The Hatfield squat is a squat variation that is used by powerlifters, strongmen athletes, and bodybuilders.
So, what is the Hatfield squat? The Hatfield squat is a back squat variation that requires a safety squat bar. The bar passively rests on the back with the hands gripping the safety rack throughout the exercise. The hands and arms help the lifter by improving balance, keeping an upright torso position, and making the ascent easier.
Despite the Hatfield squat being a less common variation used in commercial gyms, don’t underestimate its utility. The Hatfield squat is an excellent squat variation and can allow some lifters to squat pain-free while recovering from a back injury (among other benefits).
In this article, I’ll outline the technique, benefits, and muscles used in the Hatfield squat.
Hatfield Squat: Overview
Unlike the traditional back squat, the Hatfield squat requires the use of a safety squat bar.
The safety squat bar is a specialty barbell that has neck and shoulder pads. These pads allow the bar to rest securely on the lifter’s back, without the hands actively holding onto it. If a standard barbell is used for the Hatfield squat, it will almost certainly roll off the lifter’s back.
The other key difference in the Hatfield squat is the position of the lifter’s hands.
Instead of helping to hold the barbell on the back, the hands grasp a stable set of handles about belly-button high. Typically, band pegs or a spare barbell are used for handles. That said, a number of lifters simply hold onto the power racks’ uprights instead.
Due to the different barbell and hand support, the Hatfield squat is considered an easier variation of the back squat since it requires:
• Less mobility in the ankles, knees, and hips
• Lower amounts of upper back strength
• Lower levels of balance and coordination
Although the Hatfield squat isn’t mandatory to learn prior to the barbell back squat, it’s still a fantastic lower body squat variation to use in your training.
Important Note: Never attempt the Hatfield squat with any bar other than a safety squat bar. There are much safer variations to use if you need an alternative exercise for the Hatfield squat.
Hatfield Squat: Muscles Worked
The muscles used in the Hatfield squat are the:
• Adductor Magnus (Inner thigh)
• Trunk muscles (front abs, side abs, lower back)
Like any squat variation, the Hatfield squat mainly works the quads and glutes.
This is because the quads work to extend the knees. They bend quite a bit in order for the lifter to squat down. In addition, the glutes are actively performing hip extension, to oppose the amount of hip bending that happens.
The adductor magnus (inner thigh muscle) assists the glutes to extend the hips as well, although this muscle group is often forgotten about when it comes to squats.
For supporting muscles like the calves, they help extend the knees and assist the lifter in standing up. The trunk muscles predominantly stabilize the spine to avoid the midsection from folding over with a loaded barbell on the back.
Finally, the arms play a slightly different role in the Hatfield squat. Since the lifter will be actively pulling themselves up with their arms during the ascent, the biceps and front delts are more active with this variation.
6 Benefits of The Hatfield Squat
The benefits of the Hatfield squat are:
• It can help your back squat strength
• It can increase lower body hypertrophy
• It can be performed for added variety
• It can be used as a regression exercise
• It can act as an overload exercise
• It can be helpful for back injuries
1. It Can Help Your Back Squat Strength
Strength is a skill that is specific to the exercise being performed.
Hatfield squats (1) use a barbell, (2) axially load the lifter (load the spine), (3) train similar muscle groups, and (4) achieve comparable joint angles. Because of these similarities to the back squat, Hatfield squats will likely give you a reasonable transfer of strength to your back squat.
In any case, they’ll most certainly be better than machine variations since they more closely resemble the back squat itself.
Related Article: Squat vs Leg Press: You Don’t Need To Do Both
2. It Can Increase Lower Body Hypertrophy
Building muscle largely comes down to accumulating large training volumes, using a full range of motion, and performing sets close to failure.
These key factors to increasing muscle mass make the Hatfield squat a great choice for lower body hypertrophy.
Since you can use your hands, you can increase the weight (more volume), have an easier time balancing (full range of motion), and help yourself through sticking points (lift close to failure).
3. It Can Be Performed For Added Variety
Sticking with the same exercise for multiple weeks is necessary to progress. Usually, this is done by adding weight, total reps, or more sets from one week to the next. Your linear progress will eventually stall, though.
When this happens, exercise variety can be used to push through strength plateaus.
That said, exercise variety can also help you mentally. Switching the exercise slightly by using a different bar and adding assistance from your arms can give you just enough variety to kickstart your enjoyment.
It seems obvious enough, but enjoying your training is critical for you to stick with it for the long-term.
4. It Can Be Used As A Regression Exercise
The Hatfield squat has some unique advantages that make it a useful regression exercise. A “regression exercise” means an exercise “less complex” than the traditional back squat.
First, it lowers the balance demands. By allowing the use of the hands, lifters who struggle with balance due to headaches or inner ear complications (these are known to cause dizziness) can still squat big weights.
Also, it minimizes the upper body requirements. For athletes who are recovering from an upper body injury, the Hatfield squat is a fantastic regression exercise. Since the arms play a supporting role, the chances of aggravating a previous or current injury are even lower.
If the lifter is still worried about the activity of their upper body during the Hatfield squat, they can deliberately place only the tips of their fingers on the handles. The lighter pressure will reduce the amount of assistance they can add from their arms while maintaining the support of the hands.
5. It Can Act As An Overload Exercise
While the Hatfield squat can be used as a regression exercise, it can also act as an overload movement. Overloading means loading more weight than usual.
In this scenario, the back squat would probably be the most common exercise to compare the Hatfield squat to — unless the lifter regularly does safety bar squats.
Since the balance requirements are minimal during this exercise, that effort can be directed elsewhere. In this case, the reduced need to actively balance can be transferred into pushing harder against the barbell. Additionally, the lifter can use their arms to help stand up from the bottom.
Because of these two differences, more weight can often be lifted in the Hatfield squat compared with the traditional back squat.
6. It Can Be Helpful For Back Injuries
Lifters who use the safety squat bar often say that it helps their back feel better.
This makes sense because the design of the bar allows the lifter’s trunk to stay more upright when compared to the traditional back squat.
This phenomenon is increased even further for the Hatfield squat. The use of the hands for balance allows the lifter to maintain a more vertical torso angle than the safety bar squat.
In turn, the Hatfield squat makes for a fantastic squat variation as it allows lifters to reduce the amount of loading to their lower back.
Ever wondered how to avoid an injury, before it happens? Check out my article How to Avoid A Powerlifting Injury (Complete Guide) to stay injury-free.
How To Do The Hatfield Squat
At this point, you have a clear understanding of the benefits of the Hatfield squat.
Let’s shift gears now and cover the Hatfield squat’s ideal technique!
Step 1: Set Up The Rack
Find a power rack or squat stands, and adjust the hooks.
The safety squat bar should sit in the hooks so that the base of the neck pad is the same height as your armpits.
Once the bar height is set, position the safety arms slightly lower than where the bar will stop when you squat down.
Don’t skip this step. If you fail a rep, the safety arms will save you from a serious injury.
Finally, place the band pegs through the uprights or a spare barbell across the outside of the rack. Regardless of the option you choose, it should be set around the height of your belly button. If you’re just holding onto the rack instead, you can skip this step.
Step 2: Prepare And Un-Rack
When ready, dip under the barbell and ensure that the pads are set comfortably on your back.
Grab onto the safety squat bar handles if you’d like, then stand up to unrack the bar.
Take two short paces backwards and then adjust your stance width. Once the bar has settled and you have found your squat stance position, grab onto your hand supports — the band pegs, extra barbell, or the uprights.
Are you wasting energy with your squat walkout? Check out my article Squat Walkout: 7 Common Mistakes Lifters Make to optimize your walkout set-up.
Step 3: The Descent
Keeping your grip on the hand supports, begin squatting down.
Deliberately push your knees forward and out, while staying vertical. This will reinforce the mechanics that the Hatfield squat seeks to accomplish.
Step 4: The Ascent
Once you reach your desired squat depth, push the floor away to begin standing up.
Apply pressure into the handles, so that your arms can assist with your ascent.
Step 5: The Re-Rack
Once you’ve completed your desired number of reps, return your grip to the handles of the barbell.
Step forward until the bar makes contact with the back of the hooks, then bend your knees to allow the bar to rest onto the hooks.
If your depth in the Hatfield squat still isn’t getting better, here are 22 Exercises To Improve Squat Depth (That Actually Work).
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some frequently asked questions that I get regarding the Hatfield squat:
Do I Really Need a Safety Squat Bar for the Hatfield Squat?
Yes, you absolutely need a safety squat bar to perform this exercise. The Hatfield squat cannot be done safely using a standard barbell (or any other bar, for that matter).
What If I Don’t Have Band Pegs or Handles for Hand Support?
Not a big deal. If you don’t have either, you can simply hold onto the uprights of your rack instead. Just make sure you’re aware of how close the barbell will be to hitting the uprights. You’ll be close, so be careful.
What Are Hatfield Squats Good For?
Hatfield squats are great for adding variety to your squat training. They also can be useful for balance-challenged lifters, adding overload work to your program, or to rehab a lower back injury.
What Muscles Do Hatfield Squats Work?
The Hatfield squat works the quads, glutes, adductor magnus, trunk muscles, calves, and also targets the arms.
The Hatfield squat is a squat variation that permits the lifer to use their arms in order to assist with the exercise. The hands also lower the balancing demands of the movement.
Although the Hatfield squat is a fantastic regression and overload exercise with many benefits, lifters should learn the barbell back squat prior to attempting this variation.
About The Author
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.