Barbell Hack Squat: 4 Major Benefits and Muscles Worked

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
November 29, 2022

Seemingly a cross exercise between the deadlift and a squat, the barbell hack squat is actually an entirely different exercise meant for individuals wishing to induce a higher level of training stimulus in their posterior chain or patients who must avoid placing excessively heavy loads atop their spinal cord.

The barbell hack squat is a compound movement with a particular focus on the lower body of the exerciser, the distal ends of which remain firmly in place as the exercise is performed and therefore classifies the barbell hack squat as a closed kinetic chain exercise.

The barbell hack squat requires only a barbell - unlike a traditional squat that requires a rack. You also need enough weight to produce a moderate level of exertion in the exerciser, alongside a suitably large enough space for the exercise to be performed - this is in stark contrast to the traditional hack squat which requires a hack squat machine.

How is the Barbell Hack Squat Performed?

To begin performing a repetition of the barbell hack squat, the exerciser must first select a suitable amount of weight so as to match the volume of repetitions and sets prescribed to them by their workout or physical rehabilitation program.

Generally, in individuals with less or no experience in performing resistance exercises, it is best to go with the safer option and utilize less weight so as to reduce the chance of injuries or similar accidents from occurring.

barbell hack squat

Once an appropriate amount of weight has been selected and loaded onto the barbell, the exerciser must then place it approximately a handbreadth behind their ankles, immediately below them, as they tighten their core and straighten their back with both hands gripping the barbell below them.

The exerciser will then straighten at the hips and knees while simultaneously pushing out with their chest, straightening their entire body and giving the appearance of them standing erect.

This position must be held for only a moment before the exerciser can allow themselves to return to the starting position in a controlled and slow manner, completing a single repetition of the barbell hack squat.

How is the Barbell Hack Squat Different from Other Squat Types?

The barbell hack squat is distinct from other variants of the squat not only in the position of the barbell itself but also in the sort of muscle groups that are activated and the extent of which they do so.

The barbell hack squat places far less stress on the upper portion of the spinal cord than certain types of barbell squats that put the barbell atop the shoulders of the exerciser, thereby compressing the spine and forcing the exerciser to support a portion of the resistance with their lower back, of which may exacerbate or cause injuries.

By extension of this unique barbell placement, the barbell hack squat is also capable of inducing a larger amount of training stimuli in the gluteus muscles that make up the buttocks of the exerciser, as well as the various smaller muscles located in the hips, as these two muscles are responsible for the initial release of force during the start and end of the exercise.

What is the Purpose of the Barbell Hack Squat?

The barbell hack squat, depending on the intensity and volume of the repetitions, may be performed for a variety of different purposes, especially when combined with certain other exercises in a physical rehabilitation program or workout routine.

The first and perhaps most common of these purposes is that of improving the exerciser’s athletic abilities, with suitably high enough INOL values per set performed being capable of greatly improving said exerciser’s explosive power and strength, even when performed as a sole lower body compound exercise.

By extension, this may also translate to a generally improved quality of life, with the reinforcement of soft tissue located in the lower body equating to a reduced chance of injury and the improvement of certain kinds of injuries in said lower body.

In terms of physical therapy, the barbell hack squat may be used for rehabilitating injuries to the muscular tissue of the legs, so long as joints like the hips, knees or ankles are not also being treated for injuries as well, as the barbell hack squat may induce significant mechanical stress on these areas.

The barbell hack squat may even be used to improve general form in the more standard barbell squat, as reinforcement of the posterior chain muscles located along the rear of the body will not only improve the exerciser’s general posture but also their ability to maintain proper form when under the stresses of resistance exercise.

What Muscles are Worked During the Barbell Hack Squat?

Being a compound exercise, the barbell hack squat activates a large number of muscles located in the lower body as well as certain others that are used as stabilizers so as to prevent injury to the exerciser or overextension of their limbs.

barbell hack squat movement

The primary muscles activated during the performance of a barbell hack squat are thereby referred to as “primary movers”, a self-explanatory term that also implies the higher level of training benefits attained by said muscle groups.

Primary Movers

The muscular group primarily responsible for the movement behind the barbell hack squat, the quadriceps femoris is both the initiator and static support muscle during the entirety of the repetition, being responsible for the whole negative portion of the barbell hack squat.

quadricep muscles

The quadriceps is, much like its name, separated into four muscles known as the vastus intermedius, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, and the rectus femoris.

Secondary Movers

Activated slightly less than the primary mover muscle group but of no less importance, the secondary mover muscle groups receive quite a similar level of training stimuli to the quadriceps femoris, though their activation may not be present throughout the entire repetition.

The first among these is the gluteus muscles, of which are located within the buttocks region of the exerciser’s body and as such are responsible for drawing the hips back to a standing position during the first portion of the exercise.

gluteal muscles

This movement of the gluteus muscles is supported by the hamstrings, which also helps straighten the exerciser by contracting and pulling the knees into a standing position as well.

Stabilizing Muscles

Far more numerous than primary or secondary mover muscle groups, stabilizing muscles are responsible for preventing injury to the exerciser by keeping their joints and other connective tissues stable and extended to a reasonable level, preventing tears or sprains from overexertion.

Stabilizing muscles may, in certain cases, also bear some of the resistance found during the exercise, though this is likely just for a moment due to the smaller size of stabilizer muscles or the awkward angle at which the weight is placed in comparison to the muscle.

The muscle groups responsible for acting as stabilizer muscles during the barbell hack squat are that of the abdominal muscles, the erector spinae, the trapezius muscles atop the shoulders and the various smaller muscles located in calves.

How Many Sets and Repetitions of the Barbell Hack Squat Should be Performed?

Depending on the particular goals of the exerciser, the barbell hack squat may be performed for over twenty repetitions, though this is not advised, or as little as one repetition in the case of an experienced athlete testing their one rep maximum.

Ideally, healthy exercisers wishing to induce muscular hypertrophy and strength adaptations in their lower body may do anywhere between three repetitions per set up to twenty, depending on the relative amount of weight being moved.

For the purposes of physical rehabilitation, a higher range of volume is perfectly possible, though most physical therapists will likely use a percentage of the individual’s maximal strength output that is safe and will not stress or overload the injured area.

What are the Benefits of Performing a Barbell Hack Squat?

The barbell hack squat, like many other resistance exercises, imparts a variety of positive effects to any individual who performs the exercise repeatedly over the course of separate workout sessions. These positive effects may have rather specific applications, such as in the case of weightlifting, or may improve the exerciser’s health as a whole.

1. Athletic Benefits

The most commonly sought after benefit in individuals performing the barbell hack squat habitually, the improvement in athletic endeavors as a whole that is imparted to the exerciser by the barbell hack squat is rather significant, especially considering a large number of sports directly involve the use of the legs.

Such things like jump height, torque produced while punching, or speed of running are all improved by the combination of the barbell hack squat and a diet that supports these improvements, such as one rich in protein and nutrients.

2. Flexibility Benefits

Somewhat an extension of athletic benefits, the relatively low position the barbell hack squat requires the exerciser to attain prior to beginning a repetition can often be quite strenuous for individuals of low flexibility, and as such combining the hypertrophic effects of the barbell hack squat with a suitably effective stretching routine can yield excellent effects in terms of flexibility.

This, of course, comes with the caveat that the individual be flexible enough to perform a barbell hack squat in the first place so as to reduce the chance of such types of injuries like torn soft tissue or snapped bones.

3. Weightlifting Benefits

Being a safer alternative in terms of spinal health to the ordinary barbell squat, the barbell hack squat can have quite a positive effect on the usage of proper form while performing other weightlifting exercises that require the posterior chain to support a significant load.

As such, not only will performing the barbell hack squat improve the exerciser’s capacity to output force with their muscles, but to also control them on an individual basis, thereby allowing a higher level of training stimuli to be imparted during the case of isolation exercises.

4. General Health Benefits

Much like other forms of resistance training, the barbell hack squat imparts a variety of systemic health benefits to the individual, with such things like the obvious circulatory system improvements also being found alongside more subtle health benefits such as an increase in human growth hormone production and a reduction in long-term cortisol or stress levels.

This is not entirely reserved for the barbell hack squat, however, and is instead best realized when performing a regular exercise routine that reaches approximately seventy five minutes of aerobic activity per week as well as a variable length of time in which they perform anaerobic exercise, such as weightlifting.

Who Can Perform the Barbell Hack Squat?

The barbell hack squat may be performed by any healthy individual wishing to receive the previously mentioned benefits, especially those with a particular desire to improve their general athletic performance via the strengthening of their lower body.

However, individuals of advanced or very young age, as well as people with certain strain-exacerbated injuries such as spinal disorders or a history of lower body muscle sprains should first consult a medical professional such as a physician or a physical therapist so as to assess whether they are healthy enough to undergo the strain of performing a barbell hack squat.


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2. Schwarz NA, Harper SP, Waldhelm A, McKinley-Barnard SK, Holden SL, Kovaleski JE. A Comparison of Machine versus Free-Weight Squats for the Enhancement of Lower-Body Power, Speed, and Change-of-Direction Ability during an Initial Training Phase of Recreationally-Active Women. Sports (Basel). 2019;7(10):215. Published 2019 Sep 30. doi:10.3390/sports7100215

3. Sigmon, Chip C.S.C.S.1; Duncan, Daniel E. C.S.C.S.2 STRENGTH TRAINING MODALITIES, National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal: August 1990 - Volume 12 - Issue 4 - p 28-32

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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