Hack Squat Foot Placement: 5 Stances Explained

Hack squat foot placement 5 stances explained

The hack squat can be done in different ways to achieve different outcomes in how the leg and hip muscles are trained. One way of changing how you perform the hack squat is by adjusting your foot placement on the platform.

The five best foot placements for the hack squat are:

In this article, I will go through these 5 options for hack squat foot placement, discuss how they work the targeted muscles, show you how to make the most out of these foot placements, and explain any drawbacks they may have. 

I will also go through things you need to know about foot angles and footwear choices for the hack squat.

Before we get any further, you might like to know what the differences are between a hack squat and a leg press. Check out Hack Squat vs Leg Press: Differences, Pros, Cons.

Hack Squat Overview

The hack squat is a popular leg exercise machine that can come in different forms. It has a backrest and shoulder pads on a slidable rail that is typically inclined at 45 degrees.

Sometimes the hack squat is more horizontal, but sometimes it is more vertical.

When doing a hack squat, you are positioned under the shoulder pads with your feet on the platform, and you push yourself upward away from the platform. You can add plates to the back of the machine for more resistance.

Muscles Used in the Hack Squat

muscles used in the hack squat

The muscles used in a hack squat are:

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Calves
  • Adductors (inner thighs)

We need to understand how the muscle groups work in the hack squat before we explore how adjusting the foot position can change the emphasis on the muscle groups.

The primary movement of the hack squat is the extending of the knees and hips. The main muscle responsible for extending the knees is the quadriceps. The main muscles responsible for extending the hips are the glutes near the top of the range of motion and the adductors near the bottom of the range of motion.

The hamstrings play a very small role in extending the hips, and the calves play a small role in movement at the ankles.

To learn more about the muscles that are used in a regular squat, check out Muscles Used In The Squat (Ultimate Guide).

Want to improve your squat technique?

Hack Squat Foot Placements 

Here is a brief overview of the options for hack squat foot placement:

Regular Foot PlacementLow Foot PlacementHigh Foot PlacementWide Foot PlacementNarrow Foot Placement
Position On PlatformMiddle of the platformBottom of the platformTop of the platformMiddle and toward the outside of the platformMiddle of the platform
Feet DistanceShoulder-widthShoulder-widthShoulder-widthWider than shoulder-widthHip-width
Muscle FocusQuads, glutes, calves, hamstrings, adductorsQuads, glutes, calvesAdductors, hamstringsAdductorsQuads, glutes
ProsSuitable for most liftersBetter for people with stronger hipsBetter for people with stronger legs or sore kneesCan go through more range of motionCan use more load
ConsDoes not focus on any specific muscleLess emphasis on hamstringsLimits range of motion on quadsCannot squat as much weightLess range of motion

1. Regular Stance

hack squat regular stance

The regular stance is defined by parallel feet in the middle of the platform with a shoulder-width stance.

Target Muscles

The regular stance primarily targets the quads, but the calves, hamstrings, glutes, and adductors are also activated.

How To Do It

  • First, position yourself underneath the shoulder pad with your back flat against the back pad.
  • Position your feet in the middle of the foot platform and maintain a shoulder-width stance with a parallel angle (i.e. keep your toes pointed straight).
  • Push yourself to the top of the range of motion until your knees are extended but not fully locked out.
  • Unlock the safety catchers.
  • Breathe in and brace before you descend as low as you can while keeping your back flat against the back pad and feet flat on the platform.
  • Breathe out as you drive your feet down into the platform to return to the starting position, keeping even pressure across your whole foot.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip

You can change the way you move through your repetitions to place more emphasis on different muscles.

For example, you can add an isometric pause, which is a static hold, for a 2 count at the bottom of the repetition if you want to activate your adductors and quads more. This is because your adductors are most active in extending your hips when you’re in a deep squat, and adding the pause means your body needs to work harder to return to a standing position.

Also, when your knees are bent at the bottom, your quads have the most loading demand. Adding a pause will increase the amount of time they spend under tension, which can help strengthen and grow them.

Learn more about the benefits of paused squats in How To Pause Squat (Technique, Benefits, Muscles Worked).

Drawbacks

  • This variation does not fully allow your knees to flex to their full range of motion, so it is less optimal for building quad muscle mass (unless you add pauses as I explained above).
  • If you want to improve your bottom range squat strength (i.e. not getting stuck at the bottom of a squat), you want to focus on the hip adductors. A regular leg press stance does not maximize activation in the hip adductors, so it is not the best at improving hip extension strength (i.e. improving your ability to extend your hips to get back into a standing position from the bottom of a squat).

Who Should Do Hack Squats With a Regular Stance

  • If you are a beginner lifter, you should try using the regular stance so that you get accustomed to the exercise machine in general. Beginner lifters will get the most benefit in strength gains through improving technique and bodily control in the exercise.
  • If you are an experienced lifter but new to the hack squat, you should start with the regular stance. This is so you can gauge how it feels on your lower body and determine how you need to change the foot placement later on. For example, if you find that this stance adequately targets your glutes, you may not want to change the foot placement to a stance that challenges your glutes more to avoid making it even harder on them.

2. Low Foot Placement

hack squat low foot placement

Low foot placement is defined by parallel feet on the bottom of the platform with a shoulder-width stance.

Target Muscles

The low foot placement primarily targets the quads, glutes, and calf muscles. 

How To Do It

  • First, position yourself underneath the shoulder pad with your back flat against the back pad.
  • Position your feet in the lower half of the foot platform and maintain a shoulder-width stance with a parallel foot angle.
  • Push yourself to the top of the range of motion (i.e. you should be in a standing position with your knees straight but not fully locked out).
  • Unlock the safety catchers.
  • Breathe in and brace before you descend as low as you can while keeping your back flat against the back pad and feet flat on the platform.
  • Breathe out as you drive your feet down into the platform and to return to the starting position, applying even pressure across your whole foot.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip

With the low foot placement, the knees will go over the toes much more, and this means that it will stretch your ankles and calf muscles more. However, depending on your ankle mobility, you may not have as much range of motion, so there is a higher chance that your heels will come off the platform.

A good cue to remember when you adopt this foot placement is to feel your heels throughout the execution. Stop before your ankles collapse inward or heels come off the platform.

Drawbacks

  • Poor ankle mobility may limit your ability to maximize your range of motion in this exercise. From a muscle-building point of view, you may not get as much stimulus for hypertrophy. A systematic review from Brad Schoenfeld shows that range of motion is important when it comes to building muscle mass in the lower body.
  • If you have pre-existing knee issues, this position puts a lot more pressure on the knee joint, making it inappropriate for people with a history of knee injuries because it increases the risk of reinjury.

Who Should Do Hack Squats With a Low Foot Placement

  • If you struggle to feel your lower quads in your hack squat, you may benefit from trying a lower foot placement to target the vastus medialis. This is a part of the quadriceps muscle just above the knee cap (also known as the inner teardrop).
  • If you want to feel your gluteus maximus (the largest gluteal muscle) more, you should use a low foot placement. A study from Worrell et. al showed that the glutes were more responsible for extending the hip when the hip is already close to being fully extended. Lower foot placement will place the thigh more in line with the rest of the torso at the top of the movement. This means that the hips can extend to almost full range (i.e. it will look like you’re standing almost straight up), thus engaging the gluteus maximus.

If you’re looking for more ways to target the glutes, check out my article on How To Leg Press Using Your Glutes More.

3. High Foot Placement

hack squat high foot placement

The high foot placement stance is defined by parallel feet on the top of the platform with a shoulder-width stance.

Target Muscles

With a high foot placement, the quads, adductors, and hamstrings are targeted. However, there is relatively less emphasis on the quads and a bit more focus on the hamstrings and adductors.

How To Do It

  • Position yourself underneath the shoulder pad with your back flat against the back pad.
  • Position your feet at the top half of the foot platform and maintain a shoulder-width stance with a parallel foot angle (i.e. don’t let your toes cave in or point out).
  • Push yourself to the top of the range of motion.
  • Unlock the safety catchers.
  • Breathe in and brace, then descend as low as you can while keeping your back flat against the back pad and feet flat on the platform.
  • Breathe out, drive your feet down into the platform, and begin to return to the starting position. Keep an even amount of pressure across your whole foot.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip

If you find that your knees cave in when you perform squatting movements (which is called knee valgus), you can try to stick a foam roller between your knees. This forces your muscles to work together in a way where they get stronger at keeping your knees in line with your feet.

Drawbacks

  • As your foot placement is higher on the board, you do not reach that end-range hip extension that you would get if your feet were lower on the platform. This means that it is suboptimal for emphasizing the tension on your glute max (the largest gluteal muscle).

Who Should Do Hack Squats With a High Foot Placement

  • If you are someone who has pre-existing knee issues, having a higher foot placement means that you move through less range of motion in the knees and your knees do not go as far forward over your toes. This reduces the stress in the knees, so the hack squat with a high foot placement can be good for you if you’re rehabbing a knee injury.

4. Wide Foot Placement

hack squat wide foot placement

The wide foot placement stance is defined by parallel feet on the middle of the platform with a wider than shoulder-width stance.

Target Muscles

In the wide foot placement stance, the muscles targeted primarily are the quads, glutes, and adductors muscles. There is relatively more emphasis on the hip adductors as they are in a lengthened position (meaning they are in a more open or extended position).

You may also find that this variation activates the quads more than other stances since you can sit deeper into the squat.

How To Do It

  • Position yourself underneath the shoulder pad with your back flat against the back pad.
  • Place your feet on the outer sides of the foot platform and maintain a wider than shoulder-width stance with a parallel or slightly outward foot angle.
  • Push yourself to the top of the range of motion and unlock the safety catchers.
  • Took a deep breath in and brace your core before you descend as low as you can.
  • Keep your back flat against the back pad and feet flat on the platform.
  • Breathe out as you drive your feet down into the platform, with even pressure across your whole foot.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip

One thing that you need to pay attention to, specifically on the descent, is that your knees open outward. They should ideally track in line with your feet throughout.

If you struggle with this, you can try putting a hip circle-type resistance band with a very light resistance around your knees. This would encourage you to open your knees outward as you descend during the hack squat. It would also help you open up and stretch out your hip adductors, which are important for extending your hip in the hole.

Drawbacks

  • This wide foot placement requires a certain level of hip mobility. If you naturally do not have as much mobility in that region, it means your hip adductors are not conditioned for a wide stance. You risk straining those muscles if you are not careful with the loading for this stance.

Who Should Do Hack Squats With a Wide Foot Placement

  • If you are weak in the hole of regular squats, a wide foot placement for the hack squat is perfect. This is because you simultaneously activate your adductors more by widening your hips and your quads more through the increased range of motion you gain from this variation.

Don’t have access to a hack squat machine? Check out my favorite hack squat alternatives.

5. Narrow Foot Placement

hack squat narrow foot placement

The narrow foot placement stance is defined by parallel feet on the middle of the platform with a hip-width stance.

Target Muscles

This stance primarily targets the quads and glutes. Contrary to popular belief that a wide stance activates your glutes more, your glutes are activated more with narrow foot placement. This is because when your thigh bones are close together, your glutes are stretched out more.

How To Do It

  • Step underneath the shoulder pad with your back flat against the back pad.
  • Place your feet on the middle of the foot platform with a hip-width stance and a parallel foot angle.
  • Push yourself to the top of the range of motion.
  • Unlock the safety catchers.
  • Breathe in and brace your core, then lower yourself as far down as you can while keeping your back flat against the back pad and feet flat on the platform.
  • Exhale as you drive your feet down into the platform with even pressure across your whole foot.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip

With a narrow stance for the hack squat, most people will find that they are not able to move through as large of a range of motion. This will mean that you can potentially hack squat more weight with a narrow stance than with a regular stance.

If you want to regain some more range of motion to build muscle mass, you can use heeled weightlifting shoes. This will allow you to bend more through your knees and ankles when you squat down.

Drawbacks

  • If your ankle and hip mobility are not as good, you may find that you inadvertently butt wink at the bottom of the range of motion when you perform the hack squat. Butt winking is when your pelvis tucks underneath and your lower back rounds under at the bottom of a squat. During the hack squat, butt winking is not obvious, so this is something you’ll have to pay attention to when doing the movement with a narrow stance. You can record yourself doing the movement or ask someone to watch you to determine if you have butt wink.

Who Should Do Hack Squats With a Narrow Foot Placement

  • If you want to increase deadlift strength off the floor, hack squats with a narrow foot placement are ideal for you. This will replicate the quad activation you get when you perform conventional deadlifts. It will also replicate a similar joint angle that you’d be in at the bottom of the conventional deadlift.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should Your Feet Be Parallel or at an Angle During the Hack Squat?

Research from Escamilla et. al suggests that feet angle makes no significant difference in muscle activation between parallel feet vs slightly pointed out during a squatting type exercise. As such, you can use a stance where your knees are roughly in line with your feet with a foot angle that feels most comfortable.

What Is the Best Hack Squat Stance for Building Quads?

The best hack squat stance for building quads is a low stance with heeled weightlifting shoes. The low stance will get your knees to travel over your feet more, and the heeled weightlifting shoes will add that extra range of motion to maximize quad activation for hypertrophy.

What Is the Best Hack Squat Stance for Building Hamstrings?

The best hack squat stance for building hamstrings is with your feet high on the platform and wider than shoulder-width. This stance will stretch your hamstrings out more to stimulate hypertrophy in that muscle group.

What Is the Best Hack Squat Stance for Building Hip Adductors?

The best hack squat stance for building adductors is a wide stance with heeled weightlifting shoes. The wide stance will get your adductors more stretched out, and the heeled weightlifting shoes will get you to sit deeper into your hips, which also lengthen your adductors.

What Is the Best Hack Squat Stance for Building Glutes?

The best hack squat stance for building glutes is a low and narrow stance with flat shoes. The low stance will get you to go into full hip extension, which will activate your glutes, and the narrow stance will get your glutes more stretched out.

If you’re also looking for the best foot placements for the leg press, check out Leg Press Foot Placements: 5 Stances Explained.

Final Thoughts

Hack squat foot placement makes a difference in how the quads, glutes, hamstrings, adductors, and calves work. Being smart with choosing the right one will make long-term incremental changes that will help you reap the results that you want. 


About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach

Norman Cheung

Norman Cheung is a powerlifting coach and an accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience with coaching a variety of lifters from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Along side coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com