The reverse hack squat is a killer lower body exercise for building leg strength, improving your squat, and increasing muscle mass. Here’s a detailed look at the reverse hack squat, including benefits, muscles worked, how to do it properly, and much more.
Get ready for one of the best lower body exercises you can do!
The hack squat is already one of the top machine-based leg workouts, thanks to its quad isolation.
But by turning around and switching to a reverse hack squat, you can adapt the way the exercise hits your leg muscles to make it even more effective.
Below, I’m going to tell you all about the reverse hack squat, how to do it, what muscles it works, the benefits, and so much more.
By the end of this post, you’ll be as convinced as I am that the reverse hack squat absolutely deserves a place in your workout.
What is the reverse hack squat?
To explain the reverse hack squat, we need to start off by explaining what a hack squat Is first.
A hack squat is a form of squat that uses a machine instead of free weights.
The machine for hack squats has a platform you stand on, a pad for your back and shoulders, a sliding rail that keeps the weights traveling in just one plane of motion (up and down), and a bar to put weight discs.
Related: Read our article on hack squat vs leg press to see why this is one of the leg exercises I highly recommend.
The exercise gets its name from George Hackenschmidt, an Estonian strongman and pro wrestler who popularized the movement among the Western world. It was created specifically to target your legs without loading your back.
By using the machine, you can isolate the quad muscles and keep them working TO THE MAX without straining your spinal muscles.
Now, the reverse hack squat changes things up a bit. With the hack squat, you stand with your back against the pad, facing away from the machine.
The reverse hack squat, however, turns you around so you’re facing the machine, with only your shoulders beneath the pads (no lower back support).
This makes it very similar to a landmine squat and delivers a vastly different sort of workout than the hack squat!
What muscles do reverse hack squats work?
The reverse hack squat works all of your lower body muscles:
The focus of the exercise is on the quads. Hack squats were created entirely for the purpose of isolating your quads, which makes them particularly useful for maximizing hypertrophy of this large leg muscle group.
With reverse hack squats, however, there is slightly more recruitment of the glutes and hamstrings rather than exclusive quad engagement.
Turning around to face the machine means you’re standing on an inclined platform, so your posterior chain leg muscles have to engage to keep your balance (preventing you from falling forward into the machine).
Your calves, too, also do the work of pushing your body back up from the squat, and they help to keep you stable/balanced on the inclined platform.
Benefits of the Reverse Hack Squat
What makes the reverse hack squat such a great exercise?
There are all the usual reasons to love about the hack squat—better quad focus, reduced lower back engagement, and no need for a spotter, to name just a few—but reverse hack squats add a few more specific benefits:
💪 Greater Hip Flexion
By changing the nature of the movement, you change the way you go through that movement. Specifically, your joints have to adapt by flexing and engaging in a different way.
With the hack squat, your knees do the majority of the work. Your upper body stays virtually unmoving because you’re pressing your back against the pad throughout the entire squat, and your knees do most of the work for that “pressing” action.
However, when you flip it around and turn to face the machine rather than leaning against it, you’re changing the way the weight is loaded on your body.
All of a sudden, there is far less knee flexion demanded, and your hips have to do more of the work of carrying the load.
You have to hinge your hips backward to lower the weight, leading to greater engagement (and strengthening) of the muscles that support your hips.
💪 Strengthen Your Front Squats
One of the best things about reverse hack squats is that they place the load securely on the front of your body rather than the back (like with regular back squats).
You’re facing the weight, which means an anterior load. Your body compensates by adjusting your form and posture the same way it would for front squats.
Related: Want more info on the benefits of front squats? Check out this article where I break down the nine reasons athletes (and casual gymgoers) should make the front squat part of their training.
What this means is that doing reverse hack squats will help to strengthen your body and increase your front squat capabilities.
Because you’re not leaning your weight entirely against the pad, there is a measure of instability that force your secondary stabilizer muscles to engage—similar to how they engage during front squats, though to a lesser degree.
When you make the switch to free weights, you’ll find you can front squat far more effectively thanks to reverse hack squats.
💪 Compound Strength Movement
Like every other compound strength movement, and one of my favorite benefits of the “old fashioned” hack squat, reverse hack squats are amazing for building raw strength and power.
You engage all of your lower body muscles in a single, highly effective exercise that will maximize hypertrophy and build muscle mass.
The fact that it’s less focused/isolating than regular hack squats is one of the reasons that it’s often more popular.
💪 Controlled Plane of Motion
No matter how much you wobble or waver, the weight will only ever slide up and down on its rail.
That means there’s no risk of tipping, falling over, or dropping the weight if you lose your balance. The restriction on your motion makes it one of the safest exercises you can do.
But what’s also amazing about working in a controlled plane of motion is that you can also pay more attention to your form and posture throughout.
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.
Because you don’t have to worry about keeping your balance, you can focus on the way your legs move, your knees bend, your hips hinge, and your core muscles contract on both the descent and ascent.
You’ll find that exercises like the reverse hack squat are amazing for helping you to master correct squatting form—which will translate into more effective squats when you shift to free weights.
Reverse hack squats are very likely one of the easiest of the squats to master. The machine does the work of keeping you stable and balanced, and you’re restricted to a single plane of motion (up/down).
That means there’s no stumbling or wavering, so you can just pay attention to the exercise and master it LIKE A BOSS.
It’s one of the best lower body options for newbies who are just learning the basics of squatting and want to max out on weight without putting themselves in danger.
How to Do the Reverse Hack Squat Like a Boss
If you’re ready to give the reverse hack squat a try, you’ve come to the right place! I’ll walk you step by step through the exercise so you can safely and effectively perform this truly next-level squat every single time.
Step 1: Load up the machine. Work with a “light” amount of weight at first—even just 20 to 50 pounds is a great place to start to figure out how much you’re actually capable of squatting. Remember: you can always load more on your next set/s, and it’s safer to work with less weight initially than overload yourself right out of the gate.
Step 2: Get into position. Step onto the hack squat machine, facing toward the machine (rather than resting your back on the pads). Stand with your feet spread roughly shoulder width apart, planted firmly in the center of the platform, with your toes rotated slightly outward (for both balance and more effective hip/knee movement).
Lean forward until your shoulders are pressing up against the shoulder pads. You can lean all the way forward until your chest is pressed against the back pad, or stay farther back so only your shoulders are touching the pad. Do what feels more comfortable and natural for you.
Step 3: Lift and prepare. Press upward with your legs to lift the weight off its cradle, then use the security handles to remove the “safety catches”. Now you’re ready to squat!
Step 4: Squat. Lower yourself under control into the squat. Focus on hinging the hips backward, thrusting out your butt to reduce lower back isolation, and keeping your knees tracking over your toes. Stop once your knees reach a 90-degree angle or your thighs are parallel to the platform.
Step 5: Drive upward. Drive your heels into the platform and use them to form a solid foundation for your legs as you push back up. Push until your legs are nearly straight, but DO NOT LOCK YOUR KNEES!
Trainer’s Note: Locking your knees transfers all the weight from your muscles onto the bones/cartilage/soft tissue of your joints , which can lead to injury or accelerate joint deterioration.
Step 6: Pause between repetitions. Pause for a 1-count at the top of the squat to give your muscles a second to adjust. Moving too quickly between repetitions will be more of a constant “pulsing” movement than a series of focused squats.
Step 7: Repeat as desired. Remember: working in the 4-6 rep range increases mass and power, working in the 8-12 rep range increases strength, and working in the 15-25 rep range increases endurance.
And just like that, you’ve mastered the reverse hack squat!
The Bottom Line
I’m firmly of the opinion that reverse hack squats are one of the all-time best machine-based leg exercises.
While the regular hack squat is excellent for isolating your quads, the reverse hack squat increases engagement of the other lower body muscles and hip flexion.
This leads to better overall lower body strength and agility—in my opinion, far more important markers of fitness than monster quads.
If you’ve got a hack squat machine at your gym, give this exercise a try on your next Leg Day.
You may just fall in love with it, and it will make a truly effective addition to your lower body workouts.
More Hack Squat Guides and Articles
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Hack Squats vs. V Squats: What’s the Difference? 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.