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What is a Hack Squat?

By Kimberly Coghlan
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The hack squat is an exercise in which a person picks up a barbell from the floor behind his or her back and squats. This exercise arrives at its name from the German word hacke, which means ankle. In a traditional hack squat, the barbell sits behind the ankles before being lifted. A common myth about this squat is that it was named after George Hackenschmidt, a professional wrestler. Hackenschmidt did make it popular by using the exercise during his training in the early 1900s.

The hack squat is a muscle-building exercise that primarily targets the quadricep muscles, which are the large leg muscles surrounding the thighs. It also works the hamstring muscles, which are located in the thigh area, and the gluteal muscles, which make up the buttocks. The exercise closely resembles dead-lift exercises in which weight is lifted from the ground using an underhanded grip. In a dead lift, the weight will be lifted in front of the body. This type of squat is lifted from the ground behind the body while using an overhand grip.

This exercise takes a great bit of balance to master. The body will tend to sway back toward the weights, and without balance, this can cause a serious fall. Shifting body weight to the toes seems to better balance out the weight, making the exercise more manageable. For this reason, some weightlifters stand with weight plates under their toes. Locking the knees during this exercise also can hinder balance.

In addition, the exercise can be damaging if the lifter doesn’t use correct form. In performing a hack squat, it is important to keep feet shoulder-width apart. The lifter should ensure that his or her back is completely straight when lifting the weight, as contortions in the back can strain back muscles. Many lifters use a weightlifting belt to help ensure proper form. This kind of squat also places tremendous pressure on the knees, so the exercise is not recommended for people who have knee problems.

The hack squat can be performed with a traditional barbell loaded with the desired amount of weight. It can also be performed on a machine, which tends to lessen the pressure on knees and joints. To perform the exercise on most machines, the lifter will begin in a standing position, shoulder pads resting on the top of the shoulders to brace the amount of weight. From there, the lifter will squat into a seated position before rising to a neutral standing position.

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Discussion Comments

By babyksay — On Sep 27, 2010

@BelugaWhale - There are tons and you should look them up to see what's best for you, but toning your body with Pilates is a great way to test your strength without the purchase of weights. There are also routines with a thing called a Kettle Ball that has been proven to help work better than a typical dumb bell. I'm not a trainer, I just know what works (for my body type anyway.)

By BelugaWhale — On Sep 27, 2010

@babyksay - I have been doing barbell hack squats for a while now and I love them. What are some of the other exercises you would recommend? Do you do them yourself or are you a trainer of some sort?

By babyksay — On Sep 27, 2010

@plaid - I definitely see what you're trying to say, but I think anyone reading this article is ready to move on. I think adding weights is a great way to begin your toning regimen and a weight machine can definitely help you get there. If you are really looking to slim down your hips or thighs, though, there are several different exercises that you can do without all the weight.

By plaid — On Sep 27, 2010

Many exercise programs recommend the traditional dumbbell hack squat. If you are just beginning, it is a good idea to start with something less complicated like the "regular" squat. When you moved downwards you can also hold the squat for about 10 to 20 count and feel the burn in your thigh muscles. This will help your muscles build up quite quickly and you will soon be on your way to becoming intermediate.

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