Hack Squat Vs Leg Press (Difference Between Leg Machines)

Hack squats and leg presses are very similar. It’s often hard to decide which fits better into your routine. Your time is precious – don’t waste it on exercises inefficiently aligned with your goals. Plus, if you’re injured, choosing wrong can increase pain and bodily damage.

Let's explain the main hack squat vs leg press differences. 

Hack squats are a compound exercise performed using a specific hack squat machine. They target the glutes and quads by loading the weight onto the back and shoulders, like a back squat. The calves, core, adductors, and spinal erectors in your back will also see use. Regular performance of hack squats also aids flexibility and mobility through the hip and knee flexion needed for good form. 

While similar to squats, they move further away from traditional squat techniques, focusing less on the hamstrings, and causing less back strain. 

Hack squats are great for lifters working towards mastering traditional squats. Their core and upper engagement make them a good fit for a well-rounded workout. Athletes will also benefit significantly from the increased hip extension.  

They cause less back strain than similar exercises but do not eliminate it entirely. Those with minor injuries may find them useful – although it is important to proceed cautiously.

Related Article - Hack Squat Alternatives

Hack Squat Vs Leg Press (Difference Between Leg Machines)

How to perform a hack squat: 

  1. 1
    Enter the machine, placing your shoulders against the pads. 
  2. 2
    Position your feet in a squat stance. 
  3. 3
    Turn off the stoppers and stand up. 
  4. 4
    Place both hands on the grips near your shoulders. 
  5. 5
    Squat down slowly by bending your knees. 
  6. 6
    Once your glutes and knees are parallel, pause. 
  7. 7
    Reverse the previous movement by driving with your heels, glues, and legs – but not your knees.

What We Like 

  • Great for developing ultra-strong quads. 
  • Excellent range of motion, especially for the hips. 
  • The core, back stabilizers, and upper body muscles are also involved in the exercise. 
  • Less back strain than many equivalent exercises. 

Things We Don’t 

  • The design of some shoulder pads may cause discomfort. 
  • Allows less weight to be lifted than leg presses. 
  • Some gyms lack appropriate machines. 

Leg Press Overview (Pros & Cons Explained)

Leg presses also use a specific leg press machine, but the main difference between leg press and hack squat exercises is that these focus entirely on the lower body. Unlike hack squats, they do not work the core or shoulders. Instead, the quads, glutes, calves, and adductors see the focus.

Leg presses are perfect for someone looking for a machine-based routine for leg day. If you’re looking to develop that ‘X-frame’ athletic build, they are ideal as they work to thicken your lower body while making the waist look narrower. However, lifters looking to master traditional squats will find this exercise less helpful.  

They're also great for fitness fanatics who have suffered back or shoulder injuries, as no strain is put on these body parts. 

Read Also - Leg Press Alternatives

man doing heavy leg press

How to perform a leg press: 

  1. 1
    Lie down with a straight back in the machine and place both feet flat upon the platform in a squat stance.  
  2. 2
    When ready, disengage the safety stoppers. 
  3. 3
    Engage your core and slowly straighten both legs to push the platform out.  
  4. 4
    At the top of this movement, pause without locking your knees. 
  5. 5
    Slowly reverse the previous movement until you return to your starting position. 

What We Like 

  • Builds strong glutes, quads, and knee extensors. 
  • Avoids placing strain on the back or shoulders. 
  • Stance can be varied to lower strain on the knees or change muscle focus.  
  • Leg press machines can accommodate more weight, giving greater room for growth. 

Things We Don’t 

  • More minor hip extension than many equivalent exercises. 
  • Easy to overload weight. 
  • Improper form can lead to asymmetrical muscle development. 
  • Limited use for those who prefer well-rounded compound exercises. 

Hack Squat Vs Leg Press Differences: Which One Is More Effective?

In terms of popularity, leg presses are performed by more gym-goers. This is usually down to the prevalence of leg press machines and their core role as a leg-day exercise.

However, whether a hack squat machine vs leg press machine is better for your needs will depend on what exactly those needs are. Both offer a great leg workout, but they are not an effective substitute for one another.  

That’s why we’ve broken it down into the following sections: 

1. Muscles Worked

Leg presses will almost always be better for those looking to focus on lower body improvement. At the same time, hack squats are usually superior for those seeking a more well-rounded compound exercise. Let’s look at the muscles they work. 

Leg presses primarily work the quads. You can even increase the demand on your quads by placing your feet closer to the platform's bottom. The glutes see some focus too, but this is minimized by the lack of full hip extension. Your hamstrings, calves, and thigh adductors will see some activation too. 

Hack squats primarily target the quads too. However, they also work the hamstrings, glutes, calves, hip flexors, core, and the spinal erectors in your back. This is thanks to the greater range of movement and increased need for stabilization. It also means the glutes and hamstrings are worked harder than with leg presses.

This makes hack squats much better for building mass. However, for building strength, leg presses allow greater weight overload, and their focus on the quads is perfect for building strength for future deadlifts. The simplicity of leg presses often makes them a better choice for beginners too.

If you're focused on building your quads, another great exercise for leg day is leg extensions. Read our complete guide on the differences between leg press vs leg extension.

2. Equipment

In terms of equipment, both exercises require specific pieces of kit, so it really depends on what your gym (or home workout space) has to offer. 

Leg press machines are often much more common than hack squat machines. This can be a big advantage, as you can more safely rely on access to them and not have to adjust your routine if they’re unavailable.

Hack squat machines have some drawbacks of their own, too. Depending on the make and brand, some people find that the shoulder pads can cause them unnecessary pain or discomfort, which can demotivate or distract you from the routine.  

However, when it comes to hack squat machines, there is not much variation from one machine to another. Leg press machines, on the other hand, come in a few different varieties. For example, some may require the weight to be pushed horizontally, while others use a 45-degree angle. While this does not make a huge difference, it is something to consider if you value consistency. 

See Also - Best Leg Press Machines 

3. Biomechanics

One crucial difference between leg presses and hack squats is the range of movement. The greater amount of motion and flexion achieved with a hack press will improve flexibility, mobility, and increase the work of muscles other than the quads. Conversely, a low range of motion is one of the main drawbacks of leg presses.

It is important to standardize this range of movement across your hack squat reps. Be consistent with the depth of your movement's reach. An ideal depth is as low as you can go while keeping your heels in complete contact with the platform. You should also avoid locking out at your knees at any point. 

Achieving good form for leg presses is much simpler, although this makes it more difficult to know if you're doing it wrong. Start by ensuring all your presses go adequately low; your thighs should end up parallel or below. Another common mistake is rounding the lower back. This takes the emphasis off your quads, removing the main point of the exercise. 

Finally, many beginners set the leg press machine's pad angle too high. This does allow you to lift more weight, but it also decreases the range of motion – which should be strictly avoided.

4. Ease of Use

Beginners especially will likely want to consider the difficulty of their chosen exercise.

Leg presses are undoubtedly the easier of the two. The machines are simple and straightforward, allowing more weight to be lifted. However, this can be deceptive. It is vital to ensure your form is good, despite the simplicity, as poor form can reduce benefits or even make one leg develop faster than the other. Overloading the weight too quickly can also lead to knee issues. 

Hack squats, however, wear their difficulty on their sleeve. This is largely down to the fact your torso is fixed in place, so you won’t be able to rely on other muscles like in other squat variations.  

People with weaker quad muscles will find hack squats especially difficult. This can be addressed by adopting a wider stance or lowering the total weight while performing additional repetitions. With demanding exercises like these, never underestimate the benefits of starting slow and gradually building up to greater weights.

If you're still struggling with hack squats, try some exercises that isolate your quad muscles (like leg extensions) for a while before making another attempt.

5. Weight Used

We touched on this briefly above. Hack squats use the shoulders primarily, as well as the back, to bear weight. This allows greater weights to be lifted than the traditional back squat. 

However, you must still proceed with caution. It is still very possible to overwhelm the strength of your torso, which is the limiting factor with hack squats. Experiment with lower weight loads before moving up to avoid any unnecessary injury or pain. 

Conversely, leg lifts allow significantly larger loads of weight to be lifted, as the back and shoulders play no part as limiting factors. This does not mean being reckless with weight increases is without risk, however. Be careful to increase your leg lift weight load only gradually, as doing so too rapidly can cause knee injuries. 

Hack Squat Machine

Hack Squat Vs Leg Press FAQs 

Are hack squats as good as regular squats? 

Hack squat machines don’t require as much stabilization as a regular back squat. This means that regular squats give a more comprehensive full-body workout. While hack squats do work the hips and upper body, they do not do so as effectively. 

However, one great benefit of hack squats is safety, as there is a much lower risk of back strain. 

How often should I do hack squats? 

For optimum development, we would recommend incorporating hack squats into your workout regiment twice per week. They make an excellent addition to leg day, which we all know is important not to skip! 

Are hack squats bad for knees? 

While the assistance of a machine does make hack squats less intense on your knees and back than other squats, you will still be at risk of some potential strain. 

To avoid unnecessary risk, start with smaller weights and work gradually upward. People with a history of injuries and issues should proceed cautiously and talk to their physician before attempting. 

Is leg press enough for legs? 

Leg presses work best as part of a balanced leg workout, combined with other leg exercises like curls, extensions, or deadlifts. Variety is important to ensuring all key areas of your body are being worked. 

If you can’t decide between leg presses and hack squats, you could always try doing both on leg day. 


Conclusion

To summarize, both exercises have their merits. 

Hack squats are better for a well-rounded workout that improves multiple areas with an extensive range of motion. They're also great for gaining muscular bulk in your legs.

Leg presses are superior if you want to focus strictly on the legs, strength training for deadlifts, or if you have back issues. Happy exercising!