Hack squats and V squats are both excellent tools for developing a strong lower body. In this article, we look at the main differences between these exercises, including benefits, muscles worked, and much more.
Hack squats are one of the all-time favorites for machine-based leg workouts, but V squats aren’t far behind.
Both of these exercises have something unique and special to offer, which is why most people will use their hack squat machine for both hack squats and V squats.
At first glance, the two exercises look like two variations on the same movement, and it’s only when you look closer and try them for yourself that you realize there are differences.
But what are the differences between them? If you’re (like me) trying to max out the effectiveness of every training session, I have no doubt you want to know which is the most effective, safest, and “best bang for your buck”.
That’s what we’ll find out in this article!
Below, I’m going to take a deep dive into the two exercises, giving you a closer look at what makes a V squat different from a hack squat, compare the differences between them, and really drill down to find out which exercise deserves greater emphasis in your training sessions.
Get ready for an in-detail look at two of the best machine-based lower body exercises around.
Let’s jump right in.
Hack Squat – Overview
Let’s start off with the hack squat, the exercise that gives the machine its name.
The hack squat is a squatting exercise that focuses chiefly on your quads. You stand on an inclined platform with your back pressed against a pad and the weight resting on your shoulders (from behind).
When you squat, the entire hack squat pad lowers with you, allowing you to press both backward and upward to lift the weight.
Hack squat machines will often feature a sliding rail, or may simply be an upper body pad/weight rack on mechanical arms that move when you squat. The goal of the hack squat is to remove your core from the equation, focusing entirely on your lower body.
- No/less strain on your lower back. Because your back is supported, there is virtually no engagement of the spinal erector muscles, meaning a significantly lower risk of lower back strain.
- More quad focus. The machine is designed to focus entirely on your quadriceps muscles, often to the exclusion of your glutes and hamstrings. This helps you to build monster thighs and serious front-of-leg power.
- Safe and stable. The machine keeps you balanced and fixed in a single plane of motion, so you can safely do the exercise, even if you have balance issues or joint problems.
V Squat – Overview
The V squat is a variation of the hack squat, often performed on the same machine (though it can be done with free weights, too) as an alternative to your standard hack squat.
With the V squat, your feet are shifted slightly wider than the standard hack squat, with your toes pointed outward. This forms a V-shape with your toes and allows your knees to track outward (rather than directly forward in a straight line).
Some of the benefits of V squats include:
- More natural movement. Because your hips and knees track more outward, the squat may feel more natural and easier on your joints.
- Works your lower body. Not only is the exercise focused on your quads, but it recruits the rest of your lower body muscles to maximize overall leg strength.
- A good variation on the standard. Changing up your routine by incorporating different exercises will help to avoid boredom and demotivation. Switching from hack squats to V squats is a great way to spice things up.
Hack Squat vs V Squat: What are the Differences?
💪 Difference 1: Angle of Incline
This isn’t the case across the board, as hack squat/V squat machines come in both inclined and vertical design.
However, a lot of hack squat machines are inclined at an angle, a design with helps to further isolate the leg muscles and reduce lower back engagement.
As you lean back against the pad, the weight rests entirely on your quads, maximizing focus on these thigh muscles while simultaneously removing any weight from your spinal muscles. This is why hack squats are so much better at targeting your quads.
V squats, however, are typically done on a vertical machine. Your plane of motion is still limited by the machine, but rather than working at an incline, you’re squatting straight up and down. Because of this, your back has to engage slightly more, so there is some core muscle recruitment along with your quads.
💪 Difference 2: Joint Movement
Hack squats are typically performed with your toes pointed straight forward, and your knees tracking directly forward over your toes.
This limits your hip flexion, putting the majority of the work squarely on your knees (and ankles, depending on foot placement).
Related: Get yourself ready by warming up and using the right stretches for peak performance. Check out this guide to my favorite pre-workout stretches for leg day at the gym.
With the V squat, because you’re adjusting the angle/rotation of your legs, your hips move more (and more naturally) than with hack squats. A lot of trainees find it a more comfortable choice because there is less knee flexion and more hip flexion—ergo, a better balance between the upper and middle leg joints.
💪 Difference 3: Knee Strain Risk
One of the things that hold a lot of lifters back from spending more time on the hack squat machine is the amount of strain it puts on their knees.
Your posture during hack squats reduces knee flexion and removes the lower back from the equation, which means your knees end up doing the vast majority of the work during the squat.
When you have to push back up to standing position, there is a large amount of pressure on your knees because of the near-sitting position at the bottom of the squat. For those with knee issues (and even those with “healthy” knees), this can be a cause for concern.
V squats are far easier on your knees because they increase hip flexion and take the pressure off your knee joints. For anyone struggling with knee issues, V squats are the safer, less pain-inducing variation.
💪 Difference 4: Hip Mobility
Hip mobility is always an important factor for us to consider. In our modern lives, we spend so many hours a day sitting down that our hips become stiffer and less mobile. It takes concerted, concentrated training to increase hip mobility—which means that any exercise that targets the hips deserves inclusion in your workouts.
As mentioned above, hack squats limit hip flexion, making your knees do most of the work. V squats, on the other hand, allow your hips to hinge normally in a natural-feeling range of motion.
Related: In this guide to hack squat foot placement, I cover the 7 different foot positions you can use on the hack squat machine, including muscles worked, benefits of each, and more.
As a result, they’re better for not only increasing your hip range of motion, but also strengthening the hip muscles through the full squatting movement.
Better hip strength and mobility will translate into more efficient overall movement, agility, and fitness across the board!
💪 Difference 5: Muscle Recruitment
One of the reasons hack squats became so popular initially was because they isolated the quads, removing almost every other muscle from the equation and placing all the focus on the largest leg muscle group. Trainees who want to develop monster quads will typically max out on the hack squats for this very purpose.
Unfortunately, isolation exercises—while great for building a single muscle/muscle group—are less effective for your overall fitness than compound exercises that engage multiple muscles/muscle groups.
Hack squats may give you those huge thighs you want, but V squats will make you stronger overall, and that strength will help you in every other squatting and lunging exercise you do.
💪 Difference 6: Lower Back Strain Risk
For people who are worried about their lower back, hack squats are typically one of the best leg exercises to do.
The exercise isolates the quads and removes the lower back almost completely from the equation.
There is virtually no spinal muscle engagement through the squat, which makes it a very safe exercise for people who are recovering from lower back injury or surgery.
Related: Read our hack squat vs leg press post for a more in-depth breakdown of how the hack squat machine stacks up against another lower body machine—the leg press.
V squats also reduce lower back engagement, but not to the same extent as hack squats. It’s still a safe option, but not the best for training your legs while giving your spinal muscles a break.
💪 Difference 7: Mimicking Natural Squat Movement
If you compare the two exercises, you’ll find that hack squats are a lot more like wall squats (with your knees pressing you backward as well as upward), while V squats are more like regular front/back squats.
In fact, V squats are as close to free weight squats as it gets—more so than leg presses, hack squats, and Smith machine squats. If your ultimate goal with your training is to increase your squat strength overall, V squats are the better choice for you.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, both V squats and hack squats have their pros (and cons). For some people, the hack squat will be a better choice because it will help them build massive quads and protect their lower back.
For others, the risk of knee strain is too high, and they want the more natural range of motion allowed by V squats.
Ultimately, both of these exercises have something great to offer, and it’s up to you to test them out for yourself and see which fits your current condition/fitness goals best.
You may find that both serve you well, but one ends up getting more priority than the other because of how much it helps you reach your objective—whether that be thicker thighs or better overall agility and squatting power.
More Hack Squat Guides
⭐ Best Hack Squat Machines for Home and Commercial Gyms. Ready to take leg day to the next level? Here’s a look at the best hack squat machines for home and commercial gyms.
Hack Squat vs. Back Squat: Differences, Benefits, and When to Do Each. Squats are king when it comes to lower body muscle and strength. In this guide, we look at the differences between the hack squat and the traditional back squat, including the benefits, disadvantages of each, and more.