The belt squat is a squat accessory exercise that reduces the level of spinal loading and compression compared with a traditional barbell back squat.
However, a belt squat machine is an expensive piece of equipment and not many gyms fork out the cash to pay for one. It’s more of a luxury purchase for gyms rather than an all-out necessity.
So how can you reap the benefits of the hip belt squat when you don’t have a belt squat machine?
The 9 best belt squat alternatives are:
- Plate or Dumbell Belt Squat
- Banded Belt Squat
- Landmine Belt Squat
- Cable Hip Belt Squat
- Front Squats
- Safety Bar Squats
- Goblet Squat
- Hack Squat
- Leg Press
Let’s cover each of these exercises in greater detail below! But before doing so, let’s have a quick discussion on the belt squat benefits so you know how this movement may help you.
This article is an extension of my Top 10 Front Squat Alternatives. There are some great leg variations detailed in this article as well. Open that link in a new tab and read it next!
Belt Squat Benefits
Before diving into the alternatives to the belt squat, you should recognize the main benefits of this movement so you can select the belt squat alternatives that target similiar goals.
There are 6 main benefits of the hip belt squat.
Increases lower body muscle mass
The belt squat is used primarily as a way to increase muscular hypertrophy of the legs. As such, the movement is usually prescribed within the 6-15 rep range, and performed to exhaustion or near exhaustion.
While you could technically use a lower rep range with the belt squat to build strength (1-5), other exercises like the squat, deadlift, and leg press are easier to set up and execute with heavier weights.
Reduces spinal compression and loading
The main draw of the belt squat is that you can train your lower body without having the axial loading on your back from a barbell.
Most compounded lower body movements, such as the step-up, lunge, Romanian deadlift, or any squat variation, will incorporate spinal compression.
While spinal compression shouldn’t be feared, as it’s one of the best ways to increase bone density, overall core strength, and muscle mass, there are certainly times when you would want to consider exercises without spinal loading.
Most notably, when you’re recovering from an injury, or have pre-existing back conditions. Or simply, you just want to isolate your legs to a greater extent versus your back.
Reduces elbow and wrist extension
If you’re squatting too frequently, you might start to notice that your elbows and wrists start to get slightly beat up. The hip belt squat removes any elbow and wrist extension required to train the lower body.
As such, you’ll find temporary relief in your elbows and wrists when implementing the belt squat exercise.
Getting pain in your elbows and wrists is more of an issue for lifters who use the low bar back squat in their training, i.e. competitive powerlifters. If this isn’t you, then you have nothing to worry about.
Increases lower body training without causing excess fatigue
Because the belt squat removes any spinal loading, it’s naturally a less intensive exercise. Therefore, you can train the lower body quite hard without creating a lot of overall fatigue.
As a result, you’ll be able to recover from your workout a bit quicker versus performing a workout with squats, deadlifts, and lunges.
So, if you’re someone who wants to train their lower body more, but is concerned about your ability to recover, then the belt squat is a great alternative to traditional lower body exercises.
A stepping stone to increasing squat frequency
If you are only squatting once per week right now but want to increase your frequency to twice per week, then the belt squat is a good stepping stone to training your lower body more often.
At some point, if you have strength goals to increase your squat, you’ll need to be considering how many times per week you’re squatting. You can’t get stronger only squatting once per week forever.
Therefore, when you decide you should squat twice per week, you can use the belt squat for a few weeks on a second training day to get used to the added lower body training volume first. This is a smoother transition than simply jumping to twice/week squat frequency.
Can be easily modified to target either glutes or quads
The belt squat is a complete lower body movement that targets both the glutes and quads. However, if you want to target one more than the other, the belt squat can be easily modified.
To target the glutes more, you would try to sit back on your heels more and keep your shins vertical. This is why you see some people who perform the hip belt squat hold onto a railing and really try to ‘lean back’.
To target the quads more, you would try to remain as upright as possible, and flex forward into the knee as you descend into the bottom position.
Note: a study be Evans et al. (2019), showed that the back squat activates the glutes significantly more than the hip belt squat. Therefore, in comparing the two exercises, it seems that the quads are similarly activated between the back squat and belt squat.
Specific Belt Squat Alternatives
The first 4 belt squat alternatives will be the most specific versions of the movement that doesn’t require the belt squat machine.
With this dip belt, you’ll reap almost the same benefit as doing the traditional belt squat.
1. Plate or Dumbell Belt Squat
The plate or dumbbell belt squat is the closest variation that you can do to the traditional belt squat.
You will load the movement by attaching plates or dumbbells to a chain that is hanging around your waist with a dip belt.
It has virtually all of the same benefits of the belt squat. Most notably, not having any spinal compression as the load is hanging from your waist between your feet.
You can increase the range of motion of this variation by standing on risers, which I would definitely recommend otherwise the plates or dumbbells will hit the floor before you get adequate depth.
How To Do It
- Attach a chain (or rope/band) to your lifting belt.
- Let the chain hang between your feet and use that end of the chain to strap on plates or dumbbells
- Place your feet on risers and separate your legs into your squat stance
- Lower your hips to the floor until your thighs are at or below parallel
- Stand up explosively maintaining the balance on your mid-foot
If you want to target more of your glutes, you can hold onto a railing in front of you and lean back as you lower your hips to the floor. As well, you can take a wider stance, turning the movement into a sumo belt squat, which will target more of the glutes.
2. Banded Belt Squat
The banded belt squat is a belt squat variation that requires minimal equipment. Rather than using plates or dumbbells, all you need is one or two bands to load the exercise.
Depending on your level of strength, you may need heavy resistance bands to get the desired training effect. Usually, 2-4-inch bands are optimal. My recommendation is to pick up a set of purple and black Rubber Banditz Bands from Amazon (click to check today’s price).
The 2-1/4 inch and 4-inch thickness will provide enough resistance for most people.
Lifters who use the banded belt squat aim for higher repetitions (15+) to burn out the muscles at the end of a workout.
How To Do It
- Grab a single band and place it on the floor in front of you
- Put your right foot inside the right-side of the band, and do the same with the left foot on the left-side
- While standing on the band, pick up the centre and pull it up to your waist
- Attach the band to your weight belt by closing the loop ontop of the band
- Perform the squat by lowering your hips toward the floor
If you don’t have enough band tension, you can perform this movement with an ultra-slow tempo, lowering yourself with a cout of 6-10 seconds.
3. Landmine Belt Squat
The landmine belt squat is another great belt squat alternative, which can be heavily loaded if you have the right equipment.
For this variation, you’ll need a landmine attachment. You can pick these up pretty cheap on Amazon (click to check price), which is far less than what a belt squat machine would cost.
There are also several ways that you can modify the landmine belt squat to target more or less of your quads or glutes.
How To Do It
- Place a barbell inside the landmine apparatus
- Load the other end of the barbell using plates
- Use 10lbs or 25lb plates only since if you use 45lb plates you won’t 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
- Squat down to lower your hips to the floor and then return to standing
If you want to target your quads more face away from the landmine attachment. If facing away, you’ll attach the chain inside the sleeve.
If you want to target your glutes more, face toward the landmine attachement. If facing toward, you’ll attach the chain on the sleeve itself outside the plates.
4. Cable Hip Belt Squat
The cable hip belt squat is not my favorite hip belt variation because it’s really easy to get off balance.
However, if you start light and practice the technique, then you can work your way up in weight over time.
So long as you’re focused on ‘sitting back’, you can actually get fairly deep into the range of motion, without the risk of plates or dumbbells hitting the floor when you’re at full depth.
The other benefit of the cable variation is that you don’t need a chain as with the previous belt squat variations.
How To Do It
- Move the cable machine to the low setting
- Place a dip belt around your waist
- Attach the carabiner from the cables to the rings on the dip belt
- Walk back from the cables so that you’re at least 2-feet away from the machine
- Place your arms out in front of you for balance and squat as low as you can toward the floor
- Ensure you’re sitting back on your heels, as the cable will want to pull you forward and out of position
In order to find your balance, think about ‘gripping the floor with your feet’. This is one of the squat cues that I cover in my article on improving your squat technique.
Non-Specific Belt Squat Alternatives
The remaning belt squat alternatives on this list are ‘non specific’ variations.
This means that they are closely related to the belt squat in terms of the muscular function, but they don’t incorporate all of the benefits of the traditional belt squat.
For example, some of these exercises on this list are ‘front-loaded’ exercises, which will target some of the same muscles as a belt squat (quads), but they won’t limit the spinal compression as the barbell is still resting on the shoulders.
With that said, these are still excellent belt squat alternatives, which can be substituted depending on your available equipment.
5. Front Squats
The front squat is a barbell squat variation where the load is placed on the front of the shoulders.
In my complete guide to the front squat, I mention that the front squat is a knee-extensor dominant exercise, which targets primarily the quad muscles.
The front squat is a complex movement pattern to learn, so if you don’t have any prior squatting experience, I would select another belt squat variation.
However, unlike other belt squat alternatives, the front squat can be used to develop max strength because it can be loaded significantly more in the lower rep ranges (reps 1-5).
How To Do It
- Set the rack and barbell at shoulder-level
- Place the barbell on the front part of the shoulder
- Place your hands outside shoulder-width and allow the barbell to rest on the first and second knuckle of each finger
- Drive your elbows up and forward so that the back of your arm is parallel to the floor
- Set your squat stance, which should be feet slightly outside shoulder-width and your toes flared.
- Take a deep breathe in and brace your core strong before squatting down
- Crack at your hips and knees simultaneously to start the movement
- Maintain an upright torso
- Squat so that your hips drop below parallel
- Drive your feet through the floor and use your quads to stand up
- Ensure you continue keeping your elbows up to prevent the bar from falling down
Many people find the front squat to be awkward on the wrists, which in some cases leads to pain. If you find that your wrist hurt while front squatting, you can experiment with one of the following front squat alternatives.
6. Safety Bar Squats
The safety bar squat uses a special barbell that has handles that extend out in front of your body to hold onto.
Holding onto the handles takes out the shoulder and wrist mobility required for movements like the front squat.
Just like the belt squat, the safety bar squat places you in a more upright chest position, and engages more of the quad muscles.
You can read more about the safety bar squat in my complete guide. The one downside is that many gyms may not have a safety squat bar available. You can take a look at the safety bar specs and price on Rogue Fitness.
How To Do It
- Place the barbell on your back with the foam pad at the base of your neck
- Grab onto the safety bar handles and drive your elbows up and forward
- Ensure your upper back and core are engaged prior to squatting
- While keeping your ‘chest up’ and the load over your mid-foot, bring your hips below parallel
- Drive back to standing while maintaining your ‘up and forward’ elbow position
The safety bar squat is an excellent exercise if you find that you fall forward in the squat. By doing a phase of training using the safety bar squat, you’ll notice that you can squat in a much more upright position.
7. Goblet Squat
The goblet squat is simliar to the front squat but instead of using a barbell, you are using a single dumbbell.
Goblet squats are an easier variation and used as a precursor to advance to the front squat, back squat, and more specific variations of the belt squat.
The goblet squat has been shown to be an effective exercise to teach proper hip-hinge movement patterns, which is important for people with pre-existing knee and back conditions.
You can read more about the goblet squat in my complete guide.
How To Do It
- Grab a single dumbbell with two hands
- The handle should be vertical (not parallel to the floor)
- Place your hands underneath of the top of the dumbbell with your palms facing each other
- Hold the dumbbell close to your chest with your elbows tucked into your side
- Crack at the hips and knees at the same time
- Bring your hips below parallel without bouncing or losing tension in your quads
- Your centre of mass should be right over the mid-part of the foot throughout the entire squat
- To initiate the upward phase think about ‘pushing the floor away’ and driving as fast as you can
- Avoid letting your chest collapse forward as you begin your ascent
If you have trouble squatting deep in the goblet squat you can place your heels on small plates, which will allow your ankles to travel more freely through deeper ranges of motion.
8. Hack Squat
The hack squat requires a special piece of equipment that looks like a ‘standing leg press’.
You perform the hack squat on a sled that allows you to squat on a 45-degree angle.
While there still is some slight spinal loading with this movement, it’s significantly less than a back squat or front squat. Therefore, the hack squat places greater emphasis on the legs than back.
Furthermore, many lifters benefit using the hack squat if they have restrictions squatting deeper in the traditional squat. It’s much easier to obtain greater ranges of motion using the hack squat.
How To Do It
- Place your shoulders underneath the pads and grab the handles outside your head
- Position your legs slightly outside shoulder-width apart
- Squat down using a controlled tempo, ensuring your heels don’t lift from the platform.
- Focusing on pushing your knees forward to obtain a greater range of motion
- To stand up, drive your shoulders up and back into the pad as you push the platform away.
You can modify this movement to target more or less of your quads or glutes. To target your quads more, place your feet more in the middle of the platform. To target your glutes more, place your feet more at the top of the platform.
If you can’t do the hack squat, check out my article on the Best Hack Squat Alternatives.
9. Leg Press
The leg press is a solid alternative to the belt squat because there is no load placed on the back and it isolates mostly the quad muscles.
The leg press is an easier exercise to perform compared with the belt squat because it requires less motor control. In other words, you don’t have to think about where your body is in space, you just have to move the load through the fixed range of motion.
Just like the belt squat, the leg press is less fatiguing, which means quicker recovery times between workouts. However, the leg press has less sport application because it doesn’t require as much stability, balance, or coordination, which doesn’t transfer to broader athletic movements.
How To Do It
- Lie down on the leg press machine with your feet spaced shoulder width apart
- Before lifting the weight up, brace your core and tighten your glutes
- When ready, take the weight off the safeties and lower the sled to your chest until your thighs are at or below parallel
- To drive the sled back up, push through your heels and exhale forcefully
If you want to target more hamstrings while doing leg press, place your legs in a wide stance with your feet closer to the top of the platform.
If you can’t do the leg press, check out my article on the best leg press alternatives.
A good belt squat alternative either mimics a similar movement pattern as the belt squat or engages similar muscle groups, such as the quads and glutes. Many of the belt squat alternatives discussed in this article are exercises that you can also perform in conjunction with a solid squat program.