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Hack Squat vs. Leg Extension: The Best Exercise for Quads

Written by the Boostcamp staff
Last Updated: Mar 27,202310 min read

When it comes to quadriceps development, two exercises often spark a heated debate: the hack squat vs. leg extension. Both exercises claim to be the best quad exercise, but which one truly reigns supreme? In this article, we'll delve into the details of each exercise, discuss the benefits and drawbacks, and provide you with the knowledge needed to decide which is best for your workout routine.

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Table of Contents

  1. Introduction

  2. Hack Squat: What it is and How to Do It

  3. Leg Extension: What it is and How to Do It

  4. The Benefits of Hack Squat vs. Leg Extension

  5. Pros and Cons of Each Exercise

  6. Importance in a Workout Program

  7. FAQ: Top 10 Most Common Questions

  8. Conclusion: Choosing the Best Quad Exercise for You


Hack Squat: What it is and How to Do It

The hack squat is a compound exercise that primarily targets the quadriceps but also engages the glutes, hamstrings, and calves. The movement is performed using a hack squat machine, which provides support and stability throughout the exercise.

How to Do Hack Squats: Muscles Worked & Benefits – StrengthLog

To perform a hack squat

  1. Adjust the hack squat machine to fit your body, positioning your shoulders and back against the pads.

  2. Position your feet shoulder-width apart with toes pointing slightly outwards.

  3. Lower your body by bending your knees, keeping your chest up and back straight.

  4. Once you reach a 90-degree angle at your knees, push through your heels to return to the starting position.

Why Do Hack Squats?

Hack squats are a great addition to your workout routine because they effectively target the quads while also working the other muscles in your lower body. This compound exercise helps to build muscle mass, increase strength, and improve overall lower body functionality.

Leg Extension: What it is and How to Do It

The leg extension is an isolation exercise that specifically targets the quadriceps. This exercise is performed using a leg extension machine, which isolates the quads by limiting the involvement of other muscle groups.

How to Do Leg Extension: Muscles Worked & Proper Form – StrengthLog

To perform a leg extension

  1. Adjust the leg extension machine to fit your body, positioning your ankles behind the padded roller.

  2. Sit with your back against the backrest and grip the handles for stability.

  3. Extend your legs until they are straight, squeezing your quads at the top of the movement.

  4. Slowly lower your legs back to the starting position, maintaining control throughout.

Why Do Leg Extensions?

Leg extensions are an effective way to isolate and target the quadriceps. This exercise can help increase quad strength, muscle definition, and improve knee stability.

The Benefits of Hack Squat vs. Leg Extension

Both hack squats and leg extensions offer unique benefits for quadriceps development. Hack squats are better suited for overall lower body development, as they engage multiple muscle groups. Leg extensions, on the other hand, isolate the quads, making them perfect for targeted muscle development.

Pros of Hack Squat: 

  • Focuses on quadriceps development, but also hits hamstrings

  • Builds overall lower body strength

  • Functional exercise for athletics

Cons of Hack Squat:

  • Requires access to a hack squat machine

  • May put some strain on the lower back

Pros of Leg Extension:

  • Completely isolates quadriceps development

  • Improves knee stability

  • easily adjustable resistance

Cons of Leg Extension:

  • Requires access to a leg extension machine

  • May put more stress on the knees

Importance in a Workout Program

Both exercises can play an essential role in a well-rounded workout program. Incorporating both hack squats and leg extensions into your routine can help ensure comprehensive quadriceps development while also promoting overall lower body strength and functionality.

Depending on your goals, you may choose to prioritize one exercise over the other. For those looking to build overall leg strength and engage multiple muscle groups, hack squats might be the better option. Conversely, if you're aiming to isolate and target the quads specifically, leg extensions could be the right choice.

FAQ: Top 10 Most Common Questions


Which exercise is better for overall quadriceps development?

Both exercises contribute to quad development, but hack squats may offer more comprehensive development due to their compound nature.


Are hack squats or leg extensions safer?

Both exercises, when performed correctly, are safe. However, hack squats may place strain on the lower back, while leg extensions can put stress on the knees. Always use proper form and consult with a trainer if needed.


Can I do both exercises in the same workout?

Yes, incorporating both exercises in your workout can help ensure comprehensive quad development and overall lower body strength.


Which exercise is better for increasing leg size?

Both exercises can contribute to leg size. However, hack squats, as a compound exercise, might lead to greater overall muscle growth.


Are hack squats suitable for beginners?

Yes, hack squats are suitable for beginners. The hack squat machine provides stability and support, making it an excellent choice for those new to weight training.


Can I perform leg extensions without a machine?

Although leg extensions are typically performed on a machine, you can perform a similar movement using ankle weights or resistance bands.


How often should I perform hack squats and leg extensions?

This depends on your workout routine and goals. Generally, training legs 2-3 times per week with a mix of compound and isolation exercises is recommended for balanced development.


How many sets and reps should I perform for each exercise?

Aim for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps for both exercises. Adjust the resistance to ensure you're working within this rep range and progressively increasing the weight over time.


Can I replace hack squats with regular squats?

Yes, regular squats can be a suitable alternative to hack squats. However, they may place more emphasis on the glutes and hamstrings, rather than solely targeting the quads.


Can I replace leg extensions with lunges or step-ups?

While lunges and step-ups are great exercises for overall leg development, they do not isolate the quads as effectively as leg extensions.


Conclusion: Choosing the Best Quad Exercise for You

Ultimately, the best quad exercise for you will depend on your goals, preferences, and access to equipment. Both hack squats and leg extensions offer unique benefits for quadriceps development, so incorporating both into your workout routine can lead to well-rounded progress. Always prioritize proper form and technique to maximize results and minimize the risk of injury.


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