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December 05, 2021 3 Comments
Have you ever seen someone at the gym doing a lower body exercise using a machine with shoulder pads? Further, they're facing the machine and as they come down, stick their butt out so everyone can see? Well, this slightly odd-looking exercise is known as the reverse hack squat.
Yes, it may take some courage to build up the confidence to give it a go the first time, but once you do, you'll be laughing at all those who are too embarrassed to use it. Why? Because you will have learned how effective the reverse hack squat is for strengthening the entire lower body and stacking on pounds of lean muscle. In the article, you'll discover
Time to put your pride aside and learn about this tremendously effective (and slightly funny-looking) leg exercise.
In order to understand the reverse hack squat, you need to understand what a normal hack squat is. Most people would assume that a regular hack squat is just when you turn around on the machine with your back on the pad. This actually makes a lot of sense as that explains why it's called a 'hack squat"; hack as in something that makes life easier.
However, that would be a wrong assumption.
The hack squat is actually named after an old-timey strongman and wrestler by the name of George Hackenschmid. So the "hack" is actually just a shortened version of his last name as no one wants to say, "Today I'm going to train some Hackenschmid squats, what about you?"
“Hack” (I'm using the shortened version too) was like most of the weightlifters during that time in that he created movements that he thought would be beneficial. There were no rules about what you could or couldn't do. Well, Hack wanted to target the quads more while taking a load off the back. What he came up with was that by standing in front of a barbell, he would be in the perfect position for what he wanted when he went down to pick it up. His body was much more upright to take a load off his back while increasing knee flexion for the quads. He would then stand up to full extension and bring it back to the ground. In reality, it looks more like a “hack deadlift” than a hack squat but hey, we didn't write history.
Decades later, when gym machine equipment began to be built, the machine hack squat was built and for the most part took the place of the traditional barbell hack squat.
This new machine version was built so that a sled (for which you put your back against) could move freely up and down a track that was at a slight angle. The trainee would put his back on the pad and shoulders tight against the shoulder pads. To perform the movement, they would place their feet on the platform and squat down (allowing the back rest to come with it) until (and so that) the knee joint was at a 90-degree angle. Once down, they’d simply push back up (almost) perfectly replicating the barbell variation (angle-and-muscles worked-wise).
As "Hack" had envisioned, this machine version takes a significant amount of stress from the lower back while placing a larger percentage of the load on the quadriceps. This is because when coming down, there's less hip flexion that occurs, which is needed for more posterior activation, specifically your hamstrings. Therefore, the quads would take over.
The reverse hack squat has you use the same machine but turn around while facing the machine. Obviously, your back is not on the pad, so you simply place your shoulders under the pad to set up. You then come down by flexing your hips and pushing your butt back. If we were to compare it to another exercise, the movement looks very similar to a landmine squat due to the angle.
The reverse hack squat is going to train all of your lower body muscles, including:
When we examine the movement of a hack squat with a reverse hack squat, we can actually see the biomechanics are quite different. If we remember from above, the original hack squat was meant to target the quadriceps. This happened as the shins stayed parallel to the body (vertical if the machine was not angled backward) and the knees flex at a 90-degree angle when the hip joint hits knee level. This means there is a significant amount of knee flexion yet a smaller amount of hip flexion, thus making the movement quad dominant.
The reverse hack squat flips this and is performed with a significant amount of hip flexion. While the original hack squat has 90 degree hip flexion as the body comes down, the hack squat will cause the torso to lean forward as well creating something in the range of 60 degree hip flexion. This is because of having the back supported, your back is completely clean during the reverse hack squat and you actually must shoot your hips back to allow the weight to lower. While the regular hack squat depends on knee flexion for the weight to come down, the reverse hack squat relies on hip flexion.
Due to this hip flexion, the reverse hack squat will rely on hip extension to drive the weight up meaning your hip extensors will be getting hammered. What are your hip extensors? In this context, we're talking about your glutes and hamstrings. While you'll still hit your quad as you'll have knee flexion, when compared to the hack squat, the reverse hack squat should produce much higher activation in the posterior muscles.
However, that makes the two a perfect pair! Hack for the quad, reverse for the hams!
First, you'll need to make sure that your gym has a hack squat machine. If not, go below to look at some reverse hack squat alternatives that don't require a hack squat machine. Assuming you have one, here is how to properly perform the reverse hack squat.
1) Walk up to the machine and stand on the platform. Your reverse hack squat foot position will depend on the angle of the sled and pads. You will want to find the spot where when you are pushing up, you are driving in line with the movement angle of the pad. This is where you want to stand
TIP!!!! If you want to target the anterior muscles or posterior differently, you can simply alter your reverse hack squat foot position e. If you stand forward more, you will cause more knee flexion for greater quadricep activation. On the contrary, stand back for greater hip flexion for higher glute and hamstring activation.
2) Next, be sure that the shoulder pads are at an appropriate height. The pads should be at a level so that you can easily lift up to unrack the bar while also not being so low that you start in a squat. Your knees should be slightly bent when your shoulders are firmly placed on the shoulder pads
3) When your shoulders are in place under the pads, extend your legs and unrack the weight.
4) Now you're ready for the descent. Remember, the movement is hip-driven, so push your hips back so your body can lower. Be sure to maintain a tight torso so remember to brace your abs!
5) Once you come down, so your thighs are parallel with the ground, you're ready to propel yourself up. Drive-up by pushing your hips forward and pushing into the ground. Think of yourself as a missile (a very slow missile) driving the sled up.
Tip!!! Take your time with this movement and adjust your position until you find a comfortable spot. Due to their nature, all machines are slightly different, so you may find that your body is totally different on different machines. Also, your biomechanics could be slightly different as some machines may have more hip flexion while some will require a more upright back.
As the reverse hack squat can look ridiculous (it's actually not too bad), we know you'll need some convincing to get on the platform and stick your ass out. Here are the top reverse hack squat benefits that will convince you you need to be doing these.
Less Stress On Your Back
The reverse hack squat is a good choice for those who may have some weaker lower backs or are returning from injury. Because the load is placed on the shoulder and follows a fixed path, the movement is easier on the back muscles when compared to the barbell back squat.
However, there will be a more significant load when compared to the normal hack squat as the back is supported during that exercise. To be clear, stress on the lower back is not necessarily a problem if you are able to brace correctly and have the core strength to lift safely. Unfortunately, once in a while, all of us have certain conditions or circumstances where a little support may help. If you find yourself in a position where you'd like some back support while squatting, give the reverse hack squat ago.
Allows More Volume
One of the benefits of performing the barbell back squat is that it does put a load on the lower back. This requires a powerful core to overcome, so anyone with a strong squat MUST have a strong core. That being said, performing a lot of back barbell back squats can fatigue the lower back before the legs are entirely done. In other words, while your lower back might be done, your legs could use a lot more training. This is why we love the reverse hack squat, as it allows us to continue placing a large amount of load on our legs while relieving the stress from the lower back. This is extremely important as studies show that volume is the main driver for hypertrophy and strength. In other words, generating more volume over time means more gains. You could also say, more reverse hack squat means more gains.
Can Be Used For Both Strength And Hypertrophy
The reverse hack squat is extremely versatile as it's appropriate to use for just about any training variable. What we mean is that it's a big, compound movement making it great for using heavy loads. Actually, as it's a "machine" (it runs on a fixed path), many people even feel comfortable using a heavier load than normal.
However, you can also drop the weight and run some 20+ rep schemes just as easy. Still, you could also use EMOMs for some insane anaerobic conditioning.
The point being is that whatever your goals are, strength or hypertrophy, the reverse hack squat will get you there.
Works On A Fixed Path (Great For Training With Injuries)
Again, the reverse hack squat works by using a machine that runs on a fixed path. This means that issues with stability are taken out of the picture. This is perfect for those who may be recovering from an injury and need some extra assistance with stability. To be clear, this refers to much more than just the lower back pain. For example, trainees with issues with the knees could benefit significantly from the added assistance. Using the reverse hack squat can let your train with confidence as you recover.
Perfect For Those With Shoulder Mobility Problems
One possible drawback of the barbell back squat is that it requires a certain amount of shoulder mobility. As you must grab the bar behind your neck, having shoulder issues can make it very difficult to perform and even cause pain. Due to the reverse hack squat set-up, your shoulders can grab onto the shoulder pads in front of the body. This position is much more comfortable as it virtually eliminates any kind of shoulder pressure.
Trains All Of Your Lower Body
Being a compound, lower body exercise, the reverse hack squat will train your entire lower body. Your quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings will all be activated to a high degree. However, the reverse hack squat will get more activation in the posterior muscles due to the added hip flexion. This makes it an ideal exercise choice for training the entire lower body.
Many people will wonder what the difference is between the hack squat and reverse hack squat. This little graph will define all of the major points.
Reverse Hack Squat
Lower Body With More Involvement From Glutes & Hamstrings
Major Movement Pattern
Hip Flexion/Extension (90-degrees)
Hip Flexion/Extension (60-degrees)
Strain On Lower Back
Small but more than the Hack Squat
Having more tools makes a better mechanic. In this case, you're the mechanic, and the tools are exercises. Here are the best reverse hack squat alternatives to include in your training. These reverse hack squat substitutes will have similar training principles and movement patterns as the original movement..
As mentioned above, if we were to look at pure biomechanics, the movement that looks most similar to the reverse hack squat would be the landmine squat. The movement is almost identical except the load rests on your sternum rather than your shoulders. Also, you will be pushed back more as the load works as a pendulum that "swings" out towards you.
Regardless, the landmine squat is extremely easy to set up and will definitely deliver. It's also easy on the back, making it another fantastic option for those who may need it. The one drawback is that you will not be able to load the bar heavy. This is simply because you must hoist the load up to your chest and then be able to place it down gently so as not to break the bar. That being said, the landmine squat is great for muscle hypertrophy (8-12 reps) or even endurance (20+).
Related: Best Landmine Exercises
BARBELL HACK SQUAT
We can't talk about reverse hack squat alternatives without talking about the original barbell hack squat. This movement begins just like the deadlift by loading a barbell on the ground. Once loaded, that's where the similarities end as you'll then stand in front of the barbell.
Bend down and grab the barbell as if it were a deadlift (I know we just said the similarities ended, but…). As the bar is behind you, your hips are going to be much lower as you will depend on knee flexion to get low and reach the bar (during a conventional deadlift, you rely on hip flexion). You will notice that you are in a much more of a crouched position than a standard deadlift. Next, you are going to drive straight up and stand. This can get tricky as your butt can get in the way, but you'll get the hang of it after enough practice.
Regardless, this is an excellent exercise that we, unfortunately, do not see as much anymore. Maybe it's time you brought it back.
MACHINE HACK SQUAT
Similar to the barbell hack squat, the machine hack squat makes total sense when discussing alternatives to the reverse hack squat. I mean, it uses the same machine, and it's what the "reverse" in "reverse hack squat" is referring to. We already talked about this exercise a lot, so there's really no need to say more except that it's fantastic.
One exciting tidbit would be that some trainees find that when performing the hack squat and the reverse hack squat, one of them stands out as feeling more natural and effective. As they are machines which work on a fixed path, you may find that your body is better suited for one over the other.
REVERSE HACK SQUAT GOOD MORNING
The reverse hack squat is a versatile exercise as you can alter your movement pattern to focus on different muscles. One of the more common variations you will see is a reverse hack squat variation good morning, named so as it looks more like a good morning. The trainee will stand with their feet farther away from the pads than usually to perform this exercise. What this does is place the hips farther away from the path of movement, requiring the trainee to bend at the waist more. What this does is effectively creates a motion very similar to a good morning. You will want to use very little weight when first trying this variation until you feel comfortable with the positioning and movement. These are fantastic to really target the glutes and hammies.
Other Good Alternatives for Reverse Hack Squats (to target the glutes/hamstrings):
Programming the reverse hack squat is pretty straightforward as it'll go with your lower body day. When it comes to being a push or pull movement, it can really go either way.
As mentioned above, you can choose to use it for strength work, muscle hypertrophy, anaerobic endurance, or work capacity. It's incredibly versatile, so you can use it as needed.
The reverse hack squat is a tremendous exercise that offers a huge range of benefits for every lifter. While the form might throw you off, you need to get past that and start including it in your training program. It is one of the most versatile and practical lower body exercises that can be modified for virtually any AND every scenario.
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