How To Use Hack Squat Machine (Exercise Guide & Tips)

Most people dream of big arms, a toned chest, or a flat stomach when they start exercising. Leg day gets a lot of hate, but leg strength is essential to overall fitness. 

If you're struggling with leg day, try out a hack squat machine. A hack squat machine will work your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. It will also strengthen your core and back muscles, and it's safer than a traditional squat using a barbell. 

In the guide below, we will discuss how to use a hack squat machine so you can get the most out of leg day. 

Squatting is a fundamental part of our natural movement. Squatting is one of the first movements we do as toddlers, and we continue doing it for the rest of our lives. That's why squats should be a core part of any exercise program. The hack squat machine gives you another way to enhance your squatting ability. 

The hack squat started in Germany and was first made famous by the wrestler George Hackenschmidt in the early 1900s. The hack squat machine consists of two tilted, parallel rails, a back support sled connected to weights, and a platform to stand. The rear support sled has two shoulder bars to keep the user from sliding up past the pad and handholds above or below the top of the pad.  

Hack squats are great for beginners because they are safer than barbell squats since you won't have to balance free weights, and there's no risk of falling backward or forward. Your thighs, quads, and hamstrings are the main muscle groups engaged when performing a hack squat, depending on your foot position. 

If building solid quads is one of your fitness goals, you should definitely try to incorporate hack squats into your regular routine. 

Read More - Hack Squat Vs Leg Press

How To Use Hack Squat Machine (Exercise Guide & Tips)

How To Use A Hack Squat Machine Correctly

Each squat machine will be different, but they will all work the same way. Check the instructions on your machine before you start doing the exercise. 

  • Before you begin, choose the weight you want to lift. With the hack squat machine, most people can lift more weight than a barbell squat. 
  • To start, place your feet flat on the plate and lean back into the back pad. Your feet should be far enough forward to allow you to get into a deep squat. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes facing slightly outwards. 
  • Grab the bars by your shoulders and push up to standing first to lift the catch off the machine. From here, squat down, hinging down from the hips so that your glutes become parallel with your knees. Absorb your weight into your heels. 
  • When you reach the bottom of the squat, drive back up to standing. Push from your heels, glutes, and legs, never your knees, and don't fully lock out your knees at the top.  
  • Once at the top of the movement, inhale, and go again. 

Those are the basics of the move. Below are a few tips to maximize the effort you put into your work on the hack squat machine. 

  • Never lock your knees. Keep your legs slightly bent, even at the top, to avoid injury and keep tension in the muscles. This allows you to work your legs to their fullest potential. 
  • Focus on keeping your abs engaged throughout the entire movement. 
  • Don't try to push yourself too hard. Most people should aim for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps while slowly adding weight. Pushing yourself too hard can easily result in injury. 
  • Be sure to always keep your head and back pressed firmly against the pad. This protects your spine and ensures that you work the correct muscles. 
  • Always keep the weight in your heels so you achieve maximum muscle engagement. 
woman using hack squat machine

Hack Squat Machine Exercises (Tips + Muscles Worked)

Since the hack squat machine is a fixed machine, there aren't a lot of variations to the exercise you can do. However, some people will do a reverse hack squat. Instead of having your back against the pads and facing outwards as you squat, you face the machine and remove the back support to do a reverse hack squat. This allows you to better engage your glutes and hamstrings. 

In addition to doing the hack squat in reverse, your foot placement on the platform also affects the muscles you use most during a hack squat. For example, placing your feet higher on the platform shifts the load to the glutes and hamstrings. Conversely, having your feet low on the platform puts almost all of the load on your quads.  

Another factor in foot placement is width. Having wide feet places more of the work o your inner thigh. Feet closer than shoulder-width will work your outer thigh more.  

The angle of your feet will also affect the leg muscles you use. Finally, you can also angle your feet in or out. This foot position is most relevant when you have your feet low and close together on the platform. Pointing your toes in works more of the outer sweep of your quad, while pointing your toes out works the teardrop above your knee. 

Learn More - Foot Placement Guide For Leg Exercises

man using a hack squat machine

How Many Reps Should I Do On A Hack Squat Machine?

The number of reps that should be done on a hack squat machine will vary from person to person. The number of reps you should do will depend on your current fitness level and what your goals are.

For the most part, the ideal number to reach muscle failure is 8 to 12 repetitions and 3-4 sets with a minute or two rest between each set. Once you accomplish this, increase your total weight by 5-10%.  

If you're looking for more of a cardio workout, you want to do lighter weights with more, faster repetitions. If you want to build lean muscle, increase your weight, lower your repetitions, and take your time while doing the moves. 

Frequently Asked Hack Squat Machine Questions  

How do you do hack squats at home? 

If you don't have a hack squat machine at home, there are a few alternatives. The barbell hack squat is a close variation to the machine-based hack squat exercise. You apply load by holding a barbell behind your legs with this move. The goblet squat is also comparable to the hack squat but uses a dumbbell or kettlebell to apply load instead of a machine. 

See Also - Hack Squat Alternatives

How do you release a hack squat machine? 

Each hack machine comes with a safety mechanism. Releasing the back squat machine means you are removing the safety mechanism. The safety is typically located somewhere on the side of the machine. Disengage it and breathe in as you lower yourself until your legs are at, or just past, a 90-degree angle to begin the movement. 


While a flat stomach, big arms, and six-pack abs are all worthy goals, don't neglect your legs when you start working out. Working your legs helps improve your overall athletic performance and supports healthy movement patterns in your daily life. The hack squat machine is a great starting point if you aren't sure where to start with your leg workouts. 

Last Updated on December 18, 2022

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Andrew White

Andrew White is the co-founder of Garage Gym Pro. As an expert fitness professional (gym building nerd) with over 10 years of industry experience, he enjoys writing about everything there is to do with modern fitness & the newest market innovations for garage gyms. When he isn’t testing out products for his readers, he’s usually out surfing or playing basketball.