Hip Belt Squats: Are They Right for You And Do You Need Them?
February 5th 2020
If you’re looking for ways to optimize your workouts, and especially if you’re looking into creative ways to build leg strength, chances are you’ve heard about the hip belt squat and are wondering if you should incorporate it into your workout regimen.
However, you should definitely do your research before adding any elements to your workout routine!
Hip belt squats can be immensely effective, but they may not be right for your specific goals, your specific body type, or simply where you are in your bodybuilding or lifting journey.
No matter where you currently are, read on for an in-depth look into whether hip belt squats are right for you.
Should beginners be doing hip belt squats in their program?
Hip belt squats can be a great accessory lift for a beginner but should not the main priority. Beginners should spend more time doing barbell back squats and deadlifts to better use their time.
Before we delve into whether it’s helpful for beginning lifters to start doing hip belt squats, it may be helpful to review what this move is and how it’s supposed to enhance your workout routine.
After all, hip belt squats are neither the easiest nor the most popular of weightlifting moves!
Let’s start with the basics.
What is a Hip Belt Squat?
To start, “stand on a pair of boxes or benches with a space between them for the wait to hang which attached to you with a dipping belt."
There are several benefits to hip belt squats, one being that they provide a way to work out with increasing loads without adding any tension to the spine.
Therefore, they’re great for people with spinal injuries.
But it doesn’t stop there.
According to Ben Bruno from T-Nation, hip belt squats are “similar to a leg press or hack squat machine, only even less stressful on the spine while still delivering all the functional stabilization and balance benefits of a free squat.”
They’re also portable, he notes, and targets the lower portion of your body more effectively (as the load on the upper body is neutralized.
With all of these perks, they sound like a great addition to your workout program.
However, that might not be the case.
Much of their appropriateness depends upon your goals.
Specifically, if you’re a beginner, you may wish to look elsewhere.
Should beginners be doing hip belt squats in their weightlifting or bodybuilding program?
Chris Grayson from the Urban Strength Institute is a specific advocate of the barbell back squat over the hip belt squat, saying that “Many people have some biomechanical issues, for example, feet pronating and externally rotating, knees buckling inward, lower back rounding causing a lot of shearing forces on the spine.”
If you take his advice, especially if you’re a beginner, you should spend most of your time learning about the barbell back squat.
That doesn’t mean that you should discount it! It’s a great accessory lift — but, if you’re a beginner, it probably shouldn’t constitute the majority of your strength training.
What is a barbell back squat?
If, as a beginner, you’re supposed to be focusing on this move instead, it may help to know exactly what it is!
After all, you should never pursue a workout regimen without ensuring first that you know exactly what you’re getting into, for optimal health, efficacy—as well as basic safety.
Here are the steps which go into performing a successful barbell back squat.
The experts at CoachMag delineate the steps as the following:
- First, make sure that you’ve mastered basic bodyweight squats while utilizing good form. Don’t push your body further than it’s willing to go! As exciting as it may seem to pursue new, exciting moves, you’re only asking for injury if you don’t move slowly.
- On that note, make sure you can do proper goblet squats after that!
- When you’re ready to begin and you’ve adjusted the bar to its proper weight, take it off the rack. Rest it on your rear shoulder muscles. Make sure to create a tight shelf for the barbell to rest on. Squeeze your traps together.
- Move away from the rack. With your feet approximately shoulder-width apart, point your toes slightly out. (At about the 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock positions.)
- Make sure that you keep your spine in alignment by selecting a spot on the ground about five feet in front of you. Stare at it.
- Pretend to ‘sit’ down, as if you had a chair beneath you.
- While you’re driving back up, use force coming from your heels.
Ensure that you have perfected this move before you move on to the hip belt squat unless specifically instructed otherwise by a personal coach or instructor.
Now, seems simple enough right? But how do you sit down?
Are you breaking at your knees or at your hips first?
Or are you doing both at the same time?
For hip belt squats, you will be breaking at your hips first, trying to “sit back”.
This way, you are loading up your hips and are working on your posterior chain.
This movement is very similar to a low bar back squat, something that many beginner programs like Starting Strength preaches.
What does the hip belt squat help with?
The Hip Belt Squat Works Around Injuries
The hip belt squat is perfect for those who may have had the misfortune of experiencing a spinal injury, as it directs force and load away from your spine and into your glute and quad muscles. It could also be beneficial for avoiding further injuries.
Say the writers of a study coming from Widener University in 2015, “Another positive attribute for the hip belt squat is the higher hip abductor to adductor ratio. This could be very important for injury prevention and patella tracking.”
It may also reduce the chances of harming your ACL.
The authors of the study concluded their research by noting a comparison between the barbell back squat and the hip belt squat:
“While the back squat has slightly higher hamstring recruitment, which is important in ACL injury prevention, the hip belt squat may address this by offsetting the free weight with the use of an additional band.”
This simply means that each type of exercise move has its benefits, however—and that a hip belt squat might be worth looking into if you have a condition that might be ameliorated by specific exercise.
If you don’t, it’s probably still better to start with other lifts and work the hip belt squat in as an accessory move.
The Hip Belt Squat Helps with Overall Leg Strength
The hip belt squat works to target the legs instead of using the strength of the back — which not only helps with keeping exercise constant during times when your spine or back is injured but can help target your legs.
As Chris Grayson notes, “The limiting factor with conventional squats is often times the strength of the back more so than the strength of the legs.”
The hip belt squat redirects the force of the squatting motion from the back to the legs, to work out legs—and let you go further than your back strength might have let you do.
Do you need to use a hip squat belt machine?
One of the downsides of attempting to practice hip belt squats consistently is that hip belt squat machines are few and far between—your gym isn’t likely to have invested in one.
However, you don’t need to find a machine in order to complete a successful hip belt squat!
Dennis B. Weiss, by way of T-Nation, confirms this—noting that “the most popular way to perform hip belt squats without a machine is to stand on two benches or boxes in a "V" formation and hang a weight from a dip belt.”
By simply using a dip belt and hooking some plates into the chains, you can take this ultra-portable workout anywhere.
Be creative but also train efficiently at the same time.
Let’s Talk about Long Term Goals
While it’s tempting to see each new move as something new and exciting, it’s important to remember that bodybuilding and lifting are by definition long games.
Not much about it will be new and exciting! You’ll hit your goals through careful, studied repetition of a handle of moves—not by adding new moves every minute to your repertoire.
Focus on developing strength in the long term, by focusing now on your beginner strength program. This will involve developing, flexing, and forming the most valuable and irksome muscle of all: Your persistence.
By persisting in doing the same thing every day, every week, every month, you’re building your body and your future life.
Keep your eye on the long term goal, pick up your weights, and just focus on doing what you need to do every day.