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What Is A Hack Squat?

What Is A Hack Squat? With the current popularity of lifehacks, it’s easy to assume the hack squat is some modern variation meant to solve a problem with the traditional squat. And though the move was created to switch up normal weighted or simple bodyweight squats, people have been hack squatting since the late 1800s.  […]

Published: 11/15/22

What Is A Hack Squat?

With the current popularity of lifehacks, it’s easy to assume the hack squat is some modern variation meant to solve a problem with the traditional squat. And though the move was created to switch up normal weighted or simple bodyweight squats, people have been hack squatting since the late 1800s. 

The hack squat is generally credited to wrestler George Hackenschmidt (hence the “Hack” in the name), who designed the move to relieve the impact on the back and hips while isolating the quad muscles worked for targeted development. While some aspects of the workout have evolved over the last century, its thigh-toning ethos remains.

So, what do you need to know to safely execute one like The Russian Lion himself? Below, we’ll cover why the move is worth rediscovering and how to loop it into your workout routine.

How to Execute a Traditional Hack Squat

There a few variations of the traditional squat: V squat vs Hack squat vs bodyweight vs sumo, and the list goes on. But one of the most popular squat variations is the hack squat. Back when bodybuilding was in its infancy, Hackenschmidt didn’t have the type of machinery used for hack squats in modern gyms. He did, however, have barbells and a desire to get stronger. One day, he decided to combine the two, bent down at the knees, and gave birth to the hack squat.

The type of hack squats The Russian Lion was doing at the turn of the 20th century require little equipment and are still widely practiced today. Here’s how to prep for a traditional hack squat:

  1. Choose your weight – Your weight for a hack squat isn’t going to be as heavy as other squat variations. The power needed to pull off a hack squat comes primarily from your quadriceps, so assess your strength there before deciding how much to pick up. Generally, you want to be able to do 2 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions, so choose a weight that suits these goals.Will it be comfortable? They’re squats, so chances are, you’ll feel the burn—just make sure to maintain form throughout.
  2. Set up – Find an area with a mat or other non-slip surface suitable for any type of squat. You shouldn’t be dropping the load any significant distance, but a padded, shock-absorbing floor can’t hurt in case you accidentally let go. Place a barbell loaded with plates on the ground behind you and prepare to lift.
  3. Take hold – Squat down in a starting position as you would for a traditional squat and grab the weight from behind you with an overhand grip. In this position, you should be almost sitting on the bar with your arms holding it next to your thighs. The soles of your shoes should be perfectly flat on the ground. 

Bend low at your knees and keep your spine as straight as possible. If you find grabbing the weight from this angle too difficult, you can use a platform or rack to elevate it. Then, simply step forward after securing it to begin your set with a downward motion.

  1. Drive upwards – Start pushing from your feet upwards to lift the weight. You should feel the majority of the force being exerted from your thighs. As the bar climbs higher, stretch out your hips and straighten your legs as much as possible. As you reach full extension, flex your quads tightly to elevate the weight that extra little bit. Your back should be straight as an arrow throughout this entire movement to prevent injury.
  2. Ease downwards – Return the weight to the ground with a slow, controlled movement. Essentially, reverse the motions you did to lift the weight. Bend at the knees and lower your posterior until you’re again almost sitting on the bar. Spine stability is crucial—at no point in the whole movement should your back bend.
  3. Repeat until you reach your goal – Keep pushing until you’ve hit the reps and sets you’re aiming for. As with any exercise, ensure sufficient rest between sets, generally around 2 to 3 minutes. Leave at least 48 hours between workouts as well– though your muscles might welcome a few extra days off!

This tried and true method of hack squatting is a choice method for free-weight aficionados and those with limited equipment. It has a dozen decades of proven gains under its weightlifting belt, and it’s an effective exercise so long as you nail the form.

If the barbell hack squat isn’t your thing, however, there’s another, more modern method of hack squatting that’s become popular in weightlifting communities.

Getting a great workout can take many forms. Explore our group classes for every level!

How To Use a Machine to Hack Squat

Truthfully, there are two correct answers to the question “What are hack squats?” They can be performed with or without machine assistance, and both types of exercise differ slightly from each other. The barbell hack squat alternatives include machine hack squat workouts. If you’re lucky enough to be a member at a gym with a hack squat machine, you can use modern technology to apply George Hackenschmidt’s age-old fitness finesse. 

The process of hack squatting with a machine is similar to doing it with free weights, but with a few twists. To begin:

  1. Set and load the machine – Set the machine to a position where the supports rest comfortably on your shoulders when you’re at full extension. You should be able to handle a heavier load with machine assistance than when lifting free weights, just be sure not to pile on too much to avoid injury. You can always add, but if you hurt yourself, you can’t lift anything.
  2. Climb in – Get in the starting position with your back firmly against the rear pad with the supports squarely on your shoulders. Your foot placement should be in line with your body, facing forward, and planted flatly on the platform. Release the safety handles and…
  3. Slide down – The pressure of the weight and the force of gravity should naturally begin to push you downwards. Bend at the knees and slowly lower the weight until your quads are at about a 90° angle from the machine’s frame. Your back should remain firmly planted against the pad, and the amount you take on shouldn’t feel like it’s crushing you.
  4. Push back up – Drive your feet into the platform and stretch out your legs to their maximum. As with the normal hack squat, flex your quads pon full extension to elevate the load as high as you can.
  5. Do more – Similar rules regarding reps, sets, and rest govern machine-assisted and free-weight hack squats. Do what you’re comfortable with, set goals, and follow plans to outdo yourself the next time you head out to hack.

Both types of hack squats promote lower body muscle group development and lead to a stronger you. They are quite specific in the area they target, however, so hack squats might not be the right exercise to match everyone’s goals.

Normal Squats vs. Free Weight Hack Squats vs. Machine-assisted Hack Squats

Hack squats are a compound exercise specifically tailored to target the quadriceps. That said, no muscle truly works alone. When doing any exercise, we (inadvertently or not) work multiple parts of our body at once.

Different exercises can be used to isolate specific muscles for maximum work and growth. To understand whether or not hack squats can help you achieve your fitness goals, you can consider what they work vis-a-vis conventional squats:

  • Regular squats – The traditional squat is the steadfast lift of leg day which, according to popular advice, is never to be skipped. It’s certainly a go-to for those looking for all-around development, especially around the glutes. 

Truthfully though, normal squats are multifaceted and engage your leg muscles, hips, and back. They also improve knee strength and even activate core muscles. If you’re looking to improve strength in general, it’s hard to find a better movement than the classic squat. 

  • Free weight hack squats – As previously noted, hack squats are formulated to isolate the quadriceps and work them as much as possible. Using free weights, however, doesn’t fully eliminate the activation of other muscle groups. The barbell squat requires you to engage much of your body in order to stabilize and balance the load. Those muscles closest to the quads—your calves, glutes, and lower back—will come into play, particularly when hack squatting with free weights.
  • Hack squats with a machine – Machines can optimally isolate muscles by eliminating form breaks and doing the work of stabilizing loads for you. Even on a hack squat machine, you won’t only engage your quadriceps during repetitions. The rest of you won’t have to do nearly as much work during a machine hack squat, however, which means your quads will take the brunt of the load. 

Now that you have a better idea of which leg muscles, as well as other muscle groups, different squats optimally activate, you can decide which style to execute next time you hit the gym. 

Or, you could try them all—whatever feels right for you!

Pop Your Perfect Squat at Chuze Fitness

If you’re looking for a premier place to give hack squatting a go, come work out with the fitness pros at Chuze Fitness. Whether you’re hacking with free weights, a machine, or sticking to the classic squat, Chuze has the space and equipment for you.

Not much of a squatter? No problem—browse the iChuze app for inspiration for all kinds of workouts, from beginner’s yoga to HIIT, to discover video series for every fitness level.

Whether you join one of Chuze’s group fitness classes or train 1:1 with an experienced trainer, the pros at Chuze want you to leave feeling inspired (and perspired). Find a Chuze in your area by searching for “gyms near me” and stop by to learn how our community can help you achieve your fitness dreams.


Reviewed By:

Ani is the Vice President of Fitness at Chuze Fitness and oversees the group fitness and team training departments. She’s had a 25+ year career in club management, personal training, group exercise and instructor training. Ani lives with her husband and son in San Diego, CA and loves hot yoga, snowboarding and all things wellness.




  1. Men’s Health. Want Monster Quads? Time to Learn the Hack Squat. https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/a28133625/hack-squat/
  2. BarBend. George Hackenschmidt: The Father of the Bench Press and Hack Squat. https://barbend.com/george-hackenschmidt/ 
  3. Physical Culture Study. Three Old-School Squats You’re Not Doing. https://physicalculturestudy.com/2017/02/02/three-old-school-squats-youre-not-doing/
  4. Livestrong. A Hack Squat Vs. A Back Squat. https://www.livestrong.com/article/538392-a-hack-squat-vs-a-back-squat/
  5. Physical Culture Study. Three Old-School Squats You’re Not Doing. https://physicalculturestudy.com/2017/02/02/three-old-school-squats-youre-not-doing/
  6. Livestrong. A Hack Squat Vs. A Back Squat. https://www.livestrong.com/article/538392-a-hack-squat-vs-a-back-squat/
  7. Muscle and Strength. Machine Hack Squat Video Exercise Guide. https://www.muscleandstrength.com/exercises/hack-squat.html
  8. National Library of Medicine. Differences in the muscle activities of the quadriceps femoris and hamstrings while performing various squat exercises. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8783452/
  9. University of Delaware. Free Weights Vs. Machines: How should you choose?. https://sites.udel.edu/coe-engex/2018/04/03/free-weights-vs-machines-how-should-you-choose/
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