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Squats are commonly touted as the king of all strength exercises. The barbell squat is a staple for a strong, powerful lower body.

But because the squat requires a lot of strength and skill to master, other options have been developed over the years.

The hack squat is one such exercise. It allows lifters to destroy their legs with more weight in a safer way.

But while the hack squat is an excellent leg exercise, it’s not available to everyone.

Whether it’s a lack of availability, discomfort, or you just plain don’t like doing it, this article has something for you.

This list of hack squat alternatives covers all the bases of a hack squat. 

Some exercises mimic the movement pattern. Some provide the same back support, while others target the major muscle groups.

Plus, we’ll ensure there are options whether you’re working out in the gym or at home.

Finally, check out the workout templates using these exercises for you to try your next leg day.

Keep reading for the best hack squat alternative.

Muscles Used in the Hack Squat

The hack squat is a compound lower-body push exercise, requiring coordination of the hip, knee, and ankle joints.

The prime movers in this exercise include:

  • Quadriceps femoris (large ‘quads’ on the anterior thigh):
    • Rectus femoris
    • Vastus lateralis and medialis (outer and inner portions)
    • Vastus intermedius (deep thigh muscle)
  • Gluteus Maximus (large superficial ‘butt’ muscles responsible for hip extension)
  • Hamstrings (posterior thigh muscles):
    • Biceps femoris
    • Semitendinosus and semimembranosus
  • Gastrocnemius (outer ‘calf’ muscle aiding in knee flexion in the squat)

While these muscles perform the squatting action, many other muscles stabilize and support the hips, knees, and ankles.

The hack squat machine performs much of the work usually performed by the abdominals and spinal erectors in a free weight squat.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Hack Squats

Advantages

Stabilization and support: The hack squat machine takes balance out of the equation, making it mechanically and metabolically less challenging than a barbell squat.

Squat stronger: The decreased energy required to stabilize the trunk muscles during the hack squat means more effort can be put into the squat itself.

One study found that one-repetition maximum (1RM) strength can be up to 18.2% higher in the hack squat than the barbell back squat.

Disadvantages

Missed opportunities: While the added support of the hack squat has the advantages mentioned above, it also means that the body misses out on certain adaptations.

The free weight squat recruits a lot more muscle overall, particularly through the deep stabilizing muscles of the trunk.

Accessibility and expense: While hack squats are an amazing exercise, that doesn’t help you if you don’t have access to a hack squat machine. 

Many gyms don’t have a hack squat machine, so there are alternatives in this article using more common machines.

Whatever your reason for not doing hack squats, we want to provide you with a bunch of options to get the same benefits using what you have available.

11 of the Best Hack Squat Alternatives

1. Leg Press

Related: Leg Press Foot Placement

Your gym may not have a hack squat machine, but they more than likely have a leg press.

While it doesn’t provide quite the same range of hip extension, this exercise is very close to the hack squat in terms of muscle recruitment and safety benefits.

These machines allow you to adjust your foot placement to perform many variations of the movement.

Research has found that these variations in leg press technique can help target different muscles.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Leg press machine

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Set up the machine with appropriate seat angle, weight, and foot positioning.
  • Take up the slack with the legs and release the safety lock.
  • Hold the handles and brace the entire body, with a strong grip and core.
  • Breathe in as you lower the weight towards you.
  • Keep the lower back and hips firmly pressed into the back rest.
  • Hold the bottom position, then breathe out as you press through the entire surface of both feet.
  • Extend the legs without locking the knees, and repeat.

Pro Tips:

  • You can alter the foot position higher, lower, wider, or narrower to change the emphasis of the exercise.
  • There are different types of leg press machines, such as a 45-degree leg press or horizontal leg press.

2. Smith Machine Hack Squat

The smith machine is another piece of equipment a gym is more likely to have than a hack squat machine.

With the right foot placement, the smith machine squat can be used to closely replicate the movement of the hack squat machine.

While it relies on the bar instead of a full back rest, this exercise still allows a great focus on the legs without having to balance the bar.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Smith machine
  • Weight plates
  • Padded bar cover (optional)
  • Resistance band (variation)

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Rack the bar across your upper back, supporting with a comfortable grip.
  • Step your feet forward slightly and at a comfortable width.
  • Press your back into the bar and drop the hips straight down.
  • Lower until your thighs are below parallel to the floor.
  • Squeeze the glutes, thighs, and abs, breathing out as you press up to the starting position.
  • After all repetitions are completed, carefully re-rack the safety hooks.

Pro Tips:

  • You can tie a resistance band to the bar and anchor it to the floor for additional resistance.
  • If your smith machine has an incline angle, make sure to set up with the angle moving backward as you lift.
  • Check out our recent article for more information on using the smith machine, including how to determine the weight of the bar.

3. Swiss Ball Wall Squat

Our first home exercise option on this list, the exercise ball wall squat is the best way to replicate the hack squat at home.

Studies on the swiss ball squat have shown that it achieves the same muscle activity as the squat, with a much lower perceived exertion.

If you don’t already have a fit ball lying around the house, it’s worth picking one up to do this move during your home workout.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Swiss ball
  • Dumbbells

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Place the ball on a wall at the level of your low back, just above the butt.
  • Lean into the ball and walk the feet out slightly in front, in line with the knees.
  • If you have dumbbells, hold them on either side of the hips with the arms hanging straight down.
  • Keep the chest up and the feet firmly planted as you lower down into a squat.
  • Lower until your thighs are below parallel if possible; the ball should end up at your upper back.
  • Drive through the feet as you press up and back, returning to the starting position.

Pro Tips:

  • If you haven’t tried this exercise before, experiment with a few bodyweight sets before adding weight.
  • Add difficulty by slowing the tempo or adding pauses at the bottom of each rep.

4. Bulgarian Split Squat

Another great leg exercise that can be done anywhere, the Bulgarian split squat (BSS) is the first of several single-leg exercises on this list.

Single-leg movements are a critical part of a leg program for athletes. The BSS has been shown to be correlated with sprint ability as well as agility.

The main benefit of this exercise is that it allows a large range of hip motion – even greater than the hack squat.

When the Bulgarian split squat has been compared to the back squat, it has come out on top for training hip extension while minimizing stress on the knee.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Bench, couch, chair, or other elevated surface
  • Dumbbells (optional)

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Place your back foot on the elevated surface behind you.
  • Set the front foot so the hip and knee will form 90-degree angles at the bottom of the exercise. 
  • Hold the weights on either side of the front leg, keeping the hips and torso square.
  • Squat down with the front leg, keeping most of the weight in the front foot.
  • Lower down until the thigh is at least parallel and there is a good stretch in the back hip.
  • Engage the glutes and quads and keep the upper body posture straight as you press up to the starting position.

Pro Tips:

  • If you’re doing this exercise at home with no dumbbells, you can use a resistance band as alternative resistance.
  • If possible, perform this exercise facing a mirror to monitor the alignment of the front knee throughout the movement.

5. Reverse Lunges

Another effective single-leg compound exercise that replicates the leg movement of a hack squat is the reverse lunge.

One study showed the reverse lunge to be effective at developing the quads and glutes while producing the lowest shearing forces in the knee.

Reverse lunges can be done anywhere, and add an element of coordination to the split squat.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Dumbbells (optional)

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Stand straight with the feet shoulder-width apart, holding dumbbells at either side of the hips.
  • Keeping the upper body upright, step one foot back, keeping the same shoulder-width distance between the feet from a front angle.
  • Plant the ball of the back foot down, and lower down into the lunge.
  • Keep the knees tracking over the ankles, and reach a 90-degree angle in the front knee.
  • Engage the core and breathe out, driving through the feet as you step up and forward back to the starting position.

Pro Tips:

  • You can repeat all desired repetitions on one leg to increase muscle fatigue, or alternate legs to create a higher demand on the cardiovascular system.
  • Again, make sure the hips, knees, and ankles stay in optimal alignment to avoid strain or injury.

6. Bodyweight Squat

The simple bodyweight squat is one of the most widely used exercises, and for good reason!

The squat is a highly functional movement pattern used in so many daily activities, from picking up boxes to getting off the toilet – a pretty useful skill.

While not the most heavy-duty exercise, the squat can be used to build strength, muscle, and endurance when you have nothing in the way of equipment.

And because there is no external weight, the load (or lack thereof) on the spine is similar to the hack squat.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • None!

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Stand with the feet at a comfortable width and angle for your body, keeping the knees tracking over the toes.
  • Reach the arms forward, cross them over the shoulders, or place the hands behind your ears.
  • Start by sitting the hips back as if onto a chair, then bend the knees as you lower into the squat.
  • Descend as low as you can, keeping the eyes up and the spine straight.
  • Pause briefly at the bottom of the squat, then press up to the starting position.

Pro Tips:

  • This might seem like a relatively easy exercise, but it’s worth mastering this fundamental movement pattern before adding load.
  • If you want to progress the difficulty but don’t have any weights, use higher repetitions or slower tempo to increase the burn.

7. Goblet Squat

Once you’ve mastered the bodyweight squat and you’re ready to add some weight, the goblet squat is the way to go.

When compared with other front-loaded exercises like the landmine squat, the goblet squat is a better hack squat alternative.    

This is because goblet squats create more vertical load and increase quadriceps activity.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Kettlebell
  • Dumbbell (variation)

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Stand in the same squat starting position as the previous exercise.
  • Hold the weight on top of the chest, with the elbows tucked to the sides of the body.
  • Track the knees over the toes and keep the chest elevated as you lower into the squat.
  • Notice the weight on the front of the body lets you sit back into your heels more.
  • Breathe out and drive through the heels to stand back up to the starting position.

Pro Tips:

  • If you don’t have any weights at home to use, try filling up a backpack with books, cans, or sand – anything to add some additional resistance.
  • You’ll notice that you may be able to get deeper into this kind of squat, so it’s great to build extra mobility.

8. Belt Squat

A lesser-known exercise, the belt squat achieves the same goals as the hack squat. 

By hanging the weight from the hips instead of loading the shoulders and traps, the belt squat emphasizes the leg muscles with less load on the spine.

While there are belt squat machines out there, they are relatively rare – so we explain the protocol for the home version.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Two boxes / sturdy benches / steps with gap between
  • Weight belt
  • Kettlebell
  • Weight plates (variation)

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Strap the weight belt comfortably around your lower back.
  • Loop the chain through the weight plate hole or kettlebell handle and secure it to your belt.
  • Use your arms to help lift the weight as you step up onto the boxes.
  • Perform the squat action in the same way as the bodyweight squat above.
  • Be careful as you step off the boxes and lower the weight to the ground before unloading.

Pro Tips:

  • There are many variations with this exercise. You can loop your belt around a barbell landmine setup, anchored resistance band, or any weighted object.
  • Keep your hands ready to steady the weight during the exercise so it doesn’t swing too wildly.

9. Leg Extension

This exercise aims to isolate the quadriceps for when they need additional work, without extra fatigue on the rest of the lower body.

This exercise is a favorite of bodybuilders who want to grow the ‘tear drop’ heads on their quads.

The foot orientation on the leg extension can be altered to emphasize different portions of the quadriceps.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Leg extension machine (pin or plate loaded)

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Set the back rest at a slight incline to allow greater range of motion for the rectus femoris.
  • Set the weight to the desired level.
  • Set the seat distance so that the crease of the knee is just over the edge of the seat.
  • Set the leg pad so it comes across your lower shin just above the ankles.
  • Sit with the hips back in the seat, using the handles to pull yourself down into the seat hard.
  • Pointing the toes forward or slightly inward, contract the quads to lift the pad.
  • Squeeze and hold the contraction at the top of the movement.
  • Slowly lower down to the starting position.

Pro Tips:

  • Try the single leg variation if you struggle with any muscle imbalances between legs.
  • If you’re training at home, you can make a DIY leg extension with a chair and resistance band.
  • If you like the Jeff Nippard video explaining the leg extension, you might be interested in our full breakdown of Jeff’s bear mode style of bulking.

10. Glute Bridge

To balance the quad focus of the leg extension, the glute bridge targets – you guessed it – the glutes.

This exercise also recruits the hamstrings and lower back stabilizers, making it a good hip extension option.

To create even more of a butt-burn that will blow up your glutes, adding a resistance band around the legs has been shown to further increase glute activation.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Barbell (optional)
  • Kettlebell / dumbbell / sandbag (optional)
  • Resistance band (optional)

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Lie on the floor with the knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and the arms by the sides.
  • Your feet should be hip-width apart, with the heels close enough that you can reach them with your fingertips.
  • Start by consciously squeezing the glutes, and press the feet into the floor.
  • Roll up from the bottom of the hips, lifting the butt before the lower back.
  • Squeeze and lift the butt as high as possible without arching the lower back.
  • Keep the glutes engaged as you lower down, resting the back on the ground before the hips.

Pro Tips:

  • Don’t allow the knees to shift inward or outward during the movement.
  • There are also a huge variety of ways to perform this exercise, with Bosu balls, swiss balls, weight benches, and more.
  • If you’re working out at home with limited gear, a good progression is the single-leg version.

11. Wall Sit

Finally, we have what is essentially an isometric hack squat, which can be done at home, the gym, or anywhere else you like.

This exercise is especially effective for strengthening all the target muscles at any weak point in the range of motion.

Throw a few sets of these in for an awesome leg day finisher!

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Wall or sturdy post
  • Swiss ball (variation)

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Simply place your back on a wall, sliding down until your hips and knees are bent at 90 degrees.
  • Cross the hands over the shoulders to avoid using the arms.
  • Keep the knees aligned over the toes.
  • Squeeze all of the leg muscles and press the feet down into the ground.
  • Hold as long as possible, then use your hands to press up off the wall to stand up.

Pro Tips:

  • If you have a swiss ball, place it behind your back for an extra challenge to your balance and core endurance.
  • You can sit a weight plate or other weight on your lap for added resistance.
  • Other modifications include squeezing a soccer ball between the thighs, or looping a resistance band around the knees to further engage the adductors or abductors, respectively.

Hack Squat Alternative Workout

After reading through this list of hack squat alternatives, you might have an idea of which of these exercises might be a good fit for your situation.

The following workout examples provide options for beginners and advanced lifters to add these alternatives into their leg routine.

For each ability level, there is also an option for gym exercises using the available machines, or for home exercises with minimal equipment required.

Beginner Hack Squat Alternative Workout

GymHome
Leg press 3×10Swiss ball squat 3×10
Bulgarian split squat 3×10Reverse lunges 3×10
Leg extension 3×10Glute bridge 3×10

Advanced

GymHome
Smith machine squat 4×15Goblet squat 3×20
Bulgarian split squat 3×12Bulgarian split squat 3×12
Single leg extension 3×12Swiss ball wall sit 3xMAX

These tables outline the resistance training section of the program. The appropriate warm-ups, cool-downs, and any other modifications are up to you.

For progression, you can add weight to your lifts, additional sets throughout the week, or push for more reps each session.

Keep in mind the exercises here are replacements for the hack squat, so you may need to add a couple more exercises for a complete lower body workout.

Final Thoughts

What are your thoughts on our hack squat alternatives list? We hope this article gave you a few ideas for how to replace this exercise and still improve the size and strength of your legs.

Let us know why you can’t do hack squats, and any additional replacement exercises you use, in the comments!

If you have a friend or family member who could use some ideas for effective leg exercises to try at home or the gym, be sure to share this article to give them some inspiration.