With all of the equipment available in gyms today, it’s important to be familiar with the variety of different exercises at our disposal. One great exercise is the reverse hack squat- a lesser known leg exercise, but no less effective for building solid muscle. In this article we’ll be exploring the reverse hack squat in depth; its benefits, its technique, and the difference between it and the standard hack squat.
The Reverse Hack Squat Machine
To make sure there’s no confusion, the hack squat machine is the same machine for performing both the standard hack squat and the reverse hack squat. While very similar to the leg press machine, the hack squat is performed in an upright, angled position. The hack squat machine is less common in the majority of commercial gyms, but if your gym does carry one it’s a great piece of equipment to use.
Benefits Of The Reverse Hack Squat
It’s A Very Simple Exercise
For some, learning a new exercise can be difficult. However one of the great qualities of the reverse hack squat is how simple it is. Once you’ve positioned your feet and loaded your shoulders, it’s as simple as lowering yourself down and coming back up. Because the movement is fixed and very easy to learn, the reverse hack squat is one of the best quad isolation exercises for lifting very moderate weight.
Easier On The Back
With most compound movements, a healthy lower back is of the utmost importance. When many movements like squat or deadlift start hitting the upper limits of ones strength, a lot of tension is placed on the lower back.
The reverse hack squat does load the shoulders, which means that like the barbell squat, there will be some tension in the lower back. However because of the body’s positioning on hack squat machine, you are more upright than the standard barbell squat, which means less pressure will be placed on the back. A study also came to a similar conclusion, where researchers found there was in fact less muscle activation in the lower back during the hack squat than the conventional squat.
A More Natural Movement Pattern
There are a few machines that isolate the quads like the leg press, the belt squat, or even the hack squat, however the reverse squat has one of the most natural movement patterns. The shins are free to move forward which in turn allows the hips to descend very much like the typical squat.
What Muscles Do The Reverse Hack Squat Work?
The quadricep (or quad) makes up the major muscles of the front of the legs. The vastus lateralis, rectus femoris, vastus medius, and vastus intermedius are the muscles that extend the knees. As you bend your knees during the hack squat, the quadriceps stretch, allowing you to sit into the movement.
The hamstrings are the muscles of the rear thigh. The bicep femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranous all work together to produce flexion at the knee (bringing the leg closer to the body). Similar to the quadricep, the angle of decent during the reverse hack squat creates a excellent stretch in the hamstrings. These two muscles (the quads and hamstrings) work synergistically during this exercise which in turn develops a full, well rounded thigh.
The gluteal region is made up of 3 muscles (gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus) that occupy the space between the lower back and hamstrings. This group is responsible for a number of tasks such as extension, external rotation, internal rotation, and abduction of the hip joint. As you lower and raise yourself during the reverse hack squat, a great deal of mobility is necessary in the hips, much of which will help to activate the glutes.
How To Perform The Reverse Hack Squat
As stated before, the reverse hack squat is a very simple exercise. Because the machine travels on a fixed path, there are very few adjustments to make before or during the actual exercise. One of the best approaches going into this exercise is to not overthink it. After you’ve positioned yourself, simply sit into the movement. Below is an explanation of the exercise if you need a thorough step-by-step guide:
- First adjust the height of the height of the shoulder pads. They should be at about chest height, low enough so that you have to slightly crouch and bend your knees.
- Choose a weight that’s enough of a challenge for several repetitions while maintaining good form.
- Face the machine so that tour chest is in front of the back pad. Adjust your feet near the base of the platform with just enough space between your legs and the machine so your knees can bend comfortably. Keep your feet shoulder width apart and rest the shoulder pads comfortably on your traps.
- Un-rack the weight by fully extending your knees and standing up straight. Center your body by adjusting your feet on the platform. Make sure your feet are about shoulder width apart.
- Begin lowering your body towards the platform in a squatting fashion; allow your knees and shin to travel far past your toes. Let your hips glide backwards and down. Keep your back straight without any excess curving.
- Allow your butt to travel below your knees, creating a deep contraction in your quads.
- After holding briefly at the bottom of the movement, slowly extend your knees and hips back to the starting position.
- Keep a slight bend in your knees and hips at the top of the movement to maintain constant tension in the quads. Repeat this process for reps.
Hack Squat vs Reverse Hack Squat
First before we dive into the difference between the hack squat and the reverse hack squat, it’s important to know the difference between the conventional barbell squat and the hack squat.
The immediate difference between the two is balance and weight distribution. Because of the free range of motion, the barbell squat allows the hips to travel back further, distributing the weight over the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.
The hack squat machine on the other hand keeps the back in a fixed position. As you lower the weight your hips are unable to move backwards. This slight alteration puts extra emphasis on the knees to lower the weight towards your feet. This in turn puts most of the workload on the quads with very little help from the other muscles of the lower body.
So in short: the hack squat takes the back out of the equation and focuses on quad dominance.
Now, with the reverse hack squat, your body is facing the machine instead of leaning against it. With this set up your back is once again unhindered like the barbell squat which means your hips are free to move backwards. Because the form is so similar (just like the barbell squat) the weight is distributed not only over the quads, but the hamstrings, back, and glutes.
Although the exercise is very similar to the barbell squat, one of the advantages of the reverse hack squat is the machine’s stabilization. The machine is fixed, which means your body doesn’t have to devote energy towards balancing the weight over your feet. And because the weight is loaded in front of the body, there is considerably less pressure on the lower back compared to the back squat.
Reverse Hack Squat For The Glutes
The reverse hack squat machine’s versatility not only works in favor of the thighs, but the glutes as well. Like many other lower body exercises, activating the glutes (in this case the reverse hack squat) is all a matter of body positioning and execution. Even when using this machine, it’s important to consider the movements that trigger glute activation. Many of the exercises responsible for the highest levels of glute activation (deadlifts, hip thrusts, etc.) require hip hinging or the horizontal shifting of the hips.
As the hips flex, bringing the thighs and torso closer together, they create a deep stretch in the hamstrings and glutes. When the hips extend back to the starting position it creates an excellent squeeze in the glutes.
The reverse hack squat uses the same concept. To create the same contraction you could perform the good morning on the hack squat machine. This works very well because when you’re facing the hack squat machine (similar to the reverse hack squat), this allows you to bring your hips back and relieves the lower back of a lot of tension created by other hip hinging exercises like the deadlift.
When sliding the hips backwards this creates the ideal contraction in the glutes and hamstrings with all the simplicity of other compound exercises. Another important cue is keeping your shins as vertical as possible. When your knees are vertical, it takes much of the range of motion reserved for the quads and shifts the contraction back to the hamstrings and glutes. Like the stiff leg deadlift, when the shins are upright and the hips go back, the stretch it creates in the hamstrings and glutes is ideal.