When it comes to quadricep isolation exercises, hack squats are a popular choice. Find out how you can do this exercise at home without a machine.
One thing to note is that with some exercises like leg extensions, you have a variety of non-machine equipment options to do the exact same exercise.
Hack squats also have a few of these but more often it becomes a case of choosing at-home-friendly squat variations with a similar muscle engagement.
1. Foam roller wall hack squats
The main unique feature of the hack squat machine is that your upper body is guided straight up and down. You can’t tilt it backward and don’t have to tilt it forward.
This leads to less glute, hamstring, and erector spinae engagement and in turn makes the hack squat more of a quadricep isolation exercise.
It is hard to recreate the exact upper body guidance of a hack squat at home but there is one “hack” you can try out if you have a sturdy wall.
More precisely, you can do a squat with a foam roller between your back and the wall. This allows you to lean back similar to a hack squat.
To do this variation you want to make sure the foam roller starts at about hip height. You could also try this out with something like a towel against your back but this will likely not work as well.
These foam roller wall hack squats are obviously not ideal in many ways. First of all, you may need a partner to put the foam roller in position since you have your hands holding some type of resistance.
Secondly, it can be hard to find equipment options at home that are convenient enough to use. You can use dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell but not everyone likes how you have to hold these.
That being said, if you do manage to find a way to do this exercise in a way that is convenient enough, it can help you isolate your quadricep muscles without a machine.
2. Barbell hack squats
For this next way to do “hack squats” you preferably have a barbell and weight plates. Once you have these, take the following steps to do a barbell hack squat:
- Put the desired number of weight plates on the barbell and stand right in front of it with your back toward the bar. That barbell should just not touch your calves.
- Go through your knees and grab the barbell with your hand palms pointing back. Keep your spine straight throughout the rest of the movement.
- Slowly push yourself up by stretching your legs until you stand up straight with the barbell against your back thighs.
- Lower yourself into the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.
Barbell hack squats are definitely not completely like the real machine. You will get more grip, glute, and hamstring muscle engagement and the movement will be more awkward.
At the same time, barbell hack squats can still be helpful to train your quadricep muscles at home.
If you don’t have a barbell setup, you can also consider using dumbbells, resistance bands, or kettlebells in a similar way.
These do tend to work your glutes, hamstrings, and erector spinae just a bit more than the barbell version due to the different position of the resistance.
3. Cable hack squats
While the words cable machines may evoke images of big double pulley cable crossover machines, there are also smaller wall-mounted cable machines that are more suited for at-home use.
Additionally, you can also use resistance bands with a good anchor for “cable” hack squats.
That being said, once you have the required gear, take the following steps to a cable hack squat:
- Set the pulley or resistance band anchor close to the ground. If you have a small sturdy elevation for the front of your feet, put it a few steps away from the anchor.
- Grab the cable handle or resistance band and step back. Put the front parts of your feet on an elevation if you have one. Let your arms follow the resistance.
- Slowly fold your knees as far as comfortable. To make the movement similar to a hack squat you want to minimize the hip hinge movement.
- Push yourself back up in a controlled motion by stretching your legs.
While their name may imply differently, there is definitely a big difference between cable hack squats at home and the real machine.
First of all, it is a lot harder to minimize the amount of hip hinge since your upper body does not have anything to lean against. This will lead to more glute and hamstring engagement.
Secondly, because you have to hold the cable machine handle or resistance band, your grip, lower back, and upper back muscles will have to work a lot harder than in regular machine hack squats.
So cable hack squats are definitely not ideal but you could consider them if they align more with your training goals than the other options in this article.
4. Front squats
At this point in the article, the movements change from alternative ways to do hack squats to squat variations that focus more on the quadriceps.
For this first example, you want a barbell and a barbell rack. Once you have these, take the following steps to do a barbell front squat:
- Rack the barbell at about chest height and load it with the desired number of weight plates.
- Stand under the barbell and put it on the front parts of your shoulders. Hold the bar in position with your hand palms on the bar and elbows pointing forward/upward.
- Raise your body to unrack the barbell and take a few steps back so you have room to do the exercise.
- Slowly lower your hips as far as comfortable but preferably at least to knee height. Keep your spine more or less straight during the exercise.
- Raise your body again in a controlled motion so you get back into the position of step 3.
By putting the barbell in front of you instead of your upper back, you don’t have to tilt your upper body forward as much.
Compared to hack squats, front squats will still work your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles more. At the same time, the front squat is still a good exercise to train your quadriceps at home or in the gym.
To make front squats focus more on your quadricep muscles you could even consider doing them with your heels elevated.
5. Safety bar squats
Safety squat bars are a type of specialty barbell with shoulder padding, handles in front, and cambered sleeves that position the weights slightly more forward.
Most people do safety bar squats because they find regular barbell back squats uncomfortable on their shoulders.
That being said, another result of the unique design is that your upper body stays more upright during the squat movement.
In turn, this works your muscles in a different ratio. More specifically, you will work your quadricep muscles slightly more and glute, hamstring, and erector spinae muscles less.
The main downside of this at-home alternative to hack squats is that a good safety squat bar is a decent investment and not the most versatile piece of fitness equipment.
6. Goblet squats
For the next way to mimic hack squats at home, you need a good dumbbell or kettlebell. Once you have that, take the following steps to do a goblet squat:
- Get the weight up to chest height with a clean movement. You want to hold it as close to your chest as possible with your hand palms pointing back or up.
- Slowly lower your hips by bending your knees as far as comfortable, preferably to at least knee height. You likely have to tilt your upper body forward but keep your spine more or less straight.
- Raise yourself back into the position of step 1 in a controlled motion.
Similar to front squats, goblet squats come closer to hack squats by putting the weights in the front and reducing the amount of hip hinge.
That being said, goblet squats are not ideal for training your quadriceps at home for a few reasons.
First of all, dumbbells and kettlebells do not have the highest weight ceiling. Experienced lifters may not be able to do goblet squats with enough weight to see actual muscle growth and strength progress.
Additionally, getting and keeping the weights to chest height is not that convenient. Your shoulder, bicep, and forearm muscles may fatigue before your quadriceps.
7. Sissy squats
To do sissy squats you likely need something sturdy to hold for balance. Once you have that, take the following steps to do the exercise:
- Stand up straight with your feet about shoulder width apart. Hold something for balance or let your arms hang by your sides.
- Slowly fold your legs at the knees as far as comfortable and tilt the rest of your body back to stay balanced. Your body should stay in about a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Your heels will likely come off the ground.
- Stretch your legs in a controlled motion to get back into the position of step 2.
Contrary to the previous exercises, sissy squats can challenge your quadriceps a nice amount with just your body weight. Similar to hack squats, this movement will mostly work these front upper thigh muscles.
That being said, people who are somewhat experienced with strength training will likely still need extra resistance to make the exercise challenging enough.
One downside of sissy squats is that there are not many equipment options that are great for this since you still want your arms free to balance yourself. A good weighted vest will be your best choice.