Warning: This review may trigger some readers.
Why is that?
Well, because it seems belt squats are a bit controversial these days.
You’ve got lever-based belt squats, you’ve got pulley-based belt squats, and you’ve got the Squatmax belt squat.
Users of each are vying for the right to say their belt squat reigns supreme over the other.
In the seven years prior to owning my own home gym, I had access to a Westside Official Athletic Training Platform (ATP) and a side-loaded lever-arm belt squat at two premiere strength facilities in the Carolinas.
Since having the Squatmax and using it extensively in a number of ways, it’s my personal opinion that it’s the king of the ‘belt squat.’
It’s far less expensive than the vast majority of other belt squat machines, it has a smaller footprint than most, it’s relatively easy to set up and break down, and most importantly… it works incredibly well.
In this review, I will explain my reasoning by taking a deep look into what makes the Squatmax-MD so effective. I will also compare it to some of the competing belt squat styles to show how it stacks up.
Specifically, I am reviewing the rack-mounted version of the Squatmax.
Let’s dig in.
- Squatmax-MD Belt Squat Overview
- Design & Construction
- Ways to the Use the Squatmax-MD
- Squatmax-MD vs. Competitors
- Who’s Using the Squatmax-MD
- Price & Size
- Pros & Cons
- Full Rating
The Squatmax-MD is inherently different than any other belt squat on the market in that the load is completely underneath the lifter. By using a simple loading pin and a guide rod, the Squatmax can deliver something no other belt squat machine on the market can: a true 1:1 ratio. Because of this patented design, the lifter can naturally perform a squat with a movement that closely mimics an actual barbell back squat.
Another truly unique aspect of the Squatmax is that it’s rack-mounted. It’s highly adaptable so that it fits a large number of racks from numerous manufacturers. This versatility makes it a great option, as most other belt squat machines are space eaters. For this reason, the Squatmax is terrific for the garage/home gym owner, or anyone who is generally tight on space.
Price-wise, the Squatmax is quite compelling at $999, which includes an adjustable hip belt. The overwhelming majority of belt squat machines are more expensive… quite a bit more expensive in several cases. More on this later.
Here’s a breakdown of what all is included:
1 Crosspiece base
1 Loading Pin
1 Hitch Pin to Offset Load
1 Adjustable Hip Belt
1 Narrow Stance Overlay – $45 Add-on
1 Small Deadlift Bar – $40 Add-on
2 Upright Clamps
2 Loading Pin Shelves
2 Pieces of UHMH
The Squatmax rack-mounted belt squat is very intelligently designed and it’s highly efficient. By using only a few pieces and weighing in at 71 lbs (main platform), it’s quite easy to assemble and store away when not in use. I actually keep mine permanently mounted since it doesn’t get in the way of any of my lifts and it doesn’t take up too much space.
In terms of measurements, the platform extends 29″ past the rack, it’s 48.75″ long, and it ranges in height from 18″-24″. The adjustable height is a critical feature, as it allows for people of just about any shape and size to use it. Not only that, but it also makes it so you can manipulate positioning in order to train a certain movement. For example, you can drop the height to perform a dead-stop back row or you can raise it to perform a full range-of-motion row. The same applies for a squat. You can set it up to bottom out and essentially perform a pin squat, or you can set it up to perform a full ROM squat.
Combining this adjustable height feature with an adjustable belt opens up even more options. The belt that is provided with the Squatmax is, in my opinion, a really nice belt. It’s 6″ wide with a nice padded construction that feels really comfortable on the hips and shoulders (more on that below). What separates this pad from others is that it offers five loops to connect the carabiner, ranging from 42″ to 59″. This built-in versatility is very useful, as you can quickly and easily adjust based on body proportions and/or the lift you’re performing. You can also use the belt as a standalone to do weighted dips, pull-ups, etc…
Not only can people of various sizes use the Squatmax, but racks of various sizes can also house the unit. If you have a 2×3 or a 3×3 power rack, half rack, or squat stand, odds are the Squatmax will fit it. In fact, it will fit any rack (2×3 or 3×3) with an upright-to-upright distance of 27″ to 50″. Considering the vast majority of racks are well within this range, the likelihood of it not fitting is very low. It can also allow you to side-mount it on certain racks depending on your layout preference. I had my Squatmax mounted on my Rogue R-3, and now I have it mounted permanently on my Sorinex XL.
This is made possible through the use of a clamp to actually attach the unit to the rack. With a tapered end that fits into a slot on the main platform, the user simply lines up the bolt with the hole in the platform and hand-spins the clamp until fastened. It doesn’t use the hole in the actual upright of the rack. This only adds to its versatility since certain racks have different hole sizing. It’s really a brilliant design, and it’s very easy to use.
Also included with the Squatmax are a couple strips of UHMW to protect your rack. A simple box cutter is enough to size it to your rack accordingly. The adhesive backing can then be applied directly to the inside of the hand crank. This is really helpful because without it you would definitely risk scratching your rack due to the nature of the attachment.
The bottom crosspiece base, which weighs 24 lbs, serves two key purposes. The first is that it houses the guide rod that keeps the loading pin in place throughout the lift. The guide rod is 23″ tall. Because of the adjustable height of the platform and the adjustable belt, this guide rod height should be enough that you won’t have to worry about the pin slipping off the rod. The second purpose of the base is to set up bands. This is made very easy through the use of 4 pegs per side along with the pegs on the loading pin itself.
In terms of the loading pin, it has a loadable height of 19″. The maximum number of plates you can load onto the pin will directly depend on the type of plates you’re using. If you’re using competition bumpers, as an example, you can load ~395 lbs onto the pin (without bands). Alternatively, you can load ~990 lbs onto the pin if you’re using calibrated powerlifting plates. One drawback to a top-loaded pin is that it’s not as convenient to unload since it’s more difficult to get your fingers between the plates. What was suggested to me by the Squatmax-MD creator was to use change plates between the plates to create a gap. This is a practical solution that works really well, but it will add to the weight stack height.
The loading pin is racked by two flat pieces of steel that are each attached to a handle. The handles themselves simply slide right into a cutout and you can set them up to rack/unrack clockwise or counter-clockwise depending on your preference. I have mine set up to rack clockwise. When ready to lift, simply stand up and turn the handles to remove the shelf. When done, turn the handles the opposite direction to return the rack. It’s very easy to use, and another creative design feature.
The actual cutout in the platform is 19.25″ in diameter, which means the minimum distance from inner foot to inner foot is slightly more than that. The Squatmax also includes an overlay piece which provides for a smaller width (14.75″) and requires the use of smaller plates. That is, you can’t use bumpers or calibrated PL plates. You’ll need to use 35lb or less standard plates. The first iteration of the overlay piece is currently being refined in order to correct the user having to stand with the feet slightly back, which tilts the loading pin back on the rod. The new overlay piece will be slightly more oblong, but with the same width, thereby removing the issue.
All in all, I’m extremely impressed with the design and construction of the Squatmax-MD. It takes only a couple of minutes to disassemble/assemble and the overall design includes some really smart choices. With all accessories, the total weight is 120 lbs – it’s a tank. Once mounted, there is zero movement whatsoever. The laser-cut “Squatmax-MD” on the sides is also a nice touch from an aesthetic perspective.
Now that you have an idea of how it’s made, let look at some ways you can use it.
The Squatmax can be used in an impressive number of ways, ranging from warm-ups to strength, and all the way to rehab/prehab. Below is a list of some of my favorite movements using the Squatmax. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but it should give you an idea of some of the possibilities.
Squats & Variations
Obviously, as a belt ‘squat’ machine, the Squatmax is presumed to excel at squat movements… and that it does. I absolutely LOVE using the Squatmax for traditional belt squats. The completely vertical load factor creates a total free weight feel that is unlike any other manufactured belt squat machine. Aside from traditional belt squats, you can also introduce other elements such as bars or attachments to perform squat variations.
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Some of our college athletes are home for break. The harness squat on the device is a great option. Provides some axial load but does not beat up the shoulders. Also, it is a hybrid squat that feels part zercher. Where the weight sits and takes you, really grooves good form and provides hips and ankle mobility. You feel worked but loose. #squats #hipmobility #anklemobility #overachieve #overachieve #zerchersquats @roguefitness
For example, you can use a safety squat bar or a straight bar to simulate a Zercher squat. If you have two belts, you can make a shoulder harness apparatus to generate more axial load. You can perform split stance squats easily. The hitch pin can be used to create an offset load factor in any direction. This can be really useful if you want to target a muscle more specifically (e.g. glutes or quads). It can also be used as a tool to correct pelvic tilt. You can add a kettlebell for goblet squats or, if you’re looking at the full-size Squatmax, you can use the built-in seat for box squats.
To put it simply, the Squatmax-MD is incredible at squat movements.
Deadlifts & Variations
You can also perform several deadlift movements using the Squatmax and the small deadlift bar attachment (or any attachment you want). Sumo pulls can be easily achieved along with stiffed legged deadlifts. You can perform staggered stance deadlifts as well as Jefferson squats/deadlifts, which is a favorite of mine. Put a kettlebell to the side and you can perform suitcase deadlifts. In general, the Squatmax feels more like a trap bar given the center load, which promotes a safer position than a traditional straight bar. Furthermore, you can concentrate more on controlling the eccentric portion of the lift if you wish.
Other Strength Movements
Another great way to use the Squatmax is for back rows. By using the deadlift bar attachment, standard v-grip attachment, etc.. you can simulate back rows very effectively and comfortably. As mentioned earlier, you can set up your platform in a way to allows for dead-stop rows or full range of motion.
If you have two Squatmax-MD belts, you can create the shoulder harness and perform good mornings. These feel reeeeeally good on the Squatmax. Aside from using the actual loading pin, you can use the platform as a box to perform step-ups, box jumps, etc… It’s an absolute tank that won’t budge a bit.
There are a few really cool things you can do with the Squatmax for rehab/prehab. One of my favorites is to perform dual traction on the lower back. This can be done by sliding the small deadlift bar in the top loop of the belt and pushing down on the bar while the weight from the pin pulls down at the hips. You can also set it up inside or outside of the rack and either grab a chin bar or slide some bands underneath your armpits. This will pull from both directions, and it feels great.
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OverAchieve strength coach @jackmurph18 trying out a thoracic mobility exercise he viewed on @functionalrangeconditioning Because the weight load connected to the belt is both direct and centered, I definitely know his pelvis will remain neutral and he will likely get some decompression in his lumbar region while he gets motion in his thoracic. Our rack model takes up very little real estate and is portable. #mobility #thoracicmobility #garagegym #beltsquat
Another great one is to load up the hips with plates and/or bands and perform a thoracic mobility drill with a medicine ball/slam ball. Hug the ball to your chest and then rotate your upper body 360 degrees as if you were tracing a clock face.
Several of the above strength movements can also be successfully incorporated into a rehab protocol also, specifically if you have issues with your QL muscle.
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Band only workout. I did not add any plate weight. By using just 2 average gray bands and hooking up from behind the loading pin, I was able to get 450 lbs of direct resistance at the top. I held a 35 lb kettlebell. After 5 sets of 12, my legs were worked front to back, my lower back was decompressed and my hips felt like they had a WD-40 treatment. For a 50 year old Dude with multiple surgeries, Squatmax is the fountain of youth. #fountainofyouth #beltsquat #beltsquats @menshealthmag @mensfitnessmagazine @mensfitness_de
One of the greatest features of the Squatmax-MD is the ability to quickly and easily incorporate band work into your movements. This is a great way to increase the load in case you tap out the loading pin or if you generally just want some accommodating resistance. Essentially any band will work, but the average gray bands from EliteFTS are what I’ve been using and what is generally recommended. You can add hundreds of pounds of band tension.
Remember when I warned that some people may get triggered? Yeah…
When it comes to belt squat machines you basically have three options:
1.) Lever-based Systems (Wenning Belt Squat, Titan Belt Squat, Edge Fitness Belt Squat, Pit Shark, etc…)
2.) Pulley-based Systems (Westside ATP, Rogue Fitness Rhino, EliteFTS Belt Squat, Legend Fitness Belt Squat, etc…)
3.) Free-weight Systems (Squatmax-MD)
One of the things I like about the Squatmax is that it’s been peer-reviewed in scientific studies to show that there is very little difference between it and a barbell back squat. In this Squatmax study by Dawn Gulick, James Fagnani, and Colleen Gulick, they concluded that “it may be a better alternative to the traditional barbell squat technique.”
One of the biggest benefits of using a belt squat is that it limits the amount of shearing force on the lumbar spine. That’s why it’s so effective for people with back issues. The issue with other systems is that there may still be shearing force being impressed upon the area. That’s because the attachment point is well in front of the body’s center of mass in certain cases. If you have a system that has an adjustable attachment point, then you can mitigate the risk, but it generally still exists to some degree due to the arch on decent. One of three things may happen as a result:
The first is that the lifter will start the lift with a negative shin angle before dropping into a squat whereby the shin angle is vertical at the bottom. In this case, the lifter is working to prevent the forward pull that a fixed fulcrum creates. This is not a natural movement. If you did this on a barbell squat, you would fall on your ass. Not only that, but you’re limiting glute activity and adding undue stress to the knees as a result. A study by Kennesaw State concluded a significant difference in EMG glute activity between a Pit Shark and a normal Barbell back squat. The study of the Squatmax-MD showed virtually no difference.
The second is that the lifter will hinge hard into a squat pattern. The issue here is that the moment arm has been increased, along with the leverage imposed on the lumbar spine where the belt sits. The forward pull of the fixed attachment point is the main culprit for increased shear force on the lumbar.
The third is that the lifter will drop into a more proper up/down squat pattern, but because of the fixed attachment in front of the body, the weight shifts to their toes. This is why you see a lot of people lift their heels off the ground when coming out of the hole on a leverage/pulley-based belt squat.
With the Squatmax, none of this is an issue because the weight is perfectly centered with the body. It’s a completely natural movement that feels very similar to a back squat. The true 1:1 ratio not only feels right, but it also means there is no mechanical advantage. With a pulley or leverage-based system, there is a mechanical advantage. It’s why someone can lift 800 lbs for reps on a Pit Shark but only a few hundred on a Squatmax. If you can get the attachment point closer to the center of mass, the negative effects of the other systems are reduced, but there will still be a mechanical advantage by the sheer nature of their design.
Now, this isn’t to say pulley-based or leverage-based systems are necessarily bad. In fact, I think they’re quite good in several ways. Both are very versatile pieces that allow for a lot of different movements… more so than the Squatmax given their respective designs. But when it comes to an actual belt squat, the Squatmax is the clear winner, in my opinion.
The Squatmax is a tool that basically anyone can use. From the powerlifter looking to give their back a rest… to the football player recovering from a shoulder injury… to the bodybuilder looking for leg hypertrophy… and everywhere in between. There is a great carryover into sport-specific areas or just general activities of daily life.
As far as who’s using the Squatmax-MD, you can look at professional sports teams, record-holding powerlifters, private facility owners, and everyday Joes. Professional teams like the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Manchester United, etc… are using the Squatmax in their training. Collegiate teams like East Carolina, Rutgers, Columbia, Bucknell, and Penn are using it also.
I reached out to a couple people I trust, Blaine Sumner and Dan Campos, to get their thoughts on the Squatmax. Blaine holds the biggest Squat/Bench/Total/Wilks in IPF history and Dan owns one of the best gyms I’ve ever seen. Here’s what they had to say.
I love the Squatmax because of the free weight feel of the device. It’s comparable to doing free weight squat vs a smith machine. My favorite and overlooked part of it is that there is no mechanical advantage. It’s the only belt squat I’ve seen with this feature. I end up having to load about 1/2 the weight as I do on other machines which is a big advantage if you’re limited on plates or they are a long way from the machine.
– Blaine Sumner
The Squatmax Belt Squat is the best tool of its kind. Whether you’re looking to improve your squat or you are a high-level athlete looking for a safe alternative to back squats, the Squatmax is the piece to use. The guiding rod allows for the weight to move freely, but it also allows for the athlete to keep their squat in the most mechanically advantageous position. The recent additions of the Squatmax (lower loading pin options, rack attachment) make it a must have for anyone to improve their strength and squat capabilities. It also serves as a tool for other squat variations, deadlifts, rows and a multitude of warm up drills. It’s the best investment that we made at our facility in 2018.
– Dan Campos
Let’s face it – belt squats are expensive. In some cases, they’re really expensive. They’re also large. In the below chart, you’ll see the popular belt squats machines listed along with their respective price and size, sorted from least expensive to most expensive.
As you will note, the rack-mounted Squatmax-MD is among the cheaper options. Each Edge Fitness model, as of the time of this review, is on sale for $200 less on each model. The sale price is reflected in this chart. You will also note that the Squatmax is the third-to-smallest unit, only behind the Rogue Fitness rack-mounted Rhino and the Sorinex J Squat attachment. That Rogue unit is ~$600 (60%) more expensive and the Sorinex attachment requires a Jammer arm, which costs $699+ for the pair. The other units, sans the Texas Strength model, are all over 2x the size of the rack-mounted Squatmax. Four of the units are over 3x the size.
All this to say, the Squatmax takes up less space and is less expensive than the vast majority of the competition.
- The device offers a complete free weight movement and a true 1:1 ratio.
- It has been scientifically shown to closely mimic a barbell back squat in terms of EMG activity.
- The rack-mounted design is brilliant and it fits a lot of different rack setups.
- Compared to other belt squats on the market, the Squatmax saves a lot of space.
- It offers several features, such as adjustable height, adjustable belt, etc… that makes it usable by just about anyone.
- It’s easy to set up and break down.
- At $999, it’s less expensive than the majority of other belt squats machines.
- You can perform a number of movements on the Squatmax, making it a versatile piece.
- Despite it being versatile, it’s not as versatile as a pulley system and, to a lesser extent, a lever-based system.
- A top loaded pin is a bit more cumbersome than side-loaded pins. On the other hand, the Squatmax requires fewer plates since there is no mechanical advantage.
When it comes down to it, this is just a great piece of equipment without many drawbacks. The way I see it, you’re giving up some versatility, but you’re getting a significantly better ‘belt squat.’
I can’t say enough good things about the design of the Squatmax-MD itself. What I thought was going to be a con in the hole size turned out to be a complete non-issue for me. As it turns out, I haven’t heard that complaint from anyone who has actually used it. For what it’s worth, I barbell squat with what I would classify as a relatively narrow stance. Still, the normal hole size is perfectly fine to me.
If you’re looking for a high-quality belt squat machine that is less expensive, takes up less space, and provides a more optimal movement compared to the competition, then I think the Squatmax_MD is the way to go.
In my opinion, it’s the king of the ‘belt squat.’
If you have any questions about the Squatmax or belt squats in general, please leave a comment below. Likewise, if you own the Squatmax and you want to chime in with your own thoughts, please do so!
The bar is loaded,