The hack squat and front squat are both great variations to the back squat that place a greater emphasis on the quadriceps. So, which one is better and which should you focus more time on?
Front Squat VS Hack Squat
If your goal is muscle hypertrophy then the hack squat is the better choice. It allows you to use a lot more weight to overload the quads. The pad against your back takes all stabilizing muscles out of the movement, meaning that your legs completely take over. If your goal is to work stabilizer muscles and expose weak body parts, then the front squat is the better option.
Full Hack Squat Guide
Before performing the hack squat, make sure to thoroughly stretch out your entire legs including your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and inner thighs. This will not only prevent injury, but also get blood into the muscles and prevent them from tearing.
You will need a hack squat machine. Start with no weight to get your legs warmed up and slowly increase weight as needed.
Place your feet shoulder width on the machine with your back against the pads. Release the safety handles and inhale a deep breath before lowering down as low as you can go. Press down against the pad to drive yourself back up.
In the hack squat, the weight rests directly above the shoulders which makes the movement easier on your upper body.
This takes other muscles out of the movement and makes your legs do all the work. By holding your body in place with the legs placed in front of the body, the quads are the main drivers in the hack squat.
Don’t have a hack squat machine at your gym? Try the barbell hack squat variation. It is very similar to a conventional deadlift, except the barbell is placed behind the legs instead of in front of them.
Stand in front of the barbell with it touching the back of your calves. With your feet shoulder-width apart, squat down and grasp the bar with an overhand grip just outside your thighs. Keep your back straight and chest up. The form is very similar to the conventional deadlift.
Push off of the floor with your feet as the bar comes up close behind your legs. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement. You want to keep the bar as close to the back of your legs as possible throughout the movement.
Check out this video for more information on the barbell hack squat.
Benefits Of Hack Squats
The hack squat platform is designed so that the heels sit slightly higher than the toes. This gives you a lot more stability and prevents you from having ankle mobility issues that you might have in a traditional squat or front squat.
Another great benefit of the hack squat is its injury prevention. A lot can go wrong in the front squat. Good ankle mobility, knee mobility, core and upper back strength is required. All of these variables are removed by having a pad against your back.
Due to these reasons, the hack squat is the best movement for building the quads, as you can overload them without worrying about having to stabilize your body.
The quads aren’t the only muscles worked. Your hamstrings are activated to a great extent and you may actually feel them more than in a back squat as you don’t have to balance your body.
It’s also a lot easier to engage your core also as your body is locked into position. Without worrying about balancing a barbell or stabilizing your body as in a traditional squat, you can directly focus on squeezing your core.
Getting stronger at hack squats will translate over to other leg exercises such as the squat and deadlift. It’s no surprise that stronger legs are key factors in blowing up your squat and deadlift.
Hack Squat Drawbacks
If you have limited mobility, then your lumbar spine can become stressed by squatting too low with your back pinned against the machine. If you notice pain or discomfort when going all the way down, don’t squat as low.
Since your natural movement is taken out and you’re using a fixed range of motion, the lower back can have to do a lot of work if you shoot out of the movement too quickly. To prevent this, keep your hack squats slow and controlled.
People with back pain or knee pain should be wary when implementing hack squats. Knee sleeves are a smart purchase. However, if any discomfort occurs its best not to do them.
Note that proper stretching and warming up before the exercise will eliminate most issues.
Front Squat Guidelines
Start with the bar at your chest level on the rack and grasp it just outside shoulder width. The bar should be touching your upper chest and your fingers resting on the bottom of the bar with your palms facing up.
The backs of your hands will be resting against your upper chest with the barbell inside them.
When lowering into the squat, keep your elbows up, knees out, and heels planted on the ground.
Keep your spine neutral and your chest and head up. Looking down will cause you to lean forward. Keeping your arms straight and elbows up will also help with this.
Don’t think of sitting back into the squat, but rather sitting straight down. This will also help keep you from tilting forward.
The front squat will build your core and back as they are used as stabilizer muscles.
The front squat has proven to be more beneficial for those with knee issues. The front squat is great for improving your back squat. If you can master front squat form, it will help a great deal with your back squat form.
It will also strengthen your leg muscles for other big movements such as the squat and deadlift.
Front squats will improve flexibility in many major joints.
Front squats are great for exposing weaknesses in your physique that hack squats or back squats never would. If you have issues keeping your chest up, have a weak core, have any mobility issues in the arms, or a lack of ankle flexibility these will become known in the front squat.
These imbalances can be hidden in other squat variations as other muscles can jump in to help. The front squat is very efficient in strengthening weak muscles.
Due to the amount of stabilizer muscles that come in to play, people usually can not do front squats properly for many reps. If you are new to the exercise, this will happen even sooner.
Your upper back, core muscles, and forearms must be able to keep going, not just your legs. If any of these parts fail, then you risk using improper form and possibly injuring yourself.
Many people can suffer wrist and elbow pain from the front squat. Wrist wraps may be a smart idea, or using a cross body grip to mitigate this.
So Which Is Better?
If your goal is building leg muscles, then the hack squat is the more effective option. It allows you to pack on more weight and strictly target the quads.
It is also the better choice for beginners as not much form is required.
The front squat is the better choice if you want to build your stabilizer muscles such as your core and back muscles.
Both the hack squat and the front squat place more emphasis on the quads.
Due to not having the stabilizer muscles involved, the hack squat allows more weight to be piled on, overloading the quads to a greater extent.
It is also a lot easier than the front squat. If you are a newer lifter, the hack squat will be more efficient.
This is because you simply set up yourself in the machine and squat. There is really no form required and it’s pretty difficult to mess up.
However, the front squat requires you to use your entire body rather than just mainly your quads. Your upper back, core, and glutes play a big role in stabilizing the weight since you don’t have a pad against your back.
You also must keep your chest up and back straight to prevent the weight from falling forward. It is not possible to fall forward in the hack squat.
This is another factor that make the hack squats easier for beginner lifters. If your back and core aren’t developed enough, it will be very difficult to perform a front squat properly.
The wrist mobility required to do a front squat is also a reason why many people cannot perform it.
Hack squats are also a great alternative to those intimidated by back squats or front squats. Newer lifters may be scared to get under a barbell and squat. But getting on a machine where your body is locked in can be easier mentally.
Consider your footwear. A flat heel is best for squats as it will give you a solid surface to push off of. If you are using cushioned soles, your ankles risk swaying back and forth, which can lead to injury. Here’s a cheap yet effective pair of power lifting shoes on Amazon. If not, any flat sole shoe will work.
My suggestion is to place both into your training. Start increasing weight with the hack squats to build leg muscles that will translate over to your front squat. Start learning front squat form and performing it with lightweight.
Both of these are great movements and having both in your training will greatly benefit you.
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