The Barbell Hack Squat: A Complete Guide | How to Build Stronger Quads!

By
Mike Kenler
January 4, 2021

The Barbell Hack Squat

While the barbell hack squat is not the most popular squat variation, this exercise can help you build serious lower body strength.

We cover everything you need to know about the barbell hack squat to help you master this unique exercise.

Muscles Worked By The Barbell Hack Squat

Primary Muscle Groups:

The barbell hack squat primarily works the quadriceps. 

The four muscles in the front of your leg that comprise the quadriceps are the rectus femoris, vastus intermedius, vastus medialis, and the vastus lateralis. 

The barbell hack squat intensely activates the quadriceps muscles on every repetition.

Secondary Muscle Groups:

The hack squat is a true compound exercise, as it works several other muscle groups.

First, your glutes activate to drive your hips upwards. Your calves and hamstrings work to stabilize your lower body. 

In addition, your traps and erector spinae muscles contract to support your back. Lastly, your core muscles engage to stabilize your mid-section throughout the barbell hack squat.

Barbell Hack Squat Benefits

1. Bigger & Stronger Quads

The barbell hack squat places an intense stress on your quadriceps. As a result, your body responds to this stress by strengthening and enlarging these muscles. 

The quads play an important role in explosive movements such as running, jumping, or other exercises like the traditional squat or deadlift. 

Whether you are an advanced weightlifter, a fitness novice, or an aspiring athlete, a strong lower body provides a stable base to help you accomplish your goals.

2. Reduced Risk of Injury

Unlike many squat variations, the hack squat does not place any weight directly on your spine. 

For that reason, this exercise can be a safer alternative to train your lower body, especially if you have any back pain or discomfort.

Back injuries can sideline you for weeks and lead to chronic pain. The barbell hack squat can reduce your risk of injury without sacrificing your gains. 

3. Improved Aesthetics 

Whether you are trying to build bigger legs, sculpt your quads, or simply lose some body fat, the barbell hack squat is for you.

With consistent training, this lower body exercise can transform your physique. With that being said, let’s learn the form! 

How To Do The Barbell Hack Squat

Equipment:

To perform the barbell hack squat, all you need is a barbell and some weights.

Setup:

a) Begin by setting up a barbell on the ground with a light weight.

b) Stand directly in front of the barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart.

c) Grasp the barbell with a double overhand grip and your hands just outside your knees.

Action:

a) With your back straight and your core engaged, contract your quads to drive your heels into the ground and stand upwards. 

b) Pause briefly, squeeze your glutes, and slowly return to the starting position.

c) Repeat!

 

Recommendation:

Perform 3-4 sets of 10-15 repetitions at a light weight to become comfortable with the form.

Then, feel free to load on some more weight and stick to the 6-8 rep range.

Barbell Hack Squat Mistakes

1. Rounding The Back

The most common barbell hack squat mistake is rounding your back. This slouched position places excessive stress on your spine, which can easily cause a back injury.

To fix this mistake, simply focus on tightening your core and keeping your back straight throughout the exercise.

2. Lifting Your Heels Up 

Many other lifters tend to bring their heels up off the ground as they thrust upwards during the barbell hack squat. This most often occurs because people try to prevent the barbell from running into their glutes.

While some weight transfer forward can challenge your quads, lifting your heels up off the ground can add excessive stress to your knees.  

Instead, try to bring your hips slightly back to initiate the motion and allow the barbell to freely come up the backs of your legs. 

3. Rushing The Motion

The last barbell hack squat mistake is rushing the motion. Far too often, lifters will properly complete the first portion of the exercise. 

Then, they quickly drop the weight to the floor on the way down. Not only does rushing down increase your risk of injury, but it also steals potential gains that can be made on the eccentric portion of the exercise. 

To correct this mistake, slowly return to the starting position with an engaged core and a straight back.

Barbell Hack Squat Variations

1. Cable Hack Squat

The cable hack squat is the perfect variation for those who aren’t yet comfortable with lifting a heavy weight. 

Move the pulley system with a straight bar attachment to the lowest setting. Grab the handles with an overhand grip and step away from the machine to create some tension. 

Then, perform the hack squat with the same form as the barbell variation. Be sure to keep the straight bar close to your body throughout each rep.

2. Alternative Weighted Hack Squats

You can use many other forms of resistance to perform a hack squat. If you prefer handheld weights, try setting up two dumbbells, kettlebells, or plates behind you. 

If you don’t have access to weights, you can use a couple heavy books or anything else you can find. Feel free to get creative!

Barbell Hack Squat Alternatives

If you enjoyed the barbell hack squat, check out these other leg exercises to improve your lower body training:

1. RFE Split Squat

Begin by placing your trail foot on the elevated surface behind you. Step outwards with your lead foot so that your trail leg is slightly bent. 

Lean slightly forward and keep your back straight. Engage your core and squat downwards into your front leg. 

Pause for a moment at the bottom of the rep and drive upwards with your lead leg. Maintain tightness in your core and repeat!

2. Dumbbell Goblet Squat

Assume a standing position with your toes slightly flared out and your feet wider than shoulder width apart. 

Keeping your left leg straight, bend your right knee and shift your weight to your right side. Then, transition to the starting position and repeat on the left side. Keep switching legs!

 3. Barbell Reverse Lunge

Load some weights onto your barbell and place it securely on your rear deltoids.  Start from a standing position with your feet roughly hip width apart, your chest held high, and your back straight.

With your left foot straight in front of you, step back with your right foot and lunge down until your right knee touches the ground. In this position, your left knee should be directly over your left ankle.

Next, drive upwards in a controlled fashion to the standing position. Repeat this motion for your desired number of reps. Feel free to alternate legs or complete one side at a time.

Looking For An Intense Lower Body Workout?

Follow along to this 5 minute at home quad workout!

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Mike Kenler
Director of Writing | Certified in Plant Based Nutrition at T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies

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