Straight to the Bar

All Things Strength


The Hack Squat
Posted By Scott Bird

Walter Donald - image via Iron Barbell

Walter Donald – image via Iron Barbell.

This is the third in a series of Timeless Exercises; a collaboration with Run to Win‘s Blaine Moore. The Hack Squat.

The Hack Squat is an exercise that seems to be commonly associated with a machine; however the barbell version is indeed a thing of beauty. If they aren’t forming part of your current routine, perhaps it’s time to give them a shot.


George Hackenschmidt - image via Sandow Plus

George Hackenschmidt – image via Sandow Plus.

The exercise is usually thought to be named for its creator – or at least the first to openly harness its powers – wrestler George ‘The Russian Lion‘ Hackenschmidt; or ‘Hack‘. As a wrestler he was seemingly unstoppable; competing in over 3,000 fights from 1889 – 1908 and winning all of them [1]. Yes, he was that good.

George Karl Julius Hackenschmidt (he was of Swedish descent, if you’re wondering why he doesn’t have a Russian name) was famous for many strength feats (including some that remained unequalled for an astonishing 50 years). The Hack Squat is at the centre of some of these (including a staggering 550 reps with 110lb).

A word on the name

The Way to Live - image via Super Strength Books

The Way to Live – image via Super Strength Books.

Although it is seemingly self-evident that the name ‘Hack Squat‘ comes from the short version of his own name, Hackenschmidt claimed in The Way to Live that the name actually came from the word hacke, meaning ‘heel‘. Either way, the name ‘Hack‘ is entirely appropriate.


Nate Dogg performing the Hack Squat - image via T-Nation

Nate Dogg performing the Hack Squat – image via T-Nation.

Load up a bar and place it on the floor. Stand just in front of it, with feet roughly shoulder-width apart, and grasp it with a double overhand grip. Stand up.

The bar itself will mainly move vertically (there’s very little horizontal motion). As with a deadlift, think of your hands simply as hooks, keep your back straight and move upward until you’re standing upright.

Muscles involved

Vastus Medialis

Vastus Medialis.

Although this is primarily a quadriceps exercise (especially for the Vastus Medialis), a number of other muscles come into play. These include [2]:

* Gluteus Maximus
* Adductor Magnus
* Soleus
Dynamic Stabilizers
* Hamstrings
* Gastrocnemius
* Erector Spinae
* Trapezius, Middle
* Levator Scapulae
* Trapezius, Upper
Antagonist Stabilizers
* Rectus Abdominis
* Obliques

Things to consider

Hack Squat with heels elevated - image via T-Nation

Hack Squat with heels elevated – image via T-Nation.

As with other Squat varieties, there is a greater emphasis on the glutes when below parallel. Range of Motion is as important here as with any other exercise (with the usual exceptions, of course).

If you are unable to perform the full-range lift, simply set the pins of a power rack to the lowest position you can manage and perform them from there.

Keep the feet flat on the floor. If your legs are too tight to allow this, stretching is a better option that elevating the heels (standing on plates, for example). That said, elevate the heels if you find it’s still necessary to perform the exercise.

During the upward portion of the exercise, push with your heels rather than your toes. This will help minimise the stress on your knees [3].

The Barbell Hack Squat’s a great exercise – simple, inexpensive and quick to perform. If it isn’t already part of your current routine, give it a run.

1. George Hackenschmidt: The Russian Lion.
By David Gentle
Natural Strength
(part 1, part 2)
2. Barbell Hack Squat
3. Hack Squat
ABC Bodybuilding
Images and video
Nate Dogg Hack Squatting 140kg

Singapore Sports Council (exercise demonstration)
Fitrex (exercise demonstration)

Over to you. Drop us a line on Twitter ( @scottbird ), or add a comment below.



NB : if you love talking about strength-training as much as I do, you might also like to check out the weekly newsletter (there's also a daily version available). A regular dose of fitness-focussed discussions, absolutely free.



  1. Monday, 16 Aug 2021 – Strength & Fitness Newsletter - […] Gem From The Vault : The Hack SquatScott Andrew Bird | Follow @scottbirdWonderful exercise. […]

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Written By Scott Bird
Scott is a long-time fitness enthusiast (Jan 2004!), writer and photographer living in Sydney, Australia. If you share the passion for spending a bit of time under a bar, welcome. Love hearing how everyone else trains. You can connect via X (Formerly Twitter), Facebook and the various networks listed in the sidebar.
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