I Survived Leg Day: Barbell Hack Squats

I survived leg day. That’s exactly what I think every Wednesday morning after I’ve finished weight training and cardio and I’m walking out of the gym.

leg day meme
Photo credit: troll.me

Don’t get me wrong, I approach leg day with the same enthusiasm as any other day at the gym, but I admit it’s the single most difficult workout of my routine. It didn’t help that I changed up my workout a bit (again).

Since I don’t have a lot of confidence doing barbell squats, I settled for dumbbell squats. It performs a similar function and I don’t have to worry about balancing a bar across my shoulders.

On the other hand, I’m limited in the amount of weight I can use by what I can hold in each hand for the required number of reps. I should probably work on my grip more, but in the meantime, I thought of finding another lift that would do the same job.

Then I came across Barbell Hack Squats. Actually, I was reading an article about squat alternatives that piqued my interest.

I recommend performing these with your toes pointing slightly outward, at around a 30-degree angle to your center line. By doing this, you will more effectively target your inner thighs — an area that many bodybuilders neglect. Focus again on keeping a fluid motion from beginning to end with a pause at the bottom of the movement. That doesn’t mean you’re resting at the bottom. Stop a few inches before you reach rock bottom and hold for a count of one. This ensures that you’ve taken all momentum out of the motion and that you’re using only thigh power to push that weight back up.

-Dorian Yates, Six-time Mr. Olympia

I’m not interested in becoming a bodybuilder and especially not in creating the kind of extreme physique that most modern bodybuilders have today, but I have to believe Mr. Yates knows what he’s talking about when suggesting alternative exercises for the traditional barbell squat.

So I reconstructed my leg day workout today to look like this:

  1. Plate loaded Leg Press (60 sec rest between sets): 270lbs x12, x10, x9, x8
  2. Plate loaded Calf Raise (60 sec rest between sets): 140lbs x15, x13, x13, x12
  3. Barbell Hack Squat (90 sec rest between sets): 110lbs x10, x10, x8
  4. Barbell Straight Leg Deadlift (90 sec rest between sets): 110lbs x15, x12, x12

Okay, so I’m not the strongest guy in the world. The weights probably don’t seem particularly impressive to most of you out there, or at least most of the experienced weight trainers and powerlifters who may be reading this. But it’s where I am right now in my progress toward building more lean muscle mass and trying to get stronger.

Actually, the hack squats and deadlifts completely drained me and my 25 minute cardio workout on the elliptical immediately after lifting was pretty challenging, not so much because my legs were tired, but because the squats and deadlifts jacked up my heart rate and respiration so much. By the time I’m done lifting, I’m dripping sweat, and by the time I’m done with cardio, my t-shirt is soaked.

barbell hack squat
Photo credit: workoutplan.com

My first problem with the changed routine is that I decided to go heavier than usual on the deadlifts. Yesterday, I did bent leg deadlifts with a 120 pound barbell. I decided to go for broke and load up the barbell to 150 pounds for hack squats and deadlifts.

I set the barbell on the floor, stepped in front of the bar, squatted, grabbed the bar with the palms of my hands facing back away from me, angled my feet out slightly, and tried to stand, pushing through the heels.

I barely budged the bar. Too heavy, especially for a weight training move I’d never performed before. I was being dumb.

So I hoisted the barbell back on the rack, took the weight down to 110 pounds, and then gave it another try.

Success.

I decided to limit the number of reps, even if I thought I could do more. Good thing I did because after the first set, I was huffing and puffing just like when I do deadlifts. I also increased my wait time between sets from 60 to 90 seconds to give myself more time to recover.

The lift felt awkward for all three sets and even though I was trying to push through my heels, I felt myself tilting forward while lifting and pushing through the balls of my feet.

A common complaint about hack squats is that the bar collides with your glutes, but in my case, it was with my hamstrings. The bar kept dragging along the back of my legs as I lifted. Also, I had trouble going as low to the floor as I needed to and couldn’t quite get down enough to bend at the knees at a 90 degree angle.

I’ll have to study the videos of the hack squat to see if I can improve my technique.

Oh, I found the following video on hack squats at YouTube, and in spite of some of the “dramatic” vocal tones and language involved (SFW), I found it pretty instructive.

Just remember, once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed.

Charles Schulz, Creator of “Peanuts”

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