, but not locking, the legs – you’re now in the starting position.
5. Lower downward by bending your legs – all whilst maintaining a straight posture with your head remaining upward. You should continue bending the legs until the angle between the upper legs and calves is slightly short of 90-degrees.
6. Return back to the starting position, exhaling as you do so and pushing downward with the heels of your feet.
How to do the barbell hack squat (e.g. a long T-bar)
1. Grip the T section with the weights added to the lower ends of the bar.
2. Hold the T-bar behind your back back, rising to hip level.
3. Rise up on your toes, then lower into a full squat or knee bend, keeping your back straight throughout.
4. Perform this exercise whilst ensuring that the weight remains stationary behind your back.
Begin with a set where the toes are pointed directly in front of you and follow this with a set where they are pointed outward. Finally, finish with a set where they are point inward. This helps to thoroughly work the full range of leg muscles, which achieves better results.
A pointer on repetitions and weights – As with all resistance exercises, the repetitions and weights that you choose, should be built around your capabilities and goals.
If you’re seeking to improve your physique, then undertaking two rounds (each consisting of fifteen reps), should help you work towards the next weight level.
For bodybuilders, it’s recommended that the number of reps are adapted to ensure your legs feel fully pumped and exercised.
Putting the Hack Squat through Its Paces – How Does It Compare?
The Hack Squat offers a real advantage when compared to traditional squats. It avoids much of the action that typically affects the hips and buttocks, instead purely developing the thigh muscles. There are some in the fitness industry who claim that the Hack Squat eradicates action in the hips and buttocks entirely. However, given that any knee-bending exercise requires the working of these muscles this type of claim should be completely ignored.
Bodybuilders (who typically tend to have large, wide hips gained through years of exercise), often employ a Hack Squat to redress the balance of their hip structure, as it provides increased, proportional muscle mass in the thighs.
If you’re going to introduce the Hack Squat to your bodybuilding efforts, it’s worth being aware that this exercise is often more effective for those with a broad hip structure. This is due to the excessive action of the Hack Squat which can, overtime, overwork the region, achieving a reduction in the difference between hip and leg proportion.
Results – Tell Me about Them
Whether you’re looking for a leg workout that redresses an unbalanced leg to waist ratio as part of your bodybuilding efforts, or are a runner seeking a quick-fire way of regaining strength, I’d love to hear about your results.
Whatever your objectives are, even if you’re simply looking for a new goal, the Hack Squat presents quite the challenge as well as an opportunity to build those leg muscles effectively.