Hack squats have been a popular addition to many people’s leg workouts for a while.
They seem to have gained a reputation for being a safer and somewhat easier version of back squats that can help build your leg muscles in a more controlled manner.
Now, you probably fall into one of two categories on this subject.
You either love back squats and believe there is no equal alternative.
Or, you think back squats are a good exercise but there may be others out there that are more beneficial for your personal goals.
In this article, we take a look at some safety tips when doing hack squats.
We also look at whether the reputation that hack squats has been given of being safer than back squats is actually true or if they are both equally as safe and effective leg exercises.
Safety Tips When Doing Hack Squats
To make hack squats as safe as possible you should:
- Only use the hack squat machine if you have been shown how to do so correctly.
- Lift weight appropriate to your current levels of fitness and strength.
- Point your toes slightly outward – this helps put more focus on your quads instead of your knees.
- Use the correct technique.
- Check the machine for any faults before using it.
Are Hack Squats Safer Than Back Squats?
In some ways, hack squats are safer than back squats.
That doesn’t mean back squats aren’t safe. It just means that there’s a bit more involved in the technique which can make them riskier for beginners.
One of the main reasons why hack squats can be safer than back squats is the support given to your upper body during the movement.
Back squats require a large amount of stabilization and correct body positioning to perform them safely and effectively.
The hack squat machine supports your upper back and encourages the proper technique to be used.
It’s much easier to do back squats wrong as you have no support or guidance during the movement.
Reasons Why Hack Squats Can Be Safer
As already mentioned, one of the main reasons why hack squats can be safer than back squats is the support the machine provides your upper body.
During back squats, a common injury area is the lower back.
When doing hack squats, your upper body is supported by the back of the machine which removes pretty much all of the strain from your lower back that back squats place upon it.
As your core and upper body muscles don’t need to work hard to keep your body stabilized during the movement, the risk of injury in this area of your body is lower.
Hack squats also tend to encourage correct technique more than back squats.
As hack squats are performed on a machine, it’s much harder to do something wrong, as the machine is designed to move in a very singular way.
If you’re trying to do something that isn’t part of the correct hack squat technique, the machine won’t move and you’ll have to correctly adjust your technique in order to do the exercise.
Another way that hack squats could be safer than back squats is that the risk of dropping or becoming trapped under the weight is massively reduced.
When you have a weighted bar on your back during back squats, if you fall or struggle to lift the weight, you can find yourself in quite a lot of trouble.
However, doing hack squats on a machine removes this element, as even if you can’t lift the weights on the machine, you should still be able to get yourself out of any predicament much easier.
Reasons Why Back Squats Can Be Safer
One of the key ways that back squats can be safer is in the amount of weight you‘re prepared to lift.
If you’re holding any weight you are trying to squat on your back, you’re likely to be much more careful about how quickly you increase the load.
It’s quite easy to get carried away with adding weight to a machine-based exercise, like hack squats, as you have more confidence that you won’t get injured, as the machine will be able to help you out.
Overtraining your muscles can quite quickly result in injury.
Overtraining is less likely to be done with back squats as you’ll be more conscious about how much weight you are trying to lift.
Back squats also develop strength in more muscle groups than hack squats, which can help reduce your overall risk of injury.
The stronger the muscles in your body are, the less likely they are to get injured during training (usually).
This is a big reason why back squats could be seen as the safer exercise in the long term.
Are Hack Squats Safer For Your Back?
During hack squats, your back and core muscles are placed under significantly less pressure than they are during back squats.
That’s not quite the full story though.
Although your back might be under less pressure during the actual exercise, unless you sufficiently train the muscles being left out of the movement – you could end up with a weaker core.
This can lead to an increased risk of a back injury.
This is something to keep in mind when thinking about your training as a whole, as you’ll need to make sure all muscle groups are worked equally.
Are Reverse Hack Squats Safer Than Back Squats?
It could be argued that reverse hack squats are safer than back squats simply because they’re performed on a fixed machine instead of using a free-moving weighted bar.
Even though your back comes into play more in reverse hack squats than standard hack squats, you still don’t need to stabilize yourself as you would during back squats.
This reduces the risk of injury during reverse hack squats compared to back squats.
Are Barbell Hack Squats Safer Than Back Squats?
In terms of weight placement and stress on your body, barbell hack squats are probably a bit safer than back squats.
With barbell hack squats, the weighted bar never gets moved into a position where it’s putting downward pushing pressure on your body.
If the weight is too heavy to lift, it can simply be dropped behind you with very little issue.
During back squats, the weight is sitting on the top of your back.
This puts you in a vulnerable position if you find you can’t actually lift the weight or if you become unstable during the exercise.
Are Hack Squats Safer Than Leg Press?
Both hack squat machines and leg press machines are pretty safe, particularly when compared to some of the large free-weight exercises such as back squats, deadlifts, etc.
It can be difficult to say which one is safer but the hack squat has a couple of features that could make you consider it the safer of the two.
During hack squats, the weight is supported through pads on your shoulders. This is a strong position to support a heavy weight in.
When using the leg press machine, the weight is supported only by your legs. While these are obviously large muscle groups, a slight slip or error can make the heavy part of the machine fall and cause some issues for you.
If you’re using an angled leg press machine, these aren’t as safe as hack squat machines as the weight is placed above your prone position.
This is not a good position to be in if the weighted platform falls towards you.
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.