I believe I first heard about the Belt Squat machine from Louie Simmons strength coach and powerlifting legend. I have a ton of respect for Simmons. I have many of his books and listen to his podcast, but I never came across a belt squat machine to personally try and didn’t have my own gym yet, so buying one was out of the question. Then around 1 year ago I saw that Charles Poliquin got a belt squat machine for his personal gym in his house. Once he gave it his stamp of approval in addition to Louie Simmons I was pretty much committed to getting one at Urban Strength Institute. It just so happened that Atlantis Strength just manufactured a belt squat, and, like all their equipment, it looked amazing. To me, Atlantis is the creme de la creme of exercise equipment.
I’ve been performing the basic back squat and many of its variations since 1990 and I’ve had pretty much every client I’ve ever worked with that was qualified to do them perform squats as well since 1999 when I started training people for a living. I love traditional back squats and many of the variations, but there are some glaring limitations or issues with them I’ve seen and the belt squat machine addresses some of these limitations, which are the following:
1. The limiting factor with conventional squats is often times the strength of the back more so than the strength of the legs.
2. Many people have some biomechanical issues, for example, feet pronating and externally rotating, knees buckling inward, lower back rounding, which causes a lot of shearing forces on the spine.
The great thing about the Belt Squat machine is none of these limitations occur. Your back is not the limiting factor since you’re not loading your spine with a bar on your back. You’re also not getting the spinal compression with the belt squat that you would with a barbell squat. The belt actually pulls your lower back causing a slight decompression at the low back, kind of like a traction device which is very good for the back. With the belt squat, you can hip hinge more and keep your shin more perpendicular to the floor. You can hip hinge or sit back with a barbell back squat too but when you do you can get more shearing force on the back if you cannot maintain a somewhat neutral spine, and many people cannot maintain that. Again with the belt squat, this does not matter because of where the weight is displaced.
I’m not saying everyone should completely abandon the barbell squat or any of its variations, but the belt squat has some big advantages over traditional squats. This makes the belt squat a better exercise for some people at the very least until any biomechanical issues are corrected. For everyone else, it’s simply a great variation and great addition to training the lower body.