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July 26, 2022 6 min read

Your quads are an important part of your body and are one of the biggest muscles on it. This muscle group helps you walk, run, jump, and squat, so keeping them strong can help you function better not only in the gym but even when you’re just walking down the street.

Squats are notorious for building your lower body strength, but also for building muscle in your quads, glutes, and hamstrings. There are plenty of squat variations to keep your leg day interesting, but they’re also there to help emphasize areas of the body.

The hack squat is one of the variations and can help target the quadriceps more than the traditional squat.

That doesn’t go to say that the traditional back squat can’t give you bigger, better quads, but the hack squat can focus more on the quads without them being too overshadowed by the hamstrings and glutes.

There are machines specifically designed for hack squats because a typical barbell and squat rack setup won’t allow for this exercise, but a Smith Machine is an ideal option since it provides the balance and stability needed.

Muscles Worked by the Smith Machine Hack Squat

The hack squat is a compound exercise that can help build lower body strength and mass, but because of the positioning, it can put a lot more emphasis on different parts of your legs.


The muscles on the front of your thigh that may pop out when you flex are your quadriceps. They are made up of four parts, each of which contribute to extending the knee and flexing the thigh at the hip.

These are the main actions in a squat, so it’s no surprise that this exercise is used to strengthen this muscle group. 

During the hack squat, much of the emphasis is put on the quads.


Although not directly targeted, the hamstrings are recruited in the hack squat during the eccentric contraction as a stabilizer and help to extend your hips during the concentric contraction.


Another muscle group that isn’t directly targeted are the glutes because they help to extend the hip. The glutes are the biggest muscle on your body, and keeping them strong is important for walking, running, hip stability, and lower back support.


Even though you may not realize it, your calves can play an important role in the hack squat. The first reason being they help stabilize your body and the weight during the lowest part of the squat. 

The second being they’re responsible for ankle flexion, so if your calves are tight, you might have a harder time getting full squat depth.

Benefits of the Smith Machine Hack Squat

Ultimate quad activation is just one of the benefits of the hack squat, but it comes with much more than that.

  • Lower Body Hypertrophy: The foot position of the hack squat allows for more isolation of your lower body, but implementing a Smith Machine can help eliminate the need for stabilizing muscles further targeting a specific muscle group. 

Isolation exercises can help build the leg muscles, making it a great option for bodybuilding. 

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  • Better Squat: The traditional back squat or front squat requires strength and stability throughout your lower and upper body, and it can take some practice to master. 

With the Smith Machine, the hack squat is stabilized and forces you to sit back in your hips and into your heels. 

This can help strengthen your squat form and the muscles needed for a heavier squat.

  • Corrects Imbalances: For many lifters, a good leg workout includes exercises like deadlifts, squats, and the leg press, but these compound exercises can sometimes create muscle imbalances if one muscle group is stronger than the other. 

If the hamstrings are stronger than the quads, it can put you at a higher risk of an injury and limit your performance. 

Since the foot placement of the hack squat emphasizes the quads, it can help correct anterior and posterior imbalances.

  • Good for Beginners: Some exercises are made for advanced lifters and some are better for beginners. Any exercise can be modified to fit your fitness level, but the Smith Machine hack squat provides the extra balance and stability a beginner may need. 

It can also help teach beginners the proper form and mechanics of the squat, so it can prepare them for free weight squats.

How to Do the Smith Machine Hack Squat


Using a Smith Machine can assist you in the movement, but it doesn’t mean you can leave the form to the machine. The hack squat exercise still requires attention to your form for safety and effectiveness.

This is a quad exercise where foot placement is key, and when done correctly, it can mean a bigger and stronger lower body.

How to Do the Smith Machine Hack Squat:

  • Set the Smith Machine bar at shoulder height.
  • Place yourself under the bar with it resting on your upper back and shoulders and grab it with your hands just wider than shoulder-width.
  • When the bar is secured in place, walk your feet out, so they’re out in front of the bar.
  • Keeping your chest up, start to lower your hips by bending your knees and pressing the weight through your heels.
  • When your hips have reached a 90-degree angle or your personal range of motion, press through your heels to stand back up to the starting position.

Smith Machine Hack Squat Alternatives

Not all gyms have Smith Machines, or you may want to try a hack squat in your home gym, so there are alternatives to this leg exercise that can emphasize the quads and get your lower body burning.

Barbell Hack Squat


Although it may require more balance and shoulder mobility, you can do the hack squat with just a barbell instead of a machine. It’s similar to the movement of the deadlift, but the way you hold the bar helps put more emphasis on the quads.

How to Do the Barbell Hack Squat:

  • Place a barbell on the ground and stand in front of it in line with your calves.
  • Lower down towards the barbell and grab it with an overhand grip.
  • Keep your chest up and your back tight by pulling your shoulders down and back.
  • Start to stand up by pushing your heels through the floor and extending your hips, keeping the barbell close to your body.
  • When you’re reached the top of the movement, take a breath before going into the next rep.

Split Squat


The split squat is an exercise that you can do with the Smith Machine, dumbbells, or bodyweight, so no matter where you are, you can work your lower body. Depending on the position of your body, you can emphasize the hamstring, glutes, or quads more.

How to do the Split Squat:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and posture tall.
  • Step your right foot straight behind you, so your feet are staggered.
  • Stay in this position and keep your chest up as you begin to lower to the ground by bending your knees.
  • To keep the emphasis on your quads, stand up straight and don’t lean forward.

Smith Machine Sissy Squat


Despite the name, the sissy squat is a challenging quad exercise that is an advanced squat variation. It almost completely isolates the quadriceps and can be done with a Smith Machine or other secure and supportive device.

How to Do the Smith Machine Sissy Squat:

  • Set the Smith Machine bar at shoulder level.
  • Place the bar on your upper back and shoulders like you would a back squat.
  • Keep your head and chest up as you start to bend your knees. Be sure to keep your hips in line with your torso and knees in line with your shoulders as you lower.
  • Lean back just slightly, so you can go onto your toes and continue to bend your knees.
  • Lower until your knees hover just above the ground, or until you reach your personal range of motion.
  • Push up through your toes, maintaining the same position with your knees in line with your shoulders, and stand all the way up to the starting position.

The Hack for Bigger, Stronger Legs

Every lifter seems to be looking for the next quickest way to reach their goals, and though there may not be a hack to get jacked overnight, the hack squat can help you build bigger and stronger quadriceps for better squats and overall function.

Understanding the “why’s” of an exercise can help you better shape your workout routine and can help reduce your risk of imbalances.

You might be used to doing back squats and deadlifts on leg day, but making time for exercises like the hack squat that help emphasize certain areas of the body more can help you become a stronger, more powerful lifter.