Battle Of Machines — Do Hack Squats Build Muscle Better Than The Leg Press?
Let’s face facts, we all love machines. They make life easier in every way. Whether we are talking about a kitchen stove, a car or even the hack squat machine.
The beauty of fitness machines is how they allow us to add more weight and volume SAFELY without compromising form.
This applies especially to our leg training. The hack squat and the leg press may be discouraged or looked down upon by the functional fitness crowd. But they serve a good purpose in your leg workouts.
The Leg Press — Push The Sled, Grow Your Legs
The leg press can be found in any gym across the world. We all love the leg press.
Because everybody can lift a ton of weight regardless of skill level or experience. It gives your ego that instant gratification of being awesome.
Unfortunately, this is also their biggest drawback. The leg press has become something of a circus act. You see people jumping on it and just pushing up ridiculous amounts of weight.
Just because the leg press is a machine does’t meant that you can just jump in a start blind firing your way to results.
There is a technique to using the leg press properly.
Leg Press Technique
When you place your feet up on the sled, you want to make sure your feet are directly under your knees.
This will ensure proper joint integrity.
The next major thing to remember is you want to push through BOTH the heels and the balls of your feet.
I explained this in my Bulgarian split squat article, be sure to read it to find the full detail explanation why this is done.
The shore answer is we want to have these exercises transfer as much strength over to our main lifts as much as possible.
By pushing the heels into the sled we are activating the glutes. Pushing the balls of the feet will activate the quads, specifically the vastus medialis (teardrop muscle).
Sets And Reps
How many sets and reps should you do? What about 3 sets of 8-10 reps? It works very well for all your other exercises so why not the leg press?
Well, I hope you put some thought into this question because that is completely wrong. For the leg press you want to perform as much volume as you can.
Remember earlier when I said that the leg press’s worst quality is how anyone can load a ton of weight on it without any experience?
Well, this is one of the reasons why this is so bad.
With the leg press, you want to do WAY more reps than 8-10. You want to perform sets of 20, 30 and sometimes even 40 reps per set.
This gives you the biggest pump and will assist your main lifts the most.
The leg press was literally designed for doing lots of volume. It was not designed for doing near maximal weights.
So leave the ego at the door when using this machine.
There is also one major safety concern I should mention which gives you another reason not to use too much weight.
Next time you are in the gym, take a look at somebody leg pressing way too much weight and tell me what you see.
If you look carefully, you will see their hips literally lifting off of the bench.
That is not good!
If your hips lift of the bench it is literally destroying your lower back every time it happens.
This is because your lower back is stabilizing and holding the weight of the entire sled when this happens. Yikes!
Aside from weight, this also happens from bad form. When you lower the sled too low your lower back will lift off all on its own.
The correct way to perform the leg press is to lower it until your legs are at least 90 degrees and then press up.
So do yourself a favor and lower the weight.
The Hack Squat — Squats On Steroids
Hack squats are a fantastic way to build some leg strength for doing heavy squats. But unfortunately, just like the leg press, this exercise has been bastardized too.
When you watch lifters going on the hack squat machine, they are bringing their gym bags with them and they are getting out all of this “special equipment” to help them lift more weight.
Let me say this once. You don’t need any lifting gear when performing hack squats. Just focus on performing the exercise correctly and with good form. Lifting with bad form is not going to make you bigger and stronger.
It will just make you get hurt faster.
Hack Squat Technique
When you get into the hack squat machine the same rules apply as the leg press. You want to push through the balls of your feet and the heels.
The only difference is foot placement on the pad and the depth of the exercise.
On the leg press you placed your legs directly under your knees. On the hack squat, you want to place your feet forward a little bit more above your knees. This is because of the angle of the machine.
Also you can go a little bit deeper on this exercise than you can on the leg press. Don’t go too low though. You can still hurt your back if you go too low.
That’s why you see so many lifters wearing a lifting belt on this exercise.
Sets And Reps
You can go heavier on this exercise, but you will no be able to use as much weight as you could leg press. Bummer.
So with that said, you will not be able to do as many reps as you can on the leg press. Stick to around 10-15 reps per set. You can do anywhere from 4-5 sets total.
Aside prom your lower back coming off of the pad, the other concern on this machine are your knees.
The temptation is to push through your toes to lift more weight. But if you do this your knees will go over your toes. Over time this will cause you a lot of knee pain.
This is why you see so many lifters on this machine using knee wraps.
Remember, push through the heels and the balls of your feet!
Which One Is Better?
So which one of these two is going to give you the most bang for your buck? As much as it is tempting to let my personal opinion get the best of me, I am going to stick to the facts.
The truth is, neither is better than the other. It all depends on what your goals are.
If your goal is to pack on as much lower body strength as possible, then the hack squat is your machine.
On the other hand, if you want to gain as much size as possible, then you should go with the leg press.
That is the final verdict.
Of course you should include either of these two exercises in a regular strength training program.
By themselves, both of these two exercises are not that effective. Neither one provides the right neurological stimulus to give you the best results.
So make sure you are performing a properly structured training program.
As an additional bonus, however, both of these exercises are an excellent way to give your muscles some extra conditioning.
No better way to raise GPP than doing hack squats and leg presses.
Time to stop reading, get out there and get some!