Article and photos by Nick Nilsson
Combine the benefits of free weight barbell squats with the benefits of machine squats into one lower-body blasting exercise! All you need is a rack and a barbell andyou'll be able to give your entire lower body a sound thrashing with this homemade hack squat machine.
Hitting the legs HARD is one of my very favorite things to do in the gym. But even for me, there are days when the Barbell Squat is just not on the menu...I either don't feel like doing it that day or I've just done it recently.
That's where THIS exercise comes into play...the Rack Hack, as I like to call it. Basically, it combines the benefits of free squatting (moving your body through space, supporting the load on yourself, having freedom of movement) with the benefits of the hack squat machine (your body is more stabilized, it's easier to get set up and perform the exercise).
Usually, you'd think these benefits would be mutually exclusive...after all, how can you maintain freedom of movement where your body is actually more stabilized!
I'll show you...
First you're going to need a power rack and a barbell. Set one of the safety rails up high (about shoulder height) and one of the rails low (around midsection height). When you set a bar on it, it'll be tilted downward at a fairly steep angle.
Before you put any weight on the bar, test the height to make sure you can squat down and get your shoulder under it (because that's what you're going to be doing in the exercise!).
Once you've got the height set, load BOTH ends of the bar. You don't need as much on the higher end - that's more for anchoring the weight. Be careful when you load the bottom end as the plates will have a tendency to slide. Put a plate on then immediately put a collar on.
Now you have a choice...you can do the exercise with no padding or with a towel wrapped around the end of the bar (the standard barbell pad won't fit because it would go on the thick end of the bar). In the demo pics, I'm using a towel. If you're using lighter weight, it won't matter so much.
Squat down beside the bar and set your right shoulder under the end. Your back should be right up against the weight plates. Reach up and grip the end of the bar with both hands to keep control of the bar and lock yourself onto it.
Now stand up! You'll notice that you're somewhat locked into the movement while still maintaining freedom of movement. The end of the barbell moves freely in space, allowing you to find your own groove in the exercise while still having the one end of the bar anchored so you have a pivot point to move from.
This is a VERY effective combination that really does give you the best of both worlds. The other cool thing? You get excellent core training as well, because you're supporting the weight on one shoulder.
Because of that, I recommend alternating sides with the exercise. I do 3 reps on one side then 3 reps on the other side, going back and forth. You can also do your full set of reps on one shoulder, take your rest period (60 to 90 seconds is good) then do your next set on the other shoulder. Either way works just fine.
I recommend sets of 8 to 12 reps with this exercise but feel free to experiment with different weights and ranges...because the OTHER nice thing about this setup is that you finish at the BOTTOM.
What's so special about that? It means you can push your legs until they're TRASHED and simply set the weight back down on the rack rail without ever worrying about getting stuck under a bar.
So if you're looking for a way to do hack squats and your gym doesn't have the machine for it, this is a very effective homemade hack squat machine. You can also set the bar up higher, set a calf block down and do standing calf raises with this type of setup as well.
When you give this exercise a try and can't walk normally for several days after because your legs are like rubber, you can blame me. I'll accept it.
Nick Nilsson is Vice-President of the online personal training company BetterU, Inc. He has a degree in Physical Education and Psychology and has been inventing new training techniques for more than 18 years. Nick is the author of a number of bodybuilding eBooks including "Muscle Explosion - 28 Days to Maximum Mass", "Metabolic Surge - Rapid Fat Loss," "Muscle Explosion! 28 Days to Maximum Mass," "The Best Exercises You've Never Heard Of," "Gluteus to the Maximus - Build a Bigger Butt NOW!" and "The Best Abdominal Exercises You've Never Heard Of" all available here.
You have to check out Nick's ebook of unique exercises, like his Nilsson curls which use two barbells.
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