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One of the best exercises that you can perform is the barbell squat, it works the gluteals, the quadriceps, muscles of the lower back, and the hamstrings (though not to the same degree).
It can increase testosterone and growth hormone release, build muscle, and burn fat. It’s close to the perfect exercise. It is also nearly impossible to do without a squat rack, okay it’s nearly impossible to perform safely without a rack.
Not only do you need a squat rack to ensure that should any accident occur you can escape unharmed, but you also need it so that you can position the bar on your upper back safely. If you can find an effective way to do that without a rack then you probably aren’t squatting heavy enough!
There are alternatives, you can perform high rep squats or dumbbell goblet squats, but they just aren’t the same. So what do you do if your gym does not contain a squat rack? (other than “find a new gym” which isn’t always possible). You perform the barbell hack squat.
What is the barbell hack squat?
The funny thing about the barbell hack squat is that it looks more like a reverse deadlift than any form of squat. So much so that without the name you would never associate the two. But it works the quadriceps and glutes just like a regular barbell squat.
To perform a hack squat place a barbell on the floor and stand in front of it with your calves resting against the bar. Your feet should be set up as if you were about to perform a regular barbell squat – with feet shoulder width apart and turned out ever so slightly. Squat down and grab the barbell in an overhand grip with hands just about shoulder width apart.
If you’ve just got into this position your back is most likely hunched over. You do not want to perform this exercise in this position. So push your chest out and pull your shoulders back until your back is as close to ruler straight as you can get it.
Take a deep breath (this part is important) and then stand up, bringing the bar with you. Once you are fully upright you can pause and then squat down.
Because the bar is behind you, the exercise will place a lot more emphasis on the quadriceps than a deadlift would. It will also allow you to squat down properly on the way down, which you can’t (and shouldn’t) do while deadlifting.
At first you will probably find this exercise very difficult to perform flawlessly, it requires a lot of coordination.
Those of you who struggle to find the right movements on the dance floor or sports field might want to spend quite a bit of time practicing this exercise with light-ish weights (you can’t really go lower than 60kg as you need the bar to be at the right height – which means 20kg weight plates as a minimum).
Are there any other versions?
While there is only one barbell hack squat, there are a number of hack squat variations out there.
For example there are hack squat machines which you can use, in this case you have shoulder pads that you climb under and then squat while your feet are at an angle (due to an angled foot plate).
You can also perform a hack squat in a smith machine, which is what people usually mean when they say hack squat.
To perform it you will need a smith machine (obviously) with the bar set high. Climb underneath it and unlock it. Your feet should be out in front of you so that you are leaning back slightly. Then squat down low with your chest out, you should easily be able to go past parallel because the angle makes this a lot easier.
What are the benefits of the hack squat?
The most obvious benefit of the hack squat is that you can perform it when you don’t have a squat rack available to you.
This means that you can perform it within a home gym or studio that has limited space.
The benefits of performing hack squats in the smith machine or hack squat machine is that the angle allows you to squat lower and activate the glutes more.
They’re also easy and safe to use, and are ideal for beginners who lack the coordination or strength to barbell squat properly.
This last point is a seriously underrated one, in recent times fixed resistance machines have been looked down upon as a joke by many “serious lifters”. But not everyone wants to dedicate their lives to learning how to barbell squat properly, and you know what? That’s okay! Stop being a fitness snob, because a smith machine hack squat will still help build muscle and lose weight.