Squats With No Bar? Hip Belt Squats vs Back Squats

Hip Belt Squats

Do you hate barbell squats?  For Shame!  If so then you are in luck, there is an great alternative for you: hip belt squats. 

This exercise is a secret weapon of the athletic elite. 

A great strength and mass builder.  Also a great conditioning tool for the lower body.  The hip belt squat has been a long forgotten exercise that has been around for a while in the golden age of bodybuilding, but lost in the sea of exercise machines. 

In this post we are going to revive the spirit of the hip belt squat and examine how it fares compared to the regular back squat. 


Why We Squat?

So why do we squat?  Because squats are fricking awesome!  There is a certain beauty to the squat where any sort of movement problem can be addressed. 

For example, if your hips start swaying to one side in the bottom of the squat (hip shift), then you probably have weak obliques and glutes


Sounds good.  Athletes of all kinds should be using the back squat to train for their sport of choice.  This is a no brainer.  The million dollar question is: what do we use to assist our squat when get stuck?

The answer: Hip Belt Squats!


What Is The Hip Belt Squat?

The hip belt squat is a version of the squat that doesn’t require a bar.  It has been used by strength athletes for decades who have suffered from lower back pain. 

This is because the hip belt squat doesn’t put any stress on the spine.  It just targets the hips and legs. 

Many people often use exercises like the leg press to build up their legs.  Although I actually don’t mind the leg press, it really isn’t that useful of an exercise for building your squat.  This isn’t just my opinion either, many others also share this opinion. 

If you want to build your legs for a bigger squat then wouldn’t it make sense to train the lifts in a motion similar to the actual lift.  This coincides perfectly with Antonoly Bonardurchuck’s principle in Transfer Of Training In Sports.

The Massachusetts Experiment

The other extremely beneficial attribute to the hip belt squat is how quickly the body can recover from them. 

Mike Boyle’s famous Massachusetts experiment pointed out how leg strength is not usually the limiting factor in the squat.  It is usually the lower back and spine that are the weak link. 

Therefore, hip and leg strength are typically easy to obtain with the lower back absent from the exercise. 


Hip Belt Squat Machine vs. Free Weight Hip Belt Squats

For those of you fortunate enough to go to a real gym and not a franchise gym, you may be able to find a machine that is designed for the hip belt squat.  Lucky You! 

If this is the case then you have absolutely no excuse to not do this exercise.  The hip belt squat machine is a fantastic device.

Just check out the video below! 

It is easy to set up and use and you can be much more versatile with the hip belt squat compared to using free weights only.  However, for most of us, we will have to use the free weight version of the exercise. 

The free weight version is just as good as the machine version, it is just much harder to set up compared to the machine. 

You can use a dip belt or you can use a belt squat belt and a loading pin.  This will help you to load the weights onto the belt.  Then just find some boxes to stand on and you’re good to go. 


Applications of the Hip Belt Squat

How can the hip belt squat help out most athletes? 

Well, it can have a tremendous benefit for most athletes.  For starters, it increases your regular squat, which we already know has a tremendous carryover into athletics in and of itself. 

It also is a much more versatile exercise and can be modified much more frequently compared to traditional squats.  More so on the belt squat machine than the free weight hip belt squat.


Hip Belt Squats For Athletes

For your typical athlete, aside from building up the strength in your legs, hip belt squats will also help to build special strength for athletes. 

This can only be done by using the belt squat machine.  So make sure that if your gym doesn’t have one to go to a gym that does have one. 

Once your are in the machine and ready to go you can perform exercises such as:

  • Belt Squat Walking
  • Belt Box Squats
  • Belt Cleans w/ Barbell
  • Belt Cleans w/ Kettlebell
  • Belt Snatches w/ Barbell
  • Belt Snatches w/ Kettlebell
  • Belt Squat Deadlifts
  • Belt Squat Good Mornings

The list is endless. 

You could also add bands and chains as well to get the benefit of accommodating resistance. 

The main point is this device is killer to add to your training regimen as an athlete instead of the typical bicep curls, bench presses and lat pulldowns.


Hip Belt Squats For Bodybuilding

Belt squats are terrific for bodybuilding.  Instead of using the useless leg extension machine to build huge quads, use the belt squat.  Both machine or free weight would suffice. 

With this exercise you can perform very high reps with a relatively heavy weight. 

There was a workout program I remember reading about in the late 90’s/early 2000’s called German Volume Training. 

This program was basically performing 10 sets of 10 reps of a particular exercise.  Okay sounds good.  Some of us tried that exact program with the squat.  Guess what happened?  We reached a certain point with the weight (around 225) and we completely stalled out. 

As a result, strength and everything went down.  Looking back today after learning much more about this game I can see what the problem is.

Squats Are Awesome

Simply put, the lower back is the problem.  It is always the lower back. 

Think about how much somebody can leg press vs. how much they can squat. 

It is not leg strength that is a limiting factor, it is the lower back.  With belt squats we do not have to worry about the lower back.


Hip Belt Squats For Injuries

When we use a barbell to squat, we tend to lean forward in order to get the best leverage on the bar, powerlifters more so than most other lifters.  This places more stress on the lumbar vertebrae. 

Now if you understand how the lower back works, then you will know it is designed to withstand compressive forces.  If the back rounds, then it places shear forces on the discs, causing injury.

Hip Mobilizer Course 2 

With the belt squat we do not have to worry about this because we place the belt around the hips.  This places little to no stress on the lower back.  Thus making this exercise perfect for those with chronic back problems, or on and off back problems. 

For more information, I highly recommend Dr. Stuart McGill’s Lower Back Disorders


Final Thoughts

If you are going to train, then train correctly! 

I cannot stress this enough.  Don’t just show up and go through the motions.  Really make sure you are working as hard and as smart as humanly possible. 

If you want to get the most bang for your buck, you need to know where to spend most of your energy.

Furthermore, most of us don’t spend enough time doing the exercises we should be doing.  Therefore, we spend countless hours hitting the iron only to go nowhere.    

When considering the transferability of an exercise, as yourself this one simple question: Does this exercise mirror the exercise I am trying to improve?  Is it similar in any way? 

If you answered yes, then it will have high transferability.  If not, then choose another exercise.  Hopefully this post made the choice simple: belt squats! 

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