A hack squat is a viable option for leg development, but the unavailability of a hack squat machine should not stop you from developing bigger and stronger quads.

Hack squats have been a long-favored leg exercise of bodybuilders because of its ability to deliver quad-popping pump without stressing out the lower back.

When done with the correct form and proper intensity, a hack squat can be a perfect addition to your leg routine, but what if you don’t have access to a hack squat machine? Don’t worry; we’ve got your back. This article will cover nine reasonable alternatives to hack squats, but first, let’s start with the basics of hack squat.

What is Hack Squat?

A machine hack squat is a classic lower-body compound movement that develops stronger and bigger legs. What makes the hack squat different from the back squat is the way it targets your legs.

The hack squat machine features an angled platform that moves on a predetermined path. The hack squat is a quad-dominant movement with added stability and safety benefits.

How To Do Hack Squats

What Makes a Great Hack Squat Alternative?

Knowing what makes a great hack squat alternative will allow you to design your own leg training program in accordance with your preferences and the available equipment.

Any lower body exercise that focuses on quad development and reduces the dependency on core strength can be called an effective hack squat alternative! 

One thing you need to understand: there is always a bit of hamstring, glutes, calve, and core engagement in every squat movement —  we are just trying to emphasize the quads more.

Benefits and Limitations of Hack Squats

In comparison to free-weight squats, hack squat has its pros and cons. Let’s have a look at them in detail.

Benefits

  • Beginner friendly: Hack squat is easy to learn and fairly easy to use — making it a perfect lower body exercise for beginners. Hack squats also reinforce the squatting fundamentals.
  • Quad dominant movement: Traditional barbell squats are indeed the best lower body exercise; squats strengthen the quads, glutes, hamstrings, core, etc. However, having a quad-focused exercise in the arsenal is always a great idea. As strong quads add the visual aspect too.
  • Deeper range of motion: Because of the stability and fixed path, hack squats allow the lifters to pursue deeper squats and enable you to focus on the primary mover.
  • Lower spinal stress: Hack squat machines are designed to keep the core out of the equation, which helps in preventing spinal stress.

Limitations:

  • Added stability: Improved stability is like a double edge sword! Keeping the core activation out of equations might prevent injuries, but it also overlooks the development of body balance and coordination.
    This is the reason, hack squats should always be done in conjunction with free-weight squats, to obtain maximum benefits.

Best Hack Squat Alternatives

There has always been a fuss about the “best leg builder”, apart from squats. It’s that exercise you never do! Let me explain: if you hack squats every single leg day, your body will adapt to the movement and get really better at doing it, but it will no longer be the best exercise for YOU. Bringing variety to the training routine allows you to stimulate the muscle in a totally new way, and you will be able to add more value to each training session. You have to remember the novelty factor when trying to build muscle mass.

Powerlifters usually do the same compound movement for a very long time to get the body to adapt to the movement and develop better biomechanics to lift heavier weights. But bodybuilding is different! The bodybuilder’s primary focus is to maximize the muscle gain, not to lift as heavy as possible.

Let’s discuss the nine best hack squat alternatives that you can do without a hack squat machine.

1. Barbell Hack Squat

You can call it a free-weight version of the hack squat that was used by old-school bodybuilders before the introduction of hack squat machines. Although it may look uncomfortable initially, you will get used to the new movement — with decent practice.

Barbell hack squat doesnt need any special equipment, and you can perform it with the help of a barbell and some weight plates.

Equipment required: Barbell and weight plates.

Steps:

  • Stand with your back to the barbell.
  • Keep your toes pointed slightly outwards and feet at hip-width apart.
  • Squat down with your back straight and chest up. Grab the barbell with an underhand grip.
  • Push through the heels to drive upward until you reach full extension.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Target Muscles:

  • Primary muscles: Quads
  • Secondary muscles: Glutes, hamstrings, core.

Benefits:

  • Great alternative for those who strength train at home and do not want to invest in a hack squat machine.
  • Barbell hacks squat reduces the stress on the lower back.
  • You don’t need a spotter.

2. Front Squat

Front squats are often overlooked by many lifters because it’s hard to go heavy. But the front squat is an excellent exercise for those who want to emphasize quad development more or experience lower back pain.

Keeping the barbell in front of the body promotes a vertical torso. Plus, front squats also allow you to reach for a deeper range of motion.

On the downside, front squats can be hard to master, as keeping a heavy barbell on the front of the shoulders can be quite challenging for many lifters.

Equipment required: Barbell and weight plates.

Steps:

  • Load the barbell into the front rack position, resting the bar on the front of the shoulders and near the clavicle.
  • Brace your core, keep your chest high, and elbows should be held high in front (to prevent the barbell from rolling down as you squat down).
  • Unrack the barbell and take a step back.
  • Bend your knees to descend into a squatting position. Descend as far as you can while keeping your back straight and strong.
  • Push through the heels to stand back up.
  • Repeat for the desired number of sets.

Target Muscles:

  • Primary muscles: Quads.
  • Secondary muscles: Glutes, hamstrings, core.

Benefits:

  • Improves core strength.
  • Reduces stress on the lower back.
  • Develop stronger and bigger quads.

3. Narrow Stance Leg Press

Leg press is a great lower body strength builder, and it allows you to go heavy without stressing out the lower back. Leg presses and hack squats both works on the fixed range of motion, allowing you to focus on the primary muscle.

Leg pressing with the narrow stance emphasizes the quad development more while providing stability and safety. Plus, do not place your feet too high on the footplate, as it will reduce the quad engagement and get the glutes into the play.

Equipment required: Leg press machine.

Steps:

  • Position yourself on the backrest of the leg press machine.
  • Place your feet at the hip-width apart.
  • Fully extend your leg to lift the weight up, and release the safety catch.
  • Bend your knees and slowly lower the weight as far as possible.
  • Extend your legs by powerfully pressing the footplate.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Target Muscles:

  • Primary muscles: Quadriceps.
  • Secondary muscles: Glutes, hamstrings.

Benefits:

  • Allows you to add volume to your quad training.
  • It’s a beginner-friendly alternative.

4. Heels Elevated Safety Bar Squats

Safety squat bar can take your leg training to the next level! Safety bar squat is a classic squat exercise that was brought into the limelight by elite powerlifters and strength athletes. What makes this bar special is the design — it allows you to position your hands in front and keeps the center of gravity closer to the body.

Keeping the heels elevated increases the quad activation and allows you to unlock a deeper range of motion.

Equipment required: Safety squat barbell and weight plates.

Steps:

  • Set up the bar at a similar height as the back squat.
  • Get under the bar, brace your core, and lift the chest up while retracting your shoulder blades.
  • Lift the bar up and step back.
  • Inhale and descend into a squatting position.
  • Exhale and push through the heels to stand back.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Target Muscles:

  • Primary muscles: Quads.
  • Secondary muscles: Glutes, hamstrings, core.

Benefits:

  • It allows better core stability and lower stress on the lower back.
  • It’s a comfortable squatting solution for people with shoulder mobility issues.
  • Encourages better techniques and range of motion.

5. Goblet Squat

Goblet squat is a perfect solution for those who find it uncomfortable to perform barbell front squat. It’s a beginner-friendly squat variation that improves hip mobility and strengthens legs.

Although all the squat variation targets the entire lower body, a goblet squat is a quad-dominant version.

Equipment required: Dumbbell or kettlebell.

Steps:

  • Grab a dumbbell or kettlebell and use both hands to hold it in front of your chest, with palms facing each other.
  • Stand with feet at shoulder-width apart. Keeping the core tight and back straight.
  • Bend your knees to decent into the squat.
  • Push through the heels to get back into the standing position.

Target Muscles:

  • Primary muscles: Quads, glutes.
  • Secondary muscles: Hamstrings, calves, core.

Benefits:

  • Improves core activation.
  • Can also be used as a functional warm-up.
  • Promotes upright posture while squatting.

6. Belt Squat

Belt squat is an excellent lower body exercise if you want to keep the upper body activation out of the equation. Unlike other squatting variations, the weight hangs below the body and is attached to the hips, thus reducing the compressive stress on the spine.

Belt squats are a great strength builder and work well when you want to boost the training volume without stressing out your upper body.

Equipment required: Belt squat machine.

Steps:

  • Stand on the platform with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart while your toes pointing slightly out.
  • Inhale and bend your knees to squat down until your thigh gets parallel to the floor.
  • Exhale and push through the heels to stand up in starting position.
  • Repeat for the recommended number of repetitions.

Target Muscles:

  • Primary muscles: Quads, glutes.
  • Secondary muscles: Hamstrings, calves.

Benefits:

  • Allows you to fully focus on leg development.

7. Short-Step Lunges

Lunges are excellent leg builders and allow you to focus on unilateral strength.

You can perform lunges in two ways – longer steps result in better glute activation, and shorter steps lead to better quad activation.

Equipment required: Pair of dumbbells.

Steps:

  • Grab the dumbbell with a neutral grip and arms by your side.
  • Keep the chest up, and core braced.
  • Take a short step, and bend both knees until your back knee is just above the floor.
  • Use your front leg to push off and get back into a standing position.
  • Now, step forward with another leg, and repeat.

Target Muscles:

  • Primary muscle: Quads.
  • Secondary muscle: Glutes, hamstrings.

Benefits:

  • It’s a functional quad-centric variation.
  • Corrects muscle imbalances.
  • Low-back friendly.

8. Wall Sit

Walls sits are quite underrated, and you won’t see many lifters including wall sits in their leg training routine. Wall sit improves the isometric strength and strengthens the joints.

You can always increase the resistance by placing a weight plate on the top of your thighs.

Equipment required: A wall.

Steps:

  • Stand with your back against the wall.
  • Step your legs out and slide down the wall until your thigh gets parallel to the floor.
  • Maintain a straight posture with your chest out and chin straight.
  • Hold for the set period before you relax.

Target Muscles:

  • Primary muscles: Quads.
  • Secondary muscles: Glutes, hamstrings.

Benefits:

  • Wall sit is a beginner-friendly exercise.
  • Strengths the knee joints.
  • Wall sits enhances muscular endurance and stability.

9. Sissy Squats

Those who were in a delusion that bodyweight movements could not add strength and size to the quads should reconsider their belief.

Mastering sissy squats will add serious strength and stability to your lower body. Beginners should not try this exercise at first.

Steps:

  • Stand straight and tall with feet at shoulders width apart.
  • Grab a sturdy object to help you assist the movement.
  • Push your knee forward by raising your heels. Lean backward as a counterbalance.
  • Allow yourself to go as deep as possible before pushing yourself back up to the starting position.
  • Repeat for the recommended number of reps.

Target Muscles:

  • Primary muscles: Quads.
  • Secondary muscles: Hip flexors, core.

Benefits:

  • You can do it with just body weight.
  • Enhances body stability and balance.

FAQs

1. Are hack squats bad for knees?

No squat variation is bad for your knees unless you have a history of knee pain or injury. If you have been living a pain-free life, then you should not worry about the knees — start with light weigh and high reps. Gradually increase the weight as you get comfortable with the new movement.

Hack squats majorly focus on quad development, which might make it a little painful for people with prior knee issues. If you find the movement over-taxing on your knee joints, you should terminate it immediately.

2. Are hack squats better than barbell squats?

If you are looking to replace hack squats with barbell squats — then it’s probably a bad idea! The barbell squat is a king of all exercises that improves strength, balance, and coordination.

Hack squats should be done in conjunction with other squatting movements like back squats, front squats, lunges, etc.

3. Does hack squats help barbell squats?

Hack squats are tremendous quad-strength builders that can certainly improve your squatting performance.

The added safety and fixed path of the hack squat machine allow the lifters to attempt heavier weights — eventually improving the leg strength.

Wrapping up

Leg training days are arguably the most dreaded days, and cracking out hack squats is a sure-shot way to build thicker slabs of meat. Don’t let the unavailability of a hack squat machine stop you from creating your own version of “quad stomp”. All the listed exercises are well-proven to improve quad activation and strength, and your quads are gonna love these.