Hack squats have long been well known for their fantastic ability to give you massive quads. You should expect to find hack squat machines in most, if not all, commercial gyms. But what if there isn’t one? What if someone’s taking their sweet time through their hack squat sets? For those very reasons, we’ve gathered 5 hack squat alternatives that can still get your quads jacked.
What is a hack squat?
The hack squat is a machine-based exercise that primarily works your quads and glutes. They’re an excellent exercise for beginners looking to build a foundation of lower body strength. The upper body strength you’d need to perform conventional back squats is effectively removed from this movement, allowing lifters to move through a more extended range of motion.
The 5 Best Hack Squat Alternatives
Barbell Back Squat
The first and most obvious alternative is the conventional barbell back squat itself. Squats are one of the best compound movements in all of weightlifting, incorporating upper and lower body strength throughout the exercise. This exercise is responsible for some of the strongest, most powerful, and most athletic athletes all over the world. It is one of the most functional movements, extremely beneficial to joint health, improving posture, and strengthening your core.
How to perform a back squat:
- Rack a barbell on the squat rack at about collarbone height.
- Approach the squat rack and grab the bar with a grip just outside shoulder-width for a high-bar squat and a wider grip for a low-bar squat.
- Rack the weight onto your shoulders or traps, firmly squeezing them for more stability.
- Step back from the rack.
- Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart with toes pointed out at a 5 to 15-degree angle.
- Tighten your core, squeeze your glutes, and inhale deeply through your stomach.
- Move your butt back, and squat down slowly until your thighs are at least parallel (or lower) to the ground.
- Explode back into the starting position by driving into your heels.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps.
- Once you’re done with your set, walk back slowly towards the rack and carefully lower the barbell until the supports catch it.
Barbell Front Squat
Another great alternative to the back squat is its anterior counterpart. The main difference is that instead of racking it on your traps, you rack it on your front delts. One primary advantage front squats have over back squats is that it is much easier on the back, as back squats compress your spine. The drawback to this is that you won’t be able to lift as much as you would in a back squat.
How to perform a front squat:
- Rack a barbell on the squat rack at about a little under collarbone height.
- Approach the squat rack and grab the bar with a “clean grip,” which is the top position you reach when catching a clean. To do this, place your fingertips (some use all, others just their index and middle) just outside shoulder width and let the barbell sit on your shoulders. Keep your elbows high so that your upper arms may be parallel to the ground.
- Perform the rest of the movement as you would with a back squat (see above).
Bulgarian split squat
The Bulgarian split squat is a variation of the single-leg squat that involves elevating the rear leg on a chair or other elevated surface. This exercise puts more focus on the quadriceps almost more than any other lower body compound movement. Besides that, it will also require more core strength and stability as well as balance and coordination.
How to perform a Bulgarian split squat:
- Stand at about two feet in front of a chair, bench, or another elevated surface.
- Lift one of your feet and place it on the elevated surface of choice behind you. The most preferred way is to put your instep flat on top of the surface.
- Make sure your feet are at least hip-width or wider.
- Engage your core with your chest high, shoulders down, and with eyes looking straight ahead.
- Lower yourself downward, keeping the load balanced throughout your front foot.
- Inhale as you go down until your front quadricep is parallel to the ground or your back knee touches the ground.
- Press back into standing by pushing through your front foot.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps, and repeat on the other side.
Leg presses are incredibly similar to hack squats in their motion. However, instead of pushing the weight upward with your feet fixed on a platform, you push the weight away from you with your leg while your upper body stays set.
How to perform a leg press:
- Load the desired amount of weight on the leg press machine.
- Position yourself on the backrest.
- Place your feet on the platform at about shoulder-distance apart.
- Press the weight up by extending your legs and unlocking the guard.
- Slowly lower the weight down until your legs are at a 45-degree angle before explosively pushing back up. Make sure not to lock out your knees fully to avoid injury.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps.
Last but not least, we have one of the best quad isolation exercises in leg extensions. Leg extensions are performed on the machine of the same name.
How to perform leg extensions:
- Set up the leg extension machine so that the padded bar is right in front of your ankles and your knees are at a 90-degree angle.
- Select a moderate load that will allow you to perform about 10 to 12 reps.
- Sit with your back fully pressed against the backrest.
- Place your hands on the handlebars.
- Lift the weights by exhaling while extending your legs until they’re almost straight. Never lock out your knees, as this poses a major injury risk.
- Slowly lower the weights to the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps and sets.