Back Squats or Hack Squats…or Both?

squat heat map
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Today is Day 1 and Workout A of Week 1 of 5 in the new workout plan I first described here and then elaborated on here.

Unfortunately, I got almost no sleep the night before for a variety of reasons, so although I was still excited about seeing how today’s program would work out, I knew, even grabbing a pre-exercise “snack” of protein and carbs, that I wasn’t likely to be doing my best.

Over the weekend, I decided to add one more change to things I haven’t previously mentioned. I initially chose hack squats over traditional back squats in a rack because, given the heavy weights (for me) involved, I felt more stable with hack squats.

But since this week’s program goes pretty light compared to what I’ve been doing, I decided to “risk” trying out traditional squats.

The only other reason I’ve favored hack squats is that they allow me to claim a weight bench in the gym straight away and keep it for all my heavy barbell routines. Doing regular squats means starting out in the squat rack and then moving to a weight bench, hoping one’s available.

This morning, that wasn’t a problem. On the other hand, not everything proceeded according to plan.

Here’s what happened. For most of my exercises, I rested around 60 to 90 seconds. Since I’m focusing more on volume, or lifting lighter weights for more reps, as opposed to intensity, or lifting heavier weights for fewer reps, I found that I didn’t wear out as quickly and didn’t need as much rest. My workout went much more quickly because of it.

Barbell Back Squats in Squat Rack

10x 45lbs/20.41kg
10x 65lbs/29.48kg
10x 85lbs/38.55kg
10x 95lbs/43.09kg
10x 115lbs/52.16kg

Barbell Bench Press

10x 95lbs/43.09kg
10x 115lbs/52.16kg
10x 125lbs/56.69kg
10x 125lbs/56.69kg

barbell bent over row
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Barbell Bent Over Rows

10x 95lbs/43.09kg
10x 115lbs/52.16kg
10x 125lbs/56.69kg
10x 125lbs/56.69kg

Cable Triceps Extension w/Rope Attachment

10x 45lbs/20.41kg
10x 55lbs/24.94kg
10x 65lbs/29.48kg
10x 65lbs/29.48kg

Pull ups (Bodyweight)


Barbell Hack Squat

10x 115lbs/52.16kg
10x 135lbs/61.23kg
10x 155lbs/70.3kg
10x 155lbs/70.3kg

Underhand Grip Body Hang w/Shoulders Engaged (Bodyweight)

x30 seconds

Dead Hang (Bodyweight)

x10 seconds

light squat
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The first thing you probably noticed is that those are some pretty wimpy weights for squats, even for 4 sets at 10 reps per set (actually 5 sets including the warm up with just the bar).

Since I’ve never performed a proper squat before today, I was totally unfamiliar with the “feel” of squatting. Sure, over the weekend, I looked up a number of tutorial videos on doing squats, so I knew what it looked like to have good form, but that’s a far cry from actual experience.

Just setting the right height for the bar in the rack took a little trial an error. I’m pretty tall, so I thought the highest set of pegs in the rack would work, but it was just a little too high.

Then there’s the matter of bending under the bar, grasping it, and making sure it rests on my traps and not my neck. That takes a little practice.

The most difficult part, especially when applying any weight, is lifting the bar and stepping back while keeping good balance. It’s not as easy as it looks. After the warm up, I was supposed to start out with my first set of 10 reps at 115lbs/52.16kg. I loaded the bar, got into position and started to raise the bar off of the pegs.

Too heavy for me to get proper balance so I replaced the bar and dialed down the weight considerably. I figured that, given my inexperience, I needed to practice at doing squats at low weights just to get the form down and better manage balancing the bar.

Hence the really wimpy weights.

This bothered me, since I knew my quads and glutes weren’t being challenged, but I found a solution later on as you’ll see.

The barbell bench press, by contrast, seemed to go just right. The weight was sufficient for the 4 sets, 10 reps per set scheme, and by the fourth set, those last few reps were really hard work.

barbell bench press
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My weights for bench press and bent over rows are usually the same and I kept them that way, but the rows were harder for me then the presses. I didn’t realize how much effort doing 10 reps could require, even for 125lbs/56.69kg. I’ve gone heavier at seated cable rows in the past doing a similar set/rep pattern, but standing and with a barbell, it takes a lot more control just to perform the lift correctly.

Cable triceps extensions went fine, and the lighter weight allowed me to have better control of my form and achieve more engagement of the triceps heads.

Nothing much to do about pull ups. I felt I did reasonably well, especially on the first set. Adding one more set at the end allowed me to achieve 3 more reps, but this remains one of my greatest challenges, as I haven’t had much real progress in this exercise since I started it over six weeks ago.

When my pull ups were finished, I saw that I still had over 15 minutes before my time was up. I really regretted not being able to push my legs in the squats I performed earlier, and since time was still available and the weight room was mercifully empty, I decided to do the regularly planned squat routine with hack squats.

Everything started well, but by the end of the second set, I knew 160 pounds for the final two sets was probably going to be too much. I knocked the weight down 5 pounds and pushed through 2 sets of 10 reps each at 155 pounds.

Although I’ve done hack squats using 50 pounds more weight, that was only for 5 reps (admittedly 5 sets of 5 reps each). Doing 10 reps was plenty even at a much reduced load.

I still had enough time to do my engaged hang and a short dead hang before I had to leave. In spite of the fact that I wasn’t at nearly the intensity I’ve worked at for the past six weeks, I was still wrung out and sweaty at the end of it all.

cannot brainIt looks like if I want to do squats, I’ll have to work up to them slowly, which means lighter weights week over week and, at least until I become proficient enough to be safe, hack squats will have to be my true working squats.

At least I’ll get plenty of leg work.

In the meantime, I’ve got to survive the rest of the day. My lack of sleep has caught up with me and my brain feels like it took a vacation and forgot to tell the rest of my body. Hope I sleep better tonight.

Defeat is not bitter unless you swallow it.

Joe Clark


2 thoughts on “Back Squats or Hack Squats…or Both?

  1. Although I believe hack squats are effective Bear, the traditional back squat is supposed to be the king of barbell workouts, so I’ve always wanted to give them a whirl. I’m still flexible enough to do hack squats, but the balance required to balance a bar across my traps will take some getting used to.

    Liked by 1 person

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