The Hatfield squat is undeniably one of the coolest looking lifts on Instagram. By allowing you to use a ton of weight in a new and unconventional way, users of the Hatfield squat automatically look like they know something that everyone else doesn’t. However, the question remains… Are Hatfield squats a good exercise?
Let’s start with an overview of how to execute the lift. Then, we’ll get into whether or not they’re worth the effort.
In order to do a Hatfield squat you’ll need an SSB (Safety Squat Bar), and something to hold onto on your rack. Optimally, this is a set of handles, however many lifters will use another barbell placed on the opposite side of the rack or will simply grab the rack itself like a true alpha male.
As I am still somewhere in between a manlet and a gorilla, you’ll see me using another barbell as my handle. Use the handles to maintain a vertical torso and minimally assist yourself throughout the concentric (up) portion of the rep.
Now that we’ve established how to perform a Hatfield squat, let’s talk about why you’d want to, besides looking cool on the gram of course.
The Hatfield squat is a great exercise for lifters with strong lower backs and weak legs. In fact, that’s why it was invented. The lift was first popularized by 2x IPF world champion Dr. Fred Hatfield, who used this exercise to eventually squat over 1,000lbs in competition (earning him the nickname “Dr. Squat”).
He used what he called the “hand-supported squat” during his offseason training before transitioning to competition-style squats as the meet approached. This allowed him to target his quads more heavily while reducing load on his spinal erectors.
Of course, these days we don’t run into as many athletes who have a strong lower back but weak legs. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen (see coach Sebastian), but it is relatively rare thanks to the abundance of leg press diehards out there.
But while the Hatfield squat might be great for emphasizing quads over back, it may not be the best way to go about it anymore.
I’m not saying that I know more than a literal PhD on the subject who squatted 1,000lbs, but Dr. Hatfield didn’t have access to the same equipment that we do today, namely: the belt squat.
The belt squat actually functions incredibly similarly to the Hatfield squat, with a majority of the weight being placed on the quads, little to no stress on the lower back, and the inclusion of assistance from the arms when needed. It’s the same thing with an easier set-up and a lower injury risk.
But does that render the Hatfield squat useless? Not quite.
RELATED: Coach Juan takes us through the belt squat on our YouTube Channel. Check it out!
As much as this blog can often turn into me shitting on a new exercise every week, there’s a lot of benefits to the Hatfield squat that I don’t want to overlook.
The Hatfield squat is commonly used to program around an injury. While they can be used to work around a shoulder injury, I’d prefer to use a regular SSB squat followed by a belt squat for this workaround in order to keep specificity relatively high. However, when it comes to lower back injuries this is a different story.
While the belt squat remains a fantastic option to work the legs, I still like to keep specificity as high as the injury will allow. If we’re still able to load the shoulders/upper back and just need to alleviate stress on the lumbar spine, the Hatfield squat can be a great option as it’s still more specific than a belt squat alone.
It’s also a much better option than a leg press as while there is a greater compressive load on the spine, there’s little to no shearing force on the spine. This shearing force is responsible for a majority of back injuries in powerlifting.
The Hatfield squat also allows for full hip extension, providing a much better carryover to the competition squat than a leg press alone.
Though the crew here at SoCal Powerlifting has the luxury of always having a good spotter around, some of you may train alone and be a bit worried about getting stuck.
While the safety squat bar alone makes it a bit easier to bail, the Hatfield squat is a great alternative because bailing is rarely required as you can instead use your arms to pull yourself back up so long as the weight is within reason.
As I’ve preached throughout this article, you probably need a lot less variation than you think. However, training with free weights alone may be a bit too specific, and the Hatfield squat provides a great option for some variation for all of you who became garage gym owners during the pandemic. In this case I’d use it as an accessory movement similar to how I’d program a belt squat or leg press.
I’m not saying (by ANY means) that you should max out your Hatfield squat on day 1. But, this movement will help you to build more confidence under heavy weights. You’ll be able to Hatfield squat more weight than you can handle on a traditional SSB squat once you’ve built up some technical proficiency.
This can also lead to greater gains in size and strength as a majority of muscle breakdown and the accompanying hypertrophy comes from the eccentric (lowering) portion of a lift, which is exactly what we’re overloading here before using the arms to assist on the concentric.
Most lifters can benefit from squatting more than once per week, but not everyone is able to handle 2 days of comp squats due to tissue tolerance, injury history, energy levels, etc. While personally I’d go for a high bar, SSB, or belt squat over a Hatfield squat, it can still be the best option for lifters with the issues mentioned above.
As always, it completely depends on what you’re trying to accomplish with an exercise. But if you’re trying to work around an injury, or overload your quads without stressing your back, then the Hatfield squat may be the perfect exercise for you.
Of course, there’s always more to the story. You might find it easier to just talk to a strength coach who can give you the facts directly. If that sounds like you, then we want you to get in touch with your questions and let us know what’s on your mind.
It's one thing to read it; it's another to do it. And when you're training without a coach, you need to make sure you know what you're doing.