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Belt squats are a great way of training your squat while giving your lower back a break.
This squat variation takes the place of regular back squats and is usually done on a hip belt squat machine, but if you don’t have access to one and still want to reap the benefits, we’ve got you covered.
Recommended Reading – 5 Ways To Overcome Lower Back Pain While Squatting During Workouts
Keep reading as in this article we’ll be recommending some fantastic belt squat alternatives for your leg day training program.
Before that, let’s briefly look at what the belt squat is and why it’s such a great exercise.
What Is The Belt Squat?
Let’s assume you have a shoulder injury or upper back issues or maybe you just suffer from lower back pain.
In which case you won’t be able to perform regular barbell squats as they could exacerbate these problems.
This is where belt squatting comes in.
The belt squat exercise allows you to develop your legs with no weight load on your upper body.
When you perform traditional squats, whether it’s a high bar squat or low bar squat, the barbell is positioned across your upper traps or rear delts.
This places the weight load on the upper back and shoulders.
The belt squat, however, involves suspending the weight load around the hips by wearing a dip belt. Here’s how it works:
You need to wear a weightlifting belt, to which a cable or strap system is attached.
The cable or strap is attached to a machine which allows the weight to hang freely once the safety catcher (is using a machine) is released.
You’d adopt a normal squat stance as you would when performing a regular barbell squat.
As you descend into a squat the weight hangs freely from the belt, and the resistance is applied vertically rather than being borne by the spine which encourages proper form.
What Are The Benefits Of Belt Squatting?
Whether you belt squat on a machine or utilize a set-up designed to mimic belt squatting, there are several key benefits of the belt squat exercise.
Improves Squat Technique
When you perform a belt squat it forces you to adopt a more upright position which in turn leads to a better squat technique.
It’s common to see people lean forwards slightly when descending into a regular barbell back squat.
This is especially true of taller people and those with poor ankle mobility.
This puts additional stress on the lumbar spine and the posterior muscles of the thighs.
By maintaining a more upright posture during a belt squat, there is less stress on the lumbar region and you’ll reduce the risk of muscle tears.
No Weight Load On The Back
Out of all the belt squat benefits, this is the best one.
Belt squatting follows a similar movement pattern to the traditional barbell back squat but the weight is loaded through the hips as opposed to on the back.
This eliminates axial compressive forces on your spine making it one of the best ways of squatting if you suffer from any spinal issues or low back pain.
When barbell squats are not done with proper form, this increases the likelihood of injuries like disc herniation but by removing your upper body from the equation, you’ll prevent this from happening.
Better For Glute Activation
When your torso is taken out of squatting this means it won’t be taking any of the weight load.
When this happens, you’ll find that the resistance is transferred more to your glutes (along with the quads and adductors).
The belt squat setup often allows for a more natural and comfortable stance, which further enhances the recruitment of your glutes.
This is because you may find that you can achieve a more externally rotated or wider stance, promoting greater glute activation during the squat.
Better For Volume Work & Muscular Endurance
If you’re used to squatting heavy weights, you’ll likely find that you can’t belt squat the same weight load.
This is because your upper body isn’t helping you to perform the squat putting the entire weight load on your spine.
However, while it may be more difficult to squat with heavier weights, it’s a good alternative if you want to concentrate on more repetitions.
Belt squatting with lighter weight but more reps can help to improve muscle endurance.
Best Belt Squat Alternatives For Less Back Stress
When considering the best alternative exercises to replace belt squats, it’s essential to find options that will work your legs to increase strength and muscle mass while minimizing stress on the upper body.
Let’s have a look at some great exercises below:
The sissy squat is a unique lower body exercise that primarily targets the quads while also engaging the muscles of the hips, thighs, and calves.
The unique angle and position of your body will reduce stress on your lower back making it a good alternative to the belt squat.
It’s certainly one of the more challenging exercises and you’ll need good strength and mobility to perform it as if not done properly can put stress on the knee joint.
It’s typically a bodyweight exercise or you can perform it with added resistance using equipment like a weight plate.
While both the sissy squat and belt squat recruit your quads, the main difference is that the sissy squat is more focused on knee flexion and involves less hip extension compared to the belt squat.
One of the drawbacks of the sissy squat is that you won’t be able to increase the weight load making it less versatile for strength progression.
The front squat involves holding a barbell in front of your body with an overhand grip and resting it along your upper pecs and front delts.
The position of the barbell shifts the load to your anterior muscles, particularly your quads and core, encouraging a more upright torso which will reduce stress and pressure on your lower back making it a great belt squat substitute.
You’d set up in the normal way by placing a bar on a squat rack and after unracking, keep your chest up and elbows as high as possible to prevent the bar from sliding forward.
It has similar muscle activation to the belt squat and will also work your glutes, hamstrings, and erector spinae.
It’s important to note that because the weight load is positioned across the top of your chest, it won’t offer the same benefits when it comes to reducing spinal compression.
Landmine Belt Squat
The landmine belt squat is likely the closest alternative to doing it on a belt squat platform making it a great option if you don’t have access to much equipment.
You’ll need a landmine attachment to perform the exercise but if you don’t have one, you could try wedging a barbell in the corner of a room making it a good option for a home gym.
This variation allows for a more natural movement pattern that will work your quads, hamstrings, and glutes with no tension on your upper or lower back muscles.
Compared to squatting with free weights, the pendulum squat is a great alternative.
It’s a machine based squat that allows you to perform a squat with a full range of motion while keeping stress off your lower back and knee joints.
The weight load on a pendulum squat machine is typically located at head height but because your back is fully supported you can do heavy squats and keep stress off your upper body making it a great movement for developing stronger legs.
One of the main drawbacks is that it’s not a very common machine so you may not see it in most gyms but because it minimizes stress to the upper body we feel it’s important to include it in our list of belt squat alternatives.
Linear Hack Squat
The linear hack squat machines provide a guided path for the squatting motion.
This reduces the need for extensive core stabilization, promoting a controlled movement that minimizes stress on the back while targeting your quad and hamstrings making it a good replacement for belt squatting.
It’s a little different when compared to a regular hack squat machine due to the positioning of the weight load.
On a standard hack squat the weight load sits at around head height.
On the other hand, the resistance on the linear hack squat is similar to that of the pivot system belt squat machine and around the waist level.
This positioned, combined with the element of having your lower back supported, significantly reduces the level of spinal loading.
Pivot Leg Press Machine
The pivot leg press machine allows users to perform leg presses with a reduced risk of lower back strain.
The pivoting design accommodates a more natural leg press motion, minimizing axial loading on the spine while still providing an effective leg exercise.
It’s very similar to the 45-degree leg press in that it’s going to primarily work your quads with one of the significant differences being a much larger range of motion when using the pivot leg press machine.
Goblet squats involve holding a weight close to your chest, promoting an upright torso during the squatting motion.
This positioning decreases stress on the lower back by reducing forward lean, making it a suitable alternative if you’re looking for a back-friendly squat variation.
Holding the weight, whether it’s a dumbbell or kettlebell, at the front of your chest makes it similar to the front squat, and as you’ll be squatting with less weight the correct form involves squatting as deep as you can making it great for muscle hypertrophy.
One of the disadvantages of the goblet squat is that it’s not great for progressive overload but it is a good way to learn proper squat technique.
If you tend to round your lower back when doing a standard barbell squat, the goblet squat can help address this.
Zercher squats involve cradling the barbell in the crook of the elbows, shifting the load to the legs and core.
This positioning minimizes stress on the back while engaging the lower body and core effectively.
If you lack mobility when doing a regular front squat, then Zercher squats can be a good alternative.
A common complaint from people doing front squats is the stress placed on the wrists making them uncomfortable to do.
Zercher squats won’t place any stress on the wrists and you could use a padded bar to reduce discomfort in the crooks of your elbows.
They are a more challenging squat variation so we wouldn’t recommend them for beginners but they are worth a try if you’ve reached a plateau with regular back squats or want to reduce load on the spine.
Heel Elevated Dumbbell Squat
Heel elevated dumbbell squats involve raising your heels on an elevated platform, like a squat ramp or weight plate, and performing squats while holding a pair of dumbbells.
When compared to the belt squat, it can offer some advantages, especially if you’re looking to reduce spinal load and target specific muscle groups.
When you elevate your heels this alters the angle of your ankle which increases recruitment of your quads.
This difference stance also activates more of your glute and hamstrings as you descend into the squat.
What’s more, raising the heels helps you to maintain a more upright torso helping to keep your spine nice and straight during the movement.
This makes it a great belt squat alternative for those looking to alleviate stress on the lumbar spine
Compared to the belt squat, the heel elevated dumbbell squat offers a more accessible and versatile option, as it requires minimal equipment and space.
You can perform it pretty much anywhere with a set of dumbbells and an elevated surface.
This versatility makes it a practical choice if you don’t have access to a belt squat machine.
Safety Bar Squats
If you want to eliminate any hip, knee or shoulder pain when squatting then the safety bar squat is a great choice.
The mechanics of the safety bar squat encourage almost perfect squat form.
This is because the unique design of the bar sits a little higher compared to a regular barbell with the camber pushing you forward forcing you to stay upright.
The more upright your torso, the less stress is placed on your lower back with the weight load being redistributed to your glutes and quads.
As you have to essentially fight to stay upright, this stops your lower back from rounding and core from collapsing which helps you to open up your hips more.
This in turn helps to prevent your knees from caving inwards.
Before trying them out, it’s important to know that the safety bar squat is one of the more challenging squat variations.
This is because the center of mass is lower when compared to regular back squats which can throw you a little of balance.
There is also less hip, hamstrings, and glute activation which may make it more difficult to execute.
Bulgarian Split Squats
In Bulgarian split squats, one foot is positioned forward while the other rests on a bench behind you.
This unilateral movement helps to correct muscle imbalances and enhances stability, reducing strain on the lower back by allowing for a more controlled descent and ascent.
It’s worth noting that you need to lean forward when performing a Bulgarian split squat which can put a little stress on the lower back.
That being said, by eliminating the need for a barbell on your back, the Bulgarian split squat naturally reduces the load on the spine, making it a good alternative to belt squats.
An effective belt squat alternative should provide a similar workout experience while accommodating things such as your ability and access to certain equipment.
Belt squat alternatives should also recruit the same muscle groups including your quads, glutes, and hamstrings.
As with any lower body training, keep exercises varied to get the best results in terms of muscle and strength gains.