Old School Bodybuilding Techniques That Still Work: Hack Squats

old school body building techniquesBy Vincent Corvino

With a small degree of guilt, I present the hack squat, because it is arguably the type of exercise that could be used to extract secret information from a prisoner of war.

Hack squats hurt — at least they’ve always hurt me.

In fact, after any workout in which I’ve included them, I’m nearly unable to walk down a flight of stairs.  Walking up them is never a problem.   After a few sets of hack squats, it has always been hard for me to maintain balance.  One could research the physiological science on this phenomenon, but this is a new installment in a series of articles about “kickin’ it old school” in the gym, so I’ll forego the nerdy jargon and simply say hack squats will fry your legs, my man.

If, like me, you are a bit of a masochist when it comes to your workout routine, you may end up loving the hack squat the way an extreme foody enjoys a plate of 5-alarm hot wings.  Sometimes, there’s beauty in self-torture.

Hack squats emphasize the quadriceps.  I first learned about various quadricep-building exercises in a bodybuilding instructional book by classic bodybuilder, Franco Columbu.  Columbu was a unique bodybuilder in his time, because he was also a well-rounded athlete.  He’d trained and competed as an amateur boxer and as a powerlifter in televised strongman competitions. It is generally accepted that Columbu was the strongest bodybuilder of his era.  His routines involved many olympic movements, including extremely heavy deadlifts.  He devoted a significant amount of his training to his legs.

Given that legs contain the body’s largest group of muscles, any bodybuilder or fitness enthusiast who neglects them loses an abundance of calorie-gobbling muscle-mass.  Many powerlifters have told me that working their legs improves their bench and increases their overall physical strength and power.  Take a look at the legs of brutal punchers like Tyson, Tua and Marciano — better yet, watch how they fully involve their legs in their highlight-reel knockouts — and you will be hard-pressed to discount the importance of strong legs.  Though brutal to do, hack squats can absolutely contribute to significant muscle gains.  Let’s take a closer look at this hardcore leg-training method.

The hack squat specifically targets the perimeters of the quadriceps.  The exercise broadens them.  As a result, one’s waist appears to be smaller and the shoulders, especially the deltoids, seem fuller.   About the hack squat, Bodybuilder and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu blackbelt, Carl “The Viking” Delin, says, “Hacks are great for quads but bad for the knees.  The exercise was invented by George Hackenschmidt, who performed the movement with the barbell behind him.  The angle is great for the tear drop muscle.”

I agree that the classic hack squat does address hard-to-target parts of the legs.  I also agree that the classic version of this movement can really beat up the knees.  Performing the hack squat on a hack-squat machine is a popular way to avoid overtaxing the knees and risking injury.

Here is a clear, concise, and thorough description of how to perform a hack squat using a hack squat machine:


Like “strip” or “drop” sets, the hack squat is something that I’ll now and then include in my leg workouts for the purpose of varying my routine and shocking the muscle whenever its progress seems to have plateaued.  Like “strip” or “drop” sets, the hack squat is not an exercise for beginners who should always start a fitness program under the supervision of a professional trainer.  If, on the other hand, you’re a weight-room journeyman and you haven’t yet tried the hack squat, give it a shot using a hack squat machine.  Do the exercise correctly, regularly, and with a challenging but reasonable amount of weight, and watch your quadriceps grow.



Classic version of the hack squat:

About the Author:

Vincent Corvino’s writing has appeared in several literary journals, among them The Quarterly, New Letters, The Crescent Review and The Blue Moon Review. He is currently the lead singer of the New York City hard rock band, Urbansnake.  He is a former student of Zen Buddhist Roshi, Rich Hart, and has trained as a boxer under former WBO Middleweight Champion, Doug Dewitt.  He possesses an MA in Education from Columbia University and a Post-Graduate Certificate in School Leadership. He has been an English teacher since 1996.