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Hack Squats vs Front Squats (Which Builds Bigger Legs?)

If you’re trying to add some challenging exercises to your lower body training program, you may be wondering whether front squats or hack squats will be more beneficial for you.

In this article, we compare front squats and hack squats in terms of the muscles worked in each one, the difficulty level, the variability, and we also look at some safety considerations too.

topless man doing a front squat in a gym

Hack Squats vs Front Squats: What’s The Difference?

Although the movement involved in front squats and hack squats is similar, the exercises themselves are actually quite different.

Front squats are a free weights exercise that uses a weighted barbell as resistance, whereas hack squats are a fixed-resistance exercise that uses a machine to generate the weight being lifted.

Many of the muscles worked in both exercises are similar although there are a few differences in the amount of stress each working muscle is placed under during the movements.

Are Hack Squats or Front Squats Better For Quads?

Both hack squats and front squats put a lot of focus on your quads.

Doing either one of these exercises will be a great way of building some strong muscular thighs.

However, there are arguments that say hack squats are a bit better for quads but there are others that say front squats are better.

If we break each exercise down, you’ll see why either one might be considered better for your quads.

Front squats limit the amount of weight you can lift quite a bit.

This is mainly due to the fact that your back (and other working muscles) tend to fatigue fairly quickly.

With a lighter weight being used, it could be argued that front squats won’t be as effective for quad development.

That being said, during front squats, your body and working muscles aren’t supported in any way other than by their own natural strength and activation.

As your quads have to work hard during the exercise with assistance from unsupported secondary muscles, it makes sense why some people say front squats are better.

During hack squats, you can lift more weight as your upper body is supported by the hack squat machine.

This eliminates the need to lift a lighter weight to help keep all the working muscles from tiring.

As you can lift heavier weights with hack squats, they could be seen as the better exercise for quads.

Front squats and hack squats are both very effective quad-building exercises.

If you want to overload your quads more though by lifting a heavier weight, hack squats will probably be a better choice for you.

Are Hack Squats or Front Squats Better For Hamstrings?

Your hamstrings activate during hack squats and front squats but they certainly aren’t the primary muscles being targeted.

Both exercises focus on the quads more than any other muscle.

Your hamstrings will come into play in pretty much equal measure in both exercises, so there is no clear winner when deciding which one is best for this muscle group.

Are Hack Squats or Front Squats Better For Glutes?

All squats work your glutes to some degree.

Like with your hamstrings, neither one of these exercises primarily focuses on your glutes so it’s difficult to say that one is better than the other.

Variability of Front Squats and Hack Squats

Front Squats

Front squats aren’t a particularly versatile exercise.

The position of the bar limits how much you can alter the exercise.

However, you might decide to use dumbbells instead of a barbell.

This can be a good way of varying the exercise, but it’s worth keeping in mind that you’ll need to be able to lift the dumbbells into position, limiting the amount of weight you can lift.

Hack Squats

Usually, fixed-resistance exercises (like hack squats) have limited variability.

However, hack squats can be turned into reverse hack squats by turning around in the machine.

This brings more muscles into play including your back and core. 

Hack squats can also be performed with a barbell by holding the weight behind your calves (almost like a reverse deadlift).

The Verdict

Hack squats offer more variability than front squats.

Not only can you use the hack squat machine in a different way (reverse hack squats), but you can also perform the exercise with a barbell instead of the fixed-resistance machine.

(Watch below to discover how to use the hack squats machine for reverse hack squats!)

Difficulty of Front Squats and Hack Squats

Front Squats 

Front squats can be hard to perform correctly.

The biggest challenge most people face is that the bar is held on the front of your body which is quite a weak position to be in.

The way your wrists and elbows have to move in order to get the bar in the right place can also be challenging for some people.

The movement involved in front squats is pretty straightforward but the positioning makes things a bit harder.

Hack Squats

As a general rule, fixed-resistance exercises will be relatively easy to perform.

This is because most of the machines won’t move and let you do the exercise unless you’re moving in the appropriate manner for the movement.

The hack squat machine supports your upper body during the exercise so your back and core don’t play much of a role.

This keeps the focus more on your lower body which tends to be stronger.

As a result, hack squats have a relatively low level of difficulty.

The Verdict

Hack squats are usually a bit easier to perform than front squats.

Holding the weight on your shoulders through the pads of the machine keeps things more comfortable than the sometimes awkward positioning needed for front squats.

Safety Considerations When Doing Front Squats and Hack Squats

Like with all exercises, there are two main safety considerations to keep in mind when performing front squats or hack squats. 

The first is that any weight being lifted should be suitable and appropriate for your current strength ad fitness levels.

Trying to lift too much weight can increase your risk of injury by quite a lot, so a gradual increase in weight is always sensible.

The second safety consideration is to make sure that your technique is correct for both exercises.

Both of these movements (although front squats a little more so) can put stress on your knees, shoulders, and wrists as well as the working muscles.

Even small errors in your technique can put excessive stress on the working muscles or joints which can quite easily lead to an injury.

Barbell Hack Squats vs Front Squats

Barbell hack squats and front squats are both effective exercises for targeting the lower body, but they have some key differences. Here’s a comparison of the two exercises:

Barbell Hack Squats

  • Technique: In barbell hack squats, you hold the barbell behind your body, allowing it to hang down behind your legs. You then perform squats while keeping your torso upright and knees bent.
  • Targeted Muscles: Barbell hack squats primarily target the quadriceps (front thigh muscles), hamstrings (back of the thigh), and glutes (buttocks).
  • Grip: The grip used in hack squats can be challenging for some individuals, as it requires good grip strength and flexibility.

Front Squats

  • Technique: In front squats, you position the barbell in front of your body, resting it on the front of your shoulders. You then squat down while keeping your torso upright and elbows lifted.
  • Targeted Muscles: Front squats primarily target the quadriceps, but they also engage the core muscles, upper back, and thoracic spine to a greater extent compared to hack squats.
  • Rack Position: The front rack position used in front squats can be challenging to master initially, as it requires mobility and flexibility in the wrists, shoulders, and upper back.

Hack Squats vs Front Squats: Which Is Best?

Front squats and hack squats both have effective roles to play in leg-building programs.

If you have a good foundation of strength (particularly in your back, core, and quads), then front squats could provide you with a good challenge. 

If you prefer your leg exercises to offer you more support and greater variability, then hack squats may be better suited to you.

That’s all for this article, but are front squats harder? Or you’re maybe wondering why front squats hurt shoulders?

Hope this helped!


Front Squats Muscles Worked

Hack Squats Muscles Worked