Illustration of two bodybuilders doing hack dumbbell and barbell hack squat alternatives.

The Best Hack Squat Alternatives (Barbell, Dumbbell & Machine)

Hack squats are a variation of the squat that puts more emphasis on your quads and less on your postural muscles. There are two reasons people choose hack squats instead of regular squats, giving us two ways to swap them out:

  • Greater range of motion: Hack squats make it easy to work your quads through a deep range of motion, probably stimulating a little more growth than back squats. If that’s what you’re after, front squats and goblet squats are the best alternatives.
  • Less fatigue: Hack squats support your back, putting less strain on your spine and postural muscles. They stimulate your quads without generating as much fatigue. If that’s what you want, swap your hack squats for leg presses, leg extensions, or split squats.

If you want dumbbell hack squat alternatives, look to dumbbell goblet squats and dumbbell split squats.

If you want barbell alternatives, choose between barbell front squats and barbell split squats.

In the rest of the article, we’ll delve into the pros and cons of each exercise, then show you how to do them.

Before and after illustration of an overweight man building muscle and losing fat.

A Note on Hack Squats

Most people do hack squats on a hack squat machine. The machine has back and shoulder pads, shifting the centre of balance forward and taking some strain off the lower back, making it similar to goblet squats, front squats, Zercher squats, and safety-bar squats (all of which are great alternatives).

However, hack squats were originally done with a barbell. They’re like deadlifts with the barbell behind your body. It’s a strange exercise, and I don’t want to call it bad, but I’m not sure why you’d find it in a modern workout program. If that’s what you’re thinking of, all of these alternatives are still perfect.

The Best Machine Alternative: Leg Presses

Leg presses are the most obvious alternative to the hack squat. They’re a squat variation that focuses more on your quads and less on your postural muscles. They’re designed for exactly the same purpose.

Illustration of a bodybuilder doing the leg press exercise.

The difference is that the leg press has more bend at the hips, making it a little bit harder to work your quads through a deep range of motion. To get around that, put your feet at the bottom of the footpad, trying for more ankle and knee bend.

However, if you’re looking for a hack squat alternative, you might not have access to a leg press. Even if you do, some of these other variations offer advantages the leg press can’t.

Best Dumbbell Alternative: Goblet Squats

Dumbbell goblet squats are the best squat variation for beginners, and they remain so until you can do 10+ reps with 100+ pounds. They also offer some of the same advantages as hack squats:

  • By holding the weight in front of you, you shift your centre of balance forward, allowing you to lean back. Leaning back gives you a more upright torso (like the hack squat).
  • Keeping your torso upright frees up more space at your hips, allowing you to squat deeper, getting a greater stretch on your quads (like the hack squat).
  • Having a more upright torso is easier on your lower back (again, like the hack squat). Strengthening your lower back is important, but if it’s already fatigued or if you have lower back issues, it can help to take some stress off it.
  • Holding a dumbbell in front of you works your other postural muscles quite hard (very much unlike the hack squat), especially your upper spinal erectors (improving posture) and serratus muscles (improving shoulder health). I want those areas to grow bigger and stronger, and it’s rare for them to get overly fatigued, so I consider this a great advantage.

Here’s a video of Marco teaching the goblet squat:

Note that Marco is 6’4 and has incredibly long femurs (thigh bones). If you’re shorter or have shorter femurs, you can hold the weight right up against your chest, and your torso will still probably be more upright than his.

Best Barbell Alternative: Front Squats

Front squats are the same as goblet squats, just with a barbell instead of a dumbbell. As with hack squats, they allow you to squat deeper than back squats, working your quads through a longer range of motion.

And, like hack squats, front squats shift the stress away from lower spinal erectors, making them great for people with tired or troublesome lower backs. However, unlike hack squats, front squats work your upper back and serratus quite hard, strengthening your posture and improving your shoulder health.

Best for Athletes: Split Squats

Like hack squats, split squats are easy on your back. That’s because you’re training your legs one at a time, cutting the load in half, and this halving the load on your spine. You can do them with a dumbbell or barbell. They pair well with both front squats and goblet squats.

Split squats don’t work your quads through a particularly deep range of motion, and you need to train your legs one at a time, so they aren’t quite the same as hack squats, goblet squats, or front squats. However, they work your legs in a split stance, which is great for improving running and sports performance. If you want to be more athletic, this is the variation for you.

Best for Bodybuilding: Leg Extensions

Finally, leg extensions are great if all you’re trying to do is build bigger quads in the simplest, easiest way possible. Hop on the machine, grind out your reps, and your quads will get a great growth stimulus.

Leg extensions are the only hack squat alternative that fully stimulates the rectus femoris—the head of your quads that crosses your hip joint. It won’t give you a greater quad sweep or a bigger teardrop. It’s a small muscle at the front of your quads. But if you’re a bodybuilder who wants fully developed legs, it helps to target every head of every muscle.


  • Goblet squats are the best dumbbell hack squat alternative.
  • Front squats are the best barbell alternative.
  • Leg presses are the best gym alternative.
  • Leg extensions are best for isolating your quads.
  • Split squats are great for improving athleticism.

All of those variations give you the main benefits of hack squats: they work your quads through a full range of motion with minimal stress on your lower back.

Cover illustration of the Outlift intermediate bulking program for naturally skinny guys.

Alright, that’s it for now. If you want more muscle-building information, we have a free muscle-building newsletterIf you want a customizable hypertrophy training workout program (and full guide) with customizable exercises, check out our Outlift Intermediate Bulking Program. Or, if you’re still skinny, try our Bony to Beastly (men’s) program or Bony to Bombshell (women’s) program.

If you have any questions, drop them in the comments below. I’ll answer all of them.

Shane Duquette is the co-founder of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell. He's a certified conditioning coach with a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He's personally gained 70 pounds and has over a decade of experience helping over 10,000 skinny people bulk up.

Marco Walker-Ng is the co-founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and is a certified trainer (PTS) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. His specialty is helping people build muscle to improve their strength and general health, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

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