Sports Training

Leg Press vs Hack Squat – Which is Better, Harder, Safer? Benefits & Alternatives

The legs are one of the muscle groups that separate the gym-bros and the true weight-room warriors.

The former don’t like training them at all. They worship a strange physique, with big upper bodies, but skinny legs.

If you're not part of this group that hates leg training, read on. Today we'll compare the Hack Squat with the Leg Press, two fantastic accessory exercises for the lower body.

We'll talk about these two exercises by naming the benefits, teach you how to perform them, and give you a scientific perspective on leg training.

The scientific references for this article will be found at the end of it.


Leg Press

Leg Press

The leg press is an exercise that has always been present in the leg workouts of all kinds of trainees.

Next we will see which are the muscles that are most activated during the execution of this exercise.

We will also analyze the abstract of an interesting study by Marczwski Da Silva et al. published in 2008 that will tell us about the differences between leg presses at different angles.


Muscles Worked on the Leg Press

Muscles Worked on the Leg Press

The leg press is a pushing movement of the lower body. The muscles that will be involved to a greater extent will be the knee extensors. Although, the gluteus and hamstring will also be activated during this exercise.

In the study we mentioned, we can observe how muscle activation will vary according to the angle at which we perform a leg press. In this case, the horizontal leg press, the 45° leg press and the vertical leg press were compared.

The result of this study indicates that during the 45° leg press and the horizontal leg press, the greatest activation of the quadriceps and calf muscles is obtained.

On the other hand, the vertical leg press presented greater activation of the gluteus muscle.

If our gym has the necessary equipment to perform the three variations of this exercise, there will be no problem with varying between them in each workout.

Leg presses are one of my favorites, when I don't have time for a long gym session I like mixing leg presses with other workouts that work the upper body like the single arm French press or the overhead cable curl, that way I work my lower body and my upper body in one relatively short session.


How to Execute a Leg Press

How to Execute a Leg Press

The leg press is a machine-based exercise. As we already know, these kinds of exercises are easier to perform and require less coordination than free weights exercises.

Also, during the execution of the leg press, we will reduce the involvement of the stabilizer muscles, as the machine will mark our range of motion.

The steps to perform leg presses are as follows:

Load the weight to the machine.

Choose a weight with which you can perform the exercise with good form and load it onto the Leg Press machine.

 Position yourself

Place your back on the backrest of the machine and your butt on the seat. Your body must not move away from the machine at any time, all the strength must be done by your legs.

Place your feet on the plate with a distance of the width of your hips.

Push

Take a breath that fills your abdomen with air and brace your core. Push hard, concentrating on keeping your knees firmly locked.

Do not over-extend the knee at the end of the repetition. Begin the eccentric phase when knee flexion is minimal. Before reaching extension.

Perform a controlled eccentric phase

Once you finish the concentric phase, descend in a controlled manner until you return to the starting position.

 Exhale.

Here is a video of how to do leg presses:


How to Include Leg Presses on Your Training Program

How to Include Leg Presses on your training program

The leg press is a compound exercise, since, as we can see, it involves several muscle groups, such as the gluteus, quadricep and also the hamstring.

However, this is a machine-based exercise, which will mean that it will not involve the stabilizer muscles to any great extent. This is why it will not be a main exercise.

The squat, for example, is a core exercise. In addition to involving the muscles we named, it involves the core and back as stabilizers.

Knowing this, we believe that the best way to include the leg press in your routine is after performing your main exercise. However, being a compound exercise, we recommend prioritizing it over isolated machine-based exercises, such as leg extensions or leg curls.

To maximize hypertrophy results and to avoid compromising our knee joints with heavy weights on an accessory exercise, we recommend limiting ourselves to performing a minimum of eight reps on this exercise to also maximize hypertrophy.

Also, we can experiment with higher repetition ranges. Bodybuilding legend Tom Platz is to this day renowned for his high-rep leg workouts.

For many, Tom Platz had the best legs in the history of bodybuilding.


Hack Squat

the-hack-squat-2

The hack squat is another fantastic exercise if we want to get broad quads. It is an exercise that emulates the motion of the squat, but its range of motion is determined by a machine.

This exercise will serve the same function as the leg press in our routine. It will be a compound accessory exercise that will be a priority, but not as much as our main lift, which will be the first of the session.

And also this exercise is made easy by the use of hack squat machines, these machines help you get the best out of this exercise and while they may be a bit expensive they are well worth the money.


Muscles Worked on the Hack Squat

Muscles Worked on the Hack Squat

The muscles that will be mainly worked during the hack squat will be the quadriceps and glutes, and the hamstrings will also participate in the movement.

In the study "Evaluation of Muscle Activities During Different Squat Variations Using Electromyography Signals", carried out by Deniz Erdağ and Hasan Ulaş Yavuz, we can see that the hack squat, within the squat variations, is the one that least involves the stabilizing muscles, both of the knee and the lower back (Erector spinae and semitendinosus).

If for any reason, such as injury, we want to reduce the load on our knees and lower back, the hack squat is a great option.

According to electromyographic studies, the hack squat will also offer even greater quadricep activation than the back squat. This does not mean that it is a better exercise.

Machine leg extensions also offer more activation than the back squat according to electromyographic measurements.

 As Brad Schoenfeld points out in his paper "Inappropriate interpretation of surface EMG signals and muscle fiber characteristics impedes understanding of the control of neuromuscular function", more EMG activation doesn’t directly translate into more hypertrophy, though, he also says EMG does have it’s place when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of an exercise. (1)


How to Execute a Hack Squat

How to Execute a Hack Squat

To execute a hack squat we will need the appropriate machine. It can be found in most commercial gyms.

This is an easy exercise to perform since the entire path will demarcate the machine itself. The steps to perform it are as follows:

Get in position

Position yourself on the machine by placing your back against the backrest and your shoulders under the two pads that will be on the sides of your head.  Place your feet on the disc slightly wider than your hips.

Take a deep breath and brace your core

Take a deep breath sending the air into your stomach and push the walls of your abdomen by bracing your core.

Squat

Controlled, lower yourself with your butt, sitting between your feet, to a little lower than your knees. When you reach this position, push with your legs strongly until you return to the starting position and then exhale.

Here is how to do hack squats:


How to Include Hack Squats on your training program.

How to Include Hack Squats on your training program

As we already mentioned, the hack squat will play the same role as the leg press in our training routine. It will be an accessory that we will perform after our main lift of the day.

We recommend performing it in the same range of repetitions as the leg press, between eight and twelve.

This exercise was one of Tom Platz's favorites. In this video, we can see how he performs this exercise among others. And also, we see how he performs it after the squats.


How to Fit Both Leg Presses and Hack Squats in your Training Routine

How to Fit Both Leg Presses and Hack Squats in your Training Routine1

As we already told you, these exercises serve the same function. So, the smartest way to include them in your routine will be to use this factor to your advantage and get variation to achieve a similar goal.

In our opinion, the ideal way to include both in your routine is to alternate them per session. That is, perform the hack squat on one of your leg days, and the leg press on your other weekly leg day.

An example of two leg days schematized in this way might be:

First leg day:

  • Low bar squat - 5x5
  • Hack Squat - 4x8
  • Romanian Deadlift - 4x8
  • Leg Extensions - 3x15

In this way, we would be covering the role of main exercise with the squat, an exercise composed of free weights that will involve the core and other stabilizers such as the lower back.

Then, the hack squat and the Romanian deadlift will serve as main accessories, the former focusing on the front of our thigh, and the latter on the back.

Finally, we perform leg extensions at higher reps to increase congestion and finish the workout.

Second leg day:

  • Front Squat - 5x5
  • Leg Press- 4x8
  • SLDL - 4x8
  • Leg Curls - 3x15

On this second day, we vary all the exercises, although we keep a similar approach.

This time, we start with front squats to focus even more on the quads compared to the low bar squat. Then, we performed leg presses as the main accessory.

We continue with deadlifts with stiff legs to focus on the hamstrings, and we finish the workout this time with a machine accessory.

These workouts are intended for a Push/Pull/Legs routine in which we perform deadlifts on the pull-up day. Otherwise, the second workout would definitely start with deadlifts.


Hack Squat vs Leg Press - Which is Better?

Hack Squat vs Leg Press - Which is Better

Both the hack squat and leg press are excellent accessory exercises for our leg day.

We can't pick a winner, because even though they have some differences, they serve the same function and it won't be performing one or the other that determines how good your legs will be.

Train smart, prioritize compound exercises with free weights and push yourself in the weight-room and the results will come regardless of which of these two fantastic exercises you decide to perform.

Related Readings:

References

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26670343/
  2. https://www.verywellfit.com/how-to-do-the-leg-press-3498610
  3. https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/a28133625/hack-squat/
  4. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/337400852_Evaluation_of_Muscle_Activities_During_Different_Squat_Variations_Using_Electromyography_Signals

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