While a lot of people consider the hack squat to be a great secondary exercise to the barbell squat (with some even doing a hack squat as their primary squat), it’s not always an exercise that is available for everyone to utilize.
The range of gym equipment is improving worldwide with gyms competing for new members but few commercial gyms will have a hack squat machine even today.
Some hack squat machines are so limiting in terms of adjustments that some people can’t do the movement properly, which I’ve faced when trying to combine long legs with a surprisingly small hack squat machine, and for some, the hack squat really just beats up your knees due to the fixed range of motion.
Whatever your stance is on the hack squat, it’s not an essential exercise for quad or hamstring development, and in this article, I’ll cover some of the best hack squat alternatives that can be done with extensive (or limited) access to equipment.
The 11 best hack squat alternatives are:
- Banded Wall Squats
- Landmine Squat
- Barbell Hack Squat
- Goblet Squat
- Leg Press
- Heels Raised Dumbbell Squat
- Front Squat
- Smith Machine Front Squat
- Sissy Squat
- Belt Squat
- Safety Bar Squats
Why Is the Hack Squat Good
The hack squat is a fixed machine that emulates the squatting movement without needing to balance a bar or use stabilizing muscles. It’s really as simple as that, you squat in an upward and downward motion and can better isolate certain muscle groups.
Isolation is actually the main advantage of the hack squat, when squatting heavy weight it’s difficult to target a specific muscle group because all of them are active to some degree. While this is true with the hack squat also, you can have some flexibility when it comes to isolation.
Most people use the hack squat to target the quads or the glutes (if you have a hack squat machine that allows you to face the pad as well). This is because the hips are in a more fixed position and you’ll take a more narrow stance which makes this a more knee dominant and therefore quad-dominant exercise.
Without having to worry about stabilizing any weights, you can work up to some pretty heavy weights on this exercise and really put the quads to work. For some inspiration, just look at this legendary Tom Platz video below who built some of the most impressive legs in history whilst having the hack squat as a staple in his routine.
The hack machine is good, but it’s not essential.
How To Do a Hack Squat Without Machines
The main issue people will have is that they don’t have access to a hack squat machine. I joined a 24/7 gym chain in the UK and it allowed me access to all of their gyms in the major cities. The one I went to most frequently did not have a hack squat. The second one I regularly went to had a hack squat which was ok.
The third one had one and I couldn’t hit full depth because it was too small. I went to the internationally known Strength Asylum for 6 months and finally had access to a decent hack squat. My point is that while it’s a great exercise, most people reading this won’t have access to a good hack squat machine.
Therefore, the key when looking into hack squat alternatives is to find exercises that imitate its range of motion and/or fixed movement pattern without just being another barbell squat. This means you need quad-dominant exercises (to an extent) and you need to make use of other types of gym equipment.
You don’t need any specialist equipment and most basic gym equipment can be easily modified to allow you to perform a hack squat without needing a machine. I’ll even give a few examples where you just need a barbell or set of dumbbells!
Hack Squat Alternatives
The following are some of the best alternatives to a hack squat. You don’t need to do them all (that’s the last thing you should do), but I’ve tried to give a good variety of movements and exercises that will suit those with varied access to equipment.
Some exercises will be similar but the slight tweaks are what help them to better utilize the benefits of a traditional hack squat when you don’t actually have access to a hack squat machine. You’ll also find some joint-friendly movements (especially the first) that allow you to get a good amount of tension on the muscle but limit the weight you can use.
1. Banded Wall Squats
To understand this exercise you really need to watch the video above as this is one of the best explanations and demonstrations you’ll find. This is an exercise that will never compete with the hack squat in terms of the weight you can lift but it’s arguably the best one in terms of mimicking the mechanics.
Using a foam roller against your back is something that can support your back like a hack squat does and is the minimalist option that allows you to squat without needing to really on lower back stability. The only downside is that you can’t really load up the weight with this exercise.
Bands are used to offer more resistance and the addition of dumbbells or kettlebells will work as well but really, this is either going to be used as a warm up exercise or a finisher where you are focusing on a high rep count to fatigue the slow-twitch muscle fibers.
2. Landmine Squat
A landmine squat involves the use of a landmine attachment (or a barbell with one end in the corner of a wall) to make use of a pivot point in a similar way to a hack squat machine. For this exercise, you’ll place the weight plates onto the barbell on the side furthest from the wall or landmine and also position yourself on this side.
Lifting the bar to your upper chest whilst supporting the bar with both hands and resting it against your upper chest, you’ll be able to squat in a fixed movement pattern. This is a pretty straightforward squat and reduces the need to use stabilizing muscles but you’ll still need to support the weight from a relatively weak position.
Again, the weight you use will be quite limited with this exercise but the movement pattern is great for beginners learning to squat.
3. Barbell Hack Squat
The most basic alternative to the hack squat is the barbell hack squat. This exercise looks like a deadlift and is performed in a similar way to the deadlift but the bar starting from a position behind your body shifts the focus of the load onto the quads.
This is because your starting position will be more upright and it’s much more difficult to bring the back muscles into activation. From floor to lockout, most of the work is going to be done through leg drive and the upright torso means you can’t really shift tension away from the legs.
If you just want a simple hack squat alternative, this is arguably the best option.
4. Goblet Squat
The goblet squat is similar to the landmine squat in that you will be squatting with the weight in front of your body. This means you need to adopt a more upright torso during the movement which will take away any lower back strain or engagement.
Dr. John Rusin uses the goblet squat test as a right of passage before you can ever think about moving on to using a barbell. The test involves squatting 50% of your body weight for 25 reps with a dumbbell or kettlebell.
It’s debatable whether you could really consider this to be a hack squat alternative but if you can’t pass the test above, it’s one you need to start making use of in your routine.
5. Leg Press
When it comes to secondary exercises to the squat, you’ll either be opting for a hack squat or leg press. This is therefore an alternative to the hack squat in terms of functionality rather than the actual movement pattern.
Both exercises keep you in a fixed range of motion and without having to worry about stabilizing muscles, people will usually go heavy for high reps with these two exercises. There are stops in place so that you can safely go to failure and these are the exercises the really drive hypertrophy.
Therefore, If you don’t have a hack squat available, the easy option instead is to use the leg press.
6. Heels Raised Dumbbell Squat
This is one of the most humbling exercises you can do when it comes to quad training and you’ll need to leave your ego at the door if you want to get the most out of it. Placing some weight plates or a wedge under your heels during a dumbbell squat shifts your center of gravity forward.
This makes this a significantly more quad-dominant exercise and you could also replicate it with the use of a hex/trap bar. Like the barbell hack squat, this is a basic movement but really fires up the quads and is a relatively minimal alternative to a hack squat.
7. Front Squat
The front squat is probably the least relevant alternative on this list but it is an alternative non-the-less. The front squat allows you to lift a significant load comparable to the hack squat and keeps your torse in a more upright position for more quad activation.
It could be overkill to make use of a back squat followed by a front squat for a hack squat alternative so this exercise is more for those that used the hack squat to work around any back pain that resulted from barbell back squats.
Front squats are a more knee-friendly option and resemble the hack squat in that regard.
8. Smith Machine Front Squat
Taking everything I just said above into account, the front squat on a smith machine is a very close alternative to the hack squat. This is because the smith machine works in a fixed range of motion as well and while it’s difficult to back squat on this machine, front squats can be very beneficial.
The fixed range of motion really isolates the quads and this is an exercise that you won’t be able to go too heavy on but if you drop the load and work with some higher rep ranges (12 – 20 reps) you’ll certainly feel the stimulation and muscle fatigue.
9. Sissy Squat
The sissy squat has a bad reputation which is reflected by the name but it’s actually a really good alternative to the hack squat. Before using this exercise (especially for this without a sissy squat machine) it’s worth keeping in mind that you’ll need a strong knee joint for this one/
If you have any sort of niggle around the knees when it comes to leg training, this isn’t going to be the exercise for you!
A sissy squat is however a great quad builder when utilized correctly. It places the feet right out in front of you and really shifts the load onto the quads even when doing this exercise with bodyweight only.
If you have access to a sissy squat machine that is best but there are countless videos showing you how to do it using a power rack, an upside-down bench, and a range of other options.
10. Belt Squat
If you were using the hack squat as a way to take the load away from your back when squatting then the belt squat is hands down the best alternative. A belt squat using a dedicated machine or a regular dipping belt loads the weight from the hips down and completely takes the back out of the movement.
This shifts the focus onto the legs and reduces any spinal compression making an excellent accessory movement to a barbell squat or a prehab or rehab alternative to a barbell squat.
The video below shows you how you can make use of a dipping belt to do belt squats anywhere without access to a specialized belt squat machine.
11. Safety Bar Squats
I’ve left this one to last for the simple reason that if you don’t have access to a safety squat bar, you simply can’t do this exercise.
The safety squat bar is a unique design in that you load the weight on your posterior similar to a standard barbell back squat but the cambered bar ends and front-facing handles mean you need to stay in a more upright position during the squat.
This is therefore a hybrid between a back squat and a front squat and is great for loading the quads and reducing hip and hamstring dominance that would usually come with a barbell back squat.
There’s no doubting that the hack squat is a good exercise and if you have access to a hack squat machine, I’d definitely recommend finding a way to include it in your routine regardless of what your training goals are.
While popular with gym-goers, it’s not a popular option for many gym owners so finding some hack squat alternatives is a good way to get the benefit of the hack squat without having access to the machine.
I don’t think the exercises listed above are a good replacement for the hack squat but when it comes to working with what you have, most of them are definitely a great alternative!
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