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Hack Squat vs Leg Press — Building Bigger Legs

Mar 17, 2018

Which is a better movement to build bigger legs — the hack squat vs leg press?

When you decide to add variation to your leg routine, there are plenty of options to do so.

Hack Squat vs Leg Press - Dark Iron Fitness Belt

If you don’t want to keep it strictly to conventional squats, you can use the hack squat machine.

Another option, that is very popular, is the leg press machine.

Both of these machines have benefits and downsides that we can discuss.

In this article, we will weigh the options (no pun intended) to see which is better and why.

Remember, even with the hack squat machine and leg press, you should still protect yourself with the Dark Iron Fitness genuine leather weightlifting belt.

Injuries can still occur from using these machines — even if their construction makes them safer overall.

So, let’s discuss why you may choose to do these exercises and how they can benefit you.


Hack Squat vs Leg Press — Why These Machines?

What is the Hack Squat Machine?

Hack Squat vs Leg Press - Hack Squat Machine

The hack squat is done using an angled machine that positions you for the squat.

In my opinion, the biggest benefit from the hack squat is the added safety from its design.

People will choose this machine for their leg day for several different reasons.

Sometimes due to injuries, or to avoid focusing as much on form or to hit depth easier.

When you do the hack squat, you’ll have two handles that allow you to lock and unlock the machine.

This allows for you to press firmly and deeply through your heels and get low.

Then, when you get back to the top of the squat and finish your set, you use the handles to lock the machine safely.

Hack squats are a nice way to get into the groove of squats safely and comfortably — especially for beginners.

Related: Machine Hack Squat Tutorial


What is the Leg Press Machine?

Hack Squat vs Leg Press - Leg Press MachineUnlike the hack squat, which is an angled standing machine, the leg press has you seated.

There are mainly two types of leg press machine — seated parallel to the ground or seated at an angle.

When seated parallel, you press straight away, whereas the angled leg press allows you to press up and forward.

Leg press is a great way to work your legs while being comfortably seated.

Also, usually, leg press can hold a lot more weight.

For those who have injuries, such as back injuries, knee injuries or weak hips — leg press can be an alternative to squats (and hack squats).

Related: The Pros and Cons of Leg Press

Hack Squat vs Leg Press — Are There Different Types?

Hack Squat vs Leg Press - Leg Press Weight StackMost hack squat machines are all very similar.

If anything, different hack squat machines will have their weight loads either above your shoulders or more loaded towards your hips.

This doesn’t necessarily change the dynamic of the hack squat, but occasionally it’ll change the amount of weight you can load on the machine.

As for the leg press machine, as stated above, there are normally two variations.

The leg press machines that are parallel to the ground and are pressed straight outward are normally constructed with cables and a weight stack.

For the leg press that is manually loaded by weight plates, you are normally pressing the weights upwards in an angled position.

The difference here is the amount of weight you can work with.

When the leg press is utilizing a weight stack, it usually hovers a little over the 300-lb mark.

However, a leg press that takes weight plates can hold quite a bit more.

Leg press machines can hold 8 or more plates on each side and even more loaded on top.

What this entails is the potential to leg press over 1000-lbs.

Related: What’s Better? Squats vs Hack Squats


Hack Squat vs Leg Press — Which Should You Use?

Hack Squat vs Leg Press — Assessing Your Goals

Hack Squat vs Leg Press - Muscles WorkedThe main way to decide on hack squats or leg press is by assessing your goals.

Most likely you are looking to replicate the squat movement.

If building your legs — with your glutes and quads as a focus — then both work well.

However, you need to factor in your potential for growth and how far each exercise can take you.

Depending on your gym, your machines may or may not be suitable for future progressive overload.

If your leg press only has a weight stack that goes up to 300-lb, then you will surpass that stack eventually.

For beginners, though, either will do the job.

Choose which is more comfortable and see what works well for your style of exercise.

Are you more into slow and controlled for depth?

Or, would you rather bust out your reps and overload your quads with intensity?

The best route to take would be accompanied by the Dark Iron Fitness genuine leather weightlifting belt for further safety.

Whichever you decide on, make sure you don’t push your limits dangerously.

Related: Effective Bodyweight Leg Exercises


Hack Squat vs Leg Press — Understanding Your Limits

Hack Squat vs Leg Press - Leg Press High VolumeSpeaking of dangers — always understand your limits.

Hack squats vs leg press: which is safer for you?

That should be the real question since you want to reach your natural limit, but safely.

Anyone who has bad knees and weak hips, you’d probably be more comfortable on the leg press.

Those with weak glutes and bad backs may find more comfort in doing hack squats.

Make sure you are doing both within your comfort and skill level — especially if you have injuries.

Those of you who cannot do squats due to injuries can still be hurt by leg press and hack squats.

Start off easy and practice your form before you add excessive weight.

Once you understand your limits and can work within them, then you can work to surpass your limits.

Related: Why Do Squats Hurt My Lower Back?


Conclusion: Hack Squats vs Leg Press

How to Approach Hack Squats

Hack Squat vs Leg Press - Reverse Hack SquatHack squats optimize your workout, but normal squats are also important.

If you are able to do squats, then do so, then add in your hack squats and leg press.

Mixing all of these exercises will give you the best leg burning workout possible.

Also, when doing hack squats, experiment with stance width and depth.

For example, when you hit depth, try performing a pause rep.

What this does is allow for you to create an “accountable” repertoire with your form.

You can even turn around and do reverse hack squats, which work the glutes exceptionally.

How to Approach Leg Press

Hack Squat vs Leg Press - Leg Press Foot PlacementThe same thing goes for your leg presses — try a variety of styles.

With leg press, you can really target different parts of the leg through foot placement.

Using a wider stance will target your inner thighs, while a narrower stance will target the outer thighs.

Placing your feet higher on the platform will target your glutes and hamstrings.

On the other hand, having your feet lower on the platform will stimulate the quads.

Lastly, if you perform the leg press with your legs comfortably in front of you, centered, you can achieve a nice, all-around leg workout.

Leg press is an amazing way to overload on the volume you use, just make sure to prepare for recovery afterward.

An intense session of pyramid sets and drop sets will have your legs throbbing.

Related: Foam Rolling Quads – Recovery for Results


Hack Squat vs Leg Press — Doubling Up on Safety

Hack Squat vs Leg Press - Dark Iron Fitness Weightlifting BeltMy favorite aspect of these machines is their ability to create an atmosphere of safety.

The designs of most hack squat and leg press machines are optimal for gains and security.

If you get stuck mid-set, the machine’s fail-safe will protect you.

However, I still would suggest doubling up on safety with something like a weight belt.

The Dark Iron Fitness genuine leather weightlifting belt is your go to if you want to maintain form and annihilate the hack squat and leg press.

Plus, once you switch back to traditional squats and squat variations, you’ll definitely want to have a belt handy.

Related: Heavy Squat Benefits


Hack Squat vs Leg Press — Which is Better?

Hack Squat vs Leg Press - Hack Squat MachineUsually, I decide which exercise is better based on its variety, potential gains optimization, level of difficulty and overall safety.

This would include the versatility of each exercise, how it targets the muscles, how much weight can be used, who the exercise caters to, and if it is the safest alternative when compared to other movements.

With these things in mind, I slightly edge my preference to leg press (only if it uses manually loaded weight plates).

Leg press can be done in a variety of stances, with the seat angled in many ways.

You can target all different parts of the legs and glutes.

For the most part, an immense amount of weight works with leg press machine.

The movement itself caters to beginners and professionals alike — someone may be leg pressing one plate on each side one minute, then the next person may be leg pressing 8 plates on each side right after.

It is also a seated movement, which helps a lot of people that have prior injuries or are injury-prone.

Furthermore, in comparison to doing traditional squats or Smith machine squats, I think it’s still much safer — especially when doing high volume.

But, it’s truly up to you to decide which you prefer more.

Don’t get stuck on hack squat vs leg press, but instead do hack squats and leg press.

Both should definitely be factored into your weekly workouts if you enjoy results!

Related: How Long Does It Take to See Results From Squats and Lunges?