Make The Barbell Hack Squat Better

Make The Barbell Hack Squat Better

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.

The barbell hack squat is an old school strength exercise that’s been used for decades by bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts alike to build strength in the quads, glutes, and hamstrings.  It also tends to be much more low-back friendly as the load is under the center of mass rather than in front. 

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Unfortunately, the barbell hack squat can be fairly awkward and feel quite unnatural for many individuals.  One of the main reasons for this is that the lifter essentially has to produce slight anterior hip and knee drift on the concentric phase at the midpoint of the movement in order to avoid having the barbell run into the glutes.  As a result this can produce faulty mechanics as the lifter has to contort their body and produce slightly dysfunctional mechanics to complete the lift.  Simply put many lifters will have to abandon the all-important“hips back” cue as the bar simply won’t be able to move into the top position with ideal squat or deadlift mechanics.

In fact, one of the main modifications lifters will make to the hack squat is to elevate their heels slightly on plates or a small platform to create a more upright body position.  Although this can make the lift feel more natural and eliminate a portion of the aforementioned issue, i.e. the bar running into the glutes, it also decreases the total tension to the posterior chain.  Simply put the movement becomes a bit more of a quad isolation movement rather than a well-rounded lower body lift.

With that said if your looking for a hack squat variation that allows the lifter to maintain ideal squat mechanics without sacrificing form, activation patterns, or optimal body positioning you’ll want to give this constant tension eccentric isometric hack squat a try. 


To perform this variation of the hack squat you’ll simply focus on the bottom half of the movement by performing constant tension eccentric isometrics.  Take a slightly narrower stance approximately 10-12 inches apart and grip the barbell with a hand placement that’s slightly wider than shoulder width apart. 

Once you lift the bar and it reaches the thighs and touches the hamstrings, rather than trying to contort your body and push your hips forward as a means of pulling the bar past/around your butt, you’ll simply pause at that position for several seconds.  After this several second pause you’ll then slowly return to the bottom of the movement where you’ll also pause for an additional several seconds essentially performing an eccentric isometric.  

You can also use smaller weight plates to create a deficit position.  This provides even greater constant tension as you won’t set the weight back to the floor throughout the set.

Benefits of The Modified Barbell Hack Squat

There are 10 benefits of this particular hack squat modification. 

1. Places ample tension on the entire lower body including the quads, glutes, and hamstrings

2. Allows the lifter to train both the squat and deadlift pattern at the same time

3. Reinforces proper hip hinge mechanics throughout

4. Ingrains the idea of loading through the hips and heels rather than shifting anteriorly towards your knees and toes

5. Reinforces proper postural mechanics and spinal alignment due to the strict and rigid body positioning

6. Provides constant tension in the bottom half of the movement thereby producing a significant hypertrophy stimulus due to the occluded stretch.

7. Takes advantage of all three mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy including muscle damage, metabolic stress, and mechanical tension.

8. Targets the upper back and traps as well as shoulder retractors

9. Provides a more joint-friendly squat and deadlift movement as the load will be relatively light in comparison to the intense training stimulus.

10. Helps clean up squat and deadlift mechanics due to the elimination of momentum.

Practical Application

Try incorporating this modified barbell hack squat into your next leg workout.  I suggest using 50-60% of the load you would typically handle on deadlifts and aim for 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps per set.  Just be prepared for a massive burn in your lower body followed soon thereafter by some serious growth.