Squats are among the best exercises for strengthening the muscles of your legs and hips. Two variations of the movement -- the back squat, which uses a barbell, and the hack squat, which requires a dedicated hack squat machine -- target the quadriceps muscles on the front of your thigh. However, back squats also work many other muscles of the hips and core, making them more of a full body exercise.
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Hack Into Action
Hack squats require a hack squat machine. To perform a hack squat, step into the machine and position your back against the back rest, with your shoulders under the padded shoulder supports. Position your feet on the foot plate about shoulder-width apart. Lower your hips, bending your knees to 90 degrees. Keep your knees pointing in the same direction as your toes. Stand up to return to the starting position. To protect your spine, keep your back against the back rest for the entire movement.
Back Into Action
To perform a back squat, place a loaded barbell on a squat rack. Step under the bar, positioning it across the top of your shoulders. The bar should rest on your upper trapezius muscles. Holding the bar in place with your hands, step back from the rack. Position your feet about shoulder-width apart, with your toes turned out slightly. Keeping your chest lifted and spine extended, flex your hips and knees to lower the bar until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Track your knees in the direction of your toes. Stand up to return to the starting position. Don't allow your back to round during the movement. For your safety, use spotters when lifting heavy weights. At the end of your set, step forward to re-rack the bar.
Hack squats and back squats both target the quadriceps muscles, or quads, which extend your knees. While hack squats primarily focus on the quads, back squats also target the gluteal muscles of the buttocks, the adductor muscles of the inner thighs and the hamstring muscles on the back of the thighs. In addition, because back squats require you to stabilize the barbell against gravity, they also engage your core, including your abdominal and back muscles.
Warm up your entire body before beginning your squatting session with light aerobic exercise and dynamic movements that target your hips and legs. To build strength, choose a resistance that allows you to complete two to four sets of eight to 12 repetitions with good form. Add resistance gradually as you get stronger. Rest two to three minutes between sets, and allow 48 hours or more between workouts. To stretch your quadriceps, stand with one hand against a wall or other support. Bend the opposite knee and pull your heel toward your buttock with your free hand until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, then repeat with the other leg.