I am a Board Certified Physical Therapist. Prior to acquiring my license for therapy, I was a certified personal trainer.
Developing Muscular Legs
Any time you walk in to a gym or fitness center, you are going to find a large variety of different machines, apparatuses, and free weights to work each and every part of your body. When you have so many ways to train, you will eventually try to determine which exercises your body responds to the best.
I cannot stress this enough that everyone's body is different. With so many different machines and exercises to choose from, everyone's body will respond differently to different kinds of training/stimulation. Simply changing the angle of any particular exercise, even slightly, can alter the muscles fibers involved or incorporate more muscle fibers that are affected by the movement.
Recently I was asked by a gym regular which was the better leg exercise for optimum thigh development. Is the squat the best or is it the hack squat?.
Both the squat and hack squat exercises are extremely beneficial to any leg workout routine. As far as one being better than the other, well there are various factors that would determine this and it pretty much all depends on you. The first questions that need to be answered when trying to figure out which is better for you is one, what goals are you trying to accomplish and two, what sport/activity you are participating in, if any. If you are into body building, fitness competition, or any other kind of weight training competitive sport, that is associated with more muscle growth, you will more than likely use both exercises. The squat will be used as your muscle builder. If you're just a regular gym rat trying to lose a few pounds or get/stay in shape/fit, the stress of super heavy lifting really isn't that necessary. You do not need to use huge, heavy weights to develop/tone a muscle.There are several different training methods, and the machines and exercises that will get you the greatest gains that are contingent on what you want for your body.
Muscles Involved in Squat
If you are into competitive body building or just trying to become a mass monster, the squat is going to be one of the most beneficial leg exercises, primarily because it incorporates a larger number of muscles and fibers, including your quads, hips, glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. All of which are a part of your core and increases your strength and stability building. Your shoulders upper back and abdominals also come into play during a squat with good form. If gaining huge size is your primary goal, it is imperative that you lift with heavy weights. So what's the down side? Is there a downside? Well research has shown that performing heavy squats on a consistent basis can put a greater degree of stress/pressure on your knees and lower back, making them more susceptible to injury. If you have not done squats before or are just beginning, It's definitely recommend to keep your hips tight and sitting back into the squat, rather than leaning forward. Use a bench or a box under your butt until you are stronger and comfortable squatting without one. This will alleviate some of the stress put on your knees. You should also use your brain when squatting, not your vanity. The quality of your form and sets is much more important than the number of plates on the bar. Don't try to impress the girls in the gym and hurt yourself.
The Hack Squat
Some people who are not fitness freaks and go to the gym regularly may not be very familiar with the hack squat exercise. It almost appears to be kind of like a smith machine laying down at an approximate forty five degree angle with a lot of back support. There are many advantages of the hack squat. It's very similar to the sissy squat, as it builds and puts a lot of stress on your front quads and your hamstrings evenly. The hack squat machine provides the balance, stability and offers support and protection to your lower back that the free weight standing squat rack does not. It also allows you to take a much narrower stance when performing the movement without the complications of being unbalanced (machine provides the stability). Using a full range of motion, bringing your butt all the way down to the floor and coming back up until your legs are almost straight, without locking them out. If you haven't tried the hack squat, they can be extremely challenging and difficult. If you are just beginning your fitness journey, starting out with the hack squat would probably be the most advantageous to do until your body/core is strong enough to provide itself with strength, balance and stability to use the freestanding squat rack.
Which Exercise Is Better?
So is one exercise better than the other one? Like I stated previously, with everyone having different fitness goals for their body, there is really no clear cut answer. It's dependent on you. For me personally, I have always incorporated both of the exercises into my workouts. I have competed in natural competitions, but I like to do both for overall muscle development. Sometimes I will perform them on the same leg workout day and other times I will throw the hack squat in with my hamstring workout routine, as I am always constantly changing my workout routines. I am more interested in symmetry rather than size for my body, however, both exercises are extremely beneficial for leg development and would be a great addition to any routine, regardless of your fitness goals. So I say, do them both!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Kevin W (author) from Texas on May 30, 2014:
Thank you Bob Go, make sure you get that shoulder rehabbed.
Harry Baldwin from New England (various locations) on May 19, 2014:
I hack squat and front squat - shoulder injuried make a regular squat very tough for me. Great job!
ShamontielLVaughn on February 08, 2014:
Oh, nope I'm not overdoing them. Maybe 20 to 40 per day while holding weights. No overtime. Same deal as with a fitness trainer just without the barbell on my neck. Thanks for the fitness tip though.
P.S. Future tip for you (because I see this all the time on Twitter): you're = you are; your = something that belongs to someone (ex. "You're the one who writes about your nutrition training." "You're the writer who has your samples on HubPages.")
Kevin W (author) from Texas on February 08, 2014:
@Easy Exercise - the exercises that should used really do depend on each individual and their particular fitness goals, thank you for the read.
@ShamontielLVaughn - Unless you're into competitive bodybuilding/fitness sports, going super heavy in squats really are not necessary. You can still develop muscle without going heavy.
ShamontielLVaughn on February 05, 2014:
I have no problem with doing squats. I never did heavy squats until I got a free fitness training at Bally's. It was okay. I preferred regular squats. I'm just not a fan of hack squats though. I'm surprised that in the video he locked his legs. I always hear about being careful about popping your legs like that, but hey, maybe I'm wrong on that end. I just know weights on the shoulders leave me sore for days and not in the "feel so good I burned calories" way. Maybe for men it's different. Otherwise I'm a big fan of weight training.
Kelly A Burnett from United States on February 01, 2014:
Alphadogg16, Very useful and practical information. As a personal trainer who hired her own personal trainer and was advised to incorporate squats, I have diligently avoid squats. I know the value and need to motivate myself to make this a priority in my fitness routine.
I came to your site because I was unfamiliar with the Hack squat. It is important to guide our readers and our clients of the best type of exercise for their specific fitness chapter. I am writing an article on the various types of squats and be sure to reference this article. Very well done article. Voted up!
Kevin W (author) from Texas on September 28, 2012:
Front squats are also good for targeting your quads but are a little more for the advanced athlete. If your using 200 lbs, that's pretty good.
Jesse Schule on September 28, 2012:
How about front squats ? I used to do a lot of heavy squats in my twenties, but now that I am a 30 something, out of shape weekend warrior type, heavy squats are out of the question.
A buddy of mine turned me onto front squats, and I have been able to effectively increase the intesity without going ultra heavy.
I get a pretty good workout doing front squats with about 200lbs .. whereas normall squats would perhaps be too easy with that weight.
It seems to be good for balance .. and I am not killing myself ..
Works for me so far..