Discovering hidden gems in the gym is always exciting, and one such treasure is the belt squat—an often overlooked yet highly advantageous piece of equipment. Despite its effectiveness, the scarcity of belt squat machines in most gyms contributes to their underutilization. However, if you have access to a belt squat machine, it’s recommended to take full advantage of it. This comprehensive guide will provide you with all the necessary information about belt squats, including proper form, variations, and alternatives in case your gym doesn’t have one.
Understanding Hip Belt Squats The belt squat machine was introduced to us by the legendary Louie Simmons from Westside Barbell, the same innovator who brought us reverse hyperextension. Designed to allow heavy loading of the lower body while minimizing stress on the lower back, the belt squat machine aims to replicate the movement pattern of the traditional barbell back squat. While the leg press serves as an alternative to the barbell squat, it can still strain the lower back and has a distinct movement pattern. In contrast, the belt squat machine shifts the load to the hips, offering a back-friendly alternative that loads the legs with heavy weights and mimics the movement pattern of the back squat while reducing stress on the lower back.
The Mechanics of a Belt Squat Machine Creating the belt squat machine posed a challenge due to the low position of the hips. To overcome this, an elevated platform with a hole in the middle was developed to accommodate a cable. The cable passes through pulleys, allowing a trainee to attach it to a belt worn around the hips. This setup enables a full range of motion with a chosen weight while keeping the upper body free. Many belt squat machines also feature handles for support or assisted reps, providing the perfect combination of heavy loading and lower back protection during leg workouts.
Performing Belt Squats Performing belt squats is a straightforward process. Begin by checking the cable for any issues, ensuring it’s working properly. Attach the belt to the cable and select the weight for your belt squat session. There are two variations of belt squat machines: plate-loaded and weight-stacked. Plate-loaded machines allow for higher weights and increased durability. When wearing the hip belt, make sure to adjust it appropriately for a snug fit. Consider attaching the two ends of the belt relatively high up to prevent it from slipping off your hips. Mastering the proper form of belt squats can be beneficial, even for individuals considering a belt squat machine for their at-home gym.
Muscles Trained with a Hip Belt Squat: The hip belt squat offers the flexibility to incorporate various movements and adjust your technique, allowing for balanced muscle development and hypertrophy. While the primary focus is on the quadriceps, engaging the glutes and hamstrings to a lesser extent, it’s important to note that back squats activate the gluteus Maximus more significantly. To ensure a well-rounded lower body workout, it’s recommended to complement belt squats with exercises like Romanian deadlifts, targeting the posterior chain.
How to Wear a Hip Belt (or Dip Belt): The tightness of the belt depends on the style available at your gym. Some belts have short chains, others have long chains, and some may have no chains at all. Despite limited options for adjusting the specific belt, consider two features:
- Attach the two ends of the belt relatively high up to ensure a snug fit. For example, if your belt has a long chain and you allow it to hang, it may slip off your hips more easily.
- If your belt has a chain
WHAT MUSCLES ARE TRAINED WITH A HIP BELT SQUAT?
The hip belt squat offers the flexibility to incorporate various movements and adjust your technique, allowing for balanced muscle development and hypertrophy. While it’s commonly assumed that the muscles worked in a belt squat are the same as those in a back squat, there are some key differences. The primary focus of the hip belt squat is on the quadriceps, making it a highly quad-dominant exercise. However, other muscles such as the glutes and hamstrings are also engaged, although to a lesser extent. It’s important to note that despite claims suggesting a greater emphasis on hip extension, studies have shown that back squats actually activate the gluteus maximus more significantly. To ensure a well-rounded lower body workout, it’s recommended to complement belt squats with exercises like Romanian deadlifts, which target the posterior chain.
LESS UPPER BODY CORE ENGAGEMENT: The main advantage of the belt squat is its ability to provide an effective lower body workout while minimizing stress on the lower back. Compared to the barbell back squat, the belt squat significantly reduces core engagement. This lower demand on the core makes it a suitable alternative for individuals seeking to prevent or alleviate low back pain. Numerous studies have compared muscle activation between belt squats and barbell back squats, consistently demonstrating reduced core activation during belt squats.
TOP 4 BELT SQUAT BENEFITS
THE TOP 4 BELT SQUAT BENEFITS When comparing the belt squat to the barbell squat, it’s important to recognize that they are both exceptional compound lifts with distinct advantages. Rather than viewing them as competitors, it’s best to consider them as complementary exercises. Here are the top four benefits of incorporating belt squats into your lower-body training routine:
- ALLOWS LOWER BODY TRAINING WITH NO LOAD ON THE LOWER BACK: Unlike the barbell squat, which places significant stress on the lower back due to the forward torso lean, the belt squat effectively shifts the load to the hips. This eliminates axial loading and reduces spinal compression. Additionally, the belt squat doesn’t exert load on the shoulders, minimizing sheer force. This feature makes it an ideal exercise for individuals with preexisting back issues, those looking to avoid excessive strain on the back, or those seeking to maintain a balanced training regimen.
- IDEAL FOR ANYONE WITH MOBILITY ISSUES: While back squats require substantial shoulder joint mobility, which may pose challenges for individuals with upper body injuries, this is not an issue with belt squats. The belt’s placement on the hips eliminates concerns related to injured arms or limited shoulder mobility. Even if you have mobility issues, a belt squat machine allows you to continue training without compromising your upper body.
- BELT SQUAT MACHINES ARE HIGHLY VERSATILE: Although primarily associated with squats, belt squat machines offer versatility for performing various exercises. In addition to squats, you can incorporate a wide range of movements and variations using this equipment. The possibilities are numerous, and exploring different exercises can enhance your training routine and target specific muscle groups effectively.
- GREAT FOR HIGH-VOLUME LOWER BODY TRAINING: High-volume leg training is known for its effectiveness in building leg muscle mass. While exercises like back squats, front squats, and leg presses can be used for high-volume training, belt squats provide a more comfortable and efficient option. The availability of handrails allows for assisted reps, enabling you to push beyond fatigue and achieve significant muscle-building gains. In essence, belt squats are a fantastic choice for a final burnout set in lower body workouts.
ARE BELT SQUATS OR HEAVY BARBELL BACK SQUATS BETTER? Comparing belt squats and back squats isn’t a straightforward comparison. In reality, the belt squat is more comparable to exercises like leg presses or front squats. Instead of choosing between back squats and belt squats, it’s advisable to incorporate both into your training routine, as each offers unique benefits. Back squats are generally favored for strength training due to the involvement of more muscle mass and the ability to handle heavier loads. On the other hand, belt squats excel in hypertrophy and muscular endurance training, thanks to their comfortable setup and the option for high-volume work. Ultimately, combining all three exercises—back squats, belt squats, and front squats—provides a comprehensive lower-body workout targeting various muscle groups.
Best Belt Squat Variations
Here we go. These are some of the best belt squat variations you can do, showcasing the versatility of this equipment.
- Belt Split Squats: Split squats are a fantastic unilateral exercise that can be added to any lower-body training day. They challenge all the muscles in the lower body and provide excellent balance benefits. To perform this variation, connect the belt to your hips and assume a split squat stance. It’s important to note that while split squats are similar to lunges in terms of movement patterns, attempting lunges with a belt squat machine can lead to awkward angles due to the cable pulling the body.
- Belt Sumo Squats: Plie squats, also known as sumo squats, are a great exercise for targeting the inner thighs. After setting up your belt with attached weights, stand on the platform with your legs spread about 1.5 to 2 times wider than shoulder-width apart. Externally rotate your hips so that your feet are pointing outwards. From there, sit back until your thighs are parallel to the ground, and then return to the starting position. Don’t have a machine? No problem! Just attach a belt with weights and stand on two platforms that are wide enough apart for you to perform sumo squats.
- Belt Marches: This movement mimics a loaded carry and is great for overall muscular activation. Connect the belt and load a heavier weight than you would for a back squat. Then, perform exaggerated marching movements by bringing your knees up high while alternating legs. This exercise activates the glutes, especially the gluteus medius, as you support the load with one leg. It also provides a stimulus to your hip flexors. It’s an excellent exercise for training the body to walk under load without stressing the back.
- Belt Squat Bent Over Row: Yes, you can even target the upper body with the belt squat machine. Instead of using a belt, attach a barbell or a different handle attachment used on a cable pulley system. Bend over and perform bent-over rows using the belt squat machine.
- Belt Squat Romanian Deadlift: You can perform the Romanian deadlift or any other deadlift variation using the belt squat machine. However, since these exercises primarily target the posterior muscles, using a belt might reduce their effectiveness. Instead, use a straight bar attachment and treat it as you would a barbell. This variation provides the same benefits as a barbell Romanian deadlift and can be combined with the bent-over row for challenging supersets.
- Belt Squat Donkey Calf Raise: The donkey calf raise is an effective calf exercise, but it can be challenging to perform without the proper equipment or someone to sit on your back. Using a belt squat machine eliminates the need for assistance and provides a more comfortable experience. Attach a belt and stand on the edge of the platform. Bend over at the hips until your back is almost parallel to the ground, and hold onto the rails. Lower your body by allowing your heels to drop, then raise yourself up onto your toes.
If you don’t have access to a belt squat machine, here are three alternatives you can try:
- Freestanding Belt Squats: This alternative requires minimal equipment and involves attaching the belt directly to a dip belt. The weight hangs low, so you’ll need to stand on boxes to create distance. Perform the movement pattern as you would with a belt squat machine, but be aware that the weight can swing and create instability.
- Landmine Belt Squat: The landmine setup is versatile and effective for various exercises, including the belt squat variation. Set up a landmine with an actual landmine row attachment, load the barbell with the desired weight, and wrap a dip belt around the barbell. Ensure that there is no excessive slack, as you don’t want the plates hitting the ground when you squat.
- Cable Hip Belt Squat: Using a cable machine, place the pulley system on the lowest level, put on a hip belt, and connect it to the pulley. Stand a few feet back from the machine and perform squats similar to a standard belt squat.
By incorporating belt squats into your routine, you can improve muscle mass and strength while minimizing the risk of injury. Even if you don’t have access to a belt squat machine, there are several variations and alternatives that you can try in any gym. Give them a shot and experience the benefits of belt squats for yourself.
- Joseph L, Reilly J, Sweezey K, Waugh R, Carlson LA, Lawrence MA. The Activity of Trunk and Lower Extremity Musculature: Comparison Between Parallel Back Squats and Belt Squats. Journal of Human Kinetics. 2020;72(1):223-228. doi:10.2478/hukin-2019-0126
- Evans TW, McLester CN, Howard JH, McLester JR, Calloway JP. A comparison of muscle activation between back squats and belt squats. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Published online June 2017:1. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000002052