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Belt Squat Vs Hack Squat | Which Is Better?

Ever caught yourself pondering at the gym, "Belt squat or hack squat for today's leg day?" You're in good company. Both pack a punch for those quads and your lower body, yet they play by different rules when it comes to the how-to and the equipment involved.

Getting the lowdown on what sets them apart can shine a light on which one jives with your fitness goals and routine. Whether it's the belt squat's more natural squat experience or the hack squat's guided motion, knowing the ins and outs of each can level up your leg game.

Ready to get the scoop on picking the perfect squat machine for your leg day anthem? Let's jump right in!

belt squat vs. hack squat

Belt Squats and Hack Squats: Main Differences

  1. Muscles Worked
  2. Equipment Used
  3. Level of Difficulty
  4. Benefits and Disadvantages
  5. When To Perform
  6. Form Differences
  7. Best Practices for Proper Technique

Belt Squat vs. Hack Squat: Muscles Worked

Both belt squats and hack squats serve as effective exercises for targeting lower body muscles. Their respective mechanics offer varying levels of emphasis on specific muscles, allowing you to make optimal decisions in line with your fitness goals and needs.

Belt Squats

Here are the primary muscles worked during belt squats:

  • Quadriceps: These muscles play a significant role in knee extension during the upwards phase of the squat.
  • Hamstrings: While the hamstrings are not the central focus, they still contribute to stabilizing the movement and assisting in hip extension.
  • Glutes: The belt squat emphasizes the glute muscles, primarily the gluteus maximus, which are responsible for extending the hips.
  • Hip Adductors: These muscles help stabilize the knees and provide additional support during the squatting motion.

Hack Squats

Here are the primary muscles worked during Hack squats:

  • Quadriceps: Similar to belt squats, the quadriceps are the primary muscles engaged in knee extension during hack squats. However, the angled position of the hack squat machine places even more emphasis on the quads.
  • Hamstrings: The hamstrings work as stabilizers and support the hip extension during the hack squat.
  • Glutes: Glute activation in the hack squat is not as prominent as in belt squats due to the reduced range of motion and the force being predominantly distributed to the quads.
  • Calves: While both belt squats and hack squats will engage the calves to some extent, hack squats tend to put more strain on the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles because of the inclined footplate.

Belt Squat vs. Hack Squat: Equipment Used

Belt Squats: To perform belt squats, we need a belt squat machine or a loading pin, a dip belt, and weight plates. While setting up can be slightly cumbersome due to the need to attach the belt and load weights, it provides a versatile option for gyms lacking a belt squat machine.

Recommended Belt Squat Machine: 

belt squat

Bells Of Steel Belt Squat Machine 2.0 -  Discover squats like never before, completely free from spinal pressure, safeguarding your back from injuries. Perfect for sculpting your quads and mastering the ultimate squat depth to fully activate those quadriceps. Broaden your workout horizon with exercises like lunges, calf raises, bicep curls, single-arm rows, and sumo squats.

Hack Squats- Requiring a hack squat machine, this exercise offers a more stable environment and allows you to adjust the angle of the back pad to change the level of muscle activation. However, access to such equipment is essential and may not be available in all gyms.

Recommended Hack Squat Machine: 

Hack Squat Machine

Bodykore Adjustable Hack Squat FL1811 - Crafted to mimic the body's natural squatting movement, this machine zeroes in on the glutes, quads, and hamstrings. It's perfectly suited for advanced and beginners alike, guaranteeing an exceptional workout experience.

Belt Squat vs. Hack Squat: Level of Difficulty

Belt Squat: The belt squat allows for a more natural squatting motion, which can be easier for beginners to grasp. The weight is secured to a belt wrapped around your waist, ensuring that the load is concentrated solely on the lower body, making it a less intimidating option for those new to squatting or those with upper body limitations. 

However, maintaining balance and proper form still requires a good sense of body awareness, which can present its own challenges.

Hack Squat: The hack squat, performed on a machine, offers a guided motion that can help stabilize the movement. This might initially seem easier, especially for those who are still working on their squatting form.

However, the fixed path of the machine can also increase the difficulty for some individuals, as it requires adapting to the machine's set trajectory. Also, it provides the advantage of more manageable rest intervals between reps, enabling safer, closer-to-limit quad engagement. This feature can intensify the workout for those aiming to uniformly challenge the entire lower body.

Belt Squat vs. Hack Squat – Benefits and Disadvantages

Every squat variation comes with its own set of advantages for enhancing the power and bulk of your lower body. The ideal squat for you can vary based on your fitness objectives, past injuries, level of experience, and the equipment you have at hand. Below, we explore the benefits and disadvantages of both the belt squat and the hack squat.

Belt Squat Benefits

Here are some of the benefits of belt squats.

  • Quicker Recovery: With belt squats, the absence of spinal load, typical of traditional back squats, means your lower body gets all the focus. This leads to less overall strain and quicker recovery times, as the exercise demands less energy and muscle engagement.
  • Quad-Focused: Belt squats place minimal strain on the glutes and core, and are easier on the hamstrings too. This makes them an excellent choice for zeroing in on and developing the quadriceps.
  • Reduced Injury Risk: Belt squats enable you to safely increase the load on your lower body without the fear of back injuries. Research shows belt squats are just as effective as back squats in working the leg muscles but without the back strain. This allows for more intense sets with a lower risk of overtaxing the back.

Belt Squat Disadvantages

Here are some of the disadvantages of belt squats.

  • Reduces the maximum weight capacity -  In a belt squat, the absence of upper body support means you won't be able to lift as heavy as in a back squat. If belt squatting is new to you, consider starting with around half of your usual squatting weight to acclimate to the different movement pattern.
  • Might feel awkward around the hips - The sensation of pressure from the belt around your waist may require some adjustment, especially if it's a new experience. Even with lighter loads, the belt's pressure can make it challenging to perform heavier lifts comfortably.
  • Involves a more complex setup - Without a dedicated belt squat machine, you'll need to use a dip belt and secure a stable platform for the exercise. Setting this up can be time-consuming and may require additional equipment, posing a challenge for those with limited time or resources.

Hack Squat Benefits

  • Offers a fantastic way to focus on your quadriceps and glutes while still engaging your hamstrings and calves
  • Provides stability and support, ensuring you maintain proper form during the exercise. 
  • Allows you to lift heavier weights with less fear of injury. Lifting heavier weights with this technique can lead to enhanced muscle growth and hypertrophy.
  • By adjusting the foot placement on the hack squat platform, you can target different muscle groups, making it a versatile option for any lower body workout.
  • By keeping the weight load off the lower back, this method is ideal for individuals with upper body injuries.

Hack Squats Disadvantages

Despite these benefits, hack squats also come with a few downsides.

  1. Limited Core Engagement: The machine-guided nature of hack squats means there's less activation of the core muscles compared to free-weight squats, as the machine provides significant support and stabilization.

  2. Reduced Functional Strength Development: Because hack squats are performed on a machine, they don't mimic real-life movements as closely as free squats do, potentially limiting the development of functional strength.

  3. Knee Stress: The fixed path of the hack squat machine can place additional stress on the knees, especially if not performed with proper form or if pre-existing knee issues are present.

Belt Squat vs. Hack Squat – When To Perform

In this section, we'll discuss the optimal time to perform belt squats and hack squats, ensuring you maximize the benefits of these exercises.

When to do a belt squat

If your goal is to work out your legs while sparing your spine from any stress, consider the belt squat as an effective alternative. This exercise shifts the load to your pelvis area, eliminating the need for your core muscles to bear the weight. 

Here are a few scenarios when you should consider incorporating belt squats into your workout routine:

  • Suffering from back pain or having spinal issues
  • Looking for variations in lower body exercises
  • Wanting to isolate the leg muscles while minimizing spinal compression

When to do a hack squat

Hack squats, usually performed on a 45-degree angled machine, offer a unique way to target the quadriceps and glutes while providing more stability than free-weighted squats. They are excellent for emphasizing the quads and can be used to build serious lower body strength similar to the traditional back squat.

You should perform a hack squat in the following situations:

  • Seeking targeted quad development and increased leg strength
  • Requiring extra support and stability during squats due to balance issues
  • Wanting to perform squats with complete range of motion (ROM)

Belt Squat vs. Hack Squat: Form Differences

The form difference between a belt squat and a hack squat lies in the setup and how the weight is applied.

In a belt squat, the weight is connected to your waist, either through a dip belt while standing on elevated platforms or via a specialized belt squat machine.

On the other hand, a hack squat involves loading weight onto a machine where you position yourself with your shoulders under pads, following a guided track.

Below are the steps to correctly execute these squat variations.

Video creator credits: @TheGymInTheNorth

How to Execute a Belt Squat with Correct Form

To perform the belt squat, follow these steps:

  1. Load the appropriate amount of weight onto a belt squat machine or secure it to a dip belt.
  2. Position yourself on the belt squat machine or a stable, elevated platform, ensuring sufficient clearance for the weight to descend fully during the squat.
  3. Adjust the belt to ensure it's snug around your waist without causing discomfort.
  4. Position your feet so they're between hip and shoulder-width apart, and turn your hips outward slightly to align your knees and toes.
  5. Stand tall, take a deep breath, and engage your core. Grasp the handles on the machine for support, or if using a dip belt, join your hands in front of you for stability.
  6. Initiate the squat by bending your knees and pushing your hips back.
  7. Descend until you reach your desired squat depth, then drive through your feet to return to the starting position.
  8. Complete the set with the desired number of repetitions and sets.

Video creator credits: @bodybuildingcom

How to Execute a Hack Squat with Correct Form

Foot positioning on the hack squat machine is crucial for targeting specific muscle groups in your lower body. Decide which muscles you want to emphasize before you get started.

  • Centered and shoulder-width apart: Targets the quads, glutes, and hamstrings.
  • Centered with a wide stance: Focuses on the adductors.
  • Centered with a narrow stance: Concentrates on the glutes and quads.
  • High on the platform and shoulder-width apart: Engages the hamstrings and adductors.
  • Low on the platform and shoulder-width apart: Primarily works the quads and calves.

After finalizing your foot placement, proceed to load the desired weight plates onto the machine and make any required adjustments, such as setting the shoulder pads and foot plate to your preference (if they're adjustable).

  1. Align your back flat against the back pad, positioning your shoulders tightly under the shoulder pads.

  2. Grasp the handlebars located on either side of your head, then press through your feet to rise to a standing position, being careful not to fully extend and lock your knees.

  3. Disengage the safety bars to free the carriage.

  4. Gradually lower yourself by bending at the knees, aiming to form a 90-degree angle.

  5. Hold this position for a count of 2 seconds.

  6. Drive through your feet to ascend back to the starting position, then continue with the remaining repetitions.

  7. After finishing your set, ensure to re-engage the safety bars before exiting the machine.

Best Practices for Proper Technique

In this section, we break down the best practices of performing these exercises safely and effectively.

Belt Squat Tips

belt squat form

  1. Pelvis Positioning: Ensure your pelvis is slightly tilted forward to maintain a neutral lower spine. This is crucial due to the weight concentrated around your hips, which could otherwise lead to hyperextension in the lower back.

  2. Avoid Heel Lift: Maximize the belt squat's leg workout by keeping your weight balanced and driving through the entire foot. Lifting your heels or shifting onto your toes can lead to knee issues.

  3. Maintain Upright Posture: Regardless of not having a barbell on your traps, it's essential to keep your spine elongated and neutral. Activate your core before initiating the squat and ensure your torso remains firm throughout the movement, particularly as you ascend.

  4. Controlled Eccentric Movement: Be mindful not to rush your repetitions, particularly during the descent. Focus on a slow, controlled lowering phase, then ascend with vigor and speed, ensuring the motion is deliberate and controlled.

  5. Appropriate Weight Selection: Transitioning to belt squats usually means reducing the load, due to the increased focus on the legs without upper body support. Start with about 50% of your regular squat weight to adjust safely and prevent injury.

Hack Squat Tips

 Here's a brief guide to mastering this movement:

hack squat form

  1. Foot Placement Focus: Ensure effective engagement during hack squats by setting your feet correctly on the platform. Misaligned feet can lead to imbalanced muscle activation and potential strain.

  2. Back and Shoulder Positioning: Neglecting to press your back and shoulders firmly against the pad can lead to a lack of support, risking lower back strain. Maintain firm contact with the machine for stability throughout the exercise.

  3. Control Your Descent: A common mistake in hack squats is descending too rapidly. A controlled, steady lowering phase is key to targeting the intended muscle groups without risking joint stress.

  4. Powerful Ascent: Drive through your heels to return to the starting position, focusing on using your quadriceps and glutes to power the movement. Keep your core engaged and maintain a steady, controlled pace.

  5. Breathing Technique: Inhale as you lower down into the squat and exhale as you push back up to the starting position. Proper breathing helps maintain intra-abdominal pressure and stability throughout the exercise.

  6. Avoid Excessive Depth Without Form: While depth is important, overdoing it or compromising form for the sake of going lower can lead to back and knee strain. Ensure your depth is sustainable while maintaining a strong, neutral spine.
  7. Weight Progression Caution: Jumping to heavier weights too quickly can be tempting but risky. It's essential to progress gradually, ensuring your form remains impeccable to avoid injury and ensure consistent muscle development.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many types of squat machines are there?

There are 7 types of squat machines: Hack Squat Machines, Belt Squat Machines, Pendulum Squat Machines, V Squat Machine, Leverage Squat Machine, Sissy Squat Machines, and Leg Press Hack Squat Machine.

Which is better hack squats or V squats?

Choosing between hack squats and V squats depends on individual preferences and goals. Hack squats are excellent for targeting quads and offer stability with a fixed path, while V squats allow for a more natural movement and can be gentler on the knees and back.

Is squat machine better than squats?

When comparing squat machine vs barbell squats, yes, the machine is better in leg strengthening and sculpting, ideal for those focused on aesthetics without the fatigue of free weights. It ensures balance and stability, reducing fall risks, and shifts emphasis to glutes by toe elevation, lessening knee and back strain.

Belt Squat vs. Hack Squat: Final Verdict

Diving into the belt squat vs hack squat debate, you're aligning yourself with countless other fitness enthusiasts, all aiming to make the most out of leg day. Each of these exercises brings its unique flair to the table, targeting your lower body with a distinct approach, be it the belt squat's grounded technique or the hack squat's structured path.

Understanding the nuances of these two power players can illuminate which one matches with your training goals and preferences. Maybe it's the belt squat's appeal for a more natural squat experience or the precision and support offered by the hack squat machine that resonates with you.

As you gear up to choose your leg day champion, remember that with Select Fitness USA, you're not just picking a squat machine for your exercises; you're opting for top-tier equipment designed to elevate your workout.

Our commitment to quality and innovation means you can seamlessly integrate both exercises into your routine, ensuring you don't have to compromise on variety or effectiveness. Why choose when you can elevate your fitness journey with the best of both?

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About The Author

Matt Gemkow, the author of this content section at Select Fitness USA, boasts more than 15 years of fitness experience. He started out in sports and athletic training for many years and has since 2014 transitioned into heavy-weight training and bodybuilding. As a result, he has become one of the most experienced fitness equipment experts out there, and a valuable source of information.