Ahh the reverse hack squat.. The maker of all men.
How many times have you seen athletes with upper bodies built like mountains that are placed on scrawny chicken legs?
You know, those guys that bench more than they squat.
Let’s face it. Most rookie fitness buffs hate leg day and would happily give it a miss given a chance.
It’s loaded with compound movements where you are forced to move twice or thrice your body weight. That’s no fun, is it?
It’s a major calorie burner. You will be left sweating and panting by the end of the day.
There’s no instant gratification like pumping your biceps or triceps either.
But if you are looking to develop a strong and aesthetic body, then you need those foundations to be built like rocks.
Not to mention that working on your legs has profound benefits on your overall fitness. It’s a major hormone-churner. Your body will be forced to produce more of testosterone and HGH when you work on them legs.
And contrary to what most people believe, you don’t necessarily need to be doing leg raises and squats all the time.
There are other, equally good compound movements that play a key role in overall leg development.
The reverse hack squat is one of them.
What is a Reverse Hack Squat?
The Reverse hack squat is a compound leg movement that was first used by Estonian bodybuilder and strongman, ‘George Hackenschmidt’.
George used a variation of the conventional squat with the barbell positioned behind the body at arm’s length and feet placed at shoulder width. This came to be known as the hack squat and it is more like a deadlift with the weights behind you.
The idea behind the movement was to isolate the quadriceps, thereby reducing the involvement of the posterior chain.
The move became extremely popular among bodybuilders and wrestlers. But it was a very difficult move that could only be performed by experienced bodybuilders.
The hack squat machine or even the smith machine, allowed even neophytes to perform the same movement, but on a controlled plane which avoided the need for those stabilizer muscles to kick-in.
The reverse hack squat is a modified version of this movement where you face the weights and your chest is placed against the pads, instead of the back. It has slowly evolved into a very effective movement that involves all major muscles of the legs.
And you can vary your feet position to isolate specific muscles like the glutes, the hamstrings and of course, the quads.
How to do Reverse Hack Squat – Step by Step
There are multiple variations of the reverse hack squat. But in this article, we’ll talk about the one that’s performed using a hack squat machine.
- Load a comfortable weight on the squat machine.
- Stand on the footpads of the squat machine with your feet shoulder width apart, facing outwards, under your chest.
- Hold the side handles, position the shoulders under the pads and your chest against the front pads.
- Push upwards to remove the weight off the rack.
- Now squat down until your legs are parallel to the floor and hold this position for one count.
- Move upwards to lift the weight and stop a fraction before your knees are locked out straight
- Squat again and repeat for as many reps as you wish to perform
- If you lack the ankle mobility needed to complete the movement, you can keep your heels elevated throughout the exercise. Elevating the heels drastically reduces the required flexion that you need to go lower during the squat. It also helps develop the shin, reducing the strain that’s placed on it and allowing you to stay erect at the upright position.
This is the simplest form of the exercise and also the conventional way of performing the movement.
You can also modify your feet placement to target different muscles of the legs.
If the feet are placed close with the toes pointing outwards, the outer sweep of the quadriceps is forced to do the bulk of the work. The farther out you point the toes, more the emphasis on the inner thighs.
There’s another variation of the reverse hack squat in which the feet are positioned behind the body, which turns this into a modified version of ‘Good Mornings’.
It is used to isolate the hamstrings, the glutes and the calves as an alternative to the stiff-legged deadlift.
What Muscles Does the Reverse Hack Squat Work?
In its simplest form, you will be targeting all the major muscle heads of the legs. But the primary target will be the quads.
There are tons of exercises that you can use to target the quadriceps. But none come close to isolating them like the reverse squat. It helps you hit the Vastus Lateralis with as much efficiency as the Lunge and the conventional squat.
But it also allows you to hit the Vastus Medialis, adductor brevis and magnus, which are positioned near the inner thigh. A weak Vastus medialis is one of the primary reason for knee pain in athletes. Lastly, it also hits the Vastus intermedius, which is the muscle that’s positioned the deepest among all three.
Think glutes and the first exercise that comes to mind are hip thrusters. But the reverse hack squat is an equally effective exercise for glutes and for building that bubble butt.
All you need to do is position your legs a little backwards than normal to shift the action towards your hamstrings and glutes instead of your quads. Since you move in fixed plane, the chances of it affecting your lower back are close to zilch.
Benefits of Reverse Hack Squats
Apart from helping isolate most of the individual muscles of your legs, there are many other benefits of the reverse hack squat.
It’s gentle on your lower back
Not everybody has the strength, the balance, the conditioning and the stability needed to perform even basic barbell squats and deadlifts. Performing something as advanced as hack squats would be nearly impossible for beginners. The reverse hack squat allows them to use their body to stabilize the lower back, avoiding the risk of injury while moving heavier weight.
The plane is controlled
Since you only move in a controlled plane (both vertically and horizontally), you are less likely to swing the weight around and stress your spine. It also allows you focus more on the movement itself rather than worrying about having to balance the weight of the bar.
It’s a complete thigh exercise
Unlike most other exercises that focus only on one muscle of the thigh, the reverse hack squat is a complete thigh exercise. With consistent effort and by moving heavy weight, you can get great separation in your thigh muscles with this alone.
Compound Strength Movement – Builds Mass & Power
You can use the reverse hack squat and the hack squat to build strength in your knees, your inner thighs and your shin, which will help you move heavier free weights. You will be able to lift more for your squats and deadlifts, for example.
The quibble that veteran lifters have with it is exactly the same as what they have with a smith machine.
When performed on a squat machine, it does little for those stabilizer muscles, which are the key to your overall strength development.
So, if you have been lifting for years, then maybe you don’t need to spend a lot of time on reverse hack squats. But if you are just starting off, then this is your ticket to healthy, strong legs.
Reverse Hack Squat Alternatives
What makes the reverse hack squat such an important movement is that there aren’t too many alternatives to it. But there is one and it’s the front barbell squat.
Front Barbell Squat – Best Substitute to the Reverse Hack Squat
The only one that comes even close is the front barbell squat, which is one of the most advanced leg exercises.
How to do the front barbell squat
- Only do the front barbell squat inside a squat rack or a power cage. It’s safer and you will have the support you need in case you get misbalanced.
- Position the bar at a comfortable height, load the weight, get under the bar with it positioned in front instead of on the back.
- Place it on your deltoids, bring the arms up until they are parallel to the ground and cross them to grasp the bar. Slowly, lift the weights off the J-hooks and move forward.
- Squat until your legs are parallel to the ground and return to the starting position.
If you are just starting off with the front barbell squat, there is every possibility that you might end up rounding or slouching your back when you go down. This is a recipe for injury. Hence, athletes are advised to avoid the front squat until they have the strength and stability needed for it.
Also, it is a strict no-no if you have back injuries.
You can use a kettlebell or dumbbells instead of a barbell to do the front squats. But even then, it requires a certain degree of strength and coordination that only comes with months of practice.
The reverse hack squat is a much safer alternative that’s easier and equally effective.
Some athletes use the conventional hack squat as an alternative to the reverse hack squat. But it predominantly works out the hamstrings instead of the quads. If you are looking to target the glutes and the hams, then by all means go for the conventional hack squat instead.
Things to watch out for while performing the Reverse Hack Squat
All said and done, there are certain things that you should keep in mind before you perform the reverse hack squat.
This should go without saying but when you are performing the reverse squat on the machine or anywhere for that matter, always wear the proper shoes. This may seem like common sense to you but this is something that many people do not follow.
Decide on the feet placement
What muscle of the thigh are you looking to target? Decide on it before you get started with the exercise and place your feet accordingly. You can place them under your chin, behind you, face your toes outwards or keep them straight. If you are starting off, try a few variations to know the difference.
Start with a low weight
One of the advantages of the reverse hack squat machine is that it allows you to move heavier weight. But exercise caution when you load the bar, especially for the first few times. Go slow until you get a hang of the exercise.
Never lock out your legs
At the uppermost position of the squat, ensure that you stop just before your legs are locked out completely. This will help reduce unnecessary strain on your knees and can help you avoid knee problems at a later stage.
Do not bounce the weight
Pause for one a second hold at the lowest and uppermost positions of the squat. Do not bounce the weight off the bottom as it will increase the likelihood of injury.
Keep your head straight and toes steady
At all times during the movement, keep your head straight in neutral position. Do not look downwards as this may cause you to round your back. Also, keep your toes steady especially during the negatives.