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Hack Squat Foot Placement: Switch Between Glutes & Quads

January 08, 2024

Hack Squat Foot Placement By Robor Fitness


If you've been fortunate enough to step into a gym boasting a hack squat machine, you've glimpsed a powerful tool for sculpting your physique. Using it to its fullest means mastering the art of hack squat foot placement, turning a simple leg builder into a customizable muscle-targeting powerhouse.

But here's the thing: it’s not just about pressing weights up and down. The beauty lies in understanding how to use it to emphasize specific muscles, from the dominating quads to the often-neglected adductors.

At first glance, this machine might seem straightforward. After all, it's primarily designed as a leg-building apparatus. However, by adjusting our foot placement, we open doors to targeting various hip and leg muscles more intentionally.

Some muscles, like the adductors, often miss out on the training limelight. Yet, with the right foot positioning, they too can bask in the much-deserved attention.

Join us as we dive deep into this topic today, uncovering the best foot positions to hone in on your chosen muscle group. Whether you're an avid gym enthusiast or just starting, there's a hack squat revelation waiting for you!


What is the Hack Squat

Before diving deep, let's clear up a common confusion: the Hack Squat. You might be nodding, thinking, "I know what a Hack Squat is, that's why I'm here!" But, surprisingly, many gym enthusiasts mix up the Hack Squat with the V Squat machine.

So, let's set the record straight. The Hack Squat is performed on its dedicated machine, distinctly characterized by its 45-degree angle. This structure, complete with a backrest and shoulder rest, features parallel tracks enabling a squatting movement. The motion is smooth and straight, moving directly up and down.

On the other hand, the V Squat is performed on a distinct V Squat machine, showcasing a different movement path compared to the Hack Squat.

Now that we've shed light on that distinction, we're geared up to delve into the nitty-gritty: how foot positioning affects muscle activation.


How to Perform the Hack Squat

The Hack Squat is among the best leg-building exercises you can incorporate into your routine. Proper form is essential to maximize benefits and reduce injury risks. Here's a step-by-step guide:

  1. Position Yourself: Begin by positioning yourself against the machine's backrest, ensuring your shoulders rest comfortably under the provided pads.
  2. Choose Your Foot Position: As we'll dive into shortly, you can adjust your foot placement to emphasize different muscles. For this basic introduction, start with a shoulder-width stance.
  3. Track Those Knees: As you descend, make sure your knees track in line with your toes. This alignment is crucial for safety and effective muscle engagement.
  4. Brace for Impact: Before initiating each repetition, take a deep breath in and brace your core. This not only protects your spine but also gives you better control during the movement.
  5. Squat Down: Lower your body by bending your knees, keeping a straight back, and ensuring your heels remain flat on the platform.
  6. Push Up: Engage your quads and glutes, pushing through your heels to return to the starting position.

With these steps, you're set to make the most of the Hack Squat. As we delve deeper, we'll explore how adjusting foot positions in the variations listed below can change the dynamics of this exercise.


Muscles Worked In The Hack Squat

The Hack Squat isn't just a piece of fancy gym equipment to show off. It's a strategic tool targeting multiple muscles in your lower body, helping to build muscle and strength. Each foot position adjustment can change the emphasis, allowing you to target specific muscle groups more effectively. So, let's take a closer look at these key players.



First up, we have the mighty quadriceps. Originating from the Latin term where "quad" signifies four, the quadriceps, as you might guess, consist of four primary muscles. These are the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius. Their primary role? Knee extension.

In simpler terms, they're responsible for straightening the leg. When you descend into the depths of the squat, it's these muscles that power you back up, working diligently to straighten the knee and return you to the starting stance (1).

Beyond just squats, the quadriceps are pivotal for daily activities like walking, running, and jumping. A well-developed set of quads not only boosts your athletic performance but also contributes to a balanced and symmetrical leg appearance.

So, every time you're pushing through a Hack Squat rep, remember that you're building strength and shape in one of the body's most significant muscle groups.



When it comes to the powerhouse of the posterior, the glutes take center stage. Comprising three muscles - the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus - they each have their distinct roles.

The gluteus maximus is the largest of the trio and wears the crown for hip extension. Think about the moment you squat down: not only are your knees bending, but your hips are also flexing. When you push up from a squat, the gluteus maximus springs into action, extending the hips to bring you back upright.

Meanwhile, the smaller siblings, the medius and minimus, have their roles too. Together, they manage hip abduction and handle both internal and external rotation. Their significance will become more apparent as we explore further into the article.



The hamstrings, like their counterparts, the quads, are composed of four individual muscles. Located on the back side of your leg, they serve a role that contrasts with the quads. Where the quads take charge of knee extension, the hamstrings step in for knee flexion, helping you bend the knee.

But that's not where their job ends. Three of the four hamstring muscles begin their journey from the pelvis. This makes the hamstrings biarticular, meaning these muscles span across two joints. Working in tandem with the glutes, they also assist in hip extension.

However, there's a fascinating aspect of the hamstrings when it comes to squatting. As you squat down, the hamstrings lengthen at the hip joint while shortening at the knee. This unique mechanism means their length remains relatively unchanged throughout the squat. They don't contribute as much as you might think to the movement.

This isn't just an observation, but research supports it. A study measuring muscle growth after 12 weeks of full squat training revealed that while the quads grew by an average of 5%, the hamstrings increased only by a modest 0.5% (2).

For those eyeing significant hamstring development, diversify your training regimen. Incorporate exercises like deadlifts, leg curls, and good mornings to directly target and grow this muscle group.



Moving more centrally, we find the adductors, a team of five muscles situated in the upper thigh. They're not just there for show; these muscles are incredibly versatile when it comes to the hip joint's movement.

Their list of responsibilities includes adduction (pulling the leg toward the body's midline), flexion, extension, external rotation, and yes, internal rotation too. Essentially, they've got their hands in nearly every hip movement.

Studies highlight the adductors as potent contributors to hip extension. Examining the muscle adaptations between full squats and half squats provides a clear picture. The results? The adductors, in collaboration with the glutes and quads, exhibit impressive growth, indicating their significant role in hip extension.

Furthermore, strong adductors can contribute to better athletic performance and decreased injury risk (3), especially in activities requiring rapid lateral movements. And, for those chasing aesthetic goals, well-developed adductors provide a fuller, more balanced appearance to the legs.



Positioned at the back of your leg, beneath the knee, and extending all the way to your heel are the calves. This muscle group is made up of three individual muscles and, while they might not always be the center of attention, they play a crucial role in our movements.

The calves work hard to stabilize your ankles and feet. It's interesting to consider that the entire weight of the squat passes through your leg, then your calf, and finally through your foot onto the plate. That's a significant amount of responsibility resting on these muscles.

So, it stands to reason that you'd need robust calves to facilitate the squat movement. The good news? Every time you squat, your calves are actively engaged throughout the motion, helping stabilize and power the movement.


Hack Squat Foot Positions

Choosing the right foot position isn't just about comfort; it's a strategic decision that can help target specific muscles in the leg. A simple shift in position can emphasize or de-emphasize muscle groups, allowing for a tailored leg workout. Let's break down these positions:


Traditional Stance

Hack Squat Traditional Stance

When we talk about the traditional stance in hack squatting, we're referring to a position that evenly distributes the workload across several muscles, including the quads, glutes, calves, adductors, and hamstrings.

For this stance, your feet should be shoulder-width apart and placed in the center of the machine's plate. Point your feet slightly outwards. This outward tilt ensures that as you lower yourself into the squat, your knees move in a functional direction, tracking over the toes.

The traditional stance shines as a versatile choice for those looking to develop well-rounded lower body strength and size. Here, each muscle gets its fair share of activation, making it an excellent go-to for balanced muscle development.


High Foot Position

Hack Squat High Foot Placement

Switching to a high foot position on the hack squat machine means you're making a deliberate choice to focus more on the glutes and less on the quads.

By placing your feet higher on the platform, there's less knee flexion because your knees won't be passing your toes as much. This leads to increased hip flexion. Remember how we talked about the glutes and hamstrings? With more hip flexion, these posterior chain muscles – mainly the glutes and hamstrings – become more active, getting a more significant share of the workload.

Another bonus of the high foot position is that it places less strain on the knees. This can be a relief, especially for those who experience knee discomfort or pain.

However, caution is crucial here. Positioning your feet too high might cause your lower back to flex or round, pulling it away from the back pad. This misalignment means some of the squat's load could shift to your lower back, which might raise injury risks. It's essential to find that sweet spot where your feet are as high as possible while ensuring your back remains firmly against the pad.


Low Foot Position

Hack Squat High Foot Position

If you're aiming to put the spotlight on your quads, then the low foot position is your go-to stance on the hack squat machine.

Positioning your feet lower on the platform shifts the dynamics of the squat. There's increased knee flexion and reduced hip flexion, and as a result, there's heightened quad activation and less emphasis on the glutes and hamstrings.

But it's not just the front of your legs getting attention. A low foot position also provides a good stretch to the calves, making this position beneficial for those muscles as well.

For the best results, place your feet as low on the platform as possible. But, there's a catch: ensure that your heels don't lift off during the squat. As you perform the movement, allow your knees to travel forward while pushing your hips back into the pad. This combination ensures optimal muscle engagement and a smooth, effective squat pattern.


Wide Foot Position

Hack squat wide foot positioning

Going wide with your stance on the hack squat machine? You're setting the stage to focus more on your adductors and glutes.

The wide foot position is an excellent choice for those looking to target the often-neglected adductors, the muscles running along the inner thigh. If you've been inadvertently skipping these muscles in your workouts, a wide stance can help you make amends.

One advantage of this foot position is the potential for a deeper squat. The extended range of motion not only feels powerful but is also beneficial for muscle building. Going deep works the adductors in a lengthened position, which, according to research (4), offers unique muscle-building benefits.

But the adductors aren't the only muscles getting extra love with this stance. A wide foot position also diverts some of the workload from the quads, allowing the glutes to share more of the spotlight (5).


Narrow Foot Position

Hack squat narrow foot positioning

Switching gears, the narrow foot position on the hack squat machine flips the muscle focus from what we saw with the wide stance.

With your feet positioned closer together, there's less activation of the adductors (inner thigh muscles) and a more pronounced engagement of the outer thigh and hip abductors. So, if you're looking to emphasize those outer leg muscles, this is the stance for you.

In addition, the narrow stance shifts some of the spotlight from the glutes, allowing the quads to take center stage (5). And, just like the wide stance, going narrow might let you drop into a deeper squat. Tapping into this extended range of motion can reap some muscle-building rewards, making this position another valuable tool in your leg-building arsenal.


Externally Rotated Foot Position

Hack squat externally rotated foot position

Let's pivot – literally. The externally rotated foot position puts your toes pointing outward and leads to a specific muscle emphasis.

By rotating your foot so that your toes face more outwards, you're setting up to improve hip mobility. This tweak can be the ticket to achieving that deeper squat position, giving you the range of motion many aim for.

An interesting effect of this foot placement is how it lengthens the muscles of the inner thigh, the adductors. This stretch position helps these muscles become more involved, allowing them to generate force efficiently during the squat movement (6).

Now, a common misconception might be that turning your toes outwards would change the game for the glutes or quads. However, in reality, this rotation doesn't significantly alter the activation patterns of these muscles (7).


Benefits of the Hack Squat

Training legs can be tough, but it gets a lot easier when you know you're using effective equipment. And the hack squat machine is undoubtedly one of those. But why is it such a favorite among gym enthusiasts?


Less Load on the Back

One of the most compelling reasons to choose the hack squat over other leg exercises is the reduced strain on the back.

With the hack squat machine, your back remains supported and straight. This means a significantly lessened load on the lower back compared to traditional barbell squats. This can be especially beneficial for those who have had back issues in the past or simply want to reduce the risk of any back-related injuries during their leg workouts.

Additionally, this supported position can help newcomers maintain good form, ensuring a safer and more efficient workout.


Isolates the Muscles

A notable advantage of the hack squat machine is its ability to isolate specific leg muscles effectively.

Thanks to its fixed movement path, there's a reduced need for stabilizing muscles. This means that instead of spreading your energy across numerous muscles, you can channel and concentrate that energy into the muscles you're aiming to target.

It's almost like having a spotlight that hones in on certain muscle groups, allowing for a more focused and intensive workout. This is especially useful when you're trying to work on weak points or create a balanced physique.


Safe Squat Alternative

One of the most significant draws of the hack squat machine is the safety it offers, especially for those who are new to leg workouts. Let's break it down:

  1. No Spotter Needed: Unlike traditional barbell squats where having someone to spot you is advisable, especially when lifting heavier weights, the hack squat machine allows you to work out solo with confidence. This can be a relief for many who prefer to train independently.
  2. Beginner-Friendly: If you're new to the squatting world, the hack squat machine serves as an excellent starting point. You can build a solid foundation and base strength without the intimidation of barbells. Think of it as training wheels for your leg workout routine.
  3. Balance Isn't an Issue: One common concern with barbell squats is maintaining balance. It's easy to tip forward or backwards, especially when fatigue sets in. With the hack squat machine, that worry is eliminated. You can focus solely on the movement, ensuring that you're getting the most out of each rep.

So, whether you're a seasoned gym-goer looking for a safer alternative or a newbie aiming to kickstart your leg-building journey, the hack squat machine has got your back—quite literally!


Difference Between Hack Squat and Leg Press

Both the hack squat and leg press are powerhouse machines when it comes to leg workouts. From afar, they may seem to target the same muscle groups and offer similar benefits. However, a closer look reveals subtle yet significant differences that might influence your choice between the two. Let’s take a look.


Hack Squat

Leg Press

Starting Position

You start in a straight position, tilted 45 degrees due to the angle of the machine.

The starting position is seated.

Resistance Source

The sled pushes down on your shoulders.

Resistance comes from pressing on your back.

Movement Replication

Better replicates the barbell squat movement. The strength built here is more transferable to barbell squats.

More straightforward leg pressing.

Muscle Activation

More of a full-body movement requiring activation of the abs, back, adductors, etc.

Mainly a lower-body exercise with a primary focus on leg muscles.

Quads Tension Range

Provides more tension for the quads in the lengthened range.

Offers more tension for the quads in the mid-range due to the seated position.

Hip and Knee Flexion

Allows for a deeper position maximizing both hip and knee flexion, leading to unique muscle-building stimuli.

The seated position limits the amount of flexion at the knee joint, focusing on mid-range quad activation and limiting the amount of hip extension.

Hypertrophy Consideration

Offers training for muscles when at different lengths ideal for overall hypertrophy, especially in the lengthened position.

Primarily targets the mid-range of quadriceps due to its nature and movement limitations.


Finding Your Perfect Hack Squat Stance

Foot positioning in the hack squat is not just about standing on a platform; it's an art that shapes your workout. As we've explored throughout this guide, even subtle alterations in where and how you place your feet can drastically change the muscle groups you're emphasizing.

While it might be tempting to label one position as "the best," the reality is more nuanced. The ideal stance isn't universal; it's personal. It's shaped by your unique goals. For instance, if your primary aim is to sculpt and strengthen the glutes over the quads, a wider and higher foot position might be your go-to stance. However, if quad development is your pursuit, a lower foot position may be the answer.

But beyond targeting specific muscles, there's a foundational principle we mustn't forget: safety and comfort. Since each of us is anatomically distinct, a foot position that feels natural and effective for one person might feel awkward or even painful for another. It's essential to honor our bodies' individuality. Listen to your body and adjust accordingly.


Related: Squats for Glutes, Not Quads


References & Further Reading:

  1. Krishnan, C., Allen, E. J., & Williams, G. N. (2011). Effect of knee position on quadriceps muscle force steadiness and activation strategies. Muscle & Nerve, 43(4), 563–573.
  2. Kubo, K., Ikebukuro, T., & Yata, H. (2019). Effects of squat training with different depths on lower limb muscle volumes. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 119(9), 1933–1942.
  3. Cscs, D. P. R. (2023, May 19). Hip exercises for building adductor strength and preventing injury. Healthline.
  4. Maeo, S., Huang, M., Wu, Y., Sakurai, H., Kusagawa, Y., Sugiyama, T., Kanehisa, H., & Isaka, T. (2020). Greater Hamstrings Muscle Hypertrophy but Similar Damage Protection after Training at Long versus Short Muscle Lengths. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 53(4), 825–837.
  5. Paoli, A., Marcolin, G., & Petrone, N. (2009). The effect of stance width on the electromyographical activity of eight superficial thigh muscles during back squat with different bar loads. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(1), 246–250.
  6. Pereira, G., Leporace, G., Chagas, D. D. V., Furtado, L. F. L., Praxedes, J., & Batista, L. A. (2010). Influence of hip external rotation on hip adductor and rectus femoris myoelectric activity during a dynamic parallel squat. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2749–2754.
  7. Clark, D. R., Lambert, M., & Hunter, A. M. (2012). Muscle activation in the loaded free barbell squat. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(4), 1169–1178.

Thomas D
Thomas D


Thomas is a dedicated fitness enthusiast with over 12 years of experience in the gym. As a level 2 qualified gym instructor, he combines his passion for working out and nutrition to help others achieve their fitness goals. Thomas stays up to date with the latest fitness research and follows the work of top experts in the field. With a balance of textbook knowledge and real-life experience, he provides practical guidance to help others reach their full potential.

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