For anyone like me who has lower back issues when squatting, the belt squat machine can quickly become your best friend.
Simply put if you can’t squat, then belt squat!
However the belt squat can be a real nightmare if you don’t have everything set up properly, so I’m going to walk you through each of the things you need to think about so your belt squats feel as amazing as they should!
Also I assume you are already aware of the benefits of doing belt squats, so I’m going to skip over that and get right into the technical details.
1. Test Range Of Motion & Adjust Foot Platform
One of the biggest issues people run into when doing belt squats is range of motion.
This will depend a lot on your specific belt squat machine or belt squat attachment, but certain setups will simply not allow you to reach the depth you’re looking for.
This is because either the weights or center lever arm will bump into the ground before you’ve hit that full range of motion in your squat.
If you’re using a cable belt squat machine, this won’t be an issue as it really only pertains to lever belt squats as well as attachments.
Before you begin your working sets, clip the belt on and test out your range of motion before putting more than a couple plates on the machine.
See if you can comfortably squat to depth or if there’s anything preventing you from doing so.
If you can’t get the depth you want, the best solution is to raise your foot platform.
There’s plenty of ways you can raise your foot platform and it usually only has to be a few inches.
A couple weight plates stacked on one another will usually do the trick, otherwise you might need some small plyometric boxes.
Once you have a platform that’ll allow you to reach depth, you may want to adjust your safety stopper (if your machine even has one).
Many machines don’t and it’s not a big concern either way, unless you’re planning on going really heavy.
2. Step Into Or Clip On Belt
Once you’ve got your starting weight on the machine, put your belt squat belt on.
If you’re using a Spud Inc belt squat belt, the easiest way to get it on is to step into it when it’s already attached to the machine and slip it onto your hips.
If you’re using the Rogue multi belt or Henny belt, you’ll need to clip the belt onto the D-ring which is best for your size.
If you’re unsure which belt to use, be sure to check out my article explaining everything you need to know about belt squat belts.
Belt Placement Is Very Important
One very common mistake I see people making all the time is that they wear their belt far too high up on their lower back/lumber spine.
If you do this you’re going to be placing a lot of load on your lower back which is exactly what we’re trying to avoid with this exercise!
Your belt squat belt should be worn as low as possible, around the lower hips/upper glutes, and not on your lower back.
It should almost feel uncomfortably low on your hips!
3. Adjust Your Foot Placement
Before you begin doing squats, make sure your feet are in the right place.
Ideally we want to get our center of gravity directly over the lever/pully system.
That means you want your hips to be as close to the belt attachment as possible.
This gives you the biggest mechanical advantage and will put the maximum strain on your quads and glutes, which is where we want it.
If your feet are too far back, you’ll end up pulling a lot of the load with your joints and you’ll find the machine trying to pull your knees/hips forward which makes for a very awkward squat.
So for maximum muscle fiber activation, stand as close to the belt attachment as possible (directly over it if using a cable machine).
This is one of the reasons the Squatmax-MD, which is a free weight belt squat machine, has been shown to activate more muscle fibers than cable and lever belt squat machines.
Because the weight is (by definition) always directly below your center of gravity, this is the most natural and effective way to squat.
Lever belt squat machines will generally always cause some forward pull and this is largely unavoidable, but can be minimized by playing around with your foot positioning.
Once you’re happy with your foot placement and your squat feels comfortable, start squatting until your heart’s content (or your legs fall off)!
How Much Weight Should I Use For A Belt Squat?
Generally speaking you can belt squat similar weights to what you’d lift on a regular barbell back squat.
Most people tend not to ever really max out their belt squat and many athletes use this machine for getting volume in while giving their spine a rest.
Belt Squat Machine Starting Weight
Most belt squat machines are setup to have a 1:1 weight ratio with a trolley weight of 45lbs.
So you’re looking at the same starting weight as with a barbell.
The Rogue Rhino’s starting weight is 27lbs and also has a 1:1 weight ratio.
Some other belt squat machines and attachments do not have a 1:1 weight ratio and will be a little different, but the majority are around 1:1 + 45lbs.
6 Best Belt Squat Machine Exercises
Although squats are definitely the best exercise to do on the belt squat machine, this machine is far more versatile than you probably thought and there’s no shortage of awesome ways to use it.
1. Belt Squat Marches
Belt squat marches are one of the smartest ways to train for heavy strongman movement events like the yoke carry or farmer’s walk.
It keeps the spine completely unloaded but is still able to work the lower body and core.
The key is to ensure you’re not swaying back and forth and are fully engaging your core to allow you to stomp the floor with each step.
2. Belt Squat RDL
The belt squat machine is actually one of my favorite ways to do Romanian deadlifts because there’s no upper body involved.
Just make sure you’re hinging at the hips.
Keep your knees slightly bent throughout the movement.
3. Bulgarian Split Squat
Bulgarian split squats are a great exercise to include primarily because they’re a unilateral exercise which helps iron out muscle imbalances.
The belt squat machine is a super easy way to do these and I find it quite a bit easier than using the smith machine.
4. Donkey Calf Raises
Depending on your belt squat machine, you should have a hand rail and the edge of a foot platform that you can use to perform calf raises with.
Although seated calf raises are much more comfortable, belt squat machine calf raises are going to target the gastroc more than the soleus which is why they’re worth including occasionally.
5. Bent Over Row
It’s entirely possible to clip a handle onto your belt squat machine and use the hand rail to rest your upper body on while you do bent over rows.
Be very careful though that you don’t do this in a public gym whenever it’s possible someone else could be waiting to do belt squats!
Could you imagine getting hyped up for some belt squats and you look over to see someone rowing the belt squat machine!?
6. Hip Thrust/Glute Bridge
I’m not a huge fan of this one but if you don’t have a hip thrust/glute bridge machine, this works fairly well.
You will need a partner to pull the lever at the start and end of your set.
You’ll also need some padding for the bar.
Many gyms won’t have room to put a bench exactly where it is above, but if you’ve got the space then go crazy!