The Hatfield squat is a squat variation that was popularized by American powerlifter Fred Hatfield. This squat variation entails using a safety squat bar and your hands for additional support during reps.
In my coaching opinion, the Hatfield squat is a squat variation that is incredibly slept-on. I regularly program the Hatfield squat for both myself and my clients when the goals are building lower body strength, mass, and power.
In my Hatfield squat guide, I’ll cover how to set this squat variation up correctly, discuss how to perform them, and cover some benefits and mistakes.
The Hatfield squat is an awesome squat variation for lifters wanting to accumulate more lower-body volume while mitigating overall fatigue. This variation can also be great for lifters wanting to train their legs while working around back injuries
Establish the setup you want to use
For Hatfield squats, your setup is huge. There are two common ways to set up for Hatfield squats. The first entails using the rack itself as your means of support and holding onto it accordingly.
This is the easiest way to set up Hatfield squats and if you’re taller or someone with longer arms then these can feel seamless and easy. If your arms are shorter, then you’ll want to explore the second setup variation below.
For option two, you’ll set up a barbell in j-hooks on the opposite side of the side that you’ve racked the safety squat bar on. With this variation, you’ll be holding on to the barbell as you perform your reps.
When using this variation for setting up Hatfield squats, you want to make sure the safety squat bars aren’t touching the barbell when it’s racked. If they are, lower the barbell slightly. Ideally, you want just a little room between the two.
Unrack the weight, step back, and grip
Once you’ve established your Hatfield squat setup, you’ll then get under the safety squat bar, unrack it, and take 2-3 small steps backward. Perform your normal squat walkout, but keep in mind the setup differences here.
You want to be far enough away from the rack so you don’t clip the j-hooks when squatting, but close enough to where you’re not reaching forward a ton to grab the barbell or rack. Take a few sets with the bar to establish this.
Lower yourself slowly and lightly use the arms
As you start your rep, lower yourself slowly and control the eccentric. As you lower yourself, lightly use the arms to help provide additional stability and to maintain the torso angle you’re after.
The arms should be active in the context of providing additional support, but they should not be functioning as prime movers, especially during the eccentric.
Stand back up, press into the floor with the feet, and pull slightly with the arms
As you stand the weight back up, think about keeping the torso relatively upright and driving the feet into the floor while applying equal amounts of pressure to both of the feet.
Your arms will and should be once again active in supporting your mechanics and abilities to Hatfield squat with the form you’re after, but they should not be prime movers. If it feels like you’re doing a pull-up, then your arms are doing too much.
Lockout and squeeze the quads and glutes
As you stand back up with the weight, I like to cue squeezing the quads and glutes. This physically signals that a rep is finished and that you’re ready to progress into your next rep.
As you perform Hatfield squats, let your training volume and weight on the bar dictate how much you’re bracing. For heavier Hatfield squats, you’ll want to brace more aggressively as you descend and ascend through reps.
Hatfield Squat Benefits
There are multiple Hatfield squat benefits to keep in mind as you perform and program this squat variation. The Hatfield squat is a pretty unique squat variation with a few key benefits to keep in mind.
1. Great for Overloading the Legs
The first Hatfield squat benefit worth noting is how great they can be for hitting and building the legs. Since we’re using the hands with this squat variation, we can typically load them heavier for higher volumes.
In addition, the hands work as supports for the torso position we’re after, so they can take some stress off of the back and its fatigue during sets which can be a performance limiter in high-volume back squats and front squats sets.
On top of this, since we can better manipulate the torso in Hatfield squats we can typically hit better squat depth with more comfort which is great for building the adductors, glutes, and quads.
If you’re wanting to train the legs heavy at a high volume, then Hatfield squats can be an awesome squat variation to explore and if you use them for a block or two then I guarantee you’ll see some leg growth benefits.
2. Awesome for Training Around Back Injuries
Another benefit that is a little more individual is that Hatfield squats can be great for training the legs while working through back injuries. Note, back injuries are highly individual and this may not be the case for everyone.
However, since we’re using the arms to maintain a more upright torso with Hatfield squats, this can at times take some stress off of the back especially the lower back which can be a trouble area for some lifters.
If you’re not able to barbell squat due to a back injury and want to train with heavier loads to keep your training stimulus high, then opting for Hatfield squats can be an awesome option. Make sure you ease into them if this is your context.
3. Useful for Squat Skill Development
The final Hatfield squat benefit worth keeping in mind is that they can be great for developing your skill in the squat. The squat, regardless of the variation you’re performing, is a skill.
The Hatfield squat can be great for sharpening your squat skills for two key reasons. First, with your hands, you can better manipulate your mechanics to achieve the squat depths and positions that you’re wanting to train.
For example, if you’re working to improve your squat depth while maintaining a more upright torso, the Hatfield squat can be a great tool for doing so. Second, the Hatfield squat can be great for exposing your nervous system to heavier weight.
With the use of your hands, you’ll be able to load Hatfield squats heavier than traditional squats. If you’re working towards a squat goal weight like 405 or 500 lbs, then using Hatfield squats can be great for exposing your nervous system to what it’s like to handle those weights while squatting.
Hatfield Squat Muscles Worked
With Hatfield squats, you’re going to work a lot of the same muscles that are used in back squats and front squats. Below are some of the prime and secondary muscles used in Hatfield squats.
Hatfield Squat Muscles Worked
*bolded indicates a higher degree of involvement
Coaching Note: The core muscles will also be working in Hatfield squats to stabilize the trunk as you’re performing reps. I didn’t list them because they’re so secondary and you wouldn’t perform Hatfield squats solely for the core muscles.
Hatfield Squat Mistakes
Much like every compound movement, the devil is in the details with great Hatfield squat reps. There are two common mistakes that I regularly see lifters and my clients make with Hatfield squats.
1. Using the Arms Too Much
The first mistake is using and leveraging the arms too much during Hatfield squat reps. When conceptualizing the arms with Hatfield squats, think about them as playing a supporting role versus being the main actor.
If you’re hitting heavy reps and your arms doing a lot of the work to help pull you out of the hole, then you’re leaving gains on the table. The arms should be supportive, but not prime mover in Hatfield squat reps.
Not to mention, if you are using the arms too much, then you’re getting sub-optimal results because you’re taking work away from the legs which are likely counterproductive to your “why” behind using Hatfield squats in the first place.
2. Standing Too Close Or Too Far From the Rack
Another mistake that I see lifters make is standing too close or too far from the rack. Unlike using the arms too much, this is a mistake that will generally fix itself pretty fast.
For example, on one of my sets the other week with 455 lbs I clipped the j-hook on my first rep, and let me say, I adjusted and cleaned up my sloppiness real fast.
To make sure you never clip the rack or stand too far, I’d suggest keeping a consistent setup regarding the distance of your feet from the rack. For me, this is about 1.5-foot lengths and everyone will be different so find something that works and feels best for you.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q:What is a Hatfield squat?
Q:What do I need to perform Hatfield squats?
Q:What is the point of a Hatfield squat?
Hatfield squats are one of the most slept-on squat variations, in my coaching opinion. This variation can be great for countless reasons and it’s a variation where you can train super heavy while mitigating overall fatigue.
If you’re new to Hatfield squats, ease into them and take it slow so you can adapt to their form requirements. You’ll also want to ensure you have a good safety squat bar and anchored squat rack to perform these safely.
If you have additional questions about Hatfield squats, drop a comment below or reach out to me personally via Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).