The Current Belt Squat Research

In a recently completed independent and peer reviewed research study (Gulick, September 2020) that was designed to compare the muscle activity between the 3 different belt squat designs that are currently on the market, the patented Squatmax free weight design was shown to outperform both the lever arm (Pit Shark) and the cable/pulley belt squat designs (Rogue Rhino).  Squatmax produced more activity in every muscle that was measured including statistically significant activity in the glute medius, VMO, and rectus femoris activity. 


Overall, Squatmax produced 39% more muscle activity compared to the lever arm/Pitshark and 12.5% more than the cable/Rogue Rhino.  Because Squatmax was shown to activate both the primary "mover" muscles as well as the stabilizers of the lower body, it is the best choice no matter what the the goal is.  Whether it is to improve strength, hypertrophy, athletic performance or to reduce the chance of injury, there is only 1 best choice when it comes to choosing a belt squat design.  

Squatmax already was the only belt squat on the market that has been shown via peer reviewed research (Gulick et al 2014) to activate the lower body and glute musculature similarly to an actual barbell back squat.  In 2 other peer reviewed studies that compared 2 lever arm belt squat models directly against the barbell backsquat  (Evans et al 2019/Pit Shark Machine) and (Lawrence et al 2020 Wenning Belt Squat Machine), there was statistically significant differences in muscle activation.   Study links and citations are provided at the bottom of the page.

The findings in the recently published Wenning Lever Arm Belt Squat study in regards to lower body activation were similar to the Pit Shark study as both devices were found to elicit statistically significant less Glute max activity compared to back squats. The researchers observed a significant decrease in GMax activation with the Wenning squat machine as impulse and peak decreased (35.2% and 32.1%, respectively). The Wenning researchers also measured abductor activity and found that there was a signifiant decrease in GMed impulse (54.1%) and peak (55.2%) activation compared to back squats. 

In the discussion section of the publication, the Investigators offered some ideas on why there may be a significantly less Glute max and med activity between their belt squat study findings compared to the published Squatmax study.  And the likely difference is due to the very different belt squat designs. Squatmax provides a free vertical load while the Wenning and Pit Shark machines provide a fixed load that rotates about a pivot.


Take home message from the research is that there is no performance advantage in using a lever arm belt squat (over a leg press) in your program.  No advantage at improving overall lower body strength and athleticism or for helping reduce ankle/knee injuries. The lack of glute med activity in the study tells a big story.  Because the machines are fixed, the stabilizers of the body are not challenged like with a free weight squat.  From an ankle/hip mobility perspective, the tremendous benefit that comes from performing a good quality loaded squat movement is likely lost when performing them with fixed belt squat machines since the kinematics are not likely the same as a free weight squat.  The current research indicates that lever arm belt squats are not a good substitute for a free weight squat.  The Wenning study also observed a moderate (12.2%) decrease in peak BF activation while performing a belt squat. To date, cable designed belt squats despite their popularity have failed to be formerly studied and peer reviewed.  Similar to a lever arm belt squat, the load is anchored to a fixed point versus a free vertical line of drive.  


Where Squatmax truly shines is in its’ ability to differentiate itself from other belt squat systems. By comparison, the Squatmax patented design allows for true free weight squat movement with a convenient set-up usually only found with a fixed path machine. This allows the athlete to perform a squat proven to evoke the same lower body activation and nueromuscular patterns as a barbell back squat. The ability for the weight to be centered under the lifters hip musculature allows the athlete to maximize the effort of the lower body musculature while simultaneously facilitating the neurodynamics associated with free weight strength movements in a functional closed chain environment. NO OTHER BELT SQUAT DESIGN HAS THE ABILITY TO DO THIS.

With a unique patented design, the Squatmax utilizes barbell plate weights to be loaded under a lifter using a guide pin system. This system allows for a vertical line of force that is continuously centered and directed immediately beneath the pelvis of the athlete throughout the entirety of the lift. The significance here is that ALL other belt squat systems are fixed to either an anchored pulley system at a single point on the platform or a rigid fixed lever arm. By “anchoring” the athlete to a fixed fulcrum, at varying ranges of motion during execution of the movement the athlete will be influenced by an increasing moment arm which multiplies forces in unnatural vectors. For example, as the lifter hip hinges back to execute a proper squat, the posterior displacement of the pelvis further increases the moment arm and leverage on the lumbar spine where the load of the hip belt is positioned. This creates a shearing force on the lumbar spine which is a potent mechanism for lumbar spine disc herniation. Further, the leverage transmitted to the lumbar spine will cause an increased anterior pelvic tilt and an extension moment about the lumbar spine which increases the lordosis and significantly loads the facet joints of the spine (this is a potent mechanism for spondylolysis which is a common concern in young athletes; a spondylolysis is a fracture of the pars interarticularis which can eventually lead to spondylolisthesis where the vertebra translates forward secondary to a pars interarticularis fracture). The Squatmax has the ability to virtually eliminate both of these concerns by allowing the lifter to stay positioned immediately superior to the weight lifted thus removing any potential moment arms or torque arms that can be placed on the pelvis and lumbar spine. The Squatmax allows the lifter to engage the core musculature during the lift while maintaining a neutral pelvic and lumbar alignment. In contrast, other belt squat systems place the athlete in and extended lumbar spine position with excessive anterior pelvic tilt which elongates and inhibits the global and local core musculature.

Athletes are rarely ever “tethered” to a specific point in their environment. In fact, athleticism can be uniquely defined as an individual’s ability to freely interact with their environment via coordinated movements of the body. In other belt squat systems, the athlete is always fixed to a specific point on the platform which serves as a lever arm attached to a given fulcrum which also influences and changes the weight lifted. Many belt squat systems utilize pulleys in a series which creates a mechanical advantage for the lifter and thus does not allow for proper determination of “weight lifted”. Other systems (such as the Pit Shark) utilize a second-class lever arm attached to a fulcrum in which both the lifter and the weight lifted are attached via a rigid lever on  the same side of the fulcrum, thus creating a mechanical advantage for the lifter. Lower body athleticism rarely, if ever, displays the degree of mechanical advantage provided by other belt squat systems via the use of external levers and pulleys. By utilizing levers or pulleys we also create a neuromuscular disconnect between the weight and the athlete thus decreasing the potential for athletic development. The Squatmax is the ONLY commercial belt squat designed to remove the lever and pulley systems and allow direct interaction between the athlete and the resistance to simulate a dynamic closed chain activity with respect to gravity.

Citations and links to all published belt squat studies to date are provided below:  

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.

Evans, T.W., McLester, C.N., Howard, J., McLester, J.R., Calloway, J. A comparison of muscle activation between back squats and belt squats. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Accepted May 23, 2017. In Press Manuscript # JSCR-08-7836 and 

J Strength Cond Res. 2019 Jul;33 Suppl 1:S52-S59. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002052 






Joseph L, Reilly J, Sweezey K, Waugh R, Carlson LA, Lawrence MA. Activity of Trunk and Lower Extremity Musculature: Comparison Between Parallel Back Squats and Belt Squats. J Hum Kinet. 2020;72:223‐228. Published 2020 Mar 31. doi:10.2478/hukin-2019-0126




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320 S. Henderson Road 

King of Prussia, PA 19406

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