Heels-Elevated Barbell Hack Squat

Most people associate the hack squat with a sled machine, but this exercise was initially performed with a good old-fashioned barbell. Named after oldtime strongman and champion wrestler George “The Russian Lion” Hackenschmidt, the movement resembles a deadlift more than a squat. Unlike a deadlift, however, the hack squat primarily targets the quadriceps, not the posterior chain of muscles. The effect on the quads is heightened if you elevate the heels, use a full range of motion, and maintain more of a vertical (upright) posture.

Here’s how it works…

Stand with your heels elevated on a 2×4 block of wood, two weight plates, or a wedge (rocker) board. Your feet should be hip-width apart and parallel to each other. Squat down and grasp the bar behind your ankles using a double overhand grip as demonstrated in the photos above. Now, raise the bar off the ground and come to a standing position. As you descend back down, shoot your knees directly forward tracking over the middle toes. Your body should stay somewhat vertical, like it’s riding on rails. Look straight ahead and enjoy the ride!

There are many ways to incorporate the hack squat into your training. Here are a couple options:

Antagonist Superset

A1. Leg Curl: 4 x 6-8 @ 5-0-1-0, 10s
A2. Hack Squat: 4 x 10-12 @ 3-0-1-0, 120s

Agonist Tri-set

A1. Hack Squat: 3 x 8-10 @ 4-0-1-0, 10s
A2. Leg Extension: 3 x 15-20 @ 2-0-1-0, 10s
A3. Walking Lunge: 3 x 25-30 @ 1-0-1-0, 180s

Don’t go too heavy with the hack squat. Form deteriorates very quickly on this exercise if you try to use too much weight, and your knees won’t be happy either. Go light to start and if your flexibility allows, use smaller plates. That will get you closer to the ground and increase the range of motion.

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