Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness and nutrition courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.
The hack squat machine may not be the first piece of equipment that you gravitate towards when working your legs and glutes at the gym. But if you’re looking to rejuvenate a ho-hum lower-body plan, then you should definitely work this into your routine. We enlisted the expertise of Deb Plitt, CES, master trainer for Life Fitness, to give us the lowdown on how to use this muscle-challenging machine to its full potential.
What’s In A Name?
Type “hack squat” into a search engine and you’ll also find a barbell exercise of the same name: instead of holding the weight in front of the body or across the upper back, the bar is held behind the legs with extended arms. It’s claimed that the name of this exercise is derived from the German word “hacke,” meaning “heel” or “ankle” — the level that the bar is lowered to at the bottom of each rep. But according to Frédéric Delavier’s Strength Training Anatomy (Human Kinetics, 2006), the name for the machine seen here refers to a yoke, a device often used on oxen or other draft animals to pull a load, and to which this piece of equipment bears a striking resemblance.
Strange But True
According to Plitt, the actual load you are lifting is only a percentage of the weight loaded onto the machine. On a hack squat machine angled at 45 degrees, the resistance is only 70 percent of the weight of the plates — but you are also lifting some of the carriage weight and a portion of your body weight. Find your perfect resistance by loading a small amount of weight, trying a few reps, then increasing until you can only move it for the number of reps in your set — the last few should be difficult, but not impossible to get out.
>>Beginners, aim for three sets of 15 reps.
>>Intermediate and advanced exercisers can try three to four sets of eight to 12 reps.
Start: Position your back against the machine, shoulders underneath the pads. Hold the handles above your shoulders with a neutral grip (palms facing in). Space your feet shoulder-width apart or slightly wider on the platform. Disengage the side handles, then straighten your legs without locking your knees.
Action: Bend your legs to slowly lower the weight cart; stop when your knees form 90-degree angles. Keep your feet flat on the platform as you push through your heels to extend your legs and return to the starting position.
Tip: Emphasize your glutes instead of your quads by moving your feet forward on the platform, or hit your leg adductors by using a wide stance and turning your toes outward.