Barbell Hack Squat Workouts For Bigger Quads

Barbell hack squats are a classic gym exercise that can help you build bigger legs. Learn how to incorporate them into your workouts and improve your quad size.

Workout Summary

Build Muscle
Single Muscle Group
Beginner
8 weeks
2
60-75 minutes
Barbell, Dumbbells, Machines
Male & Female

Workout Description

Back in the early days of the strength and physique game, there were no commercial gyms that banned deadlifting.  And before the advent of training machines there was only iron.

During this era the great George Hackenschmidt gave the iron game a very underrated jewel; an exercise for building strong, stallion-like quads.  Hackenschimdt, who was a great wrestler, strongman and athlete, did not have the luxury of using a leg press or a hack slide to promote growth in his quads.  Instead, being a very smart and barbell-minded man, came up with the ultimate move for building powerful quads, the barbell hack squat.

What is this old move you are telling us about?  Can I go back to my elliptical and read my magazine?

A look at the hack squat

The hack squat is the most underutilized quad movement of all time.  To prove my point, I want you to think back.  When was the last time you witnessed someone perform this exercise?  Well you would have to think back to the last time you saw that is was snowing…in Philadelphia and in June.

My point is that you rarely ever see the hack squat being performed.  I have seen maybe one or two other trainees outside of my team perform it over the last 6 years, and their versions absolutely did the move no justice.  It is a shame because in my opinion the hack squat is a without doubt the go to move for the quads.  It has been a part of my programming for the last 6 years, and part of the reason that I was able to develop powerful and aesthetic quads.  So why is this supreme movement ignored?

For one, it is a very old movement.  In today's get fit quick society, the majority of trainees are looking for shortcuts to reach a desired goal.  Old school barbell exercises have a sexiness ranking of ZERO.  Patty and Selma from the Simpsons seem sexier than having to go perform a hack squat.

New school machines and gimmickry have a sexiness ranking of 100.  They look like Halle Berry in Swordfish.  When you look at fitness infomercials and you see a vibrating dumbbell being promoted as the answer to all fitness questions then you will see where I am coming from.

The average person thinks to themselves... “Why should I do a hack squat when instead I can text and post pictures to Instagram while just sitting on the leg extension machine doing nothing?”  Perpetrators.  The bottom line is that if you are NOT performing the hack squat, you are missing out on maximizing your quad strength and growth.

Is the hack squat just a reverse deadlift?

Ok you have my attention, but the hack squat looks like a reverse deadlift.  What are the differences?

As its base level, the hack squat looks like a reverse deadlift.  But if you dig a little deeper into the move, you will see that muscles involved and the mechanics are different.

First, the most obvious difference is that the bar is behind your body.  When you initially perform the hack squat it can feel a little weird, but just like with any move, once you get into a groove it will feel normal just like any other move.

Secondly, whereas the deadlift places most of the stress on your posterior muscles (glutes, hamstrings, back, traps), the hack squat places most of the stress on your quads.  The way the hack squat stresses your quads helps you to develop that sweep/flare/roundness look that you cannot obtain with inferior movements.  When you get close to muscle failure in a hack squat, it literally feels like someone poured gas on your quads, lit a match and drove off to let you incinerate.

Lastly, when deadlifting you are trying to shift your weight onto our heels.  In the hack squat your heels are elevated.  This is done to put stress on the quads by keeping your body more upright.  You can accomplish this by wearing Olympic lifting shoes or by standing on 5lb plates.

I will say that the hack squat has helped me with my deadlift.  By pulling the bar from behind you, you are stressing the quads big time.  When you then return to deadlifting, you will find that the quads and grip are both stronger, and you will really have gained a boost in the lift.

And due to the more upright body position, the hack squat is not as hard on one’s mid/lower back as the deadlift.  When you begin to hack squat, you should be able to build great strength in this movement.  At a bodyweight of 165-170lbs, I have danced with over 400lbs on this move many times.   Please check out my video below for the instruction on how to perform the hack squat.

Workout Programming

To build top-level quads, you need top-level programming.  Timeless programs are always a good choice.  Training all year with no progression or accountability is going to leave you with those pipe cleaner legs.  And if are known as Peter Pipes, you will be the laughing stock of the gym.

Trust me, people will talk about you.  For as big as your upper body is, people will only see the stilts you are walking around on.  Using a scheme based around leg extensions and partial squats will also leave you with laughable wheels.

Remember, movements are like the food chain. You want to base your training around the biggest moves, and move them to the top.

I will present a very basic quad focused scheme based around the inclusion of the barbell hack squat.  The split will require two days of lower body training with one of the days being more quad specific.  You will replace your lower body days with this scheme and continue to perform your current upper body routine.  For example a 4 day training split could look like:

  • Sunday - (Optional or Off) Sprints or Bodyweight Conditioning
  • Monday - Off
  • Tuesday - Quad Builder Heavy
  • Wednesday - Push
  • Thursday - Off
  • Friday - Quad Builder Volume
  • Saturday - Pull

Quad Builder Scheme Heavy

Two lower body sessions separated by at least three days.  So if you train lower body on Tuesday, perform it again the earliest on Friday.

Day 1 - Quad emphasis.  Three moves on this day have very high quad involvement. The focus will be to move heavy weight.  Use a 5×5 rep scheme.  Your options are to use the same weight for each round or to increase the load each round.

If you are maintaining the same weight across the board, choose a weight that you could do 10-12 reps with to start and build from there weekly.  If you increase the load each round, make sure your starting load is not too heavy so that you give yourself room to go up in weight.

Day #1
Quad Emphasis
Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell Hack Squat (90 secs rest between sets) 5 5
Leg Press (70-90 secs rest between sets) 5 5
Dumbbell Walking Lunge * 5 5
Leg Curl (45-60 secs rest between sets) 5 5
Seated Calf Raises (45-60 secs rest between sets) 5 5

* Walking Lunge - 5 steps on each leg.  Also when walking, do not stand up to rest your quads.  The goal is to keep constant tension on the muscle so keep walking forward and only stop until you reach 10), rest 90 seconds between sets.

Day 2 - Supersets.  The focus will be to use more volume.  Use an opening 5×10 rep scheme, but use supersets.  The second round of moves will use a 3×10 rep scheme.

Again, your options are to use the same weight for each round or to increase the load slightly each round.  If you are maintaining the same weight across the board, choose a weight that you could do 15-20 reps to start and build from there weekly.  If you increase the load each round, make sure your starting load is not too heavy so that you give yourself room to go up in weight.

You are elevating the heels during the squat to put more stress on the quads.  If you have Olympic lifting shoes you will not need to elevate as it is already built into the shoe.  A wooden plank about a 1/2 inch thick or 5lb plates will work under the heels if you do not own lifting shoes.

Day #2
Supersets
Exercise Sets Reps
Superset: Heels Elevated Barbell Squat and Glute Ham Raise (Rest 60-75 seconds between moves and 75-90 seconds between rounds) 5 10
SupersetHip Thrust and Sissy Squat (Rest 60-75 seconds between moves and 75-90 seconds between rounds) 3 10
SupersetStanding Calf Raise and Seated Calf Raise 3×10 (Rest 30-45 seconds between moves and 60-75 seconds between rounds) 3 10

You will use this scheme for 3 weeks before swapping the moves.  The second 3 weeks would look like this:

Quad Builder Scheme 2

Day #1
5x5
Exercise Sets Reps
Heels Elevated Barbell Squat (Rest 90 between sets) 5 5
Hip Thrust (Rest 90 seconds between sets) 5 5
Glute Ham Raise (Rest 45-60 seconds between sets) 5 5
Seated Calf Raises (Rest 45-60 seconds between sets.  Hold for 3 seconds at the top of the move) 5 5

Day 2 - Supersets (Quad Emphasis)

Day #2
Supersets - Quad Emphasis
Exercise Sets Reps
Superset: Barbell Hack Squat and Sissy Squat ** (Rest 60-75 seconds between moves and 75-90 seconds between rounds) 5 10
SupersetDumbbell Walking Lunge *** (10 steps each leg) and Leg Press (Rest 75-90 seconds between moves and 90-120 seconds between rounds) 3 10
SupersetStanding Calf Raise and Seated Calf Raise (Rest 45 seconds between moves and 75 seconds between rounds) 3 10

** You can hold a dumbbell to your chest to add resistance when bodyweight becomes easy.

*** The rest is prescribed to be slightly longer here because lunges eat a lot energy.  Your energy is like pellets and the lunge is like Pacman.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, training is not complicated.  Simplicity is the key to life.  Men who trained over a century ago used movements and schemes that developed strength and physiques that stood the test of time.

With inclusion of old school movements like the hack squat and balanced training schemes, you will too can start to develop a timeless physique.

You can return back to this 6 week scheme at any time during the year to really bring your quads up to par.  Hit your quads hard and heavy and reap the benefits of new strength and muscle mass.

4 Comments+ Post Comment

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Posted Tue, 10/03/2017 - 15:22
ANDRE

My form sucks. I rub on the back of my calves, from the floor.

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Posted Sun, 08/27/2017 - 17:02
JGIII

The barbell hacksquat is a great exercise. You're right in that very few people actually do it. I use the exercise on both of my leg days.

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Posted Thu, 06/23/2016 - 17:39
Ben

Great post and video, I love your enthusiasm! Hacks are a much undervalued exercise-and you can't argue with George 'the Russian Lion'. What a dude.

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Posted Fri, 07/22/2016 - 17:09
Eric "Fitman" Brown

Hey Ben,

Thank you for the kind words. You are correct in your assessment of the barbell hack squat and that you cannot argue with Hackenschmidt!