Hack Squat vs. Back Squat: Which Exercise Is Best for Muscle Growth?

You can do both hack squats and back squats with a barbell.
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There are about as many squat variations as there are flavors of ice cream. That is, there's something for everyone.


But taking a hard look at various squatting techniques can help you determine the best addition to your repertoire of leg-day exercises, depending on your goals, experience, access and personal preferences.

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This hack squat versus back squat comparison will introduce you to both movements, their advantages and disadvantages and some safety tips to keep in mind, no matter which move you choose.

How to Do a Hack Squat

You can do a hack squat on a machine or using a barbell.

Hack Squat Machine

Region Lower Body
  1. Position your shoulders beneath the movable shoulder pads in a wall sit position against the machine's angled back pad with your feet on the platform.
  2. Drive through your feet to move the machine along its tracks until you're in a standing position.
  3. Slowly bend your knees to return to the starting position with control.

Barbell Hack Squat

Region Lower Body
  1. Hold a barbell at arm’s length behind your back with an overhand grip. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Brace your core and upper back. Maintain a tight torso throughout the movement with a small, natural arch in your low back.
  3. Press your heels into the ground to stand back up.

With either variation, you're primarily targeting the quads, but hack squats also work your glutes, hamstrings and calves, according to ExRx.net.

Hack Squat Benefits

  • Either type of hack squat better isolates your quads than other squat positioning, so you can build serious quad strength and size with this movement.
  • If you use the hack squat machine, you can usually lift more weight than you could doing a free-standing squat, so over time, your body might acclimate to the heavier load, as LIVESTRONG.com previously reported.


Hack Squat Disadvantages

  • Using the machine takes away some of the full-body potential of a squatting motion: You won't get as much core work because you're stabilized by the machine instead.
  • Most people have stronger muscles on the front side of their body than the back side already. Because the hack squat primarily trains the quads, you're missing out on an opportunity to train your posterior chain.
  • You may not always have access to a hack squat machine or a barbell if you like to exercise at home.


How to Do a Back Squat

A barbell back squat is considered a more functional movement than a hack squat on a machine and more suitable to a wide range of exercisers than a barbell hack squat because the positioning is more beginner-friendly.

Region Lower Body
  1. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and a barbell resting across your upper back on the fleshy muscle around your neck. Grab the bar with an overhand grip (palms facing forward).
  2. Brace your core and upper back. Maintain a tight torso throughout the movement with a small, natural arch in your low back.
  3. Keeping your weight in your heels, push your hips back and bend your knees to lower as far as comfortable or until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  4. Press your heels into the ground to stand back up.

A back squat primarily works your quads, with additional work for your hamstrings, glutes and calves, according to ExRx.net. Plus, your core will fire to keep you balanced while holding the weight.



Back Squat Benefits

  • A back squat works your hamstrings more than a hack squat, which can help prevent muscle imbalances if your quads are already stronger than the backside of your body.
  • You can easily modify a back squat by using dumbbells or a resistance band.
  • Because you don't have the support of a machine to lean on, you'll use more of your core muscles to maintain balance throughout this movement.


Back Squat Disadvantages


Common Mistakes to Avoid and Safety Tips

  • No matter how you squat, keep your feet about shoulder-width apart or wider and your toes pointing straight ahead or slightly outward.
  • Don't let your knees drift in toward each other. Instead, keep them in line with your toes.
  • Avoid overly arching your back and keep your chest up throughout the motion. Think about hinging at the hips rather than bending at the knees.
  • Start with a squat weight you can comfortable lift for all of your reps. The last two should feel challenging, but not so challenging your form falters.


So, Which One Is Better For You?

In the case of hack squat versus back squat, the decision ultimately comes down to the goals of your workout, the equipment you have access to and how comfortable you feel in either squat position.

Luckily, just like with ice cream, you don't have to pick one flavor and stick with it forever. A well-rounded lower-body workout routine can include hack ‌and‌ back squats — as well as any other variations you enjoy and can do safely.




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