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12 Highly Effective Belt Squat Alternatives & Variations

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Sometimes using a heavy-loaded barbell just isn’t doable. You might be fatigued, feeling back pain, or just bored of doing barbell squats. It’s times like these that a belt squat machine can come in handy. 

Unfortunately, not all gyms see the benefit of investing in a belt squat machine leaving some of us to look for alternative exercises that can replicate the benefits of a belt squat.

With that in mind, we have come up with 12 excellent variations and alternatives to belt squats so you can continue to grow those quads.

Let’s dive into it.

What is a Belt Squat?

The belt squat is one of many strange exercises that actually turns out to be incredibly useful. Many barbell activities replicate natural human movements, thus performing with weight strengthens that movement. 

The belt squat is different. Unlike a barbell squat, the back and upper body are taken out of the equation, reducing stress on the spine yet still providing the stability and balance benefits of a barbell squat. 

Using a hip-loading mechanism, it doesn’t replicate any natural movements but can build leg strength whilst working around an injury or avoiding fatiguing the core muscles. 

Muscles Used in a Belt Squat

The belt squat puts more focus on hip extension compared to your more traditional leg movements. 

The lower body focus makes it ideal for improving muscular hypertrophy of the legs. For a more quad focused belt squat, you can remain upright and flex the knees forwards. To hit the glutes more you can sit back on your heels more. Holding on to something might help with your balance in this scenario (Gulick & Gulick, 2020).

The belt squat is effective for your quads and hamstrings.

The belt squat has similar muscle activation to the barbell back squat (Gulick, Fagnani & Gulick, 2015) with lower body muscles such as the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Muscles activated include:

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Adductors
  • Abductors
  • Glutes (Maximus)

Limited activation

  • Lumbar
  • Glutes (medius)
  • Abdominals
  • Obliques

What Makes a Good Belt Squat Alternative

The main reason some lifters will turn to the belt squat is the reduction of loading on the spine. The belt squat allows you to train lower body muscles without the spinal compression and load a barbell will provide.

For individuals with pre-existing back conditions or who are recovering from an injury, the belt squat’s a decent alternative. 

Reduced spinal load also makes the belt squat less fatiguing compared to more traditional lower body exercises. Being less intensive means you can work the lower body hard without fatiguing too much. 

The final key benefit is that it supports lower body muscle growth. It works most of the main lower body muscles and can increase muscular hypertrophy of the legs. 

Any effective alternative to the belt squat should offer some of or all of the same benefits. Reducing spinal load is vital as this is a key reason many will turn to the belt squat and probably the only reason you would choose it over a barbell squat or deadlift.

12 Belt Squat Alternatives & Variations

So, what are the alternatives to a belt squat?

Our in-depth list kicks off with 6 variations of the traditional belt squat followed by 6 altogether different exercises that can replicate the benefits of belt squats.

1. Plate Belt Squat

The plate belt squat is the closest variation to the belt squat you can do. It uses the same muscles and has the same benefits as a traditional belt squat including no spinal load.

A long chain and boxes or benches to stand on are recommended for this exercise.

How to Do the Plate Bell Squat

Step 1: Attach a long chain to your lifting belt. Use it to strap on the plate.

Step 2: Stand on two risers (boxes, benches). Place feet shoulder-width apart.

Step 3: Lower into the squat position. Hip hinge. Once thighs are below parallel, hold for a moment and then drive upwards.

Step 4: You can repeat for recommended number of reps. You can do a training program according to your liking.

Coaching Tips

Hit the glutes: For a more glute focussed squat lean back slightly so you’re on your heels as you drop. It may help to hold onto a rail for balance. You can even adjust the foot position to take a sumo stance, increasing glute activation.

Watch for swinging: Because there’s no attachment to the floor the weight can swing between your legs affecting your balance or even hitting body parts you’d rather not get crushed. Try to manage this by staying in control of the movement on the way up and down.

2. Kettlebell/Dumbbell Belt Squat

Much like the plate belt squat, the kettlebell/dumbbell belt squat pretty much replicates the traditional belt squat and its benefits. 

The kettlebell and dumbbell do sit upright on the floor so it’s easier to set up and get into the starting position. 

I recommend this variation for beginners as it is often a lighter load than plate belt squats, easier to set up, and can be done using beginner-friendly kettlebells.

How to Kettlebell/Dumbbell Belt Squat

Step 1: Attach a long chain to your lifting belt. Use it to strap on the dumbbell or kettlebell.

Step 2: Stand on two risers (boxes, benches). Place feet shoulder-width apart.

Step 3: Lower into the squat position. Hinge at hips. Once thighs are below parallel, hold for a moment and then drive upwards. Repeat for recommended number of reps.

Coaching Tips

Go slow: Do the exercise slowly to maintain balance and avoid any swinging.

3. T-Bell Belt Squat

If you want a seriously heavy lift then go for the t-bell variation to pile the pressure on those quads and glutes.  A t-bell is basically a loadable kettlebell, be aware not all gyms will have one.

T-bell belt squats are ideal for heavy sumo lifts, a narrower stance can sometimes result in the plates hitting your inner thigh if you don’t have a long enough chain.

How to T-bell Squat

Step 1: Attach a long chain to your lifting belt. Use it to strap on the dumbbell or kettlebell.

Step 2: Stand on two risers (boxes, benches). Place feet shoulder-width apart.

Step 3: Lower into the squat position, hinging at the hips. Once thighs are below parallel, hold for a moment and then drive upwards. Repeat for recommended number of reps.

Coaching Tips

Use high boxes: The handle on a T-bell is quite high so go for a higher step to compensate for this. A longer chain to avoid the plate hitting your thighs is recommended too.

Control the movement: Swinging can be a big problem in this exercise if you go too quickly or don’t have control of the movement. Keep it slow and steady as you lower into the squat position and as you drive back up.

4. Landmine Belt Squat

This is a variation on the traditional belt squat which allows for heavier loading and more modification to place more emphasis on the glutes or quads. 

Some lifters prefer to use a deficit by standing on two boxes which allows them to get lower or use larger plates. It is a little more awkward to set up but going deeper into the squat will give your legs an intense workout.

Using a deficit is not a necessity though and you can get an incredible leg-burning session with or without. If you have access to a landmine attachment, this exercise is well worth a try.

How to Landmine Belt Squat

Step 1: Place the barbell inside the landmine attachment. Load the other end.

Step 2: Attach the chain to your lifting belt. Wrap the end around the underside of the barbell.

Step 3: Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart. Lower into the squat position.

Step 4: You can repeat for recommended number of reps.

Coaching Tips

Hit the quads: Face away from the landmine attachment to emphasize quad activation and increase their strength.

Hit the glutes: If hitting the glutes is your target then face towards the landmine attachment. You’ll find you’re a little more stable in the bottom position. It can be awkward at first so experiment with different foot positions relative to the barbell collar.

5. Resistance Band Belt Squat

Another variation of the belt squat which requires almost no equipment other than a resistance band. You can get bands of varying resistance to increase the intensity of the exercise.

This exercise lacks the loading benefits of the belt squat and many other variations. However, if you’re looking for a high-rep quad blaster then the banded belt squat should be your go-to. 

How to Resistance Band Belt Squat

Step 1: Place each foot inside the corresponding side of the band (left foot in left side). Pick up the center of the band and pull towards your waist.

Step 2: Attach the band to your lifting belt. Increasing the tension by crossing the bands over each other. 

Step 3: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart before lowering into the squat position, hinging at the hips.

Step 4: Repeat for recommended number of reps.

Coaching Tips

Make it harder: If you find the exercise too easy or don’t have enough tension go for super-slow reps and hold for longer at the bottom of the squat.

Use it in a lifting complex: You can incorporate the banded belt squat into a squat complex. Perform a set of heavy squats then do a set of fast banded squats. 

6. Cable Hip Belt Squat

This variation lacks the loading potential of landmine and traditional belt squats as it’s quite easy to lose balance on it. It might help to hold onto something, if possible, which will allow you to maintain a straight back and feet flat.

This is an ideal variation if you don’t have access to a landmine attachment or chain for your lifting belt. The instability and lighter load mean it is the least effective of the variations, so I wouldn’t recommend this one unless you cannot do one of the other three.

How to Cable Hip Belt Squat

Step 1: Put the cable machine into the lowest setting. Attach the carabiner to the rings on your lifting belt.

Step 2: Stand at least 2 feet from the cable machine with feet shoulder-width apart. 

Step 3: Perform the squat whilst placing your arms out in front of you for balance. Hinge at the hips and lower till hips are just below your knees.

Step 4: Repeat for recommended number of reps.

Coaching Tips

Sit on heels: The cable machine will try to pull you forward dragging you off balance. To counter this sit back on your heels as you perform each rep.

Grip the floor: Gripping the floor with your feet will also help counter the machine’s attempts to de-stabilize you. 

7. Goblet Squat

The goblet squat is one of my favorite exercises partly because it can act as a variation or precursor to most lower body exercises. 

It’s easy to learn for beginners and can support an increased range of motion in advanced lifters. For lifters working their way back from injury, the lighter load makes the goblet squat a great exercise to add to your program.

It works as a belt squat alternative thanks to the limited load on the spine (you use a much lighter weight) and the lower body focus. It also teaches correct hip-hinge movement patterns which is important if you’re working through a back or knee problem.

How to Goblet Squat

Step 1: Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell to your chest. 

Step 2: Hinging at the hips, lower into a squat position till your thighs are below your knees.

Step 3: Hold at the bottom for a moment then drive upwards, pushing the floor away as you do. Repeat for recommended number of reps.

Coaching Tips

Lift toes: To really hit the glutes and quads lift your toes on the upward phase. This ensures you drive through your heels, not your toes.

Keep straight back: Engage your core to avoid letting your chest collapse forwards as you drive upwards. 

8. Hack Squat

Performed on a machine, the hack squat works as a belt squat alternative as it has significantly less spinal loading than a barbell front or back squat. The biomechanics of the machine allows you to squat deeper too compared to a traditional barbell squat, making it a go-to for lifters who struggle with their range of motion.

There is still some spinal loading, but the back and shoulder support ensure it is limited. Therefore, much of the focus is on your lower body. Like the belt squat, exhaustion is reduced too.

How to Hack Squat

Step 1: Place your shoulders underneath the pads and grasp the handles provided. Feet should be positioned slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

Step 2: Slowly lower yourself into a squat position, hinging at the hips and pushing your knees forwards.

Step 3: Hold for a moment at the bottom, then drive upwards pushing the platform away as you do. Repeat for recommended number of reps.

Coaching Tips

Target the glutes: The hack squat can be modified slightly by moving your feet to the top of the platform to target the glutes.

Keep heels on platform: It can be tempting to lift your heels as you drive upwards. Try to keep them on the platform, maybe lift your toes to avoid this.

9. Leg Press

The leg press works as a great alternative to the belt squat thanks to its quad isolation and no-load being placed on the spine. It’s straightforward to perform as well, so many beginners like to use it as a way of building strength in the quads early on.

The lower body isolation makes it a less fatiguing exercise, much like the belt squat, allowing for quicker recovery times between workouts. Of course, quicker recovery times equal more lifting.

How to Leg Press

Step 1: Lie down on the leg press machine with feet up against the platform.

Step 2: Your feet should be spaced shoulder-width apart at a comfortable height. To prepare the lift brace your core and tighten your glutes.

Step 3: Slowly lower the platform towards you, bringing your knees towards your chest.

Step 4: Once your thighs reach at or below parallel, drive the platform back up through your heels. Repeat for recommended number of reps.

Coaching Tips

Hit the hamstrings: Target the hamstrings by taking a wider stance and placing your feet higher on the platform. 

Keep back against pad: Try to stay stable and keep the small of the back against the pad. This way you can ensure all the tension and workload is on the legs supporting quad and glute development.

10. Safety Bar Squats

With special handles that extend out for you to hold onto, safety bar squats remove the shoulder and wrist mobility required for barbell squats.

If you’re looking for a squat alternative because you have poor wrist mobility the safety bar is a good option where belt squatting is not possible.

It’s not the most accessible exercise as gyms aren’t always equipped with a safety bar.

How to Safety Bar Squat

Step 1: Place the barbell on your back and grasp the handles provided driving your elbows up and forwards.

Step 2: Engage your core and lower into the squat position. Keep going until your hips are below parallel.

Step 3: Drive upwards and back to standing keeping your elbows up and forwards. Repeat for recommended number of reps.

Coaching Tips

Versatile and functional: The safety bar can be used for a wide range of other exercises including Zercher squats, good mornings, front and back lunges, split squats, hip thrusts, and so on…

11. Seated Leg Extension

The leg extension is an isolation exercise that targets the quads. To avoid muscle imbalances I’d only recommend using it sparingly and in tandem with the leg curl (see no.12).

It works as a belt squat alternative because it builds muscle in the lower body and doesn’t involve any loading on the spine. Despite this, I would only recommend the leg extension if none of the other alternatives are available or doable.

Pilot research has suggested that the leg extension and leg curl may be able to relieve knee pain caused by injury (Cannell., 2001), so this may be another reason you look to use the leg extension. Just make sure to use a low weight.

How to do Leg Extension

Step 1: Sit in the machine and grasp the handlebars. Place your ankles behind the pad.

Step 2: Lift the weight slowly until your legs are almost straight keeping your back against the backrest.

Step 3: Hold at the top then slowly lower the weight back to the starting position. Repeat for recommended number of reps.

Coaching Tips

Breathe: Exhale as you extend, inhale as you come back down. This is extremely important particularly if you’re lifting heavy weight to avoid slipping, maintain control, and not pass out.

Go slow: Going too fast will mean you use momentum rather than muscle engagement so keep it slow as you perform the exercise.

12. Seated Leg Curl

Use alongside the leg extension to avoid muscle imbalances. Like the extension, the seated leg curl is an isolation exercise but targets the hamstrings rather than the quads.

Again, I would only recommend using it if you have exhausted the other belt squat alternatives. 

There are other variations of the leg curl such as the lying leg curl or using a dumbbell rather than a machine. The seated leg curl is by far the most common though.

How to Leg Curl

Step 1: Sit in the machine and grasp the handlebars. Place ankles on top of the pad.

Step 2: Slowly bring the pad down by flexing your knees using just your hamstrings.

Step 3: Slowly return to the starting position and repeat for recommended number of reps.

Coaching Tips

Don’t lift too much: Going too heavy can end up bringing your calves into the movement leading them to dominate the movement. It can also put a strain on your knees leading to injury.

Don’t rush: Like the extension, going too quickly can lead to momentum taking you through the movement rather than your muscles.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should I use a belt squat instead of a back squat?

Belt squats and their alternatives should be used if back squatting is not possible due to pre-existing back injuries, fatigue, or lack of access. It can also be used for additional training volume.

What are the benefits of a belt squat?

Increased lower body muscle hypertrophy, reduced spinal load, and less muscle fatigue thus increasing recovery time are all key benefits of the belt squat.

What does a belt squat work?

A belt squat removes the load from a lifter’s shoulders and spine emphasizing the lower body muscles including quads and hamstrings.

Final Thoughts

The belt squat is a great alternative for anyone who struggles to do barbell squats. But with not all gyms investing in a belt squat machine, our 12 alternatives should help you make the most of your workouts with the need for a belt squat machine.


Cannell, L. (2001). A randomised clinical trial of the efficacy of drop squats or leg extension/leg curl exercises to treat clinically diagnosed jumper’s knee in athletes: pilot study. British Journal Of Sports Medicine35(1), 60-64. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.35.1.60

Gulick, D., Fagnani, J., & Gulick, C. (2015). Comparison of muscle activation of hip belt squat and barbell back squat techniques. Isokinetics And Exercise Science23(2), 101-108. doi: 10.3233/ies-150570

Gulick, C., & Gulick, D. (2020). Comparison of muscle activation of 3 different hip belt squat techniques. Journal Of Novel Physiotherapy And Rehabilitation4(2), 034-039. doi: 10.29328/journal.jnpr.1001035

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Wasim Kagzi

Hi! I’m Wasim Kagzi and this is where my team and I write and research about everything fitness. On MuscleLead we share all the helpful tips, techniques, and advice we've learned over the years. Personally, I've been lifting for more than 10 years and hope to eventually become a Certified Personal Trainer. My goal is to compete in weightlifting and train to be the strongest version of myself.

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