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Hack Squat vs. Leg Press – Which is Best For Lower Body Transformation
Hack Squat vs. Leg Press – Do you have to incorporate both into your lower body training regimen? We will try to answer the question and determine which of the two powerful leg-building exercises can help you achieve your fitness goals.
Hack squat and Leg Press are effective lower body exercises that target the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.
However, there are differences in execution, muscle activation, and equipment used.
Below is a brief comparison of the two exercises
Hack Squat vs. Leg Press – A Brief Comparison and Key Take Away
|Activity||Hack Squat||Leg Press|
|Execution||You use a specialized machine that involves placing your shoulders and upper back against padded supports and lifting a weighted platform by extending your legs. You position your feet on a platform at a slight angle and push the weight upward.||You sit on a machine with your back against a padded seat and your feet on a platform.|
You push the platform away from your body by extending your legs.
|Muscle Activation||It targets the quads but also engages the hamstrings and glutes to some extent.|
It places a significant emphasis on the quads due to the angle of the platform.
|The leg press targets the quads and works the hamstrings and glutes.|
The angle of your feet and the width of your stance can alter the muscle emphasis.
|Stabilization||The machine’s design provides stability and support to your upper body.|
That can benefit those with lower back issues or who want a safer exercising environment.
|Like the hack squat, the leg press machine provides stability, making it suitable for exercisers who struggle with balance or those recovering from injuries.|
|Variations||You use different foot positions on the platform to emphasize various leg muscles.||You can vary your foot placement on the platform to target different leg muscles, such as placing your feet higher for more hamstring and glute involvement or lower for greater quad activation.|
Hack Squat vs. Leg Press – Target Muscles
Hack Squat Target Muscles
- Quadriceps (Quads)
- Gluteus Maximus (Glutes)
- Calves (Gastrocnemius and Soleus)
Leg Press Target Muscles
- Quadriceps (Quads)
- Gluteus Maximus (Glutes)
- Calves (Gastrocnemius and Soleus)
- Lower Back Stabilizers
Hack Squat vs. Leg Press – Required Equipment and How They Compare
Both hack squats and leg press require specific equipment to perform.
Below is an overview of the required equipment for each exercise and a comparison of the two.
Hack Squat – Required Equipment
- Hack Squat Machine – It consists of a sled or platform on a track with shoulder and back supports.
- The machine has handles for stability.
- The design of the hack squat machine mimics the squatting motion while providing upper body support and controlled movement.
- It is specifically tailored for hack squats, making it the ideal equipment for the exercise.
- The machine ensures a fixed range of motion, which can help beginners and those seeking consistent movement.
Leg Press – Required Equipment
- Leg Press Machine – This machine features a seat with a backrest and a platform where you place your feet.
- It has handles or grips for stability.
- The leg press machine allows you to perform the leg press exercise by pushing the weighted platform away from your body while seated.
- The design provides stability and support during the exercise.
- Leg press machines come in various designs, such as horizontal, 45-degree, and vertical leg press machines, each with unique advantages and muscle engagement.
Comparison of Equipment
Both exercises require specialized machines available in most gyms, so access to equipment may not be a significant factor in choosing between them.
Both machines provide upper body support and stability, reducing the risk of injury compared to free-weight exercises like barbell squats.
The hack squat machine is specifically designed for hack squats, while the leg press machine is more versatile, making it suitable for various leg exercises beyond just leg presses.
In summary, while both hack squats and leg presses require specialized equipment, the leg press machine offers more versatility and can be used for different leg exercises. On the other hand, the hack squat machine is specifically for hack squats.
Hack Squat vs. Leg Press – How to Perform the Exercises
How to Perform Hack Squats (Using a Hack Squat Machine
- Adjust the hack squat machine to your body size. You should be able to comfortably place your shoulders and upper back against the padded support and position your feet on the platform.
- Stand inside the machine and position your shoulders under the shoulder pads. Your feet should be at hip-width, and your toes slightly turned outward.
- Depending on your goals and the design of the machine, you can place your feet higher or lower on the platform. A higher foot placement may emphasize the quadriceps, while a lower point can engage the glutes and hamstrings much more.
- Press your back firmly against the backrest, and keep your chest up. Keep your head in a neutral position and look straight ahead.
- Grasp the handles on the sides of the machine for stability and support.
- Unlock the safety handles or release the weight lock.
- Lower the weight by bending your knees and hips. Keep your back straight and maintain a controlled descent. Go as low as your flexibility and comfort allow.
- Extend your knees and hips to push the weight back up. Focus on using your quads to lift the weight.
- Exhale as you push the weight up, and avoid locking your knees at the top of the movement to maintain tension on the muscles.
- Repeat 8-12 reps for a set.
- Re-lock the safety handles after completing your set and carefully step out of the machine.
How to Perform Leg Press (Using a Leg Press Machine)
- Adjust the seat and backrest of the leg press machine to align your back comfortably against the backrest.
- Position your feet at shoulder-width on the platform with your toes pointed slightly outward.
- Ensure your knees and toes are aligned.
- The placement of your feet on the platform can Sit with your back against the backrest, keeping your chest up and your head in a neutral position.
- Grasp the handles or grips on the sides of the machine for stability.
- Unlock the safety handles or pins that hold the weight in place.
- Bend your knees and hips to lower the weight. Keep your back firmly against the backrest.
- Lower the weight until your knees are at approximately 90 degrees or to a comfortable range of motion.
- Do not allow your lower back to lift off the seat.
- Extend your knees and hips to push the weight back up.
- Exhale as you press the weight up.
- Avoid fully locking your knees at the top of the movement to maintain tension on the leg muscles.
- Perform 8-12 reps to complete a set.
- Re-secure the safety handles or pins after completing your set, and carefully remove your feet from the platform.
Hack Squat vs. Leg Press – The Similarities
Hack squats and leg presses are both lower-body exercises that share several similarities:
- Lower Body Emphasis
Both exercises primarily target the lower body muscles. They are compound exercises involving multiple joints and muscle groups working together to perform the movement.
- Leg Muscle Development
Both exercises can help build leg strength and muscle mass, making them valuable additions to leg training routines.
- Adjustable Resistance
Hack squat and leg press machines have weight stacks or plates that allow you to adjust the resistance according to your strength level and training goals.
You can perform both exercises on machines that provide stability and support.
That can help exercisers who need to minimize the risk of injury or have lower back issues.
You can adjust foot placement on the platform in both exercises to help target different leg muscles.
Higher foot placement emphasizes the quadriceps, while lower positions may engage the hamstrings and glutes more.
You can adapt both exercises for various fitness levels and goals, from beginners to advanced athletes.
You can easily change the weight, foot placement, and repetitions.
- Muscle Activation
While the emphasis varies based on foot placement and machine design, both exercises engage the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes to varying degrees.
- Controlled Range of Motion
You can perform controlled ranges of motion in both exercises.
That allows you to work within your comfort and flexibility levels.
Hack Squat vs. Leg Press – The Differences
You can perform hack squats using a hack squat machine while you perform the leg press with a leg press machine.
In a hack squat, your upper body is usually at a slight incline, and your shoulders and upper back are in contact with the machine’s pads. That position can help support your lower back.
On the other hand, you sit upright with your back against the seat and your legs extending horizontally on the platform when doing a leg press. This position is more upright compared to the hack squat.
The hack squat primarily targets the quadriceps or front thigh muscles but also engages the hamstrings and glutes to some extent. The emphasis on the quads is due to the angle of the platform.
The leg press also primarily targets the quadriceps, but it allows for more variation in foot placement, which can shift the emphasis to different leg muscles.
Range of Motion
Hack squats usually have a fixed range of motion determined by the machine’s design, which may limit your flexibility or comfort.
The leg press often allows for a more adaptable range of motion, making them suitable for individuals with different body types and flexibility levels.
The hack squat machine provides more upper body support and stabilization. That can benefit individuals requiring extra support or those with lower back issues.
While leg presses also provide stability, they require less upper-body stabilization than hack squats.
Hack squats can offer variations by changing your foot placement on the platform to target different leg muscles.
Leg presses are versatile for foot placement and stance width, allowing you to adjust the exercise to target specific leg muscles.
Hack Squat vs. Leg Press – Which is Better for Beginners
Both hack squats and leg press can suit beginners, but the choice between the two depends on various factors.
Hack Squat for Beginners
- It can provide upper body support and stability, which can suit beginners and help prevent issues with balance or form.
- The more controlled and guided movement makes it less intimidating for beginners.
- It emphasizes the quadriceps, making it a good choice for building leg strength and size.
- The machine design often ensures a consistent range of motion, helping beginners maintain proper form.
- It has limited variety for foot placement compared to leg presses, which can limit the ability to target different leg muscles.
Leg Press for Beginners
- It offers versatility in foot placement and stance width, allowing beginners to experiment with different positions and find what feels comfortable.
- It engages the quadriceps but allows for variations that emphasize the hamstrings and glutes, providing a well-rounded lower-body workout.
- Beginners may find the seated position and relatively upright posture much more comfortable and suitable.
- The machine design generally makes it easy for beginners to adjust resistance levels.
- It requires some balance and stabilization compared to the hack squat, but it is still relatively stable and safe for beginners.
- Beginners need to be cautious with setting an appropriate range of motion to avoid overextension or discomfort.
Hack Squat vs. Leg Press – Which Is better for beginners? For most beginners, the leg press may be a more accessible and versatile option. It allows beginners to adjust the exercise to their comfort level, explore different foot placements, and target various leg muscles. The seated position also tends to feel more natural for many individuals.
However, some beginners may prefer the hack squat due to the added upper body support and guided movement, especially if they have concerns about balance or have experienced lower back issues.
Hack Squat vs. Leg Press – Which is Better for Hypertrophy
Both hack squats and leg presses can be effective for hypertrophy or muscle growth when incorporated into a well-structured strength training regimen.
Hack Squat for Hypertrophy
- Emphasizes the quadriceps
The hack squat primarily targets the quads due to the angle of the platform.
That can lead to significant quadriceps hypertrophy.
- Upper body support
The machine design provides upper body support and stability, allowing you to focus more on working the lower body without worrying about balance or form breakdown.
- Controlled range of motion
The machine’s design often ensures a consistent and controlled range of motion, which can help maintain proper form.
- Limited variation: The hack squat machine may offer limited variety in foot placement. That can limit the ability to target different leg muscles.
Leg Press for Hypertrophy
- Versatility in foot placement
The leg press allows for various foot placements and stance widths, making it possible to target different leg muscles.
- Balanced leg development
The leg press can provide a more well-rounded lower body workout, contributing to leg muscle hypertrophy.
- It requires some balance and stabilization compared to the hack squat, although it’s still relatively stable and safe.
Hack Squat vs. Leg Press – Which Is better for hypertrophy?
The leg press may have a slight advantage due to its versatility in foot placement and the ability to target various leg muscles. The available levels of adjustments can lead to more balanced leg development.
Hack Squat vs. Leg Press – Which is Better for Strength Building
Both hack squats and leg press are effective for strength building.
Hack squat for strength-building
- Emphasizes quadriceps
The emphasis on the quads makes the hack squat an excellent exercise for building strength in the muscles.
- Upper body support
The machine’s design provides upper body support, which can help beginners or exercisers with lower back issues perform the exercise with proper form.
- Controlled range of motion
The hack squat machine can guide you through a consistent and controlled range of motion, allowing you to focus on lifting heavier weights.
- Limited variation: The hack squat machine may offer limited variation in foot placement. That can limit the ability to target different leg muscles.
Leg Press for Strength Building
The leg press allows for various foot placements and stance widths, making it adaptable for different strength goals and body types.
- Balanced leg development
The versatility in foot placement can provide a more balanced lower body workout, contributing to leg strength.
- Comfortable position
The seated position and relatively upright posture make it more comfortable for many individuals, allowing them to push heavier weights.
- It requires more balance and stabilization than the hack squat, although it is still relatively stable and safe.
Hack Squat vs. Leg Press – Which is better for strength building?
For strength building, both hack squats and leg presses can be effective when used in a structured strength training program. The choice between the two should depend on your preferences and goals.
Hack Squat vs. Leg Press – Which is better for Explosive Power
Explosive power is crucial for athletic performance and can benefit various sports and activities. While both hack squats and leg presses can contribute to explosive power to some extent, some key differences make one more suitable than the other for this specific goal.
Hack Squat for Explosive Power
- Quadriceps activation
The hack squat primarily targets the quads, which play a significant role in explosive leg power.
- Explosive movement
The hack squat machine allows for a controlled but relatively explosive leg extension, simulating a jumping or pushing motion.
However, the hack squat machine may have limited variation for foot placement, which can restrict the ability to train specific explosive power patterns.
Leg Press for Explosive Power
- Versatile foot placement
The leg press machine offers versatility, making it adaptable for different explosive power exercises.
- Balanced leg development
The ability to target various leg muscles can contribute to more comprehensive leg power development.
However, the exercise requires more balance and stabilization than the hack squat, although it’s still relatively stable and safe.
Leg Press vs.Hack Squat – Which is better for explosive power?
The leg press may be a more suitable choice for explosive power training. That is due to its versatility in foot placement and the ability to simulate various explosive movements.
To help get the most out of the movement,
- Incorporate plyometric exercises on the leg press machine, such as explosive leg presses or jump squats. They involve pushing the weight explosively while leaving the platform momentarily.
- Perform single-leg explosive movements on the leg press to enhance balance and unilateral leg power.
- Adjust your stance width on the leg press machine to target different leg muscles, which can benefit sports requiring multidirectional power.
- Use lighter weights with the leg press to focus on speed and power development. Push the weight as explosively as possible while maintaining control.
Hack Squat vs. Leg Press – Which is Best for Sports Performance
The choice between hack squats and leg presses for sports performance depends on various factors, including the specific demands of the sport, the athlete’s individual needs, and their training goals.
Hack Squat for Sports Performance
- Developing the quads can help you to perform better in various sports movements, including sprinting, jumping, and direction changes.
- The machine’s design can support the lower back, making it suitable for athletes with lower back issues.
- You can perform hack squats explosively to mimic jumping and pushing movements, which are common in many sports.
However, the hack squat machine may have limited variation in foot placement, which can restrict the ability to train specific movement patterns required for some sports.
Leg Press for Sports Performance
- The versatility in foot placement on the leg press machine and stance width make it adaptable for different sports-specific movements.
- The ability to target the leg muscles can contribute to lower body strength and power, which can also help minimize the risk of injury.
Hack Squat vs. Leg Press – Which is best for sports performance?
The leg press may be the better option for sports performance due to its adaptability to sports-specific movements.
However, the hack squat may suit you more if your sport requires quad strength and explosive leg power.
Hack Squat vs. Leg Press – Which is Better Overall?
Determining which exercise is better depends on your goals, preferences, and circumstances. Both offer unique benefits, and the choice should align with your fitness objectives.
Hack squats primarily target the quadriceps, making them an excellent choice for building quad strength and size.
The machine design often ensures a consistent and controlled range of motion, which can help maintain proper form.
The hack squat machine provides upper body support, making it suitable for exercisers with lower back issues or those who want to minimize the risk of lower back strain.
On the other hand,
The leg press machine offers versatility in foot placement and stance width, allowing you to target different leg muscles and adapt to various training goals.
The leg press is much better for comprehensive leg development and can provide a controlled environment for strength and power training.
You can use the leg press for various leg exercises, making it a valuable tool for a comprehensive lower-body workout.
Thus, to answer the question: hack squat vs. leg press – which is better overall, there is no straightforward conclusion.
Neither exercise is inherently better than the other.
Exercisers who prefer to prioritize quad development and appreciate the support for the lower back may prefer hack squats.
On the other hand, leg presses offer distinct advantages if you seek comprehensive leg development, versatility, and the ability to target different leg muscles,
You can incorporate both exercises into your training regimen for more comprehensive leg strengthening and development. That will ensure you get the best of both worlds.
Final words from LiveLIfe
Hack Squat vs. Leg Press – Which of the two powerful lower body building exercises make your list
Whether you’re a leg day enthusiast, an athlete seeking explosive power, or someone recovering from an injury, the leg press and the hack squat have a place in your fitness journey.
In fact, incorporating both exercises strategically into your leg training regimen may provide the best of both worlds.
What is worth remembering is that no single exercise is a silver bullet. What matters is your commitment to a well-structured training program, proper form, and progressive overload. That will help you carve out the strong, powerful legs you desire.
- Martín-Fuentes, I., Oliva-Lozano, J.M., José M.M. 2020. Evaluation of the lower limb muscles’ electromyographic activity during the leg press exercise and its variants: A systematic review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 17, no. 13 (2020). doi:10.3390/ijerph17134626.
- Rossi FE, Schoenfeld BJ, Ocetnik S, et al. Strength, body composition, and functional outcomes in the squat versus leg press exercises. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2018;58(3). doi:10.23736/S0022-4707.16.06698-6
- Clark, D.R., Lambert, M.I. et al., Trunk Muscle Activation in the Back and Hack Squat at the Same Relative Loads. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 33():p S60-S69, July 2019. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002144