By Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS
Because the legs involve so many muscles, it’s important that multijoint moves — those exercises that use all of the major muscle groups of the legs simultaneously — make up the bulk of your routine. Fortunately, the hack squat is one such move, hitting all the major muscles. But you can involve certain muscles more than others based on foot placement. As you begin the move, secure your torso under the shoulder pads and press your lower back into the back pad so that you’re supported from head to glutes. As you descend, keep your knees in line tracking over your feet and don’t bounce out of the bottom position, but rather make a smooth transition as you explode upward. Keep your abs tight and make sure your feet remain flat on the platform at all times.
While the standard squat is considered the king of all leg moves, the leg press is another exercise that most of us love to load the weight on to destroy the lower-body muscle fibers. Similar to the hack squat, the leg press hits the quads and hamstrings, as well as the glutes to a certain extent. We stress the glutes a little less because on the leg press, you don’t have full-hip extension because your body is bent 90 degrees, which limits your ability to innervate the upper hamstrings and glutes compared to the squat as well as the hack squat to a degree. With the leg press, however, you’re able to relax the upper body slightly more than you can during the hack squat, which helps the mind-muscle connection for the lower-body muscles.
Advantage: Leg Press
We gave you a small clue above; did you catch it? If not, your overwhelming winner is the leg press. Research shows the leg press is the absolute best exercise to zero-in on the vastus medialis (inner quad) of the lower quads. When you sit in a leg press, your hips remain bent at about a 90-degree angle at the end of each repetition. This limits to some degree the involvement of the hams and glutes, making the leg press a quad-dominant exercise. Research shows that whether you keep your feet close together or wide apart on the footplate, the involvement of the medialis is much greater than the three other quad muscles. The hack squat on the other hand is great at targeting the outer sweep (vastus lateralis), which is also imperative to developing a great pair of legs. A standard shoulder-width stance suffices, but to further exaggerate the effect, slide your feet about 12 inches apart.
*Excerpted from the October 2012 Issue of MuscleMag
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