Squatmax-MD Belt Squat Review & Comparison 2023
Gluck October 2023
The Squatmax-MD is a versatile belt squat machine that uses free weight to create the most natural feeling squat motion there is without the use of a barbell. This is an exceptional machine and we'll explain what makes it stand out from the rest of the options on the market. Even though this is the best version of a Squatmax that's been sold in its over 10 years on the market it's not without it's flaws so we'll cover where it could be improved as we point out important things that could affect some users.
In this review we're going in-depth and comparing the Squatmax-MD to other styles of belt squats like lever based (Bells of Steel 2.0, Fringe Sport Mammoth, etc) and pulley based (Rogue Rhino) so that we can demonstrate what makes the Squatmax special. This is the latest version of the Squatmax-MD and it came about from a collaboration between Titan Fitness and Brian Henessey (the original creator) and that's a big deal because it's not often you find someone as passionate about their product and a company that listened this well.
The stand-alone version of the Squatmax is the more versatile of the two. It allows attachments to be utilized. Comes with an included adjustable seat, and is one of our favorite belt squat machines.Find Out More
Rack Mounted Squatmax-MD
The rack mounted Squatmax is able to racks with uprights 30"-48" apart. It functions identically to the freestanding version but doesn't allow for attachments. It can be mounted higher making it work better for taller people.Find Out More
Squatmax-MD Belt Squat Review
The Squatmax-MD is a unique belt squat machine because it uses free weights that are attached to, and placed underneath the lifter providing a natural vertical path for the movement. They've even performed a study on the effectiveness of the Squatmax vs other systems and found it "may be a better alternative to the tradional barbell squat techinque". I'm not sure I'd go that far as I'm a pretty big supporter of both the barbell squat and Squatmax but I think it's great that there's some science backing this device.
There's genius in the simplicity of the Squatmax which is also why it's the belt squat that most closely resembles an actual squat movment. Weight is loaded onto a pin that travels along a guide rod. The guide rod keeps the weight from swinging but there's some freedom during the movement. This makes for very smooth motion and also allows the machine to adapt to the natural movement pattern of the lifer. It may sound complicated but the experience can be likened to performing an air squat except you can add weight and unlike other belt squats the Squatmax provides for a true 1:1 weight ratio.
Belt squats are versatile pieces of equipment but this one has a few tricks up its sleeves. With a name like Squatmax you can obviously perform a lot of squat variations. We've tried wide squats, split squats, box squats (with the included seat), banded squats (with the integrated band pegs), and even tried pulling movements like sumo deadlifts and marches on it to name just a few of the movements we've found that work. I've even seen Brian Henessey do push ups with it using his hip thrust attachment. Oh, did I mention you can put attachments on this thing too?
Even though Titan Fitness is now manufacturing the Squatmax-MD this is a product that Brian Henessey has been refining for over a decade. All that time (and several iterations) have lead to this being what I believe is the best iteration of the Squatmax and while it's not perfect (more on that below) it's a very well done machine. It's also allowed Brian to find ways to make it even more versatile by adding the ability for it to utilize attachments. To be clear you can do a lot on the Squatmax without attachments and we'll cover those things but any additional functionality is a big bonus. Some of Brian's original accessories work just fine on the Titan version of the Squatmax like the Hip Thrust Pin that allows you to... well the name kind of gives it away but I've seen Brian do pushups with it as well. TheTransformer pin still works and can be used to offset the load to emphasize the posterior chain or the quads. Unfortunately not all the existing attachments work well like the Chest Supported Row system but Titan is developing their own versions of attachment for the Squatmax so it shouldn't be long before you're able to do everything with the new version that you could with the old.
The build quality is on this is quite possibly the best I've seen from Titan. The powder coating is cleanly applied and has a little texture to it which makes the platform grippy. The welds are well done and the machine is incredibly stable. After stepping up and off it countless times and completing exercises like heavy banded marches, explosive movements, and heavy squats I've never felt any movement while up on the platform. The loading pin has a 1,300 lb weight capacity, not that you'd ever get that much weight on it, but it's a further testament to how overbuilt this thing is.
How The Squatmax-MD Works
At it's core the Squatmax is a pretty simple device. It has a 3"x3" 11 gauge steel frame and the 20" high platform you stand on is 11 gauge as well. This creates an incredibly strong and stable foundation for you to work out on within a fairly compact footprint. In the middle of the platform there is a cut-out you stand over and that the loading pin and plates travels through. This hole is large enough so that 45 lb plates can be used with the machine but if you think the gap looks too wide for you, they include a plate that can be easily place on top to make the gap narrower. Both the platform and narrow plate also have X's cut into them to help with foot placement.
There's three spots along the frame of the Squatmax where an attachment can be installed. Titan includes a seat with your purchase and they've done a nice job upgrading it by added padding and vinyl vs the steel version of the original. Technically the seat was designed for box squats but I often leave it set below parallel of my squat and sit on it while I set up for movements. Installing and moving the seat (and other attachments when they're ready) couldn't be simpler or easier. You just pull on the red anodized pop pins which look great against the matte black powder coated frame, move the seat up or down, and it clicks into place.
Getting into position whether you use the seat or not is a much easier process than on many belt squats. Rather than having to lift the weight off the floor like with a lot of rack mounted options the Squatmax utilizes two locks that hold the plates up at the height of the platform so you can get into position without a load on your back. Just clip the belt into whichever position works for your height and once you're all set you rotate the handles which moves the locks and you're ready to go.
The included belt has a series of loops spaced 2" apart so that you can clip in at different heights depending on your build or what exercise you're trying to do. For example during squats Wynie uses the lowest clip on ours while I typically clip in on the third loop. Titan's belt is identical to the one Brian had been selling with the latest versions of the Squatmax so you can expect a refined design that's comfortable and easy to get in and out of. It's also incredibly solid and has a 1,000 lb weight capacity.
Areas To Improve
Since we always strive to be thorough we had quite a few people test the Squatmax out in our gym. They ranged from 5'6" (Wynie) to 6'2" and while we found you could be quite a bit taller than 6'2" and use Titan's Squatmax without issue, anyone under 5'6" may have problems. This is caused by a few things but with a few small adjustments you'll be able to get yourself a couple more inches of leeway. The issue is that when Titan started manufacturing the Squatmax they changed the bottom crossmember from sitting flush on the ground to being raise up a small amount. This made it so the weight pin bottoms out a little higher then it used to, essentially cutting off the bottom range of motion for shorter people. So how do we fix it? Here's a few simple solutions. You can swap out the carabiner Titan sends with the Squatmax with a smaller one because it's larger than it needs to be and the locking mechanism is unnecessary and just gets in they way. Alternatively you could use the Transformer pin to lock into a lower hole on the loading pin which raises the pin up allowing you to get much deeper.
Titan missed an opportunity on the Squatmax by not drilling through both sides of the the 3x3 11 gauge steel they're using for the frame. This is the same square tubing that's used in high end power racks like the Rep PR-5000 and Rogue Monster racks but since there's no holes in backside of the tube they don't offer nearly the versatility they could. For example had Titan fully drilled them out you could have added weight horns, leg rollers, and other attachments to your Squatmax. While that probably doesn't matter for most people it seems like a bit of an odd ommision (or cost savings) considering the home gym community consists of so many creative innovative people.
This next one isn't so much something Squatmax can improve becuase I can't figure out a better way to do it, rather it's something to be aware of. About the only thing I don't like about the Squatmax is the vertical loading pin. I don't care that it's going to get scuffed up from loading and unloading plates (a good indicator of how much someone has actually used it). But it can be a little tediout the load up and take off weight if you're like Wynie and I where we're constantly swapping weights between sets. You can make the process a little easier by putting something between the plates to create a gap. This makes it easier to grip them and not pinch your fingers. We use AbMat's foam Sled Spacers but some changes plates will work as well.
Changes to the Squatmax-MD by Titan Fitness
Titan has added a lot of features and upgrades to the Squatmax so I'm not only going on record saying this is the nicest product they make but that this is the best version of it. Does that means it's perfect? No, but it's pretty darn good, so let's address those changes.
The Small Tweaks
Overall the Squatmax functions much like it did before but Titan has changed a few things that you may notice if you've spent a lot of time with one of the older models. Some of the smaller changes include adding a little more space between the handles. The spacing has gone from 16.5" to 18" which allows for a little more room for your hands to move in the center of the machine if you're not holding the handles during squats (think of it like doing an air squat). It also makes loading and unloading plates from the front of the machine a little easier because of that increased space. The handles are also now made with round tubing rather than the square tubing which has alllowed Titan to knurl them, a nice even if unnecessary touch. Titan has also coated the guide rod with a polymer to make the movement smoother and quieter than before and I will attest to it being both those things but I do worry how that polymer will hold up over years of use. I did reach out to Brian and he says his old PVC pipe hack will still work on this so if it does wear down and you think it's an issue (you probably never will) it's at least a simple fix.
We've already addressed one change that could affect range of motion for shorter people and that's that Titan has raised the bottom crossmember that the guide rod sits on. See the Areas to Improve section (above) for more information on that. The other big change Titan's made to both the rack mounted and stand alone versions is that they've added wheels and a knurled handle which makes the machine fairly easy to move around. It's still a heavy machine but my wife would tell you I have adjustable benches that are harder to move than this thing. For someone like me who's constantly rerranging, tweaking, and upgrading my gym the wheels and handle are a great addition. It's also very useful if you're got limted space and need to tuck things away but even if you don't ever plan to move it, this is a logical and welcomed addition.
Why Use A Belt Squat
Let's be honest, the first time you see a belt squat it can look like an awkard and complex device but the Squatmax-MD is actually a pretty simple at it's core even for such a powerful machine. Most other belt squats (read about competitor's below) operate on a similar concept even if they don't all pull it off as well. So why get a belt squat? There's actually quite a few reasons, so in no particular order.
A belt squat allows you to squat without loading the spine. The belt is placed around your hips and the load is transfered to the hips and legs. This can let you get in more volume and do accessory work while giving your back a break. If you have shoulder mobility issues, shoulder pain, or back issues you can work around them by using a good belt squat. The Squatmax has as an advantage over most other belt squats in that it provides a vertical line of pull because it utilizes free weights, creating a natural movement paterns versus a lever belt (and many other systems) that can create sheering forces as they influence your movement.
Squatmax-MD Vs Other Belt Squats
There are 3 different types of belt squats. Some much more expensive, some much less so, but they boil down to this.
1) Lever arm style: There's standalone machines like a Pit Shark and rack mounted variations like Fringe Sport's Mammoth Belt Squat but they all play on the same concept.
2) Pulley based systems: There are quite a few of these but Rogue's Rhino is the most well known and popular so we'll use that one as the basis of our comparison.
3) Free weight style: The Squatmax-MD
Lever Belt Squats
Lever style belt squats have become quite popular in the home gym community because of how simple and inexpensive they can be but there are also commercial options that take the idea to another level.
Whether commercial quality or meant for a home gym there are several issues with lever arm systems. Unless your rack attachment has a built in kickstand it can be very difficult to get into a proper starting position. All lever belt squats have a mechanical advantage rather than a true 1:1 weight ratio like the Squatmax which means you'll have to load them up with extra plates to get the same result. Those issues I can deal with but when you're connected to a lever it can pull you forward and influence your natural movement pattern. This can cause shearing forces on your lumbar spine and after running competitively for years I tend to feel the lever's influence on my other joints as well. That being said, those issues don't negate the fact they're great pieces of equipment and very versatile.
While pulley based belt squats like the Rhino are a little more versatile especially if you go so far as to hook the rack mounted Rhino up to a pulley, they do suffer from some of the same issues and some new ones as well. The pulley can still guide your movement since you're attached to it and not the weight though I do find the Rhino to feel much more natural than lever based systems. They're inherently more complex than any other belt squat and more parts can mean more problems. For example if you're not loading the sides of the Rhino equally or just use it a ton the UHMW that the trolley slides on will need to be replaced at some point though we're talking many years down the road in a home gym. Also since the Rhino is made in the US and the Squatmax is now imported since Titan Fitness took over manufacturing the Rhino is much more expensive so you'll have to weigh that in your decision making.
Assembly & Shipping
Titan Fitness hasn't exactly been known for their packaging and shipping which is something I've harped on them about in several reviews but the Squatmax-MD is very well done in both regards. The Squatmax-MD arrives in a large crate with parts separated into different boxes and pieces individually wrapped. The packaging is very well done and mine arrived without a scratch. I can't stand when I purchase something and it arrives beat up but this is easily the best shipping job I've seen from Titan Fitness.
The assembly process is pretty straightforward and that's helped by Titan providing a set of printed directions. I know that doesn't sound like much (it isn't) but when we assembled our Titan T-2 rack (read the review here) we had to look up the digital directions online because they didn't provide any. Clearly Brian demanded a lot from Titan in this collaboration and this is another example of them listening. The directions are easy to follow though some of the pictures make assembly look more complex than it is and the entire process took me about 30 minutes to do alone.
There's a lot to like about the Squatmax-MD by Titan Fitness even for someone like me who isn't using it as a barbell squat replacement. Wynie and I have been using it to warm up for squats before we load the bar and it has allowed us to get in more leg volume without loading our backs. It provides for a very natural movement pattern since the machine doesn't push or pull you like lever belt squats and pulley based systems tend to do.
The Squatmax is beginner friendly, very easy to use with almost no learning curve, and there's no fear of failing a rep. If you can't finish a rep you just lower the pin and the machine will bottom out (think of leg press). This allows you to push yourself and get the most out of your workouts. It also means that since all of your attention is on the movement you're better able to isolate the muscles.
Dollar for dollar I think this is probably the best belt squat on the market for actual squatting movements. There are more versatile options but this is very versatile in it's own right and will only become moreso once Titan releases additional attachments. It's built to last forever and Titan has done a great job in this collaboration with Brian Hennessy. If you're looking for a well priced and well done machine I think this is a great investment for your gym.
The stand-alone version of the Squatmax is the more versatile of the two. It allows attachments to be utilized. Comes with an included adjustable seat, and is one of our favorite belt squat machines.Check Price
Rack Attached Squatmax-MD
The rack mounted Squatmax is able to racks with uprights 30"-48" apart. It functions identically to the freestanding version but doesn't allow for attachments. It can be mounted higher making it work better for taller people.Check Price