Leg day can get boring pretty soon if you are focusing all your energy on squats and deadlifts.
You’ve got to vary and mix things up, don’t you?
Hack squats are a great way to add some variety and also add some isolation to those thigh muscles.
It’s a compound movement that poses very little risk of injury or strain to your lower back and knees.
Also, you can move heavier weight while using your entire body for support.
We sometimes wonder why we don’t see people utilizing it as much as they do leg extensions or leg raises.
The only caveat is that you need a hack squat machine to perform the exercise and not all gyms have one.
Even if it does, some experts warn against using machines to perform compound exercises since it does not utilize or train the stabilizer muscles.
Are you facing a similar conundrum? Then you are at the right place.
Today, we are going to be looking at the best alternatives for hack squats that will allow you to target the same muscles, only, without a specialized hack squat machine.
So strap in and enjoy the read.
8 Hack Squat Alternatives – The Best Substitute Exercises
Listed below are the alternative exercises that you can substitute for hack squats.
#1 – The Barbell Hack Squat
Most experienced bodybuilders prefer performing the free weights version of the hack squat as opposed to performing it on a machine.
It’s called the barbell hack squat, very similar to reverse hack squats and it is an advanced move that will take a fair amount of strength, practice and core stability.
Here’s how you can do this move.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-wide, flat on the floor. The barbell must be positioned just behind your legs. Slowly squat down and grab the barbell at the knurls with a pronated (overhand) grip.
- Lift the bar up slowly while you stand up and extend the knees and hips completely. Squat down slowly pushing the hips back, bending the knees and keeping the back erect the whole time. Squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground and the bar is close to your ankle.
If this is the first time that you are doing the barbell hack squat, start with a very low weight on the bar. You don’t need a lot of weight for this to be effective. Once you gain more expertise, you can start to add more weight as well as vary your feet position.
Video Demonstration of Barbell Hack Squats
#2 – Leg Presses
Leg Presses are the closest that you can get to hack squats without stressing your spine, hips or knees.
It allows you to target your hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes while keeping your upper body stable. You can either be seated or do it lying down depending on the variation you pick.
This makes it a great substitute for anyone who’s unable to do hack squats because of upper body injuries.
Also, you can move a lot more weight on the leg press as compared to a conventional hack squat machine.
- Adjust the weight and the seat on the leg press machine, or your leg press station if your home gym has a leg press station.
- Sit on the seat with your back placed firmly against the back rest. Ensure that you do not slouch your back.
- Place both your feet on the foot rest about shoulder width apart.
- Grab the safety handles with both the hands. You should be able to rotate the handles to engage the safety at any point during the rep.
- Slowly lift the load off the rack, disengage the safety and lower the weights until your legs are parallel, at 90-degrees.
- Lift it upwards and stop just before your legs lock out completely.
Video Demonstration of Leg Presses
#3 – Front squats
While it’s definitely not an exercise for a beginner, the front squat is one of the best substitutes for the hack squat.
It will fire those inner thigh muscles, the outer quads and also your glutes while engaging your core and those stabilizer muscles like never before. The front squat is regarded as one of the best exercises for building that bubble to your butt that everyone craves in these days and also for getting toned athletic-looking thighs.
One of the advantages is that you can use a lot less weight to engage your quads.
Here’s how to do front squats
- Stand straight with your feet shoulder-wide and toes pointing outwards at a 45-degree angle.
- Rest the barbell on the top of your pectorals and ensure that it’s stable. Use an overhand grip with your fingers supporting the weight of the barbell. Your triceps will be parallel to the floor at this point.
- Breath in and slowly squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. The barbell should be stationary throughout the movement and your torso should be straight with your chest held up. Pause for one hold and then return to the starting position.
Video Demonstration of Front Squats
#4 – Cyclist Back Squats
One of the innate qualities of the hack squat is to train the Vastus Medialis Oblique (VMO), which is one of the innermost muscle heads of the quadriceps.
A strong VMO is critical to overall knee health.
The only other exercise that is able to target this muscle equally well is the Cyclist back squat.
This old-school forgotten exercise is relatively easy to perform and since it’s a free-weight compound movement, it fires up those stabilizers pretty good.
- Stand on a wedge board or even a barbell plate with your heels on the elevated surface. The feet should not be more than 6-inches apart.
- Position the barbell on your back like a conventional squat and perform the move.
The key here is the elevated feet on the wedged surface and the narrow feet position. If you maintain an erect torso throughout the movement, it engages the quadriceps, but really fires the VMO.
The higher the wedge, more you recruit the VMO.
While bodybuilders and fitness buffs can use the cyclist squat for adding mass and definition to their leg muscles, athletes in particular can benefit from training the VMO regularly. It adds strength and reduces knee problems in the long run.
Video Demonstration of Cyclist Back Squats
#5 – Sissy Squats
With sissy squats, it’s all about the quads. If you’ve ever seen a model whose quadriceps you adore, it’s probably all thanks to the miracle of sissy squats.
Performing a sissy squat involves standing with the heels of your feet on the edge of an elevated platform, your legs shoulder-width apart, and your body bending backwards as far as you can go with good form.
If your gym has a sissy squat machine then you are in luck but if not you can choose to perform sissy squats while holding on to an upright pole, or any other available object, for support.
This sounds not so hard, right? Well, it might look that way on the surface, but in reality, doing sissy squats is a quite strenuous and thorough exercise that produces a lot of benefits.
Examples of these are its laser targeting of your quad muscles, increasing flexibility of your joints, strengthening your hips, and improving your body posture.
Below are detailed steps on how to do proper sissy squats:
- Stand on top of an elevated platform about a few inches high.
- Widen your feet to shoulder-width, straighten your back, and raise your arms straight in front.
- Lower your body by bending your knees forward and leaning backwards.
- Use your arms for balance or hold on to a pole with one hand.
- Continue squatting until your knees gently touch the ground.
- Hold still for one count and then push your body back up by driving the balls of the feet through the platform.
- Do this for three to four sets of as many reps as possible.
For me, it helps to think of sissy squats and another variation of leg extensions. You are almost trying to extend your legs and by extending them you are forcing yourself to stand up (squat).
It is probably called a sissy squat because you mostly appear like a sissy bending over backwards and holding on to something. Don’t get me wrong though, only real men do sissy squats, and you’d be very wrong to underestimate this exercise.
Video Demonstration of Sissy Squats
#6 – Free Weight Squats
Definitely the most flexible and easily accessible exercise on the list, free weight squats involve working with any weight kind you can find, be it a dumbbell, kettle bell, or even resistance bands.
All you have to do is get into a literal squat position, and begin the regular up and down motion to get pressure on your quads.
Here’s how to perform a regular free weight squat:
- Get into position with your weight(s) in hand
- Plant your feet shoulder-width apart
- Ensure your stance is flexible in case of adjustments
- Thrust your hips slightly backwards
- Keep your chest upwards
- Drive down until you’re parallel or below
- Drive back upwards with your heels to complete the movement
Squatting with free weights is fundamentally simple. You can choose to increase the degree of difficulty by thrusting below parallel, making use of two dumbbells or kettlebells in a front rack position, and making use of a resistance band to heighten muscle activation.
Video Demonstration of Free Weight Squats
#7 – Lunges
Lunges are another hack squat alternative on our list whose specific targets are the quadriceps. Some of the best qualities of lunges can be found in their versatility and flexibility.
They can be carried out pretty much anywhere, with as much or as little loading weight as you like. They are also quite easy to pull off.
All you have to do to land perfect lunges is load your lunges with barbells, dumbbells, or kettlebells, place your feet hip-width apart and take a step forward with your back knee dropping to the floor.
You can find more on how to perform proper lunges below:
- Assume a stance with your feet hip-width apart
- Maintain a strong stance and take a step forward
- While your front foot stays forward, plant back your knee to the floor
- Drive up your forward leg uprightly to complete the squats
- Do as many rep as you see fit
We all love exercises that give maximum returns for minimal work done.
And while some may argue there is no such thing and you only get what you give, lunges are one of those few exercises that actually give a little more than they get.
In other words, if you’re looking for a hack squat alternative with maximum result, versatility, and flexibility, lunges are perfect for you.
Video Demonstration of Lunges
#8 – Safety Bar Squats
Safety Bar Squats are a hack squat substitute that are something of a hybrid between front squats and back squats.
Some of the advantages of working with a safety squat bar include easiness on the hands and significantly less lower back pressure.
It is worth noting, though, that performing safety squats bars requires having a back rack and an actual safety squat bar, and as such may not be as flexible and easily accessible as the other options on our list.
Here’s a detailed step-by-step guide on how to perform effective safety bar squats:
- Load barbell into the back rack
- Place your head between the two handles with a gentle grip
- Step back carefully and plant your feet a little above shoulder width
- Ensure you’re flexible with your leg to ensure mobility
- Hinge back through your hips and keep your chest up
- Thrust back up with your heels to complete the movement
Video Demonstration of Lunges