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Difference Between Hack Squats and Leg Press: How to Choose Right Exercise Machine for You!

Are you looking to add some muscle to your body but don't know which exercise to choose? You're not the only one! As the popularity of hack squat and leg press grows, so does the confusion surrounding the two exercises.

In this article, we'll talk about the differences between hack squat and leg press, the pros and cons of each exercise, how to do each exercise, and common mistakes to avoid.

Guided with this information, you'll be able to make an informed decision on which exercise is best for your needs!

Hack squat vs leg press

The squat and the leg press are two exercises that target nearly all the muscles in your legs. Although they are different, the hack squat and leg press share some key similarities.

Both exercises are loaded heavily on the shoulders, with hack squats having the lifter squat down and stand up, and leg press having the lifter push away from the exercise bench as the machine moves. They are also great exercises for the quads and glutes.

Knowing which one is the best for you depends on your goals and the muscles you want to target. Read on to better know and understand each of these fantastic exercises.

Hack Squat

Hack squats are a great leg exercise that can be done with different weights and equipment. They are thought to be the best leg move out there and regular squatters might want to try them out too.

The hack squat is just a variation of the regular squat that uses a barbell instead of your bodyweight only. You can also use dumbbells or free weights for this exercise, which makes it even more effective.

However, if you're starting from scratch then using machine-based hack squats might make sense as they provide an easier range of motion for beginners. When done on a freestanding barbell, the hack squat feels quite unusual at first but once you get used to it, you'll love the results!

Leg press

There are many leg press exercises available, but the best one for you depends on your goals. Leg presses target the quadriceps muscles in the thighs, glutes, and hamstrings.

Glutes are harder to target as you are unable to perform a full hip extension because your body is at a 90 degrees angle - this makes it difficult to work on the glutes and upper hamstring muscles compared to hack squats which can target these areas specifically.

Unlike hack squats, leg presses allow you to rest your body more than squatting does- this helps lower body muscles far more.

However, due to a limited range of motion quads will get a harder workout as there's less range of motion when compared with squatting exercises like deadlifts or barbell back rows.

Another great aspect of leg press exercise is how different parts of these quad muscle groups can be targeted by just changing foot position on the platform!

The differences

If you're looking to target different muscle groups, you need to be aware of the different exercises that exist. Hack squats and leg presses are two of them, and at first glance, they may seem the same.

But, there are four main differences between the two that you need to know about.

  1. The equipment you use
  2. The weights used
  3. The biomechanics
  4. The muscles worked on

Knowing the difference between these exercises is the first step to achieving the body you want!

The equipment

There are a lot of different squat machines on the market, and it can be difficult to know the differences between them.

n this blog post, we will outline the different features of hack squats and leg press machines, and the different positions you can assume while using them.

First of all, hack squat machines include a backrest for support and a shoulder pad. This slides back and forth on tracks on either side of the machine via a platform at the bottom. This backrest allows you to stay in a lean position throughout the range of motion, activating your core and various leg muscles.

Just like TKO's Hack Squat 910CP machine, a good hack squat should allow you to target the leg muscles without putting strain on your spine.

The 910CP also features a linear press training motion and provides a natural feel of free weights in a guided press to give you a great workout experience for your legs.


Leg press machines allow you to take a seated position so your feet are directly in front of you. This requires you to push the platform at your feet away in a horizontal manner.

The most common position is when you lay down against the back pad with your legs pointing upwards at a 45-degree angle. You then push the platform away to complete the exercise.

Muscle D's Elite Leverage Leg Press is a popular leg press machine both for group circuit training and individual use. It is stylish in design and is made with highly durable materials which is an important factor to consider when purchasing any equipment for your gym.

This machine features a resistance that increases throughout the workout to match leg muscles and a large leg press platform to keep any user in a comfortable position.

The weights

If you're looking to up the intensity of your leg day, hack squats are the way to go! They are a lower-weight squatting exercise that places the whole weight of the load on your shoulders, taking the strain off the back muscles. This makes the hack squat a better exercise for the quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes.

On the other hand, the leg press is a squatting exercise that is supported by the legs, and doesn't involve the use of your upper body muscles at all. This makes the leg press a better exercise for the back muscles and the glutes.

Make sure you know the difference between hack squats and leg press before starting a leg day routine, so you can select the right exercise for the task at hand.

The biomechanics

It can be hard to distinguish between hack squats and leg presses, especially if you're new to the exercise. The main difference between the two exercises is the angle at which the lifter is positioned.

Hack squats require you to lean back at a 45-degree angle while leg presses require the same angle but lying down. This angle change has a huge impact on the biomechanics of the movements, which is why it's important to understand them before starting.

When you perform a squat or leg press, you are pushing against gravity the whole time. This means that the machine's bar should be moving straight up and back down again.

However, as we now know, there are also some horizontal movements as well as vertical movements during these exercises. Due to this, both machines support only a portion of the loaded weight so heavier weights can then be lifted.

So, the next time you're unsure about the difference between hack squats and leg presses, remember the biomechanics!

The muscles used

People often confuse hack squats and leg press exercises because of the muscles they use.

Hack squats involve the use of the hack squat machine while leg press exercises use the leg press machine. What this means is that the hack squat machine supports only a portion of the loaded weight, while the leg press machine supports the entire weight.

This makes the hack squat machine better for beginners because the heavier weights can then be lifted with greater ease. The added pressure applied to the back in hack squats can also be a deterrent for some, as the abdominals are heavily involved in the exercise.

On the other hand, leg press exercises are beneficial for people because they work the muscles of the lower body in a variety of ways. This makes leg press exercises better for overall muscle development and strength.

Pros of doing hack squats

There are a lot of good reasons to do hack squats. Not only do they work the quadriceps, glutes, calves, and adductors muscles; but they also require significant hip flexion and knee bending which makes them an excellent lower body exercise for people with back injuries.

If you're new to the squatting motion, starting with hack squats can help teach you the correct way to squat without putting too much strain on your back.

In addition, hack squats build strength in other areas of the body such as your abdominals and back muscles which helps when doing more traditional leg exercises like back squats.

Finally, because hack squat requires less spinal loading than leg press does, it is a safe exercise for those who have previous back injuries.

Cons of doing hack squats

Hack squats can be a great way to work the lower body, but there are some cons attached to them.

Firstly, hack squats can cause discomfort in your shoulders if the weight is loaded on too heavily. Too much weight can result in a large amount of pressure and discomfort throughout your shoulders and shoulder blades.

Secondly, they can also cause pain in those with sensitive backs - so it's important to try the machine out first before loading any weights onto it.

Pros of doing leg presses

There are numerous benefits of doing leg presses, the most significant of which being the muscle activation it stimulates. This exercise is great for those who want to achieve a strong lower body due to its quadriceps and glutes-centric movement.

In addition, regular leg press workouts will help you build thicker muscles in your quads and glutes - two key muscles responsible for shaping your waistline.

Moreover, when performing squats or back squatting properly, you'll need strong quads to maintain good form throughout the entire motion. Doing so will allow you to move more weight bells above parallel during the lift and complete it with ease

Pros of doing leg presses

There are a few pros of the leg press that should be considered before deciding whether or not to use it in your routine.

First of all, the leg press is less specific as to which muscles it targets than the hack squat. This makes it easier for beginners because they won't get too frustrated if their results don't match those who specialize in this exercise.

Second of all, you may hear unfamiliar sounds from within your knee joints when using the machine - usually, this isn't anything to worry about and is simply a sign that you're starting to work out effectively.

How to do a hack squat

  1. Find the footprint of the machine and step into this area
  2. Lean back with your shoulders placed against the shoulder pads
  3. Position your feet into a regular squat stance (feet outside the knees)
  4. When you feel ready and confident, stand up and then disengage the stoppers
  5. Place your hands on the grips close to your shoulders
  6. Bend your knees and descend slowly
  7. Once you reach parallel or a little below this mark, stop
  8. Now push the platform by your feet away to stand up
  9. Re-engage the machine’s stoppers when you finish your set

Many people are of the belief that hack squats are the better option over leg press when it comes to working the quadriceps.

While they are both compound exercises, hack squats target multiple muscle groups more effectively than leg press. This is why you might find it a little difficult at the beginning - the machine is loaded to the rep range that best suits your goals.

For those looking to focus on their glutes the most, glute loops or glute bands can be the perfect solution.

Additionally, if you want your hamstrings to stand out more, position your feet higher on the machine with a wider stance. Doing so will target these muscles more than the lower foot position.

How to do a leg press

  1. Lay down on the leg press machine
  2. Place your feet on the platform
  3. Set your feet in a squat stance position
  4. When you feel ready, push the platform for your legs to straighten
  5. Now disengage the machine’s safety catches
  6. Next, bend your knees so that the platform is lowered towards you
  7. Once your thighs are at parallel or below, stop
  8. Finally, push the platform away from you and back into the starting position

There are two main squat variants - hack squats and leg press. Both of these exercises may feel alien to your body at first, but with the right techniques and practice, you can start to see the benefits.

In the hack squat, you should aim to move your feet around to work different muscle groups. Most lifters place their feet in the typical squat stance, which is recommended for beginners.

However, if this position is uncomfortable, you will need to adjust your stance width and foot angles. You may need to try a few stances before you find the most comfortable for you and the one that feels strongest.

If you want to primarily focus on your quads, stand with your feet lower on the platform and maintain a narrower stance. Since your knees will have to move forward at a substantially greater distance, this will hit your quads.

Common mistakes

Hack squat

Hack squatting is the perfect exercise to improve your quads, core muscles, and glutes.

Don't go too low - Don't let your heels leave the platform. On the platform, move downward slowly to maintain complete contact between your knees and your heels.

Not pausing at the bottom of a rep - To ensure your range of motion remains consistent, you should pause for a brief moment here.

Resting too long at the top makes it more difficult to complete your reps since tension is removed from your quads.

Leg press

If you're looking to perform a leg press exercise effectively, make sure you adjust the following 3 elements accordingly: your torso angle, pad position, and knee height.

Your torso angle should be at or slightly above parallel with your thighs in order to activate the glutes and hamstrings maximally.

When lower back rounding is done too excessively, it reduces muscle activation significantly and renders the rep pointless.

Additionally, setting the pad too high will cause quadriceps stimulation to be minimal due to their placement being elevated off of the ground while also putting pressure on spinal discs which can lead to lower back pain down the line.


Hack squats and leg presses are often left out of strength programs for the same reason that others choose to overlook them, despite the fact that they are some of the best exercises you can do to build strong quads and upper leg muscles..

Hack squats help you build your balance and prepare your mind for tougher workouts. Meanwhile, any high-intensity interval training regimen should include leg presses.

Add hack squats to your leg day regimen if you want to develop those squat muscles, but the leg press is the one for you if you just want a no-frills leg routine.


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