Improving Hip Strength with the Belt Squat
At Westside, we are known for using many different strength training tools. Whether it is bands, chains, specialty bars, or specialty equipment, we have utilized various training tools to provide our athletes with as optimized training as possible. No matter the athlete or situation, we have always been able to design a strength training plan that can help an athlete improve strength or rebuild strength, depending on the training situation.
One training tool we have had incredible success with is the belt squat. Belt squats and Westside go way back. Many years ago, Lou began using elevated platforms with a hole cut in the center to allow belt-loaded plate weight to travel up and down. This was the first iteration of the belt squat at Westside Barbell. As time progressed, a cable was added to the elevated platform, with the belt squat eventually reaching its final form with the Westside Barbell Athletic Training Platform.
The Westside Barbell Athletic Training Platform adds a half rack and larger platform to the cable belt squat, allowing for many different exercise options depending on the sport. Many of these exercises help strengthen the muscle groups that make up the hips, improving strength and stability. Below, we will discuss a few of our go-to belt squat hip exercises we use for our athletes.
Belt Squat Walk
The belt squat walk is one of the best ways to primarily target one of the most important muscle groups of the hip: the gluteal group. The gluteus maximus plays a pivotal role in hip extension, so it is essential to ensure the glutes are adequately trained and firing to ensure an athlete can produce as much lower body force in the gym and competition as possible.
However, improving the strength of the gluteal group muscles is not the only benefit of the belt squat walk. Additionally, belt squat walks are a great way to traction the lower back and relieve tightness in the hips. This work helps an athlete maintain an ideal posture, avoiding issues caused by tight hip flexors, weak glutes, or anterior pelvic tilt. If you are an athlete who regularly experiences compressive forces on the spine, this exercise should be a staple in your programming.
When performing this exercise, we want to load the belt squat with a weight that allows us to complete the exercise correctly. Ideal belt squat walk execution means an athlete should be in a chest-up posture, lifting the foot off the platform for each step to a height similar to how the athlete would walk.
While belt squat walks can be performed using heavy weights, we typically use a weight that allows for higher training volume. Most often, we will perform multiple sets of at least 40-100 steps or march for time. Which option we choose usually boils down to whether or not the athlete is dealing with a strength or a work capacity issue.
If we are dealing with a strength issue, we will program 4-6 sets of 40-60 steps using the heaviest weight we can manage while completing all sets with proper form. If an athlete is dealing with lower body work capacity issues, we can add belt squat walks to help. In this case, we will start with 4-6 sets of 1-minute walks using a tolerable weight.
Eventually, we will work towards 1.5-minute walks with increased resistance, ultimately moving towards 2-minute walks with the heaviest weight manageable while remaining able to finish the workout successfully.
Belt Squat High Squat
The belt squat high squat is an excellent exercise for further developing hip strength and powerful hip extension. This exercise can significantly benefit the strength athlete dealing with lockout issues in the squat and deadlift or can be used by athletes to improve overall hip strength and function. By limiting knee flexion, we can use this exercise to focus on loading the hips without risking a missed squat rep.
Additionally, this exercise can be performed using a high box to provide an athlete with a defined range of motion. When setting the box height, we recommend a height that places the athlete in a similar position in the first phase of descent in the squat. Typically, we will set the box to keep knee flexion between 45-60 degrees, depending on where the athlete is weakest.
When programming this exercise, we will perform 3-5 sets using a variety of rep ranges. We will work between 3-10 repetitions if specifically focusing on strength. If we want to enhance work capacity, we will perform 15-50 repetitions. In either case, the weight used should allow for all sets and reps to be completed with proper form.
Exercise execution is important when performing this movement. Athletes should strive to control descent, always avoiding crashing into the box. Once contact with the box is made, an athlete should sit similarly to a regular box squat, focusing on rapid and powerful concentric movement. Additionally, we can manipulate stance width to emphasize different hip muscles depending on the athlete’s weakness.
Belt Squat Pause Squat
While the two exercises mentioned above are excellent ways to target the muscle groups that make up the hips, the limited range of motion in each movement leaves room for an additional belt squat exercise to improve hip strength when knee flexion is 90 degrees or greater. This is where the belt squat pause squat comes into play.
Many athletes struggle with force production out of the hole in the squat or deadlift. This issue is commonly caused by weak glutes, which play a more significant role as knee flexion increases. The best way to improve strength at a specific joint angle is to train that joint angle specifically.
With the belt squat pause squat, the joint angle-specific glute training is amplified with a pause, which reduces the stretch reflex and forces the hips to do more work out of the hole to achieve full extension. Whether you want to get stronger out of the hole in the squat or improve posterior chain strength, this exercise will accomplish the goal.
When using this exercise, we typically perform 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps per set. Occasionally, we perform higher rep sets, such as 12-15 or 15-20 reps. However, when this exercise is selected, the focus is more on strength than work capacity. The athlete should focus on pausing just below parallel, holding the position for a 2-3 count, followed by a rapid concentric phase.
One Tool, Many Uses
The belt squat is the Swiss Army knife of lower body training machines. The belt squat can be used to improve practically all lower body muscle groups, all without placing compressive force onto the spine. For this reason alone, all athletes should try to train at a facility with a belt squat.
Whether we are talking hip strength or hip health, the belt squat is a tool to help an athlete develop strong and healthy hips that are properly prepared for sport.
No matter the hip weakness, athletes can perform a belt squat exercise to strengthen the hips. As an athlete, improved hip strength will allow you to run faster, jump higher, and lift heavier while keeping the pelvis and spine properly aligned and supported. Possessing adequate hip strength for sports demands is vital for all athletes.
When using the Conjugate Method, there are many different approaches to programming. However, no program is complete without focusing on improving the strength and stability of the muscle groups that make up the hips. Whether you are a powerlifter trying to add pounds to your squat and deadlift or an athlete looking to improve lower body strength and explosive power, the belt squat is a tool to help build the hips to achieve your performance goals.
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