Over the last 5 weeks, I’ve used every bit of my 20-year-long experience to analyze and compare 160+ squat machines.
To be precise, I looked at:
- 23 Smith machines
- 16 belt squat machines
- 26 hack squat units (including leg press combos)
- 50+ sissy squat machines
- 9 squat assist machines (including the DB method and a few ab squats)
- About 40 other, less popular units – from leverage machines for V squats to the pendulum and power squat machines.
I then created rating systems that account for all the critical quality aspects.
But first things first…
Who am I to talk?
I’ve been a personal trainer and a gym owner for two decades now.
That’s over 6000 work days.
Almost every one of those days included squatting in some shape or form….either working on it with clients, doing it myself, or talking about it with colleagues.
But seriously… I’ve seen it all.
I’ve seen awesome squat machines that allow people to work around knee and back injuries.
I’ve also seen terrible machines that create those bad knees and backs.
I’ve worked with advanced lifters looking to detonate the quads.
And I’ve worked with people who just want a better-looking butt.
Most importantly, through this site, I’ve helped thousands of people make correct home gym equipment choices.
Today, I’d like to do that for you.
What you’ll see below
To simplify things, I’ve split this guide into three parts:
1. Top 11 picks and their mini-reviews – created to be diverse and cover the full scope of squat machines…all in terms of type, budget, and goals.
2. Buyer’s guide
This is a concise read with a singular goal – simplify the topic of choosing a good squat machine.
I aim to boil it down to no more than 10 points.
3. Reference section – our methodology and relevant FAQs.
Phew… that intro took too long… let’s get to the juicy part.
Titan Leverage Squat Machine
Force USA G9
Force USA Ultimate 45 Combo
- 11 best squat machines
- 1 – Best squat machine for home – Force USA G9
- 2 – Top-rated hack squat machine for homes – Force USA Ultimate 45 Combo
- 3 – Best leverage squat machine for homes – Titan Fitness Leverage Squat-Calf Combo
- 4 – Best squat machine among the smith machines – Body-Solid Pro Clubline
- 5 – Best budget squat machine for home gyms – Body-Solid Series 7 (GS348Q)
- 6 – Honorary mention – cheapest smith/squat machine that’s still good – Valor Fitness BE-11
- 7 – Top pick among belt squat machines – Rogue Monster Rhino
- 8. Honorary mention – Bells of Steel 2.0 (BOS)
- 9 – Top pick for deep sissy squats – LeikeFitness Deluxe Sissy Squat Bench
- 9a – Honorary mention among sissy squat machines (money-no-object pick) – ATLAS Strength 6005B
- 10 – Best squat machine for bad knees – DB Method Machine
- 11 – Honorary mention – EliteFTS Power Squat Machine
- Buyer’s guide to choosing a squat machine
- FAQs about squat machines
- Methodology – how we assess and rate squat machines
- Resume of the top squat-machine picks
11 best squat machines
|Machine||Label awarded / category||Price||Defeining feature / characteristic|
|1. Force USA G9||Overall & complete home gym||$$$||All in one home gym machine|
|2. Force USA Ultimate 45 Combo||Leg press & hack squat combo||$$||4-in-1 functionality|
|3. Titan Leverage Squat Machine||Top value among leverage machines||$||good value for money|
|4. Body Solid ProClubline||top Smith machine for squatting||$$$$||robust build|
|5. Body-Solid Series 7 GS348Q||budget Smith||$$||great value|
|6. Valor Fitness BE-11||cheap Smith||$||cheap|
|7. Rogue Monster Rhino||top belt-squat machine||$$$||vertical forces similar to barbell squat, and most versatile beyond squats|
|8. BOS Belt Squat Machine 2.0||budget belt-squat machine||$$||value for money|
|9. Leikefitness Deluxe||best sissy squat machine||$||Stability, superior padding|
|10. DB method squat machine||Best squat machine for bad knees||$||smooth knee-friendly motion|
|11. EliteFTS squat machine||Money-no-object pick among leverage machines||$$$$$||commercial-grade build, color choices|
1 – Best squat machine for home – Force USA G9
Who’s it for: Anyone looking for value with a high-quality, versatile squat machine in their home gym.
- Premium linear bearings on the Smith machine
- Counter-balanced (the bar weighs nothing)
- Versatile with 8 stations
- It features safety stops
- Compact – it will be a good fit for smaller home gyms.
- 1-to-1 pulley ratio on the functional trainer
- No selectorized weight stacks
Force USA G9 is the best squat machine for most people because it lives at the intersection of three “roads”:
- Premium mechanism and materials (guide rails, premium safety catch & counterbalanced)
- Versatility beyond the Smith Machine (eight training machines in one)
- Price (you can pay a lot more than this for just one squat Machine)
In a word – it’s the top value… by far!
The main competitors for the top spot were all Force USA machines.
The G3 costs less but uses a basic wheel-bearing combo for the mechanism, which has a bit of drag.
The G10 comes with more attachments but the Smith Machine is not “counterbalanced”.
A counterbalanced Smith Machine means that you lift the exact weight of the plates you load onto it. Effectively the bar weighs nothing.
This is a big deal if you are new to lifting as you can work with much lighter weight… plus it saves you from having to do quick math every time you load the bar!
With a footprint of only 29 square feet, G9 is the second smallest Force USA unit, which makes it a good choice when every foot matters.
The two bones I have to pick with the G9 have nothing to do with the Smith bar.
#1 – the 1-to-1 pulley ratio on the functional trainer. The cables are not as long so it makes certain exercises such as a kneeling row a tad trickier than a 2-to-1 ratio.
#2 – spacing on the uprights is not Westside – this mainly affects the barbell bench press if you are lifting alone- as it’s harder to position the spotter arms at the exact right height. However, the Smith Machine has safety lock so you can do this safely using the Smith Machine instead.
This is our top pick in our best Smith machine guide. This is an ideal squat machine but the additional features blow the competition out of the water.
2 – Top-rated hack squat machine for homes – Force USA Ultimate 45 Combo
Who it’s for: For someone that wants a squat machine to work the quads extra hard.
- Extra challenging for the quads
- It’s a combo with a leg press machine
- Makes compromised shoulder mobility a non-issue
- Less load on the spine
- Doesn’t work the glutes, core, or stabilizers as much as free weights
- It’s taxing for the knees
- The safety catch will be too high for those on the shorter side
This 4-in-1 machine combo from Force USA is the top pick of the hack squat category for three reasons – value, versatility, and correct geometry.
- Value – it offers a premium feel at a price that’s nowhere near premium.
- Versatility – it’s not the only machine that promises full functionality for both hack squats and leg presses. It is, however, one of the few that delivers.
This doesn’t come as a surprise since Force USA rose to prominence with their all-in-ones. Their engineers already have experience designing machines that do more than one thing.
- Geometry – this point ties into versatility. With hack-squat-machine combos, you aim to hit a few birds with one stone.
In this case, it’s the hack squat and the leg press.
Note: I didn’t get into a separate analysis of the front-thrust and the calf-raise “stations.” That’s because they’re not stations per se. Get the hack squat right, and you also get the front thrust.
The calf raise is just an extra T-bar…not much to get wrong there.
If you’re looking to blast the quads like you hate them, the hack squat machine is the way to do it.
Among them, the Force USA 45 Combo is the best value for money.
3 – Best leverage squat machine for homes – Titan Fitness Leverage Squat-Calf Combo
Who it’s for: For anyone looking for a squat machine that feels like free weight but gives you a mechanical advantage and extra safety of a fixed lift path.
- Feels similar to barbell squats
- Allows you to lift more while sparing your back
- Cheaper than similar leverage machines
- High weight capacity for the price
- Basic finishes, crude at points
I’m always at a loss at how little competition exists in this market niche.
There are just a few machines from Body Solid, Powertec, and Titan.
Other than that, you have your power squat machines (also known as v-squat)…these are also leverage-based but crazy expensive.
If you get to a site selling squat machines and see the words “talk to a consultant” where the price should be, steer clear…it costs a kidney.
The value proposition for those machines is two-fold:
1 – You can change up the muscles worked by changing where you load the plates.
2 – You can also use (some of) them for a variation of hack squats.
Point #1 is the interesting one.
To put it kindly, it’s getting creative with the truth. The differences in muscle activation (quad-vs-glutes) depend much less on weight placement than most of the industry will have you believe.
More on that in a minute…
Here’s the bottom line – hack squats aside, a simple machine like this Titan does similar stuff.
It doesn’t look as pretty while doing it, but it leaves room in your home-gym budget to get a separate hack squat and leg press combo. If you have the space for two machines, that’s the better value.
If you’re looking for a leverage squat machine, this Titan is the best value.
4 – Best squat machine among the smith machines – Body-Solid Pro Clubline
Who it’s for: Anyone looking for a commercial-grade Smith machine that’s still compact enough for a home gym.
- Sturdily built and stable
- Safe and beginner-friendly
- Counterbalanced but not “zeroed-out”
- Helps you find and maintain proper form
- High price tag
- Doesn’t engage the stabilizers
The Pro Clubline is the best in the category for 3 main reasons:
- It’s the beefiest Smith machine in the home-gym price range.
- The geometry is correct with a 12-degree angle/pitch*.
- The bearing mechanism is premium and counterbalanced to a tidy 6 lbs.
*The angle between the verticals and ground
The first reason, the build, is also the main one.
The build is where the ProClubline stands out the most compared to the competition.
It costs more than your average home Smith machine but also much less than the commercial models it resembles. That’s a home gym sweet spot – commercial quality, home gym pricing.
The wide-beam arched design is unique.
I know how these are made and how much manufacturing detail goes into making a machine like this…compared to putting together rectangular tubes. It’s these details that transform the user experience, which is why the ProClubline sits atop this list.
It’s not the only machine here that gets the geometry just right. That’s because we didn’t even look at the machines that get it wrong.
Still, it’s important to note that the 12-degree angle feels natural and comfortable beyond squats.
Specifically, the biomechanics of bench pressing on the Pro Clubline is closer to free weight (compared to vertical machines or those with a smaller pitch/angle).
The bearing mechanism
Smooth movement of the commercial-grade bearings along the case-hardened steel.
“Case-hardened” means that the surface of the rods is hardened through an infusion of metal alloys.
In other words, the surface of the rod is much harder than the inner layers.
That means a lot in the long run because it ensures smooth motion, unchanged by scratches and wear.
So, case-hardening is not just for show. It’s actually a huge safety plus.
We’ll talk more about that in the buyer’s guide.
If you want a commercial-like squat machine in a home gym, go with the Pro Clubline. It’s not the cheapest, but the machines of similar build cost 80-250% more.
5 – Best budget squat machine for home gyms – Body-Solid Series 7 (GS348Q)
Who’s it for: Anyone looking for a good Smith machine on a budget.
- Great value for money
- Linear bearings
- Highest number of lockout positions
- Thick main frame – 11 and 12-gauge
- Basic design
- The rods need maintenance
The runner-up comes from the same company (Body Solid), and it’s built on a similar platform as the top pick. It’s just stripped down a bit to make it cheaper.
The mainframe is thick and stable
It’s built using 11 and 12-gauge steel, which is as good as it gets…not just for machines in this price range but two or three levels above.
Even commercial machines that cost three times as much don’t use thicker steel.
Highest number of lockouts
It has the most locking points (20) out of ALL the Smith machines we analyzed.
The more locking point means easier racking and makes the machine more welcoming to different body types.
On the other hand, there’s also a skeptic’s way of looking at the 20 lockout positions.
Let’s be skeptics for a sec.
The skeptic’s angle would be this – they were probably aware that the steel used for the rods is not as good (read: case-hardened) as on the ProClubline, and it will start catching in a few years.
To be clear, this is not a knock on this machine only – it’s the case with all units in this price range. As the guide rods start to scratch with years of use, they’ll need oil to keep moving smoothly.
To be fair, they do mention all this in the manual. You’re also likely to be using the machine for years before it becomes a problem – especially if you’re looking after it.
My point here is that the separation between the top pick and the runner-up is not just in the eye of the beholder.
It’s the kind of thing you probably won’t notice while the machine is new.
It’s also the kind of thing I have to notice because, at this quality level, the devil is in the details.
Compared to similar machines in the price range, this Body Solid stands out as the most robustly built and top value. It’s a fantastic pick for those who want the quality, but the budget just doesn’t stretch to the ProClubline.
6 – Honorary mention – cheapest smith/squat machine that’s still good – Valor Fitness BE-11
There’s a very (and I mean very) cheap machine that’s similar to the GS348Q. I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention it.
It’s not as good, and the warranty terms aren’t great, but it’s the cheapest you can go and still get a solid machine.
It’s smaller and costs about 40% less than the GS348Q.
The honorary mention of the category is the Valor BE-11.
Not great, but does the job.
(Now that’s a perfect line for my tombstone).
7 – Top pick among belt squat machines – Rogue Monster Rhino
Who’s it for: Anyone looking to squat without taxing the spine. Also, those looking for a new stimulus to mix up their training and keep things interesting might enjoy this.
- Spares the spine
- Versatile beyond squats
- Premium frame and finish materials
- Close to the classic squat, both in biomechanics and weight
- Costs more than most belt squat machines
Rogue Monster Rhino is the top pick of the squat belt category, and it’s not even close.
The 5 main reasons for that are:
- Premium build and materials
- Cable-based design with resistance “arriving” from a fixed point (this one is a biggie)
- Awesome belt – best in the show, actually
- Actual weight – a 1-to-1 ratio
- Adjustable at multiple points
I’ll dig into points #2 and #4 – the rest are pretty self-explanatory.
Cable-based machine with a 1-top-1 weight ratio
Compared to leverage, cable-based belt squat machines are the superior design.
First, if executed correctly, ALL the weight mounted onto the pins gets to your hips.
This is known as a 1-to-1 ratio, and it’s not true for all cable machines.
For the Rhino, it is.
Big plus. Big.
Note: I’ve also seen claims about leverage machines being 1-to-1…I don’t buy it; the physics don’t add up.
Secondly, you can move the cable at angles and use it for much more than squats – anything from curls to rows.
Besides the all-in-ones, this is probably the single most versatile machine you can bring into your home gym. When it comes to value for money, or space concerns in a home gym, that’s a huge plus.
Thirdly, the resistance when squatting is vertical, making it closer to an actual squat than leverage and hack squat machines.
If you have back problems and want to continue squatting…forget about it…this is the machine for you.
8. Honorary mention – Bells of Steel 2.0 (BOS)
If the Rogue Rhino is too expensive for your taste, you’ll want to look at leverage belt squat machines.
Among them, the BOS 2.0 stands out as the top value.
It gets the basics right at a surprisingly low price point.
9 – Top pick for deep sissy squats – LeikeFitness Deluxe Sissy Squat Bench
- Smaller and cheaper than other squat machines
- Hits the quads most when they’re stretched
- Works the abs and hip stabilizers hard
- No weight plates necessary
- Extra demanding for knees
A sissy squat machine is a simple piece that can blast your quads like nobody’s business.
I won’t get into much depth about sissy squat here. If you’re reading this, you likely already know what it is and what it does.
If you’re not, this video explains it well.
In a saturated market, I’m choosing the LeikeFitness as the best sissy squat machine.
I have 3 reasons for that:
- It’s hefty and stable enough to make the sissy squat safer than freeform
- The padding is properly-sized and adjustable (important for tibia positioning on deep sissy squats)
- The materials and build don’t feel cheap (an exception in this chunk of the market)
The LeikeFitness sissy squat machine is the top value and the most popular unit on the market. You’d have to pay 50-100% more to get a better machine.
9a – Honorary mention among sissy squat machines (money-no-object pick) – ATLAS Strength 6005B
As I mentioned above, to get a better machine for sissy squats than the LeikeFitness, you’d have to pay 50-100% more. That quality/price trade just doesn’t add up here. It’d have to be 50-100% better to justify the uplift, and it’s not.
The machine I had in mind when I said that is the 6005B by ATLAS Strength.
It’s a peg better in a few ways – from the frame to the padding. I won’t get into all that.
One thing I will mention is the bench…because it does two important things:
- Adds versatility beyond the squat
- Adds a “layer” of safety for deep sissy squats. It comes from knowing that it’s not metal bars or the ground behind you.
10 – Best squat machine for bad knees – DB Method Machine
- Smooth pneumatic support
- Feet on the ground – more stability for the knees
- Compact and foldable
- Modern design
- Costs more than similar squat-assist machines
- Narrow base
The idea behind the DB method machine is similar to that of assisted squats.
However, there are no pedals to introduce extra instability.
It’s a small thing that means a lot for those with knee problems.
Will it allow you to squat around knee pain?
I don’t know the specifics of your knee problems, so I can’t answer that with a straight face.
I can say, however, that it’s your best bet among the squat machines. It relies on knee flexion less than sissy squats, and it guides you through the motion. I’d strongly urge you though – buy one of these only on the advice of a physical therapist and as a last resort.
There are cheaper and FAR more effective ways to squat than this, assuming you’re injury free!
11 – Honorary mention – EliteFTS Power Squat Machine
If the price is not an object and you want to go beyond a basic leverage machine like the Titan above, our power-squat pick is the EliteFTS.
It costs less than similar commercial machines and isn’t inferior to them in any way.
Plus, it comes in 9 awesome colors.
Buyer’s guide to choosing a squat machine
The buyer’s guide is for two groups of people.
- Those who’d like to understand the logic behind the picks.
- Those who don’t like any of our picks and want to keep searching.
I’ll do my best to keep it clear, practical, and to the point.
Before we get to the actual machines, let’s clarify one crucial question. It’s highly relevant to choosing the right squat machine.
The squat question as old as time – quad vs. glute-dominant
If you’re using free weight, there’s no such thing as a quad or glute-dominant squat.
Yes, that goes for both the back and front squats.
Doesn’t make sense?
Well, tough luck…because it’s true.
I’ve been saying it forever, and all the recent research has proven me right.
If you have the time, give this 2016 study a look.
For convenience, I’m including a screenshot of the two most important tables from the study’s results – the peak and average muscle force distribution in front and back squats (table 1 and 2, respectively).
Notice that the activation differences are minimal.
That goes for both the Gluteus maximus (the largest glute muscle, which defines the shape of your butt) and the four muscles of the quad (Rectus Femoris and three Vastus muscles).
The only way to make a squat quad-dominant is to use a machine that allows you to ‘sit’ back into the squat while your shin angle remains vertical.
A case in point here is the hack squat.
10 primary factors to look for in a good squat machine
1 – Types of squat machines (vs. your needs and goals)
If you read any one part of the buyer’s guide, read this.
Choosing the right squat machine comes down to two steps:
- Choosing the type of machine that fits the bill
- Choosing the best within that type
Main types of squat machines
1. Smith machine – often used for squats and bench pressing.
Should it be used for that, though?
I won’t get into the messy topic today. It’s beyond our scope, and I already looked at if Smith machines are dangerous and squat rack vs Smith machines.
A Smith machine guides the weight and has safety catches, which makes it more stable and allows you to lift more.
More weight does not translate to more gains.
That’s because the key muscles responsible for squats also have a stabilizing role that’s “turned off” on the Smith machine.
I could dive into different studies here, but for the average lifter, that’s a needless complication.
This is a fancy way to say this:
Stick to the basics – ideally use free weights and machines. Track, plan, and improve consistently.
You can see our main guide on the best Smith machines here.
2. Belt squat machine
Designed to mimic the squat without taxing the spine. You basically tie the weight to your hips and go.
Read more in our guide on the best belt squat machines.
3. Hack squat machine
Along with the sissy squat, it’s the closest you can get to isolating the quads on a machine. The difference is this – you lift more than your body weight on a hack squat, and your back is supported.
This is the machine for you if you’ve plateaued with the classic squat or want to mix things up.
Read more in our main guide on the best hack squat machines.
4. Squat assist machine
A low-intensity alternative to “real” squat machines. It does what’s in the name – assist you when squatting. You use your body weight, some bands, and maybe a pneumatic system.
I’ve used these machines before (and had a salesman come to my gym to offer me something similar).
They’re actually super crap!
All of the resistance is in the positive phase – the negative phase is really weird, because you kind of get ‘help’ from the elastic wanting to return to normal.
But if you have your heart set on one I’d recommend the Sunny Health & Fitness squat assist row n ride.
For 6 reasons:
- It comes with a bigger seat (massive stability plus)
- It gets the angles right
- It comes as a basic version (supported by bands only) and a PRO, which has pneumatic support.
- The PRO is the superior machine, ESPECIALLY if you have a joint injury or a touch of arthritis.
- It’s adjustable at all the right points (height of the handles and seat, depth of the squat).
- I know the brand and put it a peg over the competition in the same price ranges (in terms of the basics like packaging, assembly, and how-to-use instructions).
If you know what to expect from a squat assist machine, this one is good value for money.
5. Leverage squat machine
The weight is loaded onto the lever arms with a fixed fulcrum. The fixed path is curved and stabilizes the weight, but not as much as a hack squat machine.
6. Power squat machine or V squat machine
A leverage-based machine with multiple weight placement options. The better ones also allow for hack squats. Those selling the machines will tell you that you can shift from a true squat to a more glute and quad-dominant version.
In my experience and according to a substantial body of recent research, there is little truth to that.
The V-squat machine is another name for the power squat units.
7. Sissy squat machine
At its most basic, a sissy squat machine allows you to do variations of the squat using just your body weight. It’s one of the most humbling leg exercises out there.
Because it looks deceptively easy, and, well… there’s a “sissy” in the name.In reality, “sissy” comes from Sisyphus – the king of Corinth, who pushed a rock uphill for eternity as punishment for cheating death.
Deep sissy squats – extra demanding on the knees.
Three key points about the core and lower body muscles worked when performing sissy squats:
- Performed correctly on a good sissy squat machine, it works most major muscle groups of the lower body but primarily the squads.
- It does great things for the core muscles (similar movement to sit-ups and ab crunches).
- It’s great for hip and knee stabilizers.
This is a good way to think about it – when you perform deep sissy squats, the knee acts as the hinge and the thigh and shin as levers.
2 – Geometry and overall build of a good squat machine
Different squat machines aim to do different things, whether it’s taking the load off the spine or blasting the quads.
That’s why I can offer little advice on the geometry that would be universally applicable to all machines.
I can make three points, though.
Geometry-wise, a good squat machine will:
- Help you properly align (emphasis here is on “help.”)
- Not pose a safety risk just because some angle is off.
- Come with safety catches – these should be adjustable and not limit the squat depth (a big deal on hack squat machines).
The important part for you – our top picks get the geometry right.
Overall build of a squat machine – frame and parts
Eight out of ten squat machines that are worth your money will be built using 11, 12, or 13-gauge steel.
In a similar percentage, the cross-section of the beams is in the 6-9 square inches range.
Is that where all good machines live?
No, but that’s where the best value is.
If you go over either of those ranges, you’re getting into commercial-machine territory, and the cost becomes too high for home gyms.
If you go lower than that, the stability becomes questionable. It’s not like any of these will collapse on you. But they might rattle or become clunky over time.
If you’re particularly strong, or you’re aiming to be in the future, give this kind of thing some serious consideration when you’re buying.
The third build aspect that ties the gauge and cross-sections together (both metaphorically and literally) are the welds and joints.
We’ll get to that in a moment…
Welds, tolerances, and finish
These three aspects could fall under the “overall build.” Still, they carry a bit more unique gravity, so I’ll review them separately.
Welds vs. bolts
The more parts welded (vs. bolted), the more stable the machine.
Within a “normal” price range for home gyms, the best you can hope for are welds on crucial points – the base of the frame, the central column on the belt squat, and the lever arms on the hack squat and leverage machines.
Don’t overthink here because the more welded, one-piece parts, the higher the cost of production and shipping.
Tolerances on a squat machine
Tolerance refers to the minimum and maximum dimensions of each part.
They might not mean much individually, but they add up.
In plain language – poor tolerance control translates to a clunky or soon-to-be-clunky machine.
None of our picks have that issue.
Finish of a squat machine – paint vs. powder coat
You get powder coating on all the better squat machines.
It’s superior to wet paint because it’s more resistant to wear.
Even if you go for a wet-paint finish, make sure the footplate is powder-coated and non-slip.
Not all powder coating is created equal
The quality and proper cure of the powder coat are tested using a MEK test.
MEK stands for Methyl Ethyl Ketone, which is an aggressive substance that degrades poor powder coats.
This is reflected in a few of our quality categories.
3 – Maximum weight capacity of a squat machine
The weight capacity of a squat machine depends on the type, the build, and the space on the weight-loading pins (horns).
My advice is not to look at the weight capacity as a limitation but as an indicator of how well the squat machine is built.
I include this tip in every guide on squat machines I’ve written. I’m OK with repeating myself because it’s crucial.
Let me give you an example
Let’s say you’re considering two machines.
One of them has a maximum weight capacity of 1200 lbs.
The other is listed at 800 lbs…but it’s much cheaper.
You think to yourself, “Why would I pay for this expensive thing when I’m only squatting 300 lbs?”
Here’s your answer…
Because it might mean that the first one is significantly better.
The final step here is pairing the maximum weight capacity with the warranty terms.
Those two speak volumes.
For our picks, we already did the tedious capacity-to-price balancing.
4 – Versatility beyond squats
This one is fairly simple…for three reasons:
- You already have the answers to what you expect the machine to do beyond squats (if anything)
- The best ones are oriented to leg exercises and do similar things – leg presses, calf raises, and forward thrusts (reverse hack squats)
- The ones that go beyond legs aren’t great at the extra stuff, and it’s fair to ignore it.
- For example, some squat-assist machines include bicep curls or bench presses in their marketing. It’s an attempt to pile on value that’s not really there – you’d understand if you tried to do a bench press on a squat assist machine.
Bottom line – the better squat machines are designed to allow for serious leg work, like presses and raises. Everything else is less important – it’s either a gimmick or a part of the compound leg movement (like abdominal exercises).
The exception here is the Rogue Rhino, which is uniquely versatile.
5 – Size/footprint of a squat machine
Size is secondary to the type of machine.
If you’re looking to pack a leg press and a hack squat into one, the one or two extra square feet will make little difference.
Only after you’ve chosen the type of machine can you get into the size and how it fits your space.
That’s why, with the bigger machines like the hack squat and leg press combo, I’m including space-saving alternatives as honorary mentions.
For reference, below are graphs comparing the size of the few main types of squat machines – Smith, belt squat, and hack squat.
Before we move on: most of the points I’ll make from here on out refer to the “real” squat machines – Smith, hack, leverage (power), and belt squat.
6 – Safety of a squat machine
The safety of a squat machine comes down to two things:
- Overall build – mechanisms and geometry.
You want everything aligned and working smoothly. In my opinion, it’s the more important safety aspect because it’s more intricate, which allows for more blind spots.
2. Safety catches.
These are an absolute must but overhyped.
Allow me to explain myself
The guiding and racking mechanisms are the underrated safety aspects of squatting on a Smith machine. I’ve seen 50 times more people get in trouble because of a jam on one of those two than a fail of the safeties.
The safety catches should absolutely be there, but they are simple mechanisms with few moving parts and ways to fail. If one person is using the machine, they’re a set-and-forget kinda thing.
If they allow for good depth and stay put no matter what, they’re good enough.
On the other hand…
Linear bearings, wheels, and racking mechanisms are the more important safety aspect because they:
- Are more complicated.
- Move on every squat.
- Require maintenance.
- Can change with time.
Again, all our top picks tick both those boxes – reliable mechanisms, proper build, and safeties where you need them.
7 – Guiding mechanisms of squat machines
We covered most of this when we talked about safety.
If you can pay more, go for a linear-bearing machine. They feel smoother and guide the weight more precisely.
But they’re not a must.
If you go for a wheel-guided machine, go with one of the better brands and avoid the generic Chinese stuff.
Some of these brands (like Force USA) have perfected quad-wheel guidance. You probably wouldn’t know it from linear bearings…
…at least not for a few years, anyway.
8 – Padding and ergonomy of a squat machine
This is what to look for in a well-padded squat machine:
1. High-density foam – paired with good stitching and leather. Anything over 2.5 lbs per cubic foot will do just fine.
2. You rarely get this information in the specs. It often takes serious elbow grease to find or get it from the manufacturers.
Thick PU leather – I’m stressing the “thick PU” for two reasons:
Reason one – the better brands will go with thicker, rigid PU. Anything over 0.9 mm thick will do a great job of protecting the foam.
Reason two – real leather is used for expensive machines beyond most home gym budgets.
This is another detail that’s rarely listed in the specs. When needed, we account for it based on experience with the machines or talking to the users.
3. Ergonomy – a nice touch, but not worth paying extra for.
4. If the frame’s geometry is correct, you don’t need anything to be “ergonomic.”
You’re not looking for comfort here.
Some of the best machines I know are just fat slabs of foam and leather.
One potential deal-breaker here is the shoulder pads – you want proper spacing (or adjustability) and generous padding.
9 – Loading and storage pins (horns)
I could write a separate article on the positioning and length of the loading horns. With all the misconceptions out there, I probably should.
For our purposes today, let me boil down to 4 few key points:
1. Do the math if you’re using bumper plates – if there’s only one pair of loading pins on the machine, you might run out of lading space before you max out the capacity.
If this is your scenario, don’t give up the machine…just make sure it allows for the use of band pegs.
2. Machines with storage pins are more stable.
This one is obvious, you load extra weight onto the frame, and it stabilizes the machine.
3. Top-loading pins are a pain in the rear.
I’m not a fan of the vertical top-loading pins. They’re a pain to load, and you’ll need spacers.
An example is the BOS belt squat machine – it allows for two “modes,” front and top-loading, and the latter makes the machine smaller.
4. Plate positioning makes less of a difference than the makers will try to convince you.
I’m making this point specifically to protect you from paying big bucks for power squat machines.
It’s OK if you’re doing it because they look awesome….as long as you understand the fallacy behind the muscle-targeting claims.
10 – Price and warranty terms of a squat machine
The prices of squat machines will depend on the type.
Expect to pay as little as $100 for a simple sissy squat machine up to 2K+ for high-end machines like the Rogue Rhino.
Unless money is no object, don’t pay over 3K for ANY squat machine. I don’t, and I’m buying commercial grade!
Warranty terms – frame, padding, and parts.
If you’re paying over 1K, the frame should be covered by a lifetime warranty.
Anything lower than that raises questions about the build.
It’s steel…why wouldn’t it last a lifetime?
(looking at you, Titan)
Warranty on the padding and parts
Getting a lifetime warranty on the upholstery and parts is great, but it’s not a must.
You typically get one-year coverage, which is fine.
Even if something rips or breaks within the warranty period, it won’t affect the structural integrity of the machine. It just means you’ll have to go through the hassle of replacing it.
FAQs about squat machines
What are the benefits of a squat machine?
The 7 main benefits of a squat machine (like the Force USA Ultimate Combo) are:
1. Better lower body strength
2. More muscle mass – i.e., bigger legs
3. Improved core stability
4. Improved flexibility of the knees and hips
5. Ability to focus on one leg muscle group more
6. Squat around joint injuries and a bad back
7. Safety and convenience (compared to the traditional barbell squat)
Which of these benefits is applicable depends on the type of squat machine you choose.
Are squat machines worth it?
Yes, squat machines are worth it, provided that you choose a good one like the Rogue Rhino.
They’re more convenient than a traditional barbell squat and give you more control over the movement.
There’s a trade-off in lower stabilizer activation because of the fixed path.
Is a squat machine better than squats?
A squat machine is not inherently better than squats.
Even the best ones, like the Bells of Steel 2.0 have a mechanical advantage and activate the stabilizers less.
For people with back injuries, a machine like the Rogue Rhino will be the superior choice because it doesn’t compress the spine.
Which machine is best for squats?
A leverage machine like the Titan squat machine is best for squats because the movement is close to the traditional squat.
If your goal is to blast the quads, a hack squat machine like the Force USA Ultimate will do it.
Finally, if you’re working around a back or knee injury, look into a squat belt machine like the Rogue Rhino or an assisted unit like the DB method machine.
Methodology – how we assess and rate squat machines
This guide is unique because there are no ratings.
I could do it just for the sake of it, but it would make little sense.
Moreover, it wouldn’t be helpful to you or fair to the machines.
I mean…how do you compare a simple sissy squat machine with something like Rogue Rhino?
Unless you have an agenda to sell the more expensive stuff.
Does that mean there’s no data behind the picks?
It absolutely doesn’t mean that – there’s a ton of data behind what you’re seeing here.
It’s all in the separate guide on the different types of squat machines.
For clarity, below is an overview of what went into creating this guide:
- We defined the types of squat machines that deserve separate guides.
- We had two criteria for this:
A – Interest among people searching for their next squat machine.
B – Uniqueness of the machine and clear separation from other types.
- We created separate guides on the best smith machines, hack squat, and belt squat machines.
- The plan was always to use this guide as a hub that combines those three with other types.
- We analyzed what a home gym owner means by “best squat machine.”
Best for what?
Lifting more, growing, shaping, squatting around injuries?
We only decided which picks to present once we were clear on those answers.
- We went back to the separate guides and chose which machines to include here.
Except for the Smith machine, the winners in those sub-categories are also the top picks here.
The Smith machine is the exception because squatting is not its only purpose.
This means some rating aspects from the main smith-machine guide aren’t relevant for squats.
- We gathered the information on the machines that we didn’t already cover in separate guides.
Once we had that, we chose the winners in those categories (like the best sissy squat machine).
- Finally, we update the guide to keep it relevant at all times.
The updates have three goals:
1 – reflect changes in the other relevant guides
2 – reflect any substantial changes in the market
3 – stay on top of the new arrivals that might give the ‘old” winners a run for their money.
What it all means for you
It means the picks you see here are data-based, value-oriented, and always relevant.
Resume of the top squat-machine picks
Below is an overview of our top picks.
- If you’re looking for a squat machine for the traditional squat, you can do one of two things:
1. Spend more and get the beefy Pro ClubLine;
2. Save and get the Series 7 by Body Solid, which is the cheapest you can go without giving up linear bearings.
- If you’re looking for a belt squat machine that won’t load your back, go with the Bells of Stell 2.0 as a money-saver or the Rogue Rhino as the absolute best.
- If you want a hack squat and leg press combo, there’s no better value than the Force USA Ultimate 45.
- The best sissy squat machine comes from LeikeFitness and stands out as the most heftily built.
Top picks in other categories:
- Squat assist machine – Sunny Health & Fitness Squat Assist
- Best for bad knees – DB Method Squat Machine
- Leverage – Iron Company Squat/Calf Machine
Click here to skip back to the table with all the top picks and more details.