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Barbell Hack Squat Questions


Hey everybody. I'm new to the forums, and I'm not sure that this topic should necessarily go in powerlifting, but my training leads more toward powerlifting than anything else, so I figured I'd try here first. Please redirect me if I should go elsewhere.

So, for the next few months I'll be away from home and my usual gym. I've joined a 24 hour, no contract place to keep up my training, as it's really the only gym in the area beyond a YMCA, which is even less suited to serious strength training. Anyway, there's no squat rack because of injury and liability issues, so no heavy back squats for me. Smith machines have never felt quite right to me, so it seems like my best option for going heavy on leg day is the barbell hack squat. I've never really done them all that regularly, so I've got a few beginner questions:

1) The motion is pretty similar to the deadlift, but I'm sure I shouldn't start off trying to hit my DL 1RM right off the bat. If anybody out there regularly uses hacks in their program, I'd like to know what percentage of your DL max you can get out of your hacks so that I have a target to aim for.

2) I figure I'll be going for my usual set and rep ranges as I would for regular back squats (4-5 sets beginning with a warm-up, then pyramiding up in weight, down in reps). Should I modify that?

3) This one's just for curiosity's sake: as I understand things, the deadlift is the best (or one of the best) exercises for CNS activation/training. Given the similarity of the motion, it seems like hacks should be comparable to DL's for CNS activation. Any science on this?

Again, thanks everybody.


If you’re even thinking about not squatting then this is the wrong forum. As far as powerlifting goes, there is absolutely no substitute. It’s like asking a butcher shop for a veggie burger recipe.


Any idea what forum I might try instead? As I noted in the OP, I’m not substituting squats by choice, I simply don’t have them as an option for the next few months and I want to continue heavy leg work.


What are your goals?

  1. I don’t personally use hack squats but if I experimented with a new lift for my main work then I would use a conservative estimate for my max and adjust it during the first couple weeks of a program since the beginning of a program typically shouldn’t be difficult to get through. If you have absolutely no clue and have to go through a big learning curve, a linear progression would be a simple solution where you start off light.

  2. I don’t know if hack squats could be treated more like squats or deadlifts. I’m guessing it’s fine to treat them the same as regular squats.

  3. Not sure what you mean by activating the CNS. If you’re asking how taxing a lift is on a person then that may depend on coordination, neural efficiency, amount of muscles used, etc. It seems like it’s a person’s strongest lift. You can train to get better at certain movements or using certain muscles by I’m not sure what you mean by training just the CNS.


I’ve used them in the past as an assistance move. Barbell hack squats are very awkward. To do them properly you have to start with very light weight in comparison to your deadlift. Since the bar is behind you, the weight can not be distributed evenly over the center of your foot. It ends up being more like a squat off the floor than a deadlift. I would use them as a finisher in 8-12 rep range.

As stated before though, they cannot be a substitute for squats, just a compliment to them.


Try hack squats with a trap bar. Barbell hack squats are awkward but with a trap bar you can still uses a squatting motion without turning it into a deadlift and it will hit your quads pretty well.
Check out some Ben Bruno articles as he writes about them a fair bit.


Why don’t you do front Squats? Or if you cant clean the weight up you could do Zercher Squats, I used to use them before I had access to a rack.


Hack squats - focus on working the muscle and learning the lit with lighter weights. Not an easy lift, but can work (I used to do them).
Otherwise, I would use: -
-Dimel Deadlifts, + any other deads you can do (assuming you can without being banned in a gym like that)
-Single leg work, especially front squat grip reverse lunges. For these, clean the weight to front rack pos., then proceed. Great with any loading scheme once you are used to them
-Heavy rows. I don’t like too much rowing in an intense powerlifting-based program due to excess fatigue, but here they’re perfect
-Leg presses (not ideal, but fairly good for heavy volume work if you have access to one that can take plenty of 45s)
-Hex. / Trap. Bar Deads (read Christian Thibaudeau’s material for ideas on these, he seems to value them highly)
-Heavy, loaded and unloaded core / abs / lower back work - find some productive exercises and really push them, ensuring good form etc. to avoid causing the opposite of the desired effect (through injury - i.e. no awkward twisting hybrid movements with DBs! lol)

That’s what I can think of off the top of my head. And I don’t think this is the wrong place to ask - I sincerely hope that the powerlifting community doesn’t dismiss lifters who become unable (temporarily or not) to perform a big 3 lift as “not a TRUE lifter” etc. Strong is strong, training for strength is relevant here. Hell, half of Westside’s lifters barely qualify as relevant if you go by that rule.


I’ve gotta add goblet squats. The work my legs extremely well. Become really good at pulling the weight up to your chest. The biggest problem here is that you’re limited to high reps because your limited to how much you can pull up and hold to your chest.