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Why Are Hack Squats So Hard? (How To Make Them Easier)

Hack squats are a popular leg exercise, known for their intensity and ability to target the lower body muscles.

However, many people find hack squats to be hard compared to other squat variations.

In this article, I explain the reasons behind the difficulty of hack squats and the factors that contribute to their intensity.

By understanding these challenges, you can better navigate your training and make the most of this valuable exercise for leg development and strength gains.

Woman doing a hack squat in a gym

Understanding The Hack Squat Exercise

The hack squat exercise is a compound movement that primarily targets the muscles of the lower body, including the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings.

Unlike traditional squats, hack squats are performed with the body positioned at an angle, typically using a specialized hack squat machine or a barbell placed behind the body. This positioning places a unique demand on the muscles and mechanics involved.

By positioning the weight behind the body, hack squats shift the center of gravity, which can make it more challenging to maintain balance and stability throughout the movement. The exercise also places a significant emphasis on the quadriceps, making them a key target muscle group.

Understanding the proper form and technique for hack squats is crucial to maximize the benefits and minimize the risk of injury.

It’s important to maintain an upright posture, engage the core for stability, and perform the exercise through a full range of motion while keeping the knees aligned with the toes.

Why Are Hack Squats So Hard?

Hack squats can be challenging for several reasons:

Unusual Body Positioning

The hack squat exercise involves positioning the body at an angle with the weight behind the body.

This unique positioning places a different demand on the muscles and mechanics compared to traditional squats, making it initially more difficult to find stability and balance.

Greater Quadriceps Emphasis

Hack squats heavily target the quadriceps, particularly the vastus medialis (inner quad muscle).

The emphasis on the quads can make the exercise more demanding, especially if you have weaker quadriceps compared to other leg muscles.

Load Distribution

Placing the weight behind the body during hack squats alters the load distribution compared to front squats or traditional squats.

This can make the exercise feel more challenging, as the muscles need to adapt to the different force application and stability requirements.

Limited Hip Involvement

Hack squats generally involve less hip engagement compared to other squat variations. This reduced hip involvement can make the exercise feel more quad-dominant and demanding on the lower body.

Balance and Stability Demands

Maintaining balance and stability during hack squats can be challenging, especially for beginners.

The positioning of the weight can require greater core activation and overall body control to execute the exercise correctly.

How Do You Make Hack Squats Easier?

If you find hack squats to be challenging and want to make them easier, here are some strategies to consider:

Decrease the Weight

Reduce the weight or resistance you’re using during hack squats.

This allows you to focus on perfecting your form and gradually build strength without overwhelming your muscles.

Modify the Depth

Limit the range of motion by performing partial hack squats. Start by squatting to a comfortable depth and gradually increase the depth over time as you build strength and flexibility.

Focus on Eccentric Phase

Place more emphasis on the eccentric (lowering) phase of the hack squat. Slowly control the descent and focus on maintaining tension in the muscles. This approach can help build strength and control gradually.

Incorporate Assistance Exercises

Strengthening supporting muscles can make hack squats easier.

Include exercises such as leg presses, lunges, step-ups, and Bulgarian split squats to improve overall leg strength and stability.

Why Is My Hack Squat So Weak?

Several factors could contribute to a weaker performance in hack squats:

  • Muscle Imbalances: Weakness in the muscles involved in hack squats, such as the quadriceps, glutes, or hamstrings, can lead to a weaker performance. Identifying and addressing these imbalances through targeted strength training can help improve your hack squat strength.
  • Technique and Form: Incorrect form or technique can limit your strength and power in hack squats. Ensure you’re maintaining proper posture, engaging the correct muscle groups, and using a full range of motion. Working with a qualified trainer or watching instructional videos can help you refine your technique.
  • Lack of Specific Training: If hack squats are not a regular part of your training routine, your muscles may not be accustomed to the movement, leading to weaker performance. Consistent practice and progressive overload can help improve strength over time.
  • Limited Mobility or Flexibility: Poor ankle, hip, or thoracic mobility can restrict your range of motion in hack squats, limiting your ability to generate force. Incorporating mobility exercises and stretching routines specific to these areas can improve your performance.
  • Mental Factors: Confidence, focus, and mental preparedness can also impact your performance. Ensure you’re in the right mindset and approach each set with determination and a positive attitude.

Are Hack Squats Harder Than Barbell Squats?

For most people, barbell squats are harder than hack squats as they use more secondary muscle groups. This results in more effort being exerted by the whole body.

Hack squats work some muscles harder than normal squats though.

For example, you have more quad activation during hack squats compared to normal squats.

So while hack squats work certain muscles harder, barbell squats demand more from your body.

Are Reverse Hack Squats Harder Than Regular Squats?

Regular squats require more muscles to work together than reverse hack squats. 

While reverse hack squats are harder than regular hack squats*, the movement is still supported by the machine making them easier than normal squats.

When doing normal squats, there’s nothing to support you other than your muscles, so more effort is required to perform the exercise effectively. 

(*During reverse hack squats, your upper body isn’t supported by the machine. As a result, your core muscles have to engage to help keep your body balanced.)

Are Barbell Hack Squats Harder Than Regular Squats?

Barbell hack squats are a great squat variation if you want to put more focus on your quads. 

Your quads work harder during barbell hack squats than they do when performing a normal squat. 

That doesn’t make barbell hack squats the harder of the two exercises though, as normal squats need a much higher level of muscle activation in order to move the weight. 

The main muscles worked during regular squats are:

  • Glutes
  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Lower back
  • Upper back
  • Core
  • Hip Flexors
  • Adductors

The main muscles worked during barbell hack squats are your quads, with secondary muscles such as hamstrings and glutes coming into play as well. 

As normal squats activate more muscles, and because the weight is being supported above your centre of gravity, they are harder than barbell hack squats. 

Are Hack Squats Harder Than Leg Press?

Man working out on leg press machine in gym

Leg press and hack squats are quite similar, making it hard to decide which one is more challenging. 

Both exercises activate several large lower body muscle groups such as your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. 

As they’re both machine-based exercises too, your body gets some level of support when doing either exercise. 

The main difference between leg press and hack squats is in the level of complexity each movement has. 

In simple terms, hack squats require more body movement, meaning they’re a more complex exercise than the leg press. This makes them a slightly more challenging exercise too. 

If you’re trying to choose which one of the two exercises you want to add to your training program, it’s worth looking at your goals.

For example, if you’re looking to get a stronger lower body to help you lift heavier when doing normal squats, then hack squats will be a better option. 

If you’re focussing more on size and aren’t too concerned with adding strength, then leg press is your best bet. 


In summary:

  • Most people find hack squats so challenging because they have weak quads and they’re unfamiliar with the movement.
  • But like with any other exercise, hack squats become easier over time.
  • Normal squats are typically harder than hack squats since they work more muscles and you don’t have a machine helping you stay balanced.

That’s all for this article, but why do you get lower back pain from hack squat? Or perhaps you’re interested in hack squat vs reverse hack squat?

Thanks for reading!


Hack Squats Muscles Worked