When it comes to building strength and muscle mass in the lower body, Squats are King. But with so many variations to choose from, it can be difficult to decide which one to focus on in your training program.
In this article, I’ll be comparing Front Squats and Hack Squats.
Front Squats are a free-weight movement, squatting with a bar set up in a front rack position. Hack Squats are done on a Hack Squat machine which is the answer to what would a Leg Press look like if you stood up and did it.
To help you decide which (or both) is the best fit for you and your strength program I’m going to explain the benefits of both exercises and how to do them properly. Then, I’ll compare Front Squats and Hack Squats side-by-side and discuss which may be better for specific goals.
First up, Front Squat.
- Squat Rack
- Bumper or Iron Plates
- Lifting Straps (optional if needed)
- Set the height of the squat rack so that the barbell is about 1-2 inches below the flexed elbow (Elbow pointing toward the squat rack prior to taking the weight off the hooks).
- One of the first considerations you are going to want to make is what grip you want to use to perform the front squat.
- Later in the article, I will talk about different grips and the reasoning behind each grip.
- For now, I am going to assume you are using a two-finger clean grip. (Most commonly used by athletes).
- Walk closely to the barbell and place it very close to your neck.
- Bring your elbows up and the barbell should be resting on the raised anterior deltoid muscles. You are now holding the bar with what’s called a “front rack position” (THERE SHOULD BE NO STRESS OR TENSION ON THE HAND OR WRIST TO HOLD THE BARBELL).
- With your front rack, lift the bar off the hooks. I recommend a staggered stance to lift the barbell off the rack.
- Take 2 steps back and set your feet slightly wider than shoulder width. Toes slightly pointed out.
- Maintaining a strong front rack, take a deep breath, and brace the core.
- Initiate the squat by hinging the hips back and bending the knees simultaneously.
- Descend into the squat with control until your hip crease is slightly below the knee. (Most professionals consider this to be parallel or just below parallel).
- At this point, the core should be braced, the front rack strong, elbows up, and the lifter is ready to drive out of the “hole” and stand the weight back up.
- Keep a balanced foot with a strong arch, drive through the heels, and drive the hips until you are back at the top of the movement and ready for the next rep.
- Clean grip with 1 or 2 fingers. This is the most common grip used by Olympic lifters and athletes. This trains the specific position the bar would be in at the catch of a clean and therefore very advantageous for these athletes.
- Crossed arms. This is a common grip for athletes that want all the benefits from the front squat but may not have the flexibility or need for a finger grip.
- Lifting Straps. This allows the lifter to get the front rack position, engaging the upper back musculature, and takes a lot of stress off the fingers and wrists.
By far the most common mistake with Front Squats (and most all compound movements) is improper form.
Because the lift is very technical, uses the whole body, and requires patience and persistence, lifters oftentimes have incorrect form without realizing it, go up in weight too quickly, and potentially injure themselves. Make sure to learn proper technique and never sacrifice technique for weight.
Be patient with your flexibility. Persistence and working hard on your flexibility will pay off with front squatting. Remember to always warm up prior to any lifting session. Work on flexibility drills during warm-up sets as well. After your session, use cool-down techniques, foam roll, stretch, and hydrate.
In regards to your setup and form; treat every rep like it’s a 1 rep max. Put a tremendous amount of detail in your setup (Do it the exact same way, every rep).
Need an alternative for Front Squats? Here are 12 Front Squat alternatives to develop lower body strength.
Front squats are a variation of the traditional back squat exercise. They have many of the same benefits, including building strength and power in the lower body and improving balance and coordination.
However, Front Squats have some additional benefits compared to back squats. Because the barbell is held in front of the body, front squats engage the core muscles more, helping to improve core stability and posture.
Front Squats can also help to improve mobility in the hips, ankles, and wrists.
- Hack Squat machine
Will vary slightly depending upon the machine, but the legs and glutes should always be heavily involved:
- Position yourself on the hack squat machine*, with your back against the pad and your shoulders under the shoulder pads.
- Place your feet shoulder-width apart on the platform, with your toes pointing slightly outward.
- Grasp the handles on either side of the machine (if available).
- Breathe in and brace your core.
- Slowly lower your body by bending at the knees and hips, keeping your head up and your back straight.
- Continue lowering your body until your thighs are parallel to the platform that your feet are standing on.
- Then drive through your feet to raise your body back up to the starting position.
- Repeat for your desired number of reps.
*Not all Hack Squat machines are the same. Technique, muscles worked and more can and will vary depending on the specific machine you’re using. If in doubt, make sure to speak with someone about how to use the machine in your gym.
Don’t have a Hack Squat machine? Here are 11 Hack Squat alternatives you can try instead.
You should always start light (especially as a beginner) with any exercise and gradually work toward using heavier weights. This is even more important if you’re working with a machine that you’re unfamiliar with. Always get a feel for the machine first before adding any weight.
Benefits of Hack Squats
Hack Squats can improve your leg strength and power as well as build size and muscle mass.
If you’re looking to add variety to your lower body workouts, Hack Squats are a great option. If you generally stick to more traditional movements like Back Squats and Front Squats (which I recommend) then adding in some Hack Squats from time to time can help keep your workouts fresh.
Front Squats vs Hack Squats: Which is Better?
Now, let’s do a side-by-side comparison of the two exercises and discuss if one is better than the other for some common lifting goals.
Better For Strength Development: Front Squats
Free weight exercises like Front Squats simply provide more benefits than machine-based exercises like Hack Squats. The body is forced to stabilize itself more meaning the core, hips, knees and ankles all have to work harder to maintain proper body position.
Plus, with Front Squats the lower and upper body has to work hard to maintain an upright torso. For Hack Squats, the machine itself provides much of that stability and support.
Now, if we’re purely talking about leg strength, I’ll admit the two exercises are probably relatively close and as an occasional alternative to add variety, I think Hack Squats can be very beneficial. However, for long-term development, Front Squats are the superior exercise in my opinion.
Better For Beginners: It Depends…
I know “It Depends” is a terrible answer to give, but in this situation, it’s the only answer.
What does it depend on? Technique.
If a beginner knows or is taught proper technique then Front Squats carry so many more benefits than a Hack Squat (core strength, stability, balance, etc).
However, that is a big IF. Because if a beginner tries to start cranking out Front Squats with poor technique, it could be a recipe for injury. In that situation, Hack Squats can be the better option.
Ideally, you should find a qualified coach that you can learn proper technique from. And, make sure to stay light and focus on technique first and foremost. Once your technique is sound then you can start to gradually increase the weight.
I’ve just spent the last section of this article comparing which is better – Front Squat vs Hack Squats. I love Front Squats and believe they are one of the most beneficial exercises an athlete (and non-athletes) can do.
However, if you’re unable to squat because of a physical limitation, you’re not comfortable with your Front Squat technique or you just want to add some variety to your routine then Hack Squat can make a good substitute.