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Gulick DT, Fagnani JA, and Gulick CN. Comparison of muscle activation of hip belt squat and barbell back squat techniques. Isokinetics and Exercise Science 23: 101-108, 2015.

Comparison of Muscle Activation of Hip Belt Squat & Barbell Back Squat Techniques
Dawn T. Gulick, PhD, PT, ATC, CSCS, James A. Fagnani, PT, DPT, OCS, CFCE, CSCS, Colleen N. Gulick, BS (BioE), EIT, CSCS
Institute for Physical Therapy Education, Widener University, Chester, PA;

Physical Therapy and Wellness Institute, West Norriton, PA,
Department of Kinesiology, California State University, Fullerton, CA

Hip belt squats are believed to have been
introduced in 1970 but are not widely utilized.
Unlike other marketed hip belt devices which
use a fixed leverage arm or cable, the
Squatmax-MD hip belt uses a free-weight-onguide-
rod design to keep the weight centered
directly under the lifter & reduce excessive
strain to the lumbar spine. The device was
designed to be used with resistance bands to
modify the kinetics & improve the training
effects of the squat movement (Figure 1).
When using an elastic band with a squat, the
band elongates as the bar is moved upward &
adds resistance to the motion. The resistance
reaches the peak resistance at the most
vertical position of the squat. This is the point
where an individual is normally decelerating
However, when using a band with the squat,
the lifter must continue to recruit motor units
until full “lockout” is complete. Likewise, the
descending motion of the squat requires an
increase in control of the eccentric action. By
removing the load from the shoulders & upper
trapezius, the hip belt squat places emphasis
on the legs with less load on the spine.
No peer-reviewed research exists on the
muscle recruitment patterns of a hip belt squat,
or how it compares in muscle activation to
other squatting activities.

The purpose of the study was to determine
lower extremity muscle activation in a hip belt
squat (SquatMax=MD) in comparison with a
barbell back squat.

Figure 1. Hip Belt Squat Band Configuration

Figure 2. Hip Belt Squat and Surface Electrode Placement

Figure 3. Quadriceps EMG

Design. Repeated measures design

Participants. 13 athletes volunteered (9 males;
4 females). Demographics of the males were
26.3 ± 8.9 yrs, 1.76 ± 0.07 m, 90.1 ± 11.7 kg
and females 25.3 ± 13.2 yrs, 1.62 ± 0 m, 56.7 ±
1.9 kg.

Intervention. 4 repetitions (data collected on
repetitions 2-4) were performed of an 8-RM
squat using 3 techniques:
-Hip belt squat without a band
-Hip belt squat with a band
-Barbell back squat.

Outcome Measures. Electromyographic data
were collected from 6 muscles:
- Quadriceps (Figure 3)
-Biceps femoris (Figure 4)
-Hip adductors (Figure 5)
-Hip abductors (Figure 6)
-Gluteus maximus (Figure 7)

-Gastrocnemius (Figure 8)


All data were collected on the same day with
the squat techniques randomized and a 5-
minute rest between trials.

Figure 4. Biceps Femoris EMG

Figure 5. Gluteus Maximus EMG

ANOVA revealed no significant difference in
muscle activity between devices. The mean
EMG activity for each muscle across
techniques are displayed in figures 3-8. The
only muscle group statistically different
between genders was the gastrocnemius (p=
0.04). Hip adductor activity was lowest & hip
abductor activity was highest when performing
a hip belt squat with the band for both genders.

Given the lack of significant difference in the
muscle activity between the squat
techniques, one needs to look at other
attributes to determine the clinical value.
-The hip belt squat is the ability to unload
the shoulders & spine.
-The hip belt squat has a higher hip
abductor to adductor ratio. This could be
very important in future injury prevention.
-The back squat has slightly higher
hamstring recruitment, which is important
in ACL injury prevention & patella femoral
tracking problems


Further research may be beneficial to:
-Determine if increasing band tension with
the hip belt squat increases hamstring
-Determine the relationship of the squat
techniques on core activation

Figure 6. Hip Adductor EMG

Figure 7. Hip Abductor EMG

If a free weight hip belt squat device is
available, it may be a better alternative to
the traditional barbell squat technique.

Figure 8. Gastrocnemius EMG

Table 1. Ratios of Reciprocal Muscle Groups in uV of EMG Activity