So, the leg day is finally here! And you are confused between belt squats and back squats.
If you can relate, this article will help.
Squatting is one of the best lower body exercises involving the quads, glutes, and hamstring. It helps build overall functional strength in the lower body.
In this article, we will learn the major differences between belt squats and back squats. In addition, we will also weigh their pros and cons to help you understand this workout better. So, let us understand what all you should do to get the best results.
Belt Squat vs Barbell Back Squat: Head to Head Comparison
The primary difference between the belt and back squats is the muscle used. On the one hand, belt squats isolate the leg muscles; on the other hand, back squats engage muscle groups like the back and abdominals.
Belt squats protect the spine, reducing the risk of injury. However, you cannot increase the load after a certain extent in this squat variant. On the contrary, while you perform back squats, the weight gets distributed to the lower body and your core, which allows you to increase weight more easily.
Let’s do the head-to-head comparison to make the differences more clear.
Basis of Comparison
Barbell Back Squat
Belt squats use the lower body muscles, mainly the quadriceps, and hamstrings.
Back squats use core and lower body muscles, including the Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, and Gluteus Minimus.
Ability to lift weights
In belt squats, the lifters cannot move ahead of a certain weight because there’s limited strength in the lower body.
On the other hand, while performing back squats, the lifters take strength from the core, which helps them increase the load with consistent practice.
In belt squatting, you need a proper setup, which is either a specialized belt squatting machine or a dip belt with a stable elevated platform to perform the exercise.
On the contrary, back squats can be performed anywhere as you just need weight bars and a barbell.
Belt squats are preferred by lifters who have survived a back injury or who want to protect their spine.
Back squats are largely preferred by professional lifters, powerlifters, or Olympic weightlifters as it will help them to improve overall strength.
In belt squats, the weight is attached to the belt you tie around your waist.
In back squatting, the weight rests across the shoulders or upper back
In belt squats, there’s no risk of injury to the spine as the weight is loaded mainly on the lower body.
In back squats, the weight results on the shoulders and back, putting a lot of pressure on the spine.
Squatting with a belt engages fewer muscle groups and puts no pressure on the upper body, reducing the recovery time.
On the contrary, back squat involves larger muscle groups and puts pressure on the entire body, ultimately increasing recovery time.
Belt squatting is one of the best ways to train the lower body without stressing the lower back. Most people skip or fail to give their 100% towards lower body exercises because they fear back pain, and that’s when the belt squats can save you.
Let us now understand this exercise better by weighing its pros and cons.
Pros of belt squat
Below mentioned are some of the most popular benefits of belt squat. Let’s take a look.
Reduced recovery time
Contrary to back squats, belt squats help you remove stress from your upper body, making you capable of putting all the energy into your lower body.
Squatting with a belt requires less energy and engages fewer muscles as compared to back squats. As a result, your recovery time gets reduced automatically.
Great for targeting quadriceps
If you struggle to work out your quadriceps every time you squat, switch to belt squatting. Belt squats are less demanding on the abdominals, hamstrings, and glutes. As a result, you get the opportunity to target and build your quads.
Less risk of injury
Belt squats provide extra protection, protecting you from the potential risk of injuries. Moreover, with the help of a belt, you can confidently increase the load on your lower body, as it does not affect your lower back.
According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, belt squats are as effective as back squats, targeting the same muscles. In addition, the belt squat variant does not stress the back, acting as an added advantage that prevents back fatigue.
Cons of belt squats
Let us now discuss some of the drawbacks associated with this squatting variant. Keep reading to stay informed.
Inability to lift heavy weights
The belt squat restricts your upper body, and all the load-bearing task is allotted to the lower body while you perform the belt squat. As a result, you’ll not be able to increase the load beyond a certain point.
Moreover, if you are new to belt squatting, start with about half of your usual squatting weight, as it will help you get acquainted with the new pattern.
You might feel uneasy on the hips
For people starting with belt squatting, it might get a little uncomfortable in the beginning. This is because belt squats put pressure around your pelvis, even at the reduced weight. Therefore, you might take time to get used to the set up and till you adapt to it, lifting heavy weights will feel difficult.
You’ll need a complicated setup
Performing belt squats isn’t a one-day job. Instead, you’ll have to set up a platform to perform this exercise easily. So, if you don’t have access to a specialized belt squat machine, you will surely face problems.
Without a specialized machine, you will have to load a dip belt and look out for a stable elevated platform to perform the lift. Establishing the set up will take a lot of time, making it less convenient for lifters.
The back squat is also known as the barbell back squat. This exercise activates various muscle groups like hamstrings, calves, glutes, spinal erectors, abdominals, etc.
Like belt squats, back squats also have several pros and cons, depending on the lifters’ capacity, goals, and level of performance. Let’s look at the most common pros and cons faced by lifters.
Pros of back squat
Let us discuss the advantages of performing back squats.
Activates wider muscle groups
The biggest benefit of performing back squats is its ability to engage more muscle groups than its counterpart. It targets multiple muscle groups and joints, including quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, spinal erectors, and abdominals.
Back squatting is one of the most effective exercises for the lower body, as it helps strengthen and grow the muscle mentioned above.
It helps lift more weight
Most lifters claim they can lift more weight during back squats as compared to the other variant. Therefore, it is believed that back squats are for powerlifters, Olympic lifters, and professional weightlifters as it allows them to increase their strength with practice.
Helps engage your glutes better
The back squats are a more preferable choice for lifters who aim to work their posterior chain and glutes. This is because the back squats give more even stimulus to the legs, and they engage the front quadriceps and the back hamstrings and glutes, contributing to the overall development of your lower body.
Helps improve posture and core stability
While you perform back squats, most of the pressure gets diverted to the torso, which helps stabilize your weight and posture. As a result, your core muscles feel strengthened, helping you maintain your posture perfectly. This also makes your upper body stronger.
Cons of back squat
Not just the pros, there are some drawbacks too. Let’s look at these disadvantages to understand this exercise better.
Puts strain on the lower back
While executing the back squats you will have to keep a slight forward lean on the upper body. It does so to keep the weight over the feet and engage the glutes and hamstrings.
So, when you squat in this position with heavy loads, you end up straining the lumbar spine, ligaments, and intervertebral discs.
Back squats can lead to severe back injuries, making it one of the biggest drawbacks of back squatting.
Increased risk of injuries
Back squatting is done without external support, making it one of the most unsafe squatting variants. For instance, there are chances that you pick heavy loads and fail to complete the rep.
This will make it difficult to escape from the dangerous situation, and you might get trapped under a heavy barbell. So, make sure you keep the power rack safety bars handy to protect yourself.
Back squats are not for beginners
As mentioned above, powerlifters, Olympic lifters, and professional weightlifters perform back squats to enhance their bodies and work on endurance. It is a highly effective exercise, provided you perform it correctly.
Therefore, this exercise is less beginner-friendly because beginners might lack knowledge about the proper form, including intricacies like foot placement, maintaining the right squat depth, etc.
So, if you are a beginner, do not hop on to back squats without learning the complete technical skills to practice them.
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The major difference between the belt and back squat is the involvement of the lower back. Belt squats do not engage the back muscles, nor do they engage the gluteus maximus as much as back squats do.
On the other hand, during back squats, the weight is evenly distributed. In addition, the back squats do not isolate your legs as much as the belt squats. However, both variants are equally effective for the lower body.
Let us now understand the involvement of muscles separately for belt and back squats.
Belt Squat Muscles Used
In the belt squats, the lifter attaches the load to the belt, tied around the hips. As a result, they isolate the lower body, placing all the pressure around the pelvis. So, in belt squatting, you don’t involve your upper body as most of the strain is put on the leg muscles.
Now, let’s look at the muscles used during belt squats
- Primary: Quadriceps and Hamstrings
- Secondary: Glutes, Spinal Erectors, and Abdominals
Back Squat Muscles Used
Back squats, on the contrary, include muscles from both the upper and lower body. This exercise targets the entire lower body and engages muscles in the torso to stabilize your core and maintain the right posture.
Let’s look at the muscles used during back squats.
- Primary: Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, and Gluteus Minimus.
- Secondary: Abdominals, Traps, Spinal Erectors, and Calves.
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The belt squat is completely different from its back variant; the primary difference is the setup.
During belt squatting, you attach the complete weight around your pelvis. Lifters either use a dip belt and stand on an elevated platform or workout on the specialized belt squat machine.
On the other hand, during back squatting, the weight is loaded onto a barbell and taken on the shoulders.
Next, we will discuss the proper form for both belt and back squats so that you fetch maximum benefits out of these exercises.
How to do a belt squat
- Begin with loading the desired weight on the dip belt or the specialized belt squat machine. Next, stand at the right place on the machine or elevated platform. Maintaining adequate squat depth is important to avoid accidents.
- Following this, you will have to ensure that your belt is tied at the perfect tightness. It should not be too loose or too tight. For this, follow the one-finger rule to maintain perfect tightness.
- Now, maintain a position where you stand with your feet between the hip, placing them shoulder-width apart. After this, rotate your hip so that your femurs and toes start to turn outwards.
- Stand tall and straight, breathe in, and brace your core perfectly. Hold the handles in case of a squat machine, whereas with a dip belt and platform, place the hands together in front of you for added stability.
- Next, bend at the knees and push your hips back to lower the weight.
- Finally, once you reach the desired depth, push through your feet and drive the weight back upwards.
- Repeat for the desired number of sets and reps.
How to do a barbell back squat
- Begin with setting up a barbell in a squat rack, about shoulder height. The height should be such that you can easily unrack the weight and maintain stable footing.
- Next, hold the barbell properly, putting your hands wider than shoulder-width apart. Now, brace your core and step underneath the bar. Once you see the bar resting across the traps, unrack the weight.
- Following this, take one or two steps backward and pull your shoulders back and down. Brace your abdominals and gather all the strength to lift the weight.
- Roughly, your feet should be between the hip and shoulder-width apart. So, depending on your height and the length of the leg, you will have to choose your stance. For some lifters, pointing the feet directly forward is comfortable, while others feel like placing their feet slightly outward is more comfortable. So, look for your comfort.
- Next, brace your core and hold the bar firmly.
- After this, bend at your knees and push your hips back to begin the squat. Note: go as low as you can without rounding your lower back.
- Finally, once you reach the bottom of the squat, drive through your feet and stand up back to your original position.
- Repeat for the desired number of sets and reps.
Like other exercises, mastering the belt and back squats also takes time. Initially, you might end up making a few common form mistakes, which can probably delay the results or lead to potential injuries.
Let us now talk about the common form mistakes that might spoil your workout.
Belt Squat Form Mistakes
Coming up on the toes
Belt squats isolate the lower body, and to get maximum benefits out of this exercise, it is important to control the weight and push through all four corners of the foot. Unfortunately, most beginners come on their toes as they lift heavy, which can strain or injure your knee.
Leading with the hips
Technically, you should bend at your knees first and then push your hips back. People who are not technically skilled with this exercise push their hips back first, and little do they know that this can change the exercise into a hybrid between a squat and an RDL. Moreover, pushing the hips back first can also place pressure on the lower back.
Lifting too heavy too soon
Compared to the back squat, the belt squat allows you to lift lighter weights as you don’t have the torso support. As the belt squat isolates the lower body part, it puts more pressure on the hip flexors, quads, and knees. Therefore, you should start with a ligher weight to avoid injury and get used to the process.
Back Squat Form Mistakes
Unable to hit full depth
Ideally, while performing back squats, your hips should align with your knees, and the thighs should be parallel to the ground. If you are moving away from this ideal posture to lift heavy, you might end up hurting yourself. So, lift as much weight as you could capably do in the right posture. Your form should be your priority, increasing the weight might obstruct you from reaching full depth.
With the heavyweight, you will feel tempted to bounce back during concentric phase of back suat. Hold to the bottom of the squat for a second to avoid this mistake. This will help you use all your muscles before lifting the barbell back to its starting position.
Wrong positioning of the knees
As the weight gets heavier, the lifters find their knees falling in towards each other or splaying out. To avoid this mistake, you should ensure keeping your knees in line with and behind your toes throughout the lift. This mistake might increase the load or strain on your knees, which can also lead to knee injury or joint pain.
Which is Better: Belt Squat or Back Squat?
It is very difficult to choose between the belt and back squat at any point, as both variants deliver different results. As a result, one exercise might be better for person A, and the other might suit person B. Therefore, to choose between the two, you should be clear about your squat goals.
- If your goal is to target the lower body muscles while stabilizing your positioning and strengthening your torso, back squats will be best.
- If you aim to keep your back protected or you have survived a back injury, belt squats are the best as they isolate the lower body.
Generally, people keep switching between the two alternatively to target their legs and keep their back and core protected.
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Belt and back squats are meant to work your lower body, where one variant (belt squats) is more secure as it doesn’t involve your back. Whereas the other variant (back squat) distributes the load to the entire body, putting pressure on your spine and increasing the risk of spine injury.
As explained above, you should choose between the two depending on your goals and training experience.