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November 06, 2021 8 min read

If you’re looking to fire up your quads on leg day, look no further than the barbell hack squat. This move will help you not only bulk up your quads but also sculpt and define them. Grab your barbell and get moving because it’s time to get in on this popular exercise so you can see all the hype for yourself.

What is a Barbell Hack Squat?

A barbell hack squat is essentially a deadlift, but instead of holding the weight in front of you, you keep it behind you.

Barbell hack squats fire up both the front and back of your legs. It’ll just take a few reps for you to see why weightlifters have been using this exercise to sculpt their quads for over a century.

How to do a Barbell Hack Squat (Step-by-Step)


Let’s break down how to complete barbell hack squats effectively. Before your start, don’t forget to warm up your legs.

The only equipment that you need for your barbell hack squat is a barbell.

  1. Starting Position: Stand in front of a barbell resting on the ground. Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Grip the barbell with your hands positioned just wider than your knees and your palms facing away from your body (double overhand grip).
  2. Contract your quads to drive into your heels and lift the barbell, straightening to a standing position. Concentrate on engaging your core and keeping your back straight.
  3. Pause at the top before continuing.
  4. Squeeze your glutes as you slowly lower the barbell back to the ground, returning to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for your desired number of repetitions.

Good Form During the Barbell Hack Squat

As with other heavy-lifting moves, keeping good form from the beginning to the end of your hack squats is essential. Regardless of how much weight you are lifting for your squats, check with these tips to maintain good form and protect yourself from injury.

Good form during your hack squat looks like:

  • Your spine is in a neutral position
  • You are not rounding your shoulders
  • You are engaging your core and glutes from start to finish of each rep
  • Your chin and shins remain straight up from the ground
  • Your heels stay on the ground (this protects your knees)
  • You are moving slowly and not rushing the return of the barbell to the ground

Barbell Hack Squat Variations

If these traditional hack squats sound too challenging, too easy, or are just not your speed, check out these effective variations that you can complete instead.

  • Dumbbells: Lose the barbell to complete this exercise with light dumbbells. This equipment variation is excellent for anyone looking for lighter weight or without a barbell handy.
  • Bodyweight: If the dumbbell variation still feels like too much weight, drop the weights entirely and complete this exercise using only your body weight. After diligently working on your bodyweight hack squats, you will eventually add weight to the move.
  • Hack Squat Machines: If you are lucky enough to have a hack squat machine in your gym, check it out the next time you are there. You can complete hack squats on the machine by standing on the footplate, sitting against the back pad, and pressing into the shoulder pads to lift the weight. You should be gripping the side handles just above your shoulders.

 3d illustration shows an xray man performing hack squat workout on a black background

  • The “Gironda Hack Slide:” Bodybuilding coach Vince Gironda, a.k.a. the Iron Guru, popularized this extremely challenging variation of the hack squat that you can complete on a hack squat machine. Complete the hack squat as you would typically but rise to the balls of your feet. This move is tough, so you will want to SIGNIFICANTLY decrease your weight load the first time you try it.


    If these hack squats are just too challenging, don’t be discouraged! These modifications will still pack quite a punch, and you can work your way up to the traditional barbell hack squats that we have been discussing here.

    • Lower the weight: Reduce the weight by using just the bar or replacing the barbell entirely with light dumbbells. If this is still too much, drop the weight altogether and use just your bodyweight until you feel ready to add some pounds.
    • Use a power rack to start the bar higher from the ground: Position the bars on the power rack to start the barbell higher off the ground, thereby reducing the distance you need to lift it to complete your hack squat. Over time, bring the barbell starting position closer to the ground until you complete the move with the full range of motion.

    What Muscles are We Targeting with the Barbell Hack Squat?

    The barbell hack squat is a compound exercise that targets many muscles at once. To get the most of your strength workouts, add the  Ultimate Mass Stack  to your routine to build muscle faster.

    The primary muscles that barbell hack squats target is your quadriceps, the teardrop-shaped muscle on the front of your thighs. In addition to the muscles in your quads, barbell hack squats will activate your glutes as you drive your hips upward and other muscles in the backs of your legs.

    You will also hit other nearby muscles to stabilize your body as you complete this leg exercise. Your calves, adductors, and hamstrings are lower body stabilizers as you squat, while your core muscles will activate to stabilize your upper body. This stabilization will move into your abs, obliques, and upper and lower back muscles, specifically the traps and erector spinae.

    Benefits of the Barbell Hack Squat

    There are many benefits of incorporating the barbell hack squat into your workout routine.

    • Sculpt Your Quads: Barbell hack squats will not only build strength and bulk up your quads, but they will also add definition that can be otherwise hard to develop in the area. You’ll see results and better-looking legs with every rep.
    • Safe Alternative to Other Weighted Squats: The hack squat is one of the only squats that will not put weight on your spine, making this a great alternative to squats if you have back issues. Check out this  exercise guide about bodyweight squats for other squat options that take the pressure off your back.
    • Better Posture: The hack squat targets your back muscles to stabilize you while you complete your reps, thereby improving your posture. Improved posture will help you look bigger and stronger and improve your overall quality of life outside the gym.
    • Improve Squat Form: The hack squat improves your form while you complete other types of squats because it requires you to hinge your lower body. Hinging will enhance your hip and ankle mobility to make it easier for you to complete other squats with perfect form.
    • Work Your Entire Lower Body: The hack squat puts your entire lower body under tension, hitting many muscle groups and guaranteeing that you will build strength with just this one move.

    Why We Love Barbells

    Barbells are a classic piece of weightlifting equipment that have stood the test of time for a reason. We want to take a minute here to talk about why they are so great and why you should consider choosing a barbell over other types of equipment in your gym.

    You can use a barbell for compound or isolation exercises, making them a highly versatile piece of equipment. For more compound exercises like the barbell hack squat, check out this article on compound barbell exercises to get you ripped. You can also use them to target many different muscle groups, from your upper body, to your lower body, to your core. Whatever muscles you are looking to build out, chances are you can hit them with a barbell.

    One of the most apparent benefits of a barbell is that you can easily adjust the weight to perfection by adding and removing weight. The ability to change up the weight allows you to use a barbell for more of your workout than, say, a kettlebell or set of dumbbells. You can even utilize the bar without any weight if you need to modify down or recover from an injury.

    Studies show that barbells can be more effective than dumbbells, kettlebells, and other free-weight equipment.

    A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that using a barbell for your deadlifts was “clearly superior” to deadlifts that used other equipment. Just another reason to add a barbell to your home gym if you haven’t done so already.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Barbell Hack Squats

    Before we send you off to get working on your barbell hack squats, we will take a minute to address some of the questions we most frequently hear about this popular exercise.

    1. How Much Weight Should I Lift During Hack Squats?

    Hack squats require you to lift with the weight behind you, so you want to reduce the weight you would typically grab for a traditional squat or deadlift. Our recommendation is to start with low weight and then increase the weight as you feel appropriate.

    The barbell hack squat requires increased balance, coordination, and stabilization, so we consider it an intermediate lift. This difficulty level is another reason to consider starting with a lower weight, especially if you are a beginner weightlifter.

    2. How do Barbell Hack Squats Fit into Your Workout Routine?

    Barbell hack squats will fit easily into your leg day routine because they hit so many muscles in your legs and build lower body strength. They primarily target your quads, so use them in a set to focus on the fronts of your legs or alternate them with a move that targets other areas of your legs. Barbell hack squats are a strength exercise, so try to get them in before you get into any cardio for the day.

    study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that you can lift heavier and longer if you complete your strength training before your cardio, instead of the other way around.

    3. What Alternative Exercises Can I Do Instead of Hack Squats?

    If you don’t have access to a barbell or want to incorporate other exercises that work the same muscles, try some of our favorite alternatives:

    • Leg Press: The leg press is probably the most popular alternative to barbell hack squats because they work many of the same muscles. Like the hack squat, the leg press will hit your quads, hamstrings, and glutes without putting pressure on your spine. Learn more about how to get the most out of your leg press in this article about leg press foot variations.
    • Goblet Squats: Another popular alternative amongst lifters is the goblet squat. To complete a goblet squat, hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in front of you and squat, keeping the weight close to your chest. Goblet squats will target your quads and glutes, just like the barbell hack squat.

    4. Should I Replace Deadlifts with Barbell Hack Squats?

    Barbell hack squats are a suitable replacement for deadlifts for lifters with lower back pain or other back issues. Unlike a traditional deadlift, the weight placement behind your body will allow you to work the same muscles without putting pressure on the spine or risking lower back injury. While this is a good option for people working with lower back issues, it is worth noting that the deadlift will not isolate the quads and the barbell hack squat.

    5. Why is it called a Hack Squat?

    These squats are named after their creator, George HACKenschmidt. The bodybuilder wrestler invented the hack squat and the bench press at the turn of the 20th century, and they have only grown in popularity since then.


    Now that you’re an expert on barbell hack squats, it’s time to hit the gym and fire up those quads. Add traditional or a variation of barbell hack squats into your leg day workout routine to get sculpted quads in no time.