9 Best Hack Squat Alternatives (With Pictures)

9 best hack squat alternatives
Hack Squat Alternatives

The hack squat is a machine-based squat accessory exercise that works your quads and glutes, while eliminating the stabilization requirement seen in a barbell back squat.

Unfortunately, not all gyms decide to invest in a hack squat. Machines tend to carry higher price tags than free weight equipment, so it’s possible that you might not have access to one.

So how can you obtain all the benefits of the hack squat when you don’t have a hack squat machine?

The 9 best hack squat alternatives are:

In the article below, we’ll cover each of these exercises in depth. Let’s get started!

This article is an extension of my 9 Highly Effective Belt Squat Alternative (With Pictures) article. There are some excellent lower body variations in this article as well. Open the link in a new tab and check it out next!

What Makes a Good Hack Squat Alternative

An effective substitute for the hack squat will accomplish the following: (1) it targets similar muscle groups as those worked in the hack squat and (2) it mimics the hack squat’s motor pattern.

Muscles Used In The Hack Squat

The muscles used in the hack squat are:

• Quadriceps
• Gluteus (maximus and medius)
• Hamstrings
• Calves
• Abdominals

The hack squat involves a significant amount of knee and hip flexion, making the quadriceps and gluteus maximus the primary drivers in helping you stand up from the bottom position. 

In fact, in a study by Clark, Lambert, and Hunter (2017), subjects who used the hack squat were able to use significantly greater loads than in the back squat. While the back squat was shown to recruit more trunk (core) muscle activation, the hack squat appeared to have an advantage when it came to lifting more weight.

The remaining muscle groups (hamstrings, calves, abdominals) are also contributing during the movement, but their involvement is much less than the quadriceps and glutes — mostly assisting with knee and hip extension.

Related Article: 8 Best Leg Exercises That Don’t Use Hamstrings.

Takeaway: An effective hack squat alternative needs to predominantly target the quadriceps and glutes.

Read my other article on Why Is The Hack Squat So Hard?

Hack Squat: Motor Pattern

As a machine-based exercise, the hack squat removes the stabilization that would normally be present in a free-weight movement like the back squat.

While the skill needed to perform the hack squat is less than a back squat, a similar movement pattern is still observed. This should be replicated in any exercise that seeks to replace the hack squat.

Takeaway: The most effective replacements for the hack squat (whether they are machine-based or with free weights), will bring the lifter through a similar motor pattern.

The hack squat was one of the exercises I outlined in my article on the Best Leg Press Alternatives.

Hack Squat Alternatives

1. Leg Press

The leg press is an excellent alternative to the hack squat as there is no spinal compression, and the quads and glutes are the main muscle groups that are targeted. 

Like the hack squat, the leg press is a machine-based exercise. Not only does it work the same muscle groups as the hack squat, but the leg press also places no axial load on the spine

The leg press will also be less fatiguing than the free-weighted alternatives listed later in this article.

Related Article 9 Best Leg Exercises That Don’t Use Glutes.

How To Do It

  • Lie down on the machine and place your feet on the platform
  • Your stance will most likely mirror your back squat stance
  • When ready, extend your legs fully and disengage the safety catches 
  • Begin by bending at your knees until your thighs are at or below parallel
  • Push the platform away from you to return to the starting position

Pro Tip

You’ll likely be able to load significantly more weight with the leg press than you can with the hack squat. 

For this reason, I’d recommend that you make larger jumps in weight (50-90lbs total per jump) when you first use this machine. Doing so will cut down on the number of unnecessary sets that you would have otherwise done.

We did a comparison of the leg press vs squat and leg press vs hack squat if you want to read more about the differences, pros, and cons of these exercises.  

2. V-Squat

The v-squat is a fantastic alternative to the hack squat because it primarily isolates the quads and uses a similar motor pattern.

The v-squat closely resembles the mechanics of a hack squat. As a machine-based exercise, it also removes the stabilization requirements seen in a free weight squat. 

Although it does a great job of working the quads and glutes, it requires a small amount of forward torso lean as you go through the full range of motion. Because of this, you’ll experience a bit more abdominal and back work with the v-squat compared to the hack squat.

How To Do It

  • Step onto the v-squat platform and adopt your normal squat stance
  • Ensure your shoulders are in contact with the shoulder pads 
  • Hold onto the handles beside your shoulders
  • When ready, stand up and ensure the stopper releases
  • Descend by bending at the knees
  • Once you’ve achieved your desired depth, push the platform away to stand up
  • Engage the stopper to step out of the machine at the end of your set

Pro Tip

To target your quads more during the v-squat, adopt a narrower-than-normal stance with your feet closer to the bottom of the platform.

3. Barbell Hack Squat

The barbell hack squat is a close variation to the machine-based hack squat exercise, making it a great substitute.

With this movement, you will apply load by holding a barbell behind your legs. Having the barbell requires you to bend your knees more to stay balanced, while allowing you to stay more upright. In turn, your quads do more work.

The barbell hack squat has almost all the same benefits as the hack squat. However, it will be more difficult to perform as it is a free-weight exercise. With this in mind, you’ll likely have to lighten the weight on the barbell, and spend a few more workouts simply getting used to the range of motion.

How To Do It

  • Load a barbell like you would for a deadlift
  • Step in front of the bar
  • Bend down and grab the bar
  • Push the floor away to stand up
  • As you stand, the bar will slide along the back of your legs
  • Descend by bending at your knees and hips simultaneously

Pro Tip

If you’re having trouble with this exercise, I would recommend using a power rack to help you get the correct bar path.

Place the spotter arms at a height that positions the bar about knee-high and perform a couple of sets. As you get more comfortable, you can lower the height of the spotter’s arms until you’re starting with the bar on the floor for each repetition.

This would be similar to a rack deadlift, but you’re starting with the barbell behind you.  

4. Goblet Squat

The goblet squat is comparable to the hack squat, but uses a dumbbell (or kettlebell) as the implement instead of a machine.

While it’s often used as a stepping stone to more advanced squat variations (front, back, safety bar), the goblet squat allows the lifter to keep a fairly upright torso throughout the movement.

The joint angles seen in the goblet squat place a high demand on the quads and glutes, despite it not being a machine-based alternative to the hack squat.

Learn to master the goblet squat by reading my complete guide.

How To Do It

  • Grab a single dumbbell and hold it vertically 
  • Your grip should have your palms supporting the underside of the upper part of the dumbbell
  • Keep the dumbbell close to your chest at all times
  • Simultaneously break at the knees and hips to descend 
  • Keep your balance in your mid-foot as you reach the bottom position
  • To stand up, think about pushing the floor away
  • Remain upright throughout the movement, especially as you ascend 

Pro Tip

A common complaint with the goblet squat is sore wrists. To avoid this, I’d recommend keeping your elbows tucked in and close to your torso. This will have you supporting the dumbbell more efficiently and limit the demand on your wrist joints.

You can also wear wrist wraps, which help your wrist joint stay neutral.  Check out my article on the 8 Best Wrist Wraps For Lifting

5. Landmine Squat

The landmine squat is a great substitute for the hack squat, as it allows you to remain fairly upright and load your quads effectively. 

The landmine squat is often used when lifters find that the dumbbell they’re using for the goblet squat has become too cumbersome to hold. With the landmine squat, a portion of the weight on the barbell is carried by the bar itself and this makes it a more manageable exercise to load.

While you can place the unloaded side of the barbell in a corner to perform this exercise, a landmine attachment will save your walls from getting chewed up as the bar moves —  Amazon has them fairly cheap (click to check price).

How To Do It

  • Place a barbell in the landmine attachment (or wedge one end in a corner) 
  • Add weight to the opposite end of the barbell 
  • Generally, it’s best to use plates no larger than 25lbs as anything larger will limit your range of motion 
  • In one smooth motion, lift the bar from the floor to a position in front of your chest
  • Angle your feet back a bit so your torso is leaning slightly forward, then start your descent
  • Once you reach the correct depth, stand back up

Pro Tip

For the landmine squat, I’d suggest that you set your stance slightly back and allow your torso to lean forward into the bar. 

The minor forward lean from this position will help you avoid shifting too much weight into your heels and curb the sensation of falling backward as you squat down. 

6. Belt Squat

The belt squat is a solid substitute for the hack squat exercise, as you can closely mimic the upright torso and knees forward position that is present in the hack squat. 

When it comes to the belt squat, there are many different variations that can be performed and it largely depends on the equipment you have available. You could use an actual belt squat machine (the default variation), a landmine attachment, a cable machine, or just use a couple boxes and a dip belt

Provided you’re able to get to a deep range of motion without the plates hitting the floor, any of the previously mentioned variations will work as a replacement for the hack squat.

How To Do It

  • While wearing a dip belt, fasten it to the belt squat machine using a carabiner (you might have to kneel to do this)
  • Without lifting the plates, place your feet into your preferred stance
  • Gently place your hands on the handrails and stand up fully
  • Push away the stopper, so you can descend uninterrupted
  • While using the handrails to keep balanced, bend at your knees
  • Once you’ve achieved the correct depth for you, stand up by pushing the platform away

Pro Tip

Want to target your quads even more? Use on a pair of heeled squat shoes.  The heel will force your knees slightly more forward, allowing you to achieve greater depth and making your quads work even harder.

7. Front Squat

The front squat is a free-weight squat variation that places a significant emphasis on the quads, making it a solid hack squat alternative. 

In the front squat, the barbell is placed on the front of the shoulders. Having the bar in this position requires the lifter to push their knees farther forward in order to stay upright, replicating the position of a hack squat.

While the front squat does place a high demand on the quads and glutes, it will certainly work your abdominals and back muscles more than the hack squat.

Want to learn how to master the front squat? Check out my complete guide to the front squat here.

How To Do It

  • Using a rack, place the bar at shoulder height
  • Wedge the bar in the crook of your shoulder
  • Place your hands just beyond shoulder-width and aim to get the base of your fingers around the bar
  • Drive your elbows up hard so that your triceps are parallel to the floor
  • Stand up to lift the bar from the rack
  • Take a couple steps back, and set your squat stance 
  • Bend at your knees, while trying to “sit between your thighs” 
  • Once you reach your preferred depth, push the floor away to stand up

Pro Tip

A common complaint with the front squat is that it’s awkward on the wrists, possibly leading to pain.

If you find that your wrist hurt while front squatting, feel free to place just the tips of your fingers on the bar instead of attempting to make contact with the top of your palms.  

If that doesn’t work, you can also cross your arms in front of you and grab the barbell with an overhand grip rather than an underhand grip. 

8. Safety Bar Squat

The safety bar squat makes use of a special barbell, allowing the lifter to target similar muscle groups as the hack squat.  

As in the hack squat, the safety bar squat allows you to maintain a more upright torso angle throughout the movement.

With a more vertical torso, your knees will have to travel slightly farther forward to keep you balanced — targeting your quads.

You can read more about the safety bar squat in my complete guide

How To Do It

  • Using a rack, place the bar at shoulder height
  • Put the barbell on your back with the foam 
  • Grab the handles and keep your elbows tucked into your sides
  • Stand up and take a couple steps back to clear the hooks
  • Bend simultaneously at your knees and hips to descend
  • After reaching an adequate depth for you, drive your feet into the floor to return to the standing position

Pro Tip

While the safety bar squat is a solid substitute for the hack squat, it’s also easier on your back than traditional back squats —  mostly due to the more upright trunk angle. 

This makes it an even better hack squat alternative for those who have a current or previous back injury.

9. Hatfield Squat

The Hatfield squat targets the quads and glutes while maintaining a more vertical torso, making it an effective hack squat alternative. 

Similar to the safety bar squat, the Hatfield squat also makes use of a safety squat bar. 

The main difference between the two is that during the Hatfield squat, you use your hands to assist through the movement. Doing so will enable you to remain more upright, while working your quads hard and having your glutes assist to help you stand up.

How To Do It

  • Using a rack, place the bar at shoulder height
  • Put the barbell on your back with the foam 
  • Stand up and take a couple steps back to clear the hooks
  • Place your hands on the uprights of the rack just above hip height
  • Bend simultaneously at your knees and hips to descend
  • After reaching an adequate depth for you, drive your feet into the floor to return to the standing position
  • Use your hands slightly to assist you on the ascent

Pro Tip

Different lifters will prefer different types of hand support in the Hatfield Squat.

Experiment between placing your hands on the uprights of the rack, and placing your hands on a bar (or band) in front of you.

I wrote an entire guide on the Hatfield squat, which covers the technique in more detail and 6 reasons why you should consider doing it in your training program.

Final Thoughts

A great hack squat alternative incorporates a similar movement pattern as the hack squat, or activates similar muscle groups — especially the quads and glutes. 

When done with intention, any of the exercises detailed in this article can also be programmed alongside the hack squat in your training program. 

What to Read Next:

About The Author

Kent Nilson

Kent Nilson is an online strength coach, residing in Calgary (AB). When he’s not training, coaching, or volunteering on the platform at powerlifting meets, you’ll likely find Kent drinking coffee or enjoying his next Eggs Benedict. Connect with him on Facebook or Instagram.