The Barbell Hack Squat: Your New Favorite Quad Builder

By Matt Walter
Published on:
Learn how to perform the barbell hack squat

There are a lot of exercises out there for building your quadriceps, but one stands out from the rest. The barbell hack squat is incredibly effective at strengthening and building your quads. Barbell hacks also give you an opportunity to switch things up and stimulate your muscles in a new way. Not to mention spicing things up and making things more fun and interesting!

In this blog post, I’ll show you how to perform the barbell hack squat correctly with detailed instructions and video demonstrations.

Heads up: this page includes affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products or equipment I have personally vetted.

Table of Contents

Video: The Barbell Hack Squat

How to Perform the Barbell Hack Squat: Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1: approach your barbell just as you would a deadlift, but turn around so that your calves are touching the bar instead of your shins.

Step 2: with your feet shoulder-width apart, bend and grasp the bar with an overhand grip (pronated, palms facing behind you).

Barbell Hack Squat Approach from Front
Barbell Hack Squat Approach from Side

Step 3: deadlift the bar to a standing position. The bar will travel up the back of your legs and you should feel the movement in your quads.

Step 4: slowly lower the weight back to the ground. Repeat as necessary. You will feel this movement much less in your back than you do with traditional deadlifts and should notice a huge burn in your quads after just a few reps.

Programming the Barbell Hack Squat

I like this movement for higher reps, in the 8-15, or even 20 rep range. Really feel those quads burn! Rarely would I recommend going heavier to the point that you can’t perform 8 reps.

Try these before you squat. Use them as your first leg movement on occasion and pre-exhaust your quads before moving to squats. It’s a great way to change things up and keep your body guessing.

Don’t worry about your hamstrings getting in the way! In fact, having to move the barbell around your hamstrings is part of what forces the movement to really hit your quads.

Barbell Hacks are great when performed as Muscle Rounds.

  • Go for 6 sets of 4 reps, with 8-10 seconds of rest between sets.
  • Perform 4 slow, very controlled reps.
  • Drop the barbell and rest for 8-10 seconds
  • Repeat for 5 more sets.
  • The last set, set number 6, should be taken to failure.
  • Choose a weight that you can perform 15 good quality reps with.

Barbell Hack Squat Fact Sheet

Muscles Trained: quadriceps, calves, hamstrings, glutes
Alternate Exercises: machine hack squats, cyclist squats

Quadriceps Anatomy

Barbell Hack Squat Backstory

My long history with training legs and finding the barbell hack squat

I’ve never had the biggest legs; I’m built more like a gymnast. But my training partners have always been gifted with wheels that would make a monster truck jealous. Squats were always movement number one. Period. Maybe we’d perform some leg extensions first to pre-exhaust our quads, but that was about it. Then it was off to back squat or front squat.

I still train that way. You just can’t beat squats for strength and size.

Then it was off to either leg presses or hack squats, which we’d alternate from workout to workout. I loved leg presses. They have always just felt “right.” I get a lot out of them. Hack squats…not so much. I hate ’em. Maybe it’s because I have long femurs and a short upper body, giving me horrible levers for any kind of squats, but hack squats have always bothered me.

Mostly they hurt my knees. I don’t know why. I can squat, front squat, overhead squat, pistol squat, sissy squat, and cyclist squat all day, ass-to-grass, with no problems. But that machine!

I still did them. My partners had huge legs, and they liked hack squats, so I was always game.

Until I learned that hack squats had been performed for decades before the hack squat machine was invented. They were performed with a barbell, much the same way as a deadlift. And I love to deadlift! So I gave them a shot. they are amazing. I’ve been doing these for about a decade now, and they are a staple in my leg routines.

The only other movements I’ve found that target the quads in anywhere near the same way are leg extensions (obviously) and cyclist squats. But barbell hack squats have one major advantage those two movements don’t; you can lift a lot more weight.

This movement also really targets your glutes. When you deadlift, the bar is in front of you and your lower back works to move the bar up your thighs.

With the barbell hack squat, however, the bar is behind you and has to maneuver past your hamstrings. This may feel a bit odd at first. As you move past your knees and begin to move up your hamstrings, you’ll have to squeeze your glutes and push your upper body forward, instead of backward as in the traditional deadlift. This continues to keep tension on your quads but works your glutes in a major way as well.

Another huge advantage in the Garage Gym Days is that few people have a hack squat at home. Maybe you have a leg press. Doubtful, but maybe. But a hack squat? It’s just not a piece of equipment that most prioritize when picking pieces for a home gym. My guess, though, you probably have a barbell and enough weights to make this movement work, and you’re probably up for a new exercise. Something to add some variety to your training.

Give these a shot on your next leg training day. You’ll love ’em!

A good, all-purpose barbell and a set of weights will get you off and running with your own garage gym. Here are pieces of equipment that I own or use regularly, from companies that produce great products.

Weight Plates

Titan Fitness 245-Pound Cast Iron Plate Set – Steel for strength! These are great if you don’t plan on dropping your weights.

Rogue Fitness Cast Iron Olympic Plates – These are high quality and slightly less expensive than bumper plates. Again, great if you’re not going to drop them.

Bumper Plates

Rogue Crumb Bumper Plates – Crumb bumpers are amazing for home gyms! They are incredibly durable and are much quieter than typical bumper plates. And, if you plan on training outside at any point, these are the plates you need.

Titan Fitness 230-pound Economy Bumper Plate Set – This is the set I have at home.

Titan Fitness 230-Pound Elite Bumper Plate Set – This set is more expensive than the last, but they are incredible.

Barbells

I use each of the barbells listed below on a regular basis. They are incredible all-purpose barbells at great prices.

Again Faster Team Barbell 2.0 – This is the barbell I have and use at home.

Rogue Bar 2.0 – This is an incredible all-purpose barbell. Some of my closest friends own this one and use it as their daily bar. It’s also one of the bars used at the CrossFit Games.

Rogue Bella Bar 2.0 – Modeled after the Rogue Bar 2.0 but designed for women with a 25mm shaft and 15kg (33lb) weight. This is an incredible all-purpose barbell and is the bar the women use at the CrossFit Games.

Titan Fitness Blues City Olympic Barbell – My local CrossFit gym has this barbell and I use it often. It’s a great all-purpose barbell.

Conclusion: Barbell Hack Squat

I’m a huge believer in the traditional compound movements for any weight training goals. Whether you want to lose weight, gain muscle, or just be fit, compound movements give you the best bang for your buck. Coupled with the barbell squat, the barbell hack squat will breathe new life into your leg training workouts.

Have you tried these? Share your experience with us!

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AUTHOR

Matt has been a personal trainer for more than 18 years. He is also a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, has a master's degree in teaching, and is a former competitive powerlifter and CrossFit athlete. His passion is helping others get in shape from mid-life and beyond.

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