No matter what you are training for, or what kind of fitness goals you have, any kind of squat is good to build up your muscles.
Adding squats to your routine will be very beneficial for you in the long run, and they make a nice addition to your whole work out.
The belt squat is considered to be a squat accessory exercise which reduces the level of spinal loading and compression in comparison to a traditional barbell back squat.
However, belt squat machines are a very expensive piece of equipment and not every gym is willing to fork out the cash to get one. It is a bit of a luxury purchase for gyms, rather than being a necessary piece of equipment.
So, is it at all possible for you to reap the benefits of the hip belt squat when you don’t have access to a belt squat machine?
Of course, it is, there is always an alternative. Here are some of the belt squat alternatives we will look at today.
- Banded belt squat.
- Cable hip belt squat.
- Front squats.
- Goblet squat.
- Hack squat.
- Landmine belt squat.
- Leg press.
- Plate or Dumbbell belt squat.
- Safety bar squats.
We will cover each of these in more detail below. However, before doing so, let’s just have a quick discussion about the benefits of a belt squat so that you know how this movement will help you out. And why, it is such a good addition to your traditional workout routine.
What are the benefits of the Belt Squat?
So, before we delve into all the alternatives to choose from, you will want to know and recognize the main benefits of this movement so that you can choose the alternative that gives you the most similar results.
Recognize your goals, and recognize which of these alternatives will bring you closer to them.
So, there are 6 main benefits that you can reap from performing a belt squat. Let’s take a look at them.
Reduction of spinal compression and loading.
One of the main favored things about the belt squat is that you can train your lower body without having the axial loading on your back that you would get from a barbell.
A majority of compounded lower body movements, such as the step-up, the lunge, Romanian deadlifts, and most squat variations will incorporate spinal compression.
Spinal compression is not something that should be feared necessarily, as it is one of the best ways to increase your bone density, overall core strength, and your muscle mass.
There are also times when you will want to consider exercises that do not include spinal loading.
A good example of this would be if you were recovering from an injury, or if you have any pre-existing back conditions, or simply if you want to isolate your legs to a greater extent than your back.
These are all times when a reduction in spinal loading works out well and is a good idea.
Provides an increase in lower body mass.
Belt squats are used primarily as a way to increase the muscular hypertrophy of the legs. So, the movement is often prescribed within the 6-15 repetition range, and it is usually performed to exhaustion, or near to exhaustion.
While you could technically use a lower repetition range with the belt squat in order to build strength, such as 1-5 reps, other exercises such as the squat, deadlift, and leg press are easier to set up and execute with much heavier weights.
So, generally, how you do this squat depends on the type of weight you want to use.
Reduction in elbow and wrist extension.
Now, if you were to squat too frequently, then you may discover that your elbows and wrists might get a bit beaten up.
However, when you do the hip belt squat the elbow and wrist extensions are removed from the equation, and you simply train the lower body.
As a result, you will find temporary relief in your wrists and elbows when you include this exercise.
Even if you do other exercises that implement the wrists and elbows, this movement is a chance for them to take a time out to recover between exercises.
Finding that you have pain in your elbows and wrists is a more substantial problem for lifters who will use low bar back squats in their training. Think of competitive powerlifters, as they will often have this.
If you do not get this, however, then you have nothing to worry about.
It is a stepping stone to increasing the frequency of squats.
If you are the kind of person who does squats, but doesn’t do it frequently and wants to up their frequency, then the belt squat is a good building block in training your lower body more often.
At any point, if you have goals to increase your squatting, then you will need to think about how many times per week you are doing your squats.
You can’t get stronger by only squatting once a week forever, you need to adapt and build, progress is everything.
This means that when you decide you should squat twice a week instead, you can use the belt squat for a few weeks on a second training day to assist you in getting used to the additional training volume that you are introducing.
While this is not necessary, it can make for a smoother transition than simply jumping right into a twice a week frequency.
Increases your lower body training without causing unnecessary fatigue.
Due to the fact that the belt squat removes any spinal loading, it is naturally a less intensive exercise. So, this means that you can train your lower body much harder without creating a great deal of overall fatigue.
As a result, you will then be able to recover from your workout faster than you would if you perform a workout that involves squats, deadlifts, and lunges.
This means that if you are the kind of person who wants to train their lower body more but is worried about their recovery and ability to do so, then the belt squat is a fantastic alternative to doing traditional lower body exercises.
It can be a stepping stone to doing those too by helping you build a better recovery as you get stronger.
You can easily modify it to target either your glutes or your quads.
Belt squats are a completely lower body movement that targets both your glutes and your quads. That being said, if you wanted to target one of these muscle groups over the other, then you can easily modify this.
To target your glutes more, you should try to sit back on your heels more and keep your shins vertical. This is why you will see some people at the gym performing the hip belt squat while holding onto a railing and really trying to lean back.
Alternatively, if you wish to target your quads more, then you should attempt to remain as upright as you can, while flexing forward into your knees as you descend. Sidenote: you may want to try Zercher squats for a diverse routine.
Primary Belt Squat Alternatives
Now we want to look at the most specific alternative options that you can do instead of the belt squat. These are the most advised options for you to choose. Although saying that, you will need a dip belt with a chain in order to perform these exercises. You can buy a dip belt online if you wish to do this from the comfort of your home, or if your gym doesn’t have one, you can take it with you.
By using a dip belt, you can reap benefits similar to what you would get by doing a traditional belt squat.
Plate or Dumbbell Belt Squats
Our first choice is plate or dumbbell squats, this is about as close as you can get to belt squats without actually doing belt squats. You will load the movement by attaching plates or dumbbells to the chain that is hanging around your waist, if you use a dip belt.
It has pretty much all of the same benefits that you would get from the belt squat. However, most notably, is the fact that it does not have any spinal compression, thanks to the load hanging from your waist and between your feet.
You can also increase the range of motion of this type of squat by standing on risers, which are highly recommended, otherwise the plates of dumbbells would hit the floor before you get to any reasonable depth.
How do I do this?
- First of all, attach a chain or rope/band to your lifting belt.
- Then, let the chain hang between your feet and use that end of the chain to strap on plates of dumbbells.
- Place your feet on risers and separate your legs into the stance of a squat.
- Lower your hips down to the floor until your thighs are parallel or lower.
- Stand up explosively, maintaining the balance in the middle of your foot.
- If you wish to target your glutes more, then you can hold onto a railing in front of you, then lean back as you lower your hips down. You can also take a wider stance and turn the movement into a sumo belt squat, which also targets the glutes more heavily.
Branded Belt Squats
Banded belt squats are a variation of the belt squat that requires absolute bare minimum equipment-wise. So, instead of using plates, or dumbbells, all you need is a couple of bands to load the exercise.
Depending on your strength level, you may need some heavy resistance bands to get the desired effect in your training. Often, we would recommend 2-4 inch resistance bands, these are optimal.
2 ¼ inches and 4 inch thickness will provide a majority of people with more than enough resistance. Lifters who use the banded bet squats will aim for high repetitions, i.e. 15 or more reps, as this will burn out the muscles at the end of their workout.
How do I do this?
- To start, grab a single band, placing it before you on the floor.
- Step inside, with your right foot inside the right side of the band, then to the same with your left foot.
- Standing in the band, pick up the center and pull it to your waist.
- Attach the band to your weight belt, closing up the loop on top of the band.
- Perform your squat, lowering your hips to the floor.
- If you do not have enough tension in the band, then you can perform this movement at an ultra slow tempo, lowering yourself at a count of 6-10 seconds.
Cable Hip Belt Squats
These are not the best alternatives, mainly because it is actually fairly easy to get off-balanced. However, if you start light and practice your technique, then you can definitely work your way up in the weights over time.
As long as you stay focused on the ‘sitting back’ motion, then you should actually be able to get fairly deep in your range of motion without risking plates or dumbbells hitting the floor when you are at a full depth.
Another benefit of doing this, is that you will not need to use a chain as you do in some of the other alternatives.
How do I do this?
- Put the cable machine onto the low setting.
- Place the dip belt around your waist.
- Attach the carabiner from the cables to the rings on your dip belt.
- Walk back from the cables, you want to be around 2ft away from the machine.
- Place your arms out in front of you for balance, and then squat as low as you can to the floor.
- Ensure that you are on your heels, as the cable will want to pull you forward and out of position. Doing this prevents that.
- To find your balance, you want to think about gripping the floor with your feet, so to speak. This is a good squat cue.
Landmine Belt Squats
The last primary squat alternative variation is the landmine belt squat. This is an alternative that can be heavily loaded if you have the correct equipment.
For this you will need to have a landmine attachment, you can pick these up very cheap online. Here are so plenty of ways that you can modify the landmine belt squat to target more of your quads or glutes, or less of your quads or glutes.
How do I do it?
- Place a barbell inside the landmine.
- Load the other end of the barbell using plates.
- It is best to use 25lb plates only since if you use heavier ones you will not be able to squat as low as the plates will hit the floor.
- Attach a chain to your lifting belt and wrap the other end underneath the barbell.
- Now it is time to squat down, lowering your hips down to the floor and then return to the standing position.
- In order to target your quads more, face away from the landmine. If you face away, then you need to attach the chain inside the sleeve.
- In order to target your glutes more, face towards the landmine. If you face towards it, then you need to attach the chain on the sleeve outside the plates.
Secondary Belt Squat Alternatives
Now, we have looked at your primary options for alternatives to the belt squat. However, now we want to look at what your secondary options are, these are non-specific options, meaning that while they are closely related to the belt squat in terms of the muscular functions.
They do not reap all the benefits you may want, and that you would get from a traditional belt squat.
As an example, some of these exercises on this list are considered ‘front-loaded’ exercises, which target some of the same muscles as a belt squat, i.e. quads. However, they do not limit the spinal compression as the barbell would still be resting on the shoulders.
That being said, these are still good alternatives to belt squats, and they can be substituted depending on what equipment you have available for your workout.
First up is front squats, this is a barbell variation, the load is placed on the front of the shoulders in this motion.
The front squat is a knee-extensor dominant exercise, it primarily targets the quad muscles. It is a complex movement pattern to learn, so if you do not have any prior squatting experience, then it is best to choose a different variation.
That being said, unlike other alternatives to the belt squat, the front squat can be used in order to develop maximum strength because it can be more significantly loaded in the lower repetition ranges. So, how to do front squats?
How do I do it?
- Set up the rack and barbell at shoulder height.
- Place the barbell on the front part of your shoulders.
- With your hands outside the shoulder width area, allow the barbell to rest on the first and second knuckles of each finger.
- Drive your elbow up and then forward so that the back of your arm is parallel to the floor.
- Set your squat stance, this should be with your feet slightly outside the shoulder-width also, with your toes flared.
- Taking a deep breath in, brace your core strong, then squat down.
- Crack at your hips and knees at the same time to begin the motion.
- Maintain an upright torso while you move.
- Squat down so that your hips drop just below parallel.
- Driving your feet through the floor, use your quads to stand up.
- Ensure that you continue to keep your elbows up in order to prevent the bar from falling down.
- Too many people will find the front squat to be awkward on their wrist area, this can lead to pain in some instances. If you find that your wrist is hurting from front squatting, you can try out doing an alternative to this. Pain in the joints should never be ignored.
What are goblet squats? These are similar to the front squats, however, instead of using a barbell, you use a single dumbbell. This is a good alternative if you find that front squats hurt your wrists, like we mentioned just above.
Squats like these are a much easier variation, and they are usually used as a precursor to advance to the front squat, back squat, and of course, the more specific variations of belt squats.
Goblet squats have been shown to be a very effective exercise to teach proper hip-hinge movement patterns. This is a very important thing for people who have pre-existing knee and back conditions.
How do I do it?
- Grab one dumbbell with two hands.
- The handle should be vertical, not parallel to the floor like you may be used to.
- Place your hands underneath the top of the dumbbell with your palms facing each other, think of it like you are cupping it.
- Hold the dumbbell close to your chest with your elbows tucked neatly into your sides.
5. Crack at your hips and knees simultaneously.
6. Brings your hips to be below parallel without bouncing or losing any tension in your quads.
7. You should keep your center of mass over the middle part of your foot throughout the whole squat.
9. To start the upward phase, push the floor away as fast as you can.
10. Avoid allowing your chest to collapse forward as you ascend.
11. To initiate the upward phase, push the floor away as fast as you can.
- If you have difficulty squatting deep with this type of squat, then you can place your heels on small plates. This allows your ankles to travel more freely through deeper motions.
Safety Bar Squats
Safety bar squats use a very special barbell that has handles that extend out in front of your body for you to hold onto. Holding onto these handles takes out any of the shoulder and wrist mobility that are required in movements such as the front squat.
Much like the belt squat, safety bar squats place you in a more upright chest position, and engage the quad muscles more too.
The downside to these squats is that most gyms will not have a safety squat bar available to you. You could, however, buy your own.
How can I do it?
- Place your barbell on your back, keeping the foam pad at the base of your neck.
- Grab onto the safety bar handles, driving your elbows up and forwards.
- Ensure that your upper back and core are both engaged before you squat down.
- While you keep your chest up, and the load over your midfoot, bring your hips just below parallel.
- Then drive up to stand, maintaining your up, and forward elbow positioning.
- Safety bar squats are perfect if you find that you often fall forward in squats. Doing a phase of training using a safety bar, you will begin to find that you can squat in a more upright position. It is a good stepping stone to other types of squats and is one of the reasons why you should do safety bar squats.
Leg presses are a good alternative to belt squats, as there is no load placed on the back, and it isolates the quads.
It is an easy exercise to perform in comparison to other squats as you do not think about where your body is. You only need to move the load through the fixed range of movement.
Like the belt squat, leg pressing is not very fatiguing, this means you have a faster recovery time. However, it has less sports application as it requires less stability, coordination, and balance.
How do I do it?
- Lay down on the machine with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Brace your core and tighten your glutes.
- When ready, take the weight off safety and lower the sled to your chest until your thighs are at or below parallel.
- To drive up, push through your heels and exhale.
To target your hamstrings more, place your legs at a wider stance, with your feet closer to the top of the platform.
Hack squats are a machine that looks like a standing leg press. Perform this on a sled that allows you to squat on a 45-degree angle. There is still some spinal loading, however it is much less than back and front squats. This puts more emphasis on your legs. Many lifters also use this if they have restrictions from squatting deeper in traditional squats. If you don't have access to a hack squat, you can also check out the best hack squat alternatives here.
How do I do it?
- Place your shoulders underneath the pads, grab the handles outside your head.
- Position your slights a bit more than shoulder-width apart.
3. Squat down controlling your speed, and ensure your heels do not lift.
4. Pushing your knees forward to get a greater range of motion.
5. Standing up, drive your shoulders up and back to the pad.
- You can modify this squat to target glutes or quads more. To target your quads more, place your feet more central, for glutes place your feet more at the top of the platform.
A good belt squat alternative will mimic a similar pattern of movement, or it will target similar muscle groups. We have spoken about the best, but which is best for you?