I’m often asked in the gym: Why are hack squats so hard?
After doing hours of research, I found 6 reasons which explains why they’re so challenging. These are:
- 1. You Have Weak Quad Muscles
- 2. You’re Not Used To The Position
- 3. Your Legs Are The Biggest Muscle Group
- 4. You Don’t Hack Squat Very Often
- 5. You Expect Them To Be Difficult
- 6. It Can Be Hard To Focus During Hack Squats
Let’s explore these in more detail.
1. You Have Weak Quad Muscles
Hack squats require greater activation from your quads.
As a result, they have to work harder in order to move the weight.
If your quads are weaker than other muscles used in a traditional squat, then hack squats will feel harder.
During back squats, there are some big muscles all working together to move the weight. But in hack squats, less muscles are engaged resulting in more emphasis being placed on your quads.
Weak quads can be assisted by other muscles in back squats, but this isn’t the case for hack squats.
2. You’re Not Used To The Position
If you have little experience with hack squats, the change in position and setup compared to back squats can make them feel harder.
When performing back squats, the weight is held on the top of your back. But during a hack squat, you are on a machine with the pads sitting on your shoulders.
Moving from a free weights exercise (back squat) to a machine-based exercise (hack squat) can be a challenge if you’re not used to it.
Even aspects such as having to stand on a footplate, rather than the floor, can make hack squats feel harder than regular squats.
3. Your Legs Are The Biggest Muscle Group
When you work out, blood flows to your muscles to help give them oxygen and nutrients for energy.
(This increased blood flow is what gives you the infamous pump.)
Now, since the legs are the biggest muscle group in the body, your heart must work even harder and faster to ensure enough blood is flowing to them during hack squats.
As a result, you have blood from all over your body flowing to your legs at a rapid pace.
This puts your body through a lot of stress.
4. You Don’t Do Hack Squats Very Often
As good as hack squats are, they’re done much less often than other leg exercises, like regular squats and lunges.
Now, the less familiar you (and your muscles) are with an exercise, the harder you’ll typically find them to be.
This all boils down to mind-muscle connection.
If you’re someone who doesn’t do hack squats often, you’ll likely find the exercise to feel awkward and unnatural.
But like with any movement, the more you practise it, the more natural it feels.
So, practise, practise, and practise some more.
5. You Expect Hack Squats To Be Challenging
Never underestimate the power of the mind.
Since hack squats have so much stigma around being difficult, you approach them with dread and a mindset that they’ll be hard and uncomfortable.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you and say that hack squats are easy.
After all, this article is all about why they’re so hard!
But if you go into hack squats with the mindset that they’ll be grim, they’ll appear even more challenging!
(Similar to how if you anticipate an exam to be hard, you’re more likely to perform badly.)
6. It Can Be Hard To Focus During Hack Squats
As covered earlier, when doing hack squats, blood is directed from all over your body (including your brain) to your leg muscles to provide them with oxygen and nutrients.
But, your brain also needs a lot of oxygenated blood to function optimally.
When this blood is diverted from your brain, your brain stops working optimally which can make it hard to focus on your training.
The mind-muscle connection is real, and any disruption to this mind-muscle connection can make an exercise a lot more challenging.
Are Hack Squats Harder Than Normal Squats?
For most people, normal 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, regular back squats demand more from your body.
Are Reverse Hack Squats Harder Than Normal Squats?
Normal 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 Normal 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 normal squats are:
- Lower back
- Upper back
- Hip Flexors
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?
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.
- 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!
I’ve been in the fitness and strength training industry for nearly a decade. In that time, I’ve gained 30 pounds of muscle, written hundreds of articles, and reviewed dozens of fitness supplements. As for my educational background, I’m a currently studying for my Active IQ Level 3 Diploma in Personal Training.