Most everyday gym-goers find it hard to choose between a hack squat vs leg press. You can find these exercise machines in just about every commercial gym, and they’re among the best solutions for developing your glutes, hamstrings, and quads.
Unfortunately, most people don’t know much about these exercises, which is why they often choose the one that doesn’t suit their specific needs. So, we decided to help you out by analyzing every difference between hack squat and leg press. We’ll also suggest some of the best equipment on the market.
The main difference between hack squat vs leg press is that with the hack squat, the weight is loaded on the person’s shoulders. By comparison, leg press loads weight on a platform, which you have to push away.
What Is a Hack Squat?
The hack squat is a variation of a regular squat. It puts your back in a reclined position, removing any pressure that you feel during the traditional squats. As such, this machine reduces the chance of injury, which is otherwise common during this type of workout. A study also shows that the two squat workouts have different impacts on your trunk.
Another major benefit the hack squat provides is that it engages more muscles than the leg press and some other leg exercises. This makes it an excellent choice if you have limited time to train different muscle groups separately. It's extremely versatile, so you can use it as the primary focus of your training or as an assisted exercise.
The hack squat is also lauded by many bodybuilders for helping with muscle hypertrophy. One of the most notable figures who performed the hack squat in a fairly frequent manner was an IFBB Pro, Tom Platz, who was adequately nicknamed the "The Quadfather"
It’s also interesting that machine squats provide more benefits than free-weight squats.
Here are a few situations when hack squat is the optimal choice:
- For people who need a more complex leg workout as it also develops core muscles besides legs.
- For those looking for an exercise with a high carry-over to barbell squats.
Aside from legs, it also helps build core muscles
Less impact on your spine compared to traditional squats (but higher impact on the spine than leg press)
Good for beginners who want to learn how to perfect their standard squats
The machine has a failsafe that allows you to work out without a spotter
Could be better:
Designed for people of average height, which is why it can cause issues for shorter or taller athletes
You have to work both legs simultaneously, unlike some other leg machines
Like with traditional squats, beginners might struggle to maintain balance
Our Recommended Hack Squat Machine
The Plate-Loaded Linear Hack Squat Machine is one of the best pieces of equipment in this category. It places your body at a 35-degree angle, thus reducing the impact on your spine. Unlike similar products, this machine is much better at accommodating athletes of different heights.
This hack squat machine features a weight carriage that slides on guide rods and linear bearings. All parts are made from steel alloy, ensuring longevity and durability. Weight sleeves are 9.75 inches long, and you can use them to load Olympic-style plates.
You can easily set up the equipment or quickly fold it for transport. The product comes with a one-year warranty, but it's also worth noting that the buyer doesn’t get any plates with the purchase.
What Is a Leg Press?
Truth be told, there are some similarities between a hack squat and a leg press machine. Both of them put your back in a reclining position, trying to isolate leg muscles during the workout. However, unlike the hack squat equipment, leg press machines put your legs at a 90-degree angle compared to your body.
According to many fitness and weightlifting enthusiasts, the leg press is the most important exercise in a leg workout. Aside from strengthening your glutes and thighs, this type of machine can also help your calves and hamstring. The product is especially fantastic for muscle hypertrophy focusing on your quadriceps.
However, a study from 2008 shows that the impact on muscles can vary based on the pressing angles. There are major differences between standard leg press and declined leg press, which is another thing to consider when buying one of these bad boys.
If you’re looking to improve speed strength, you should try exercises other than the leg press.
Here are a few situations where leg press shines:
- For people who have trouble retaining the perfect form with other leg exercises.
- For those who need assistance exercise for back squats as it improves the strength of quads and their development.
Reduces pressure on your spine, compared to traditional squats
You can focus different muscle groups by altering foot placement
Similar to hack squat, it eliminates the need for a spotter
Due to the leg presses’ design, there is no loss of resistance (you press the exact weight you've put on the machine)
Could be better:
There is a chance you’ll work one leg more than the other
Athletes using this equipment are at risk of rounding their back
The machine provides a false sense of security, which is why you might suffer injury due to excessive weight or poor movement
Our Recommended Leg Press Machine
If you’re looking for a great leg workout station, you should definitely consider Powertec Fitness Leg Press Machine. The product is made by one of the biggest fitness brands, Powertec, which has been in the business since 1997. Their products are generally reliable and made from the highest-quality materials.
When you buy this machine, you get different warranties for specific parts, ranging from one to five years. You can start your workouts with as little as 60 lbs. and push all the way to 1,000 lbs. The Powertec Fitness Leg Press Machine also has a dual safety system, allowing you to exercise at home without a spotter.
Hack Squat vs Leg Press
Choosing between a hack squat or leg press is often tricky. You can find these machines in just about any gym, and they're both excellent for leg development. In an ideal situation, you should use them interchangeably for a more complete workout.
On the surface, it even seems they have the same purpose since these two machines force an athlete to press the plates with both legs in a steady motion. However, body placement is what separates the two, placing emphasis on different muscles and movements.
Design and Parts
Before we analyze the specific features of these two products, let's go through their design and parts.
Hack squat machines have padding for your back and shoulders, which is important since the machine will be pressing on your upper body. In addition, there are two handles close to the shoulder pads that help stabilize the body. The product also features foot support at the bottom that you push against to complete a rep.
Hack squat products have two parallel rails allowing the back support sled to go up and down. Weights are commonly placed behind the back, on horizontal bars. The main thing that separates one hack squat machine from another is the angle of the sleds. Most of them are placed at 45 degrees, but you also have products that are at 70, 80 degrees.
Leg press machines can also vary based on the angles. The less common option places gym-goers in a seating position with back and head padding behind them. Athletes push the footplate horizontally to execute a repetition.
The more common machine is the one where your legs are at 45 degrees upwards. This time around, there’s much more pressure on the legs forcing you to push against the plate to finish a workout (in other words, less time for relaxing).
The footplate is positioned on the sliding rails. In most cases, there are two bars on the side of the footplate where you can place weights. The machine also features two assist handles close to the seat that helps you keep your back and neck in an optimal position.
When analyzing a leg press vs hack squat, it’s always best to start from joints. In the end, if you have a long injury history, the last thing you need is to overburden certain parts of your body.
The hack squat generally requires a much wider range of motion. The exercise is geared toward experienced gym-goers, and it requires excellent control and balance. During a workout, you’ll do a full range of motion for your knees, going from an upright position to a squat. As you're fully bending your knees, there's also an enormous emphasis on hip and ankle joints.
Leg press machines are much more lenient, requiring less joint movement. The equipment forces high utilization of knee joints, although the range of motion isn't as wide as with a hack squat. The two machines have similar impacts on hips, while the leg press requires moderate hip movement (compared to a wide range of motion on hack squats).
Based on the previous entry, you can easily tell that the hack squat has higher requirements. The wider range of motion allows the activation of additional muscle groups, which is why a hack squat is generally considered a complete workout. This is especially noticeable when you switch from a hack squat to a leg press.
The hack squat builds numerous muscles, including glutes, quads, adductors, abdominals, calves, and back muscles. Unlike the leg press, it doesn't isolate legs and, instead, has a much more significant impact on your core. During the workout, there's a lot of hip and knee flexion, forcing glutes and quads to their limits.
Hack squats also require strong adductors. These muscles allow you to go from a downward, squatting position to an upright position, while also helping you strengthen the hips. Given that the exercise requires good posture and balance, there will also be some pressure on the spinal erectors and abdominal muscles.
On the other hand, the leg press “only” works the glutes, quads, calves, and abductors. The workout is predicated on leg and knee flexion, forcing these muscles to be the main moving forces. As the weights press down on your legs, you need strong adductors to strengthen them up and finish a repetition.
During the leg press, there’s also a small emphasis on calves. Specifically, these muscles are crucial for knee and ankle extension.
Due to different positions, a leg press and a hack squat utilize weights in completely different manners. As previously mentioned, both of them are major upgrades to squats, as they reduce spinal loading. However, if you have a troubled back, it's much better to go with a leg press.
Given that a hack squat provides more body support than traditional squats, you can lift much more weight. However, to get the most from your workouts, you’ll need a strong torso, given the high axial load.
Unlike hack squat workouts, which sometimes feel as if your whole body will be squashed, leg press doesn’t put as much pressure on you. Of course, you still need to press weights to finish reps, but the exercise isn’t as arduous.
As a result, a person can lift much more during leg press. You’re not limited by the strength of your torso, which could be the case with hack squats.
Impact on Strength and Power
Difficulty and Challenge
Although the hack squat can provide more benefits, the leg press also has its charms and should be a part of your exercise routine.
The exercise is fantastic for isolating your legs. You also don’t rely on your abdomen for pushing, as is the case with hack squats. In that regard, you don’t feel as fatigued when doing leg presses. Still, you can’t take full breaks between repetitions as you have all this weight on your legs when they’re outstretched.
Aside from weights, the machine angles can also affect your experience with hack squats and leg presses.
Is the Hack Squat Better Than the Leg Press?
It’s hard to tell which one of these two exercises is better as they both have their pros and cons. In theory, you can implement both of them in your workout routine.
Leg press focuses more on the legs, while hack squat also works your core muscles. Both of them are a good replacement for traditional squats, as they alleviate the pressure on your back.
Can Leg Press Replace Hack Squat?
Although both of these exercises are fantastic for quad hypertrophy, they’re far from interchangeable.
In particular, these two workouts have a completely different impact on secondary muscle groups. While a leg press is fantastic for legs, a hack squat also helps build your core. This can especially be important for professional athletes who are looking to improve certain movements through hack squatting.
Should I Do a Hack Squat and Leg Press on the Same Day?
Given that these two exercises put emphasis on the glutes and quads, it might seem redundant to do them on the same day.
However, as you’re doing legs anyway, it isn’t bad to add some versatility. If anything, adding more exercises to your workout regimen can make things more fun. In other words, doing leg presses and hack squats during the same workout can reduce mental fatigue.
Both leg presses and hack squats are fantastic exercises. If this is your first time going to a gym, we would recommend starting with leg presses. Hack squats, on the other hand, are more challenging, making them a better option for experienced athletes. Keep in mind that your results might also vary based on the gender.
Which one of these two exercises do you prefer? Do you use them simultaneously during your leg days? Share your preferences in the comments below!
- Trunk Muscle Activation in the Back and Hack Squat at the Same Relative Loads // Pubmed: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28704312/
- A Comparison of Machine versus Free-Weight Squats for the Enhancement of Lower-Body Power, Speed, and Change-of-Direction Ability during an Initial Training Phase of Recreationally-Active Women // Ncbi: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6835729/
- Analysis of muscle activation during different leg press exercises at submaximum effort levels // Pubmed: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18545207/
- The Impact of Back Squat and Leg-Press Exercises on Maximal Strength and Speed-Strength Parameters // Pubmed: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26439782/
- Exploring differences in electromyography and force production between front and back squats before and after fatigue and how this differs between the sexes // Eprints: https://eprints.lancs.ac.uk/id/eprint/168175/1/2021CatherineRattleyMedicalSciences.pdf
My name is Ihor and I have been a professional weightlifter since 1996. With over 20 years of competition experience, my resume includes European Champion in 2009 and the silver medalist at 2011's Senior World Championships – 105kg division.
I competed at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics.
After hanging up my own competitive lifting shoes, I decided to share my huge background as a coach. I am currently coaching multiple athletes who are competing at national and international competitions.