One of the most overlooked muscle groups in a beginning bodybuilder’s training program is legs. They don’t impress like the chest and arms so beginners make a common mistake and avoid training them, not realizing the overall high growth effect the leg muscles exert over the entire body. It has been demonstrated in recent research that if intense leg training is done prior to arm training in a workout session, the overall growth effect on the arms is magnified. This is a result of human growth hormone being released because of the size of the leg muscles.
The best way to capitalize on this benefit is to construct your training sessions so your ‘difficult’ bodyparts are trained immediately after training legs. There are quite a few good exercises to develop the legs including squats, front squats, leg extensions, leg curls and stiff-legged deadlifts. Hack squats are not nearly as popular as these other exercises but are an effective muscle builder.
This lift was named after George Hackenschmidt, an early 20th-century strongman, wrestler and writer. He advocated this exercise because of its ability to develop leg strength quickly while avoiding excessive hip development common with barbell squats. In his book, The Way To Live, he mentions that the exercise was named after him. In North America the name Hack Squat is the term most often used when describing this exercise.
Steve Reeves, of Hercules and Mr. America fame, began using the hack squat to develop a sweep in his thigh muscles while avoiding hip enlargement and even developed a piece of equipment to allow him to perform the movement more effectively. Several photos I’ve seen show him training in Vic Tanny’s gym in California, near the famed Muscle Beach.
But what is the best training program to use with hack squats? First, let’s look at proper exercise technique. There are some really great hack squat machines on the market which remove the balance problem encountered when using a barbell. But let’s assume you don’t have access to those and train with barbells and dumbbells. After electing to use either a barbell or dumbbell, place your heels on a block, keeping your legs close together. Hold the weight behind you and lower yourself until your buttocks comes close to touching your heels. Press yourself up with your legs as you exhale. Avoid locking out at the top of the movement. Repeat until hitting muscular failure.
As mentioned previously, there are numerous hack squat machines on the market. Most have bars for loading barbell plates but a couple have selectorized weight stacks for ease of changing the weight.
The reasons I like hack squats are the absence of heavy resistance on your back and shoulders compared to regular squats, ability to train thigh muscles while limiting excessive hip development and the lack of weight balancing when using a hack squat machine. Another great feature of this exercise is the stimulation it gives your hamstring muscles, which is a result of the deep descent I recommend. Give this exercise a try and you will be adding a new tool for quick leg muscle development.
A sample training routine for legs using hack squats is listed below. The routine is based on the HIT, high intensity training protocol so be sure and put 100% effort into each set by taking them to complete muscular failure and resting minimally between sets:
leg extensions-1×15 (3 forced reps at the end of the set to be performed every other workout session)
standing calf raises-1×20
seated calf raises-1×15
David Groscup has over 35 years of training experience in HIT, or High Intensity weight training. He is certified by the IART/Med-Ex Group and has worked with many people successfully using this protocol