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The Squatmax-MD showed up on my doorstep within a couple of days of the ship date.
The Squatmax-MD was packed in a large cardboard box on a wooden pallet. Metal straps were used to keep it from falling off the pallet and saran wrap was all over to keep the box contained. I noticed very little, if any damage to the box and virtually no damage to the contents. This may seem small to some people, but this is not typical for large pieces of metal that have sharp enough edges to poke through thin boxes.
Once inside, I quickly opened the box and was pleasantly surprised to find everything wrapped individually to prevent any scarring by other pieces. This is a lengthy process to perform, but it results in the customer receiving the product they ordered in the same shape that it came off the assembly line (it also prevents fewer returns.) All in all, the packaging protected each piece as it should.
The Squatmax-MD is yet another option among the newly formed sea of belt squat machines.
I've said it before, but 2018 is the year of the belt squat. Even though they've been around for a few years (the PitShark was released around 2007) they're just now going mass popularity, which is in large part to you, the garage gym community.
However, despite the Squatmax-MD being a belt squat, it really is in a class all its own for its design. Before we discuss the various attributes of the SquatMax-MD, let's first take a look at some of the origins of the belt squat which directly correlates with the Squatmax-MD design.
Although Louie Simmons wasn't the first guy to add some weight attached to his hips and squat down, he is the first one that I'm aware of (feel free to provide a factual and provable rebuttal) to create a platform to squat through (that was at least made known.) In fact, this is the first picture I ever saw of someone belt squatting. This is Dave Tate, now owner of EliteFTS and if you noticed, they have a simple wooden platform with a cutout so plates can fit through.
This is pretty significant when discussing the Squatmax-MD, because it just so happens that the Squatmax-MD takes this original design and upgrades it for the 21st century.
No other belt squat on the market as far as I'm concerned mimics the back squat more closely than the Squatmax-MD. The reason for it is also the reason it's the most tedious to actually use, but more on that later.
When I say that the Squatmax-MD more closely mimics the back squat than any other belt squat that we've tested, I'm not just leaning on feelings (although those do have their place and I had multiple people of different heights, genders, and weights test the various belt squats we have to compare) it's also been the focus of a study in comparing lower body muscle group activity in comparison to a traditional back squat.
In the study, as shown by the table above, the EMG Activity between the Squatmax-MD and a traditional barbell back squat produced no significant differences in muscle group activity between the two.
This can't be said for lever style belt squats like the PitShark that according to one study:"Analysis of muscle activation in the primary movers between machine belt squat and back squat showed significant differences in the activation levels of the gluteus maximus for both the right and left sides."
All of this is to point to the efficacy of the belt squat and more specifically the Squatmax-MD.
Let's talk about the build quality.
The particular unit I'm reviewing is the Squatmax-MD Rack Attachment Model. This model is likely the one I'd suggest for most people as it's the most portable, versatile, valuable, and efficient. The original Squatmax-MD takes up quite a bit more space and although it performs as well as the Rack Attachment Model, it lacks some features for more money than the model we're reviewing.
The Squatmax-MD is a tank. It's overbuilt and has the ability to handle just about any weight you can lift plus however much you, yourself weigh. For instance, here's a video of 375 LB Blaine Sumner doing reps on the Squatmax-MD without any trouble:
The platform utilizes 1/8" steel that doesn't flex or warp when stepped on. Beneath the platform are various braces welded to the platform to keep it rigid and secure. Stepping on the platform feels as solid as stepping on the ground. This gives a great deal of confidence to the user, especially when going heavy.
The platform is 48.75" x 29" which is the right size in my opinion. Any wider, and it wouldn't fit on some thinner racks and any thinner it would feel awkward and prevent sumo stance squat and deadlifters. The depth allows you to do staggered-stance pulls and squats with your heel off the platform. The only movement I'd like to use it for that I can't is lunges, however, the platform would have to be so large that it wouldn't be worth doing.
The platform has two male connector pieces that jut out the bottom of the platform and connect into a bottom crosspiece that provides stability for the platform to sit on, and allows you to adjust the height of the platform.
We tried various heights on the platform, but found the sweet spot to be 20" for most people's height. This said, the platform has four different heights from 18" to 24". To test the stability of the platform, we performed box jumps onto the edge of the platform and it feels as solid as any plyo-box I've used. So, although not made for that purpose, it can be used if you so desire.
Welded in the middle of the carrier is a rod that sticks up straight through the center cut-out in the platform. This rod is a significant part of the platform that keeps the weights from hitting the cutout in the floor. When I first looked at the Squatmax-MD years ago, I was curious how they prevented the weights from hitting the platform and this is how, the simple rod.
It's honestly a pretty genius idea. It's simple and just works, my favorite kind of inventions.
The loading pin is a tube that slides over the center rod that allows you to top load just about any amount of weight you could ever handle. The top of the loading pin features a swivel eyebolt that makes it easy to attach a hip belt too.
The loading pin also features holes on the side for a hitch pin to attach to that creates an offset load. The founder of the Squatmax-MD claims that the hookup point increases pull on the rear that could be more effective than the top eyebolt and also corrects anterior tilt. I prefer using the top eyebolt, but will play with the offset load more and more as I have the unit. It is nice to have the option, however, especially because it doesn't add any extra cost or hurt the unit in any way.
In order to use the unit, you step on the platform, hook into the loading pin, stand up and twist the handles that pulls away metal plates that keep the weight suspended when not in use. This, again, is extremely simple but works well. Because everything is metal against metal, I do foresee some grinding over time, but it would be many decades before it actually causes any noticeable damage during use.
The platform itself attaches to the rack using J-Hook looking attachments and hand-tightened bolts that essentially allow the unit to become as stable as your power rack is. There are multiple places on the platform for the j-hooks to fit and this allows the Squatmax-MD to attach to just about any pair of uprights from 20" to 50" apart.
The bottom base crosspiece features band pegs that allow bands to be used rather easily. I plan to just keep the bands attached to the machine at all times and remove them from the loading pin if not using them. That said, You'll likely want to use bands as it allows the machine to feel smoother and allows more explosive work without the plates jumping unnecessarily.
The entire unit has a matte black textured powder coat covering every square inch. It honestly looks like a Rogue Fitness piece of equipment and is actually made in Perkasie, Pennsylvania using US-sourced steel.
This entire breakdown culminates in this, the Squatmax-MD is built extremely well. Squatmax-MD is definitely not a large company, but just about every part of this machine is quality and obviously the results from a labor of love.
In use, the Squatmax-MD performs extremely well...in the squat. I still prefer a cable-based system like the Rogue Rhino Belt Squat for its versatility, but when it comes to just squatting (really all vertical movements like deadlifting, weighted pullups, etc) the Squatmax-MD is hard to beat. With a cable system, it's harder to get lined up directly over the pulley, it's also easier to cheat. The center pin prevents you from cheating on the Squatmax-MD and it pretty much forces you to be centered.
This said, although I love using the Squatmax-MD, it must be understood that its setup is more of a pain than some of the other options.
For instance, the weight is loaded as it would be on any loading pin, meaning the plates are stacked on top of each other. This is easy for loading plates, but deloading plates is an absolute pain, especially if you're using calibrated plates. If you're working out with a training partner who lifts different weights than you, it's definitely less than ideal having to change weight and will likely prevent you from using it with others.
One idea I had to make changing out weight easier is to make some plastic or rubber washers to go in between plates that would allow your hands get in between the plates without getting them smashed. Simple, but pretty much a requirement in my opinion.
The Rack Attachment Squatmax-MD also comes with a Narrow Stance Adjuster Overlay that makes allows you to use a closer stance, but you must use smaller plates, like 25 lbers. I've been told they're coming out with a different version of this overlay as it's not as good as the owner would like and I agree. It moves a bit too much and I just don't really foresee myself using it much. The wide stance feels great and I'd only use the overlay for younger clients.
One of the most marketable features of the platform is how easy it is to store away and setup. It's definitely one of the most space friendly belt squats available (although the Sorinex J*Squat Belt Squat pretty much takes the cake on that), but the platform is still 115 lbs and not the easiest to handle. That said, it sets up quickly and stores away pretty well. I love the idea and am really glad they went with this design as an option.
Being used in a rack, your abilities with the belt squat grow dramatically. You can use the unit with a barbell for pin pulls, squats, and other movements. Put it under a pull-up bar and you can do weighted pullups or throw dip horns on the rack (the ones that connect to each upright) and knock out weighted dips. The options are many and that's largely due to the unit being attached to the rack.
Also, as a sidenote, they must have been reading my latest reviews because they laser-cut their logo in the floor and it looks awesome. Great little touch that I definitely approve of.
Lastly, the belt that comes with the unit is a nice touch, but it definitely doesn't compare to the Spud Inc. Belt. It's padded which some people will like, but it's
All in all, the Squatmax-MD is an awesome piece of equipment that is made to last and is definitely one we recommend if your main use is squatting and don't mind changing out the weight.
The Squatmax-MD has a lot of competitors and I think it's good to address these. We plan to do a more detailed article on this in the future, but I figured we could proved some opinions here.
The Squatmax-MD versus our current favorite option, the Rogue Rhino Belt Squat is one we get a lot of questions on. We prefer the Rhino for its versatility and ease of setup, but there's no denying how smooth the Squatmax-MD is to use for squatting. The Squatmax-MD also makes it easier to stay centered and prevent "cheating" by bending over excessively.
The lever style belt squats like the Titan Belt Squat, PitShark, and Wenning Belt Squats aren't bad options, but they do cause shear forces that the prior mentioned units do not. I prefer the Rogue Rhino and Squatmax-MD to those.
I have yet to use a Sorinex J*Squat, but I really like the idea, although it's still on a lever which will introduce some forward pull. The portability is the best on this unit, but there are sacrifices. I won't comment further on this unit, however, as I haven't used it.
The options from Westside Barbell, Legend Fitness, EliteFTS, and Dynamic Fitness like the Athletic Training Platform are great, but they take up a lot of space and are overpriced compared to some of the other available options.
Although we're big fans of the Squatmax-MD, there are some suggested improvements we'd like to see done in future iterations.
The first suggestion is to put UHMW plastic on the J-Hook pieces that connect the platform to the rack. They're secure without it, but they're also going to scar up my racks which I hate and I'm sure others do as well.
The next improvement is something that's already being addressed and that is to create a new narrow stance overlay that has tighter tolerances and likely a thicker sheet of metal.
Next, we'd like to see an upgradeable option to the Spud Inc Belt Squat Belt.
Lastly, I'd like to see some sort of optional rubber top to make the surface a bit more grippy and prevent the powdercoat from getting scarred up.
These are all minor things and are actually surprising how few we have, but the Squatmax-MD is that good of a product.
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