Make The Belt Squat Better with Kettlebells

Make The Belt Squat Better with Kettlebells

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.

The front rack kettlebell squat and goblet squat are both amazing lower body exercises.  However, the upper body oftentimes ends up being the limiting factor as there is only so much the arms and upper torso can hold.  As a result the lower body doesn’t always get taxed as heavily as it should especially if ample growth and strength gains are desired.  So what’s the solution?  Combine the belt squat (with either a weight belt or Exxentric Kbox) with these anterior loaded squat variations.  Here I have Leslie demonstrating the traditional belt squat version while I'm performing the Kbox flywheel version.  

There are several benefits to these front rack kettlebell belt squats.

1. Front rack kettlebell squats and goblet squats tend to place the lifter into a more upright position than traditional squats.  The heavier you go the more upright it makes the lifter.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, a more upright torso takes stress off the posterior chain such as the glutes.  By combining the hanging belt squat with these anterior loaded squats it balances out the load and keeps the lifter’s torso in a similar angle as a barbell squat thereby placing equal stress on the quads, glutes, and hamstrings

2. One of the most common problems on both front rack kettlebell squats and goblet squats is collapsing in the bottom position rather than sticking the optimal parallel or 90 degree position.  With that said, the belt squat is one of the most effective squat variations I’ve used to teach people not to collapse and use excessive range of motion for squats in general.  In fact going below parallel on these feels very unnatural and awkward.  As a result the lifter is forced to use ideal squat mechanics that involve parallel limbs and 90-degree joint angles.  Besides teaching proper squat mechanics this also takes significant stress off the joints while crushing the entire lower body.  Applying the belt squat to anterior loaded squats helps reinforce proper depth during the kettlebell squat variation thereby eliminating the all-too common collapsing issue.

3. This specific squat combination is very low back friendly as all of the weight is kept very close to the center of mass.  For individuals who have a difficult time finding squat variations they can load with heavier weights while still taking stress of the joints, this combination of anterior loading mixed with the belt squat is perfect.

4. There’s a significant balance component involved with these squats as the load is positioned in two different locations of the body.  In addition, having much of the weight hanging below the body forces the lifter to use strict form as the load can swing and oscillate unless the lifter controls their mechanics and uses strict form.

5. If you’re looking for the ultimate full body squat this is it.  The overload to the upper body and core produced by either the front rack kettlebell squat or goblet squat protocol is quite significant.  Combined with the weight belt the legs get equally taxed.  Don’t be surprised if you find your whole body gets blasted from these including the shoulders, upper back, lats, traps, abs, and entire lower body.

Band-Resisted Variations

If you don’t have access to a weight belt or Kbox you can reproduce a similar effect by simply adding a band around your feet and upper shoulders. 

This produces tension to the legs without adding any additional loading to the upper body.  Similar to the above, this direct band resistance can be used on either the front racked kettlebell squat or the goblet squat.

Unilateral Variations

If you really want to crush your core while also blasting your legs you can also apply the belt squat or direct band resistance to single arm goblet squat variations.  

Here's one of my awesome clients, Matt Jordan, demonstrating it with a single arm goblet squat variation.  This can also be done with a single arm front rack kettlebell squat.

Zercher Squats and Belt Squat Combos

Lets face it, Zercher squats tend to be one of the more comfortable, safe, and natural squatting variations. That is of course until you start using substantially heavier loads in which case a movement that previously felt therapeutic and natural on the body ends up feeling horribly uncomfortable. This is something I frequently experience with my athletes as well as myself.

As they begin warming up the Zercher squats and progressing their loads, the first few sets tend to feels rock solid to the point the client feels as though they can overload the daylights out of the movement. However, all this love for the Zercher squat quickly changes once they start approaching loads closer to 70% of their max. Much of this has to do with the upper body and core giving out before the legs not to mention the discomfort of holding a heavy load lodged between your forearms and biceps tendon. Also, the inability to breath making you feel like you’re going to pass out due to the unique nature of the loading protocol may also have something to do with this effect.

Fortunately combining Zercher squats with belt squats (using either an Exxentric KBox or more traditional belt squat setup) can help resolve this issue as shown here by my awesome client Leslie Petch. That’s because you can use a substantially lighter barbell load for the Zercher position while simultaneously loading the lower body with the belt squat. As a result the legs fatigue before the upper body and core making the movement a full body strength and hypertrophy exercise that’s sure to kick start newfound levels of growth in the quads, glutes, and hamstrings.