11 Best Hack Squat Alternative Exercises to help build Lower Body Strength

Hack squats are effective in building lower body muscles. But you need a hack squat machine for the exercise. Here are some of the best hack squat alternative exercises to build your quads and hamstrings that you can do with minimal equipment.

squat exercise

What is the Hack Squat?

The hack squat is a great secondary exercise to the barbell squat. Some even prefer the hack squat to be their main squat.

hack squat

The hack squat is a machine-based squat used for building the lower body. You stand on a fixed platform under shoulder pads that bear however much weight you select.

That means you need a squat machine for the exercise, which is quite expensive. But there are hack squat alternative exercises that non-gym goers can do if they don’t have access to a squat machine.

Typically, the platform of the hack squat machine is tilted so your toes are slightly below your heels. This mimics the same position as if you’re doing regular squats with weight plates under your heels. The point with this is to aid ankle mobility to get a deeper squat.

Although the hack squat may seem like a traditional barbell squat without the barbell, there are some key differences.

Traditional squats require core stability to balance a barbell or hold a kettlebell, which distributes the work among your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. On the other hand, hack squats keep your back and hips fixed. The result is that your knees are doing most of the rotational work, which makes your quads bear the majority of the burden.

Key Benefits of Hack Squats

Hack squats are an excellent exercise to beef up those quadriceps. It’s simple, fun to do, and offers several benefits. Such benefits include:

  • There’s plenty of movement at the knees
  • It helps strengthen your legs
  • Develops the muscles so your thighs look more defined and in-shape
  • Increases your lower body power

The main advantage is that using the machine takes away the need to focus on balance. You have the freedom to push to your depth without the distraction of trying to maintain perfect upper body form.

In a 2017 study, researchers found that people could lift greater loads with the hack squat than with a back squat. While more core muscle activation was required in the back squat, the hack squat showed it had an advantage when lifting heavier weight.

Muscles Worked

  • Quadriceps
  • Gluteus (maximus and medius)
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Abdominals

The hack squat involves significant movement of the hips and knees. This makes the quads and glutes primary drivers when standing up from the bottom position.

The hamstrings, calves, and abdominals are also contributing to the movement. However, their involvement is much less than the quads and glutes, primarily assisting with knee and hip extension.

Limitations of the Hack Squat

  • To do hack squats, you need a hack squat machine
  • Few gyms, commercial or private, will have hack squat equipment
  • Hack squat machines can be pricy for one muscle group and may not be feasible for many fitness enthusiasts
  • Can be limited in terms of adjustment, which makes it hard to use. For example: Too long of legs on a small hack squat machine

Due to the above reasons, many people opt for other quad-targeting hack squat alternative exercises that can offer the same benefits.

Best hack squat alternative exercises for building strength in your legs

While the hack squat does have tremendous advantages to building up those quads, it’s not the only essential exercise for quad or hamstring development.

Here are some of the best hack squat alternatives that you can do with minimal equipment.

Wall Hack Squats

wall hack squat alternative exercise

Wall squats are an excellent hack squat alternative that keeps your ankles, hips, knees, and shoulders aligned. You can also practice them nearly anywhere.

Level: Beginner
Target Muscles: Glutes, quads, hips, hamstrings
Equipment Needed: Wall or flat vertical surface, kettlebell, pair of dumbbells (if you wish)

Steps to Follow

  • Take a dumbbell (or kettlebell) and hold it to your chest
  • Lean your back against a wall
  • Plant your feet in front of you at about shoulder width and about 2 feet from the wall
  • Bend at the knees and slide down the wall until your thighs are parallel with the floor
  • Do not round your lower back, and keep your core tight
  • Pushing through your heels, stand back up to the starting position

Pro Tip:
If you have trouble sliding up and down the wall, consider using a towel or foam roller between your back and the surface

Jump Squats

jump squat hack squat alternative exercise

Another great hack squat alternative is the jump squat.

While hack squats are fantastic for building muscle strength and size, squats performed with explosive force help develop muscle power.

With jump squats, you increase your ability to generate force quickly. This is essential in some sports. While you can do jump squats with weights, the unweighted version is challenging enough for most people and easier on your joints.

Level: Beginner
Target Muscles: Glutes, quads, hips, hamstrings

Steps to Follow

  • Position your feet about shoulder-width apart
  • Keep your knees soft and hold your arms by your sides
  • Bend your hips and knees until you’re in a quarter squat position (or slightly above parallel)
  • As you lower down into your squat, thrust your arms behind your body
  • Swing your arms explosively forward as you jump as high as you can into the air
  • Land on the balls of your feet, allowing your hips and knees to bend to absorb force
  • Repeat

Front Squats with Resistance Bands

squat with resistance band

The front squat is a good hack squat substitute to target your quadriceps.

Level: Beginner
Target Muscles: Quads, glutes, hips, hamstrings
Equipment Needed: Resistance bands

Steps to Follow

  • Start with your feet shoulder-width apart
  • With both feet, step on the inside of the resistance band so the band is under midfoot (not the toes, but midfoot)
  • Take the top end of the band in your hands
  • Lift the band to shoulder height, turning palms face up
  • Make sure your elbows and knees are on the inside of the band
  • Raise your heels slightly to target the quads even more
  • Bend your knees and squat as you would normally

Pro Tip:
Remember, the goal, when doing this hack squat alternative, is to target the quads. The resistance band will try to pull you forward at the waist, so make sure that your knees are bending more than your hips as you squat

Goblet Squat

goblet squat hack squat alternative with kettlebell

The goblet squat hack squat alternate exercise will have you moving through a full range of motion. Unlike hack squats, the weight used for goblet squats will be front and center of your chest, which is easier on your spine and lower back.

Level: Beginner
Target Muscles: Quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves
Equipment Needed: Dumbbell or Kettlebell

Steps to Follow

  • Take a dumbbell or kettlebell and hold it vertically near your chest
  • Start with feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed out slightly, hips forward
  • Bend your knees into a squat, keeping your knees behind your toes at all times
  • When you touch your elbows to the inside of your knees, stand up by pushing through your heels
  • Repeat

Pro Tip:
Keep your elbows tucked close to your ribcage to avoid sore wrists from holding the dumbbell or kettlebell. As a result, you’ll be able to support the dumbbell better and reduce the stress on your wrist joints

Sumo Squats

sumo squat with a dumbbell

The sumo squat works perfectly with kettlebells (or dumbbells) since they help keep the weight centered. This allows for proper form and better engagement of your glutes and quads.

Level: Beginner
Target Muscles: Quad, hamstrings, glutes, inner thighs, calves, hip flexors
Equipment Needed: Kettlebell or dumbbell

Steps to Follow

  • Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell either at chest height or hanging between your legs
  • Position your feet about 12 inches wider than your hips
  • Point your toes out at around 45-degree angles. Rotate your thighs at this angle as well, keeping them in line with your feet
  • Pivot your hips back while bending at the knees
  • Drop into a squat position until your thighs are level to the floor
  • Rise to the starting position

TRX Hack Squat

trx hack squat alternative

The TRX hack squat alternative exercise is similar in motor movements to the hack squat exercise on a machine. But rather than just pushing straight up, the TRX squat allows the quads to push back against the hands and shoulder stability. This allows a greater engagement of the quads.

Level: Beginner
Target Muscles: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, abdominals
Equipment Needed: TRX Suspension Trainers

Steps to Follow

  • Begin by facing the anchor point
  • Grasp the TRX grips in a neutral hold
  • Lean back until the TRX bands are tight and supporting your bodyweight
  • Using the resistance of the TRX bands to assist you, start your squat down
  • Keep leaning back as far as possible, your spine straight
  • The leverage supplied by the TRX should allow you to squat deep, activating your glutes.
  • Return to your starting point with slightly bent knees to complete the rep

Wall Sits

wall sit

Where the wall hack squats involve movement, the wall sits are a static exercise. It’s ideal to do at home since it requires only your body weight and a vertical surface. Despite this, they’re still a demanding exercise, great for increasing strength and stamina, and effective hack squat alternative exercises.

Level: Beginner
Target Muscles: Quads, glutes, calves
Equipment Needed: Wall or flat vertical surface

Steps to Follow

  • Start with your back pressed firmly against a wall
  • Plant your feet at about shoulder-width and 2 feet out in front of you
  • Slide down until your thighs are parallel with your knees
  • Make sure your knees are directly above your ankles and you’re pressing your back against the wall
  • Hold the position for 30 – 60 seconds or until failure
  • Return to standing

Bulgarian Split Squat

bulgarian split squat

The Bulgarian split squat is another effective good alternative to hack squats. Because it’s an exercise where you train one leg at a time, you get an effective lower body workout while minimizing spinal compression.

Level: Intermediate-Advanced
Target Muscles: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, core
Equipment Needed: Flat Weight Bench or box

Steps to Follow

  • Start with feet shoulder-width apart
  • Lift your left foot and place it behind you on a bench or box
  • Point your right foot (still on the ground) straight ahead
  • Keep your posture straight while you bend your right leg and dip into a squat
  • Push yourself up, keeping your back straight and knees behind your toes, and return to your starting position

Pro Tip:
If you’re finding balance to be an issue, position your weight bench close to a wall. Touch it to maintain your stability as you go through the single-leg up and down motions

Weighted Step-ups

weighted step-ups with dumbbells

The weighted step-up is a fantastic exercise for the lower body that improves balance and stabilization. Adding dumbbells increases the load on the working muscles to boost strength in the upper legs and glutes.

Level: Beginner-Intermediate
Target Muscles: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, and adductors
Equipment Needed: Weight Bench or box, dumbbells, kettlebells

Steps to Follow

  • Find a weight bench (step or box) to stand in front of
  • Hold a set of dumbbells at shoulder height or hanging by your sides
  • Keeping your back straight, inhale as you step with your right foot onto the bench
  • Straighten your right leg as you exhale and lift yourself onto the bench
  • Bring your left foot up onto the bench as well
  • Step back down to the floor with the left foot
  • Step your right foot down
  • Switch sides


front lunges

Lunges are fantastic hack squat alternatives that can target your quadriceps. And you can do them anywhere, with as much or as little weight as you’d like to use.

Level: Beginner
Target Muscles: Glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves
Equipment Needed: dumbbell or kettlebell (optional)

Steps to Follow

  • Position your feet about shoulder-width apart
  • Using your right leg, take a big step forward
  • Keeping your right knee behind your toe, drop your left knee down until it almost touches the floor
  • Straighten back up
  • Step your right foot back and place it beside your left
  • Switch sides

Lateral Lunges

lateral lunges

Lateral lunge is a terrific exercise for your hip abductors and legs, but it requires some hip mobility.

Start by practicing this hack squat alternative exercise without weights if you are new to this training. Your body weight should be challenging enough.

Level: Intermediate-Advanced
Target Muscles: Glutes, quads, hamstrings
Equipment Needed: dumbbell or kettlebell (optional)

Steps to Follow

  • Stand the hack squat alternative with feet hip-width apart
  • With your left foot, step as far out to the side as your hips are comfortable with
  • Bend your left knee, push your hips back, and lower yourself
  • Once your thigh is level with the floor, push back up to start
  • Switch legs

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Is the hack squat the same as a traditional squat?

The hack squat and barbell squat both work the quads. However, performing the hack squat on a stabilizing machine doesn’t engage as many secondary muscles as the traditional squat. Barbell squats require balance and some core work. The hack squat eliminates the need for balance, which places greater emphasis on the quads.

Is the hack squat the same as the leg press?

With hack squats, you load the weight on your shoulders and squat it. With leg presses, you load the weight onto the platform and push it away while lying or sitting. Regardless, both still target the quads

Can I build my legs with hack squats?

Yes. Hack squats are a great exercise if you’re looking to upgrade your legs and improve muscle mass.

Will hack squats hurt your knees?

Hack squats aren’t necessarily terrible on your knees. However, they can potentially cause knee pain depending on how much weight you use and how deep your squat is. If your knees start to hurt, don’t go as deep in the squat, or try planting your feet more forward on the platform and focus on pushing through your heels. If the pain persists, you may need to seek professional medical attention.

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